51 Weeks To Get Better: Graeme reviews that 52 book no-one's talking about.

By now, everyone knows the pitch for 52, right? It’s a world without Superman, a world without Batman, a world without Wonder Woman… but not a world without heroes. But here’s something else that it’s a world without: Introductions. This might be somewhere where my inner DC fanboy counts against me, but I felt as if all of the main characters in this issue, with the exceptions of Booster Gold and Black Adam, didn’t get anything close to a proper introduction here, being reduced to stock roles (Steel is the responsible hero, Montoya the self-destructive ex-cop, Ralph Dibny the suicidal grieving widower) with vague dialogue that alludes to past storylines and series without properly explaining them – This might be something that’s going to be dealt with in later issues, and with a weekly schedule and 52 issues to do it in, that’s definitely a viable option for the writers – giving the book, for me, a feeling of inaccessibility for anyone who hasn’t read Gotham Cental, Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis. Without those books, I feel as if certain scenes would feel flat and uninvolving, but I say that as someone who has read those books, so what do I know? As someone who has read those books, then: I’m not convinced. On the first read through, it seemed pretty underwhelming (and also shorter than the average book – it’s not, however, I checked); I’m not sure what I was expecting from this first issue, but it wasn’t the slow burn beginning that this provided for the most part. On second (and third) readings, the relatively quiet start makes more sense, as the characters are presumably dealing with the apparent end of the world that Infinite Crisis was, and the odd pacing doesn’t annoy so much. The multiple author model, which works well in a couple of places – there are some nice scene transitions in an otherwise confusing opening (Why is Renee in the same bar in the same clothes for three days running? When some guy there makes a comment about “If the roads are open,” does that mean she’s been trapped there by something? Has Ralph really been going back to the ruins of his house for cell phone calls about missing superheroes for three days straight?) – and allows for the fun guessing game of who wrote what (My guess: Grant Morrison definitely did the main Booster Gold scenes, or else someone else can do very good fake Grant dialogue. Mark Waid’s doing Ralph Dibny. Greg Rucka is handling Montoya, and Geoff Johns is doing Steel and Black Adam, at least in this issue), but it felt as if it was written by committee. I enjoyed the Booster Gold scenes a lot – Grant (or whoever is writing those scenes this issue) manages to make the character cynical and a schmuck yet somehow someone fun, and his panic upon realizing that he really doesn’t know what the future holds gives him an interesting plot to follow for the next year or so. It’s just that… well, Booster’s scenes are more or less all of the meat in the issue, everything else either being vague hints of what’s to come (Being an Elongated Man fan, the potential Ralph Dibny mystery interests me, although the solicits for upcoming issues has me very, very nervous for what’s coming up there) or apparent generic filler (Most of the Steel scenes, which I’m guessing are going to amount to something more than “It’s tough to be a hero. I’m a hero. I’m a good man. It’s tough” later on at some point).

Even within those other scenes, there were too many plot strands that didn’t tie together well – the Black Adam scene in particular stood out as having nothing to do with anything else, although the Montoya scenes also felt as if they’d come from a different book – and lessened what could’ve been a stronger issue by diluting the focus on the immediate aftermath of Infinite Crisis within the superhero community that the Booster, Steel and Ralph scenes had. It wouldn’t have killed anyone to have pushed the start of some of the plots out to the second or third week in order to have had a more coherent first issue, surely?

(Then again, I’m also of the opinion that the two page silent opening scenes, taking a visual cue from the final pages of all of the last pre-One Year Later issues of the DCU books, was a waste of space that could’ve been better spent on some kind of recap for new readers bringing them up to speed on the cast and context of the series, so obviously I’m on a different train of thought from DC Editorial here…)

Visually, Joe Bennett thankfully provides stronger pencils here than he did in last week’s Infinite Crisis #7, even if he only achieves something that’s pleasant but unspectacular to look at. It would’ve been interesting to see what an artist with a stronger personal style could’ve done with the big superhero memorial service at the end of the issue, for example, but I think there’s a bar being set here: Workmanlike but reliable means deadlines getting hit and that’s what this series is going to be all about.

As with last week’s Civil War, there’s an editorial at the back of the book where the editorial head honcho pats himself on the back about how important and groundbreaking this new book is; in this case, Dan Didio calls 52 “the monumental DC Comics series that redefined what readers would and should expect from comics,” which is the kind of statement that he might regret making 52 weeks from now, or even sooner if ship dates start being missed on a regular basis. Still, whether he’s right or wrong is a question that can only be answered at this time next year. This time this year, all I know is that 52’s first week is pretty much Eh when considered out of context of all the hype, and kind of Crap when you sit it next to what we’ve been told it was for the last few months. Either way, it’s a missed opportunity to catch new readers with a new method and frequency of mainstream superhero comics, and even if things do get better in later issues, how many people will want to start a series on Week Twelve?

(I now fully expect Hibbs to have loved this book, just to be make me look grumpier than ever…)

Next week: Hopefully more things come out that I want to review. This week, if I can find the time to write it up, reviews of all of the other First Second books that came out this week, because even though Eddie Campell’s Fate of The Artist is both my Pick of The Week and Trade of The Week, the other books are worth looking through as well...