Various - 52 (Books 1-4)
The most complex and ambitious project in comics gets the graphic novel treatment printed across four books. Taking its cue from the real-time adventures of television thriller 24, each issue of 52, which was printed weekly for a full year, covered one week in real time in the DC Universe. And it’s a very different DCU we find ourselves in after the events of Infinite Crisis, a world without its three greatest heroes, Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
Various heroes attempt to fill the gap as 52 sheds light on some of the lesser-known characters from the DC canon, with Black Adam, Booster Gold, the Question, Elongated Man, Adam Strange, Animal Man and Steel coming to the fore. Even Lex Luthor weighs in with his own super-team, Infinity inc.
To say too much would give the game away, particularly as these four volumes are packed with intrigue. It’s a gripping story with multiple fragments adding up to a complex whole. It takes a while to get going, but once all the story threads are set up, 52 will have you hooked, despite its length.
The fact that this is so gripping is hardly surprising when you look at the dream creative team of Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Geoff Johns with Keith Giffen on layouts and a veritable stable of artists on pencils, inks and colours. With an afterword to every issue (think ‘director’s commentary’) you get a real insight on the creative process and the problems inherent in such a potentially cumbersome project.
Inevitably, not everything works, there are some clunky sections of exposition as various plot twists are explained; it flounders in places and a pretty extensive knowledge of the DC Universe is a huge advantage when embarking on 52. But the biggest fault is the final dénouement. While serviceable you can’t help but think, ‘Is that it?’ You’re left longing for a seismic shift in the DCU, not a few tweaks on minor characters and pseudo-cosmic revelations (though of course this is a set up for Countdown which leads directly into Final Crisis). However, this is a real achievement in comics that should be applauded for its ambition and breadth of vision alone. That it’s a thrilling ride for most of its run is just the icing on the cake. (Henry Northmore)