Review: 52, Volume 4 trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Worlds died and, for a change, worlds lived. I've finished reading 52, Volume 4, and I'd say that of the four volumes, volume 4 was my second favorite, just short of volume 1 (with volume 3 vying for the second spot, and volume 2 in last place). In volume 4 I think the team finally found the right balance between single-character stories and multi-hero adventures, done-in-one stories and cross-issue tales. 52 still struggled to find its footing even in the end, but I found the conclusion quite satisfying overall.

In the fourth volume, Steel rescues Natasha from Lex Luthor, though Luthor later makes plans to escape the charges. Sobek eats Osiris, revealing himself to be one of the Four Horsemen; Isis is killed in battle with the Horsemen, and charges Black Adam to avenge her. Isis's death brings Renee Montoya to Kahndaq, and then to Gotham, where Bruno Manheim has kidnapped Batwoman; Renee becomes the Question and joins Nightwing to save Batwoman. Black Adam attacks Bialya and then Oolong Island, where he's captured by the mad scientists; the JSA rescues him, but his rampage brings about World War III. The space heroes are reunited with their families; Ralph Dibny is killed fighting Neron, but returns as a ghost with his wife, Sue. Booster Gold, Rip Hunter, and Skeets stop Mr. Mind from devouring the Multiverse.

I noted week 51, included in this volume, as one of my favorites of the series. Along with art by Joe Bennett, who I think really distinguished himself as the 52 artist in the series, issue 51 has a great mix of humor, sadness, character cameos, and short (but not choppy) scenes with a number of characters. Compare this issue, for instance, with week 40, which is almost entirely devoted to Steel and Luthor, and just feels too long. 52, in my opinion, worked better when treated as a mini-series, with numerous ongoing plotlines, rather than when treated like a monthly series with "issues." I know the next weekly series, Countdown, has been plagued by its problems, too, but it'll be interesting to see how the pacing matches up.

I expected the various storylines at the end of 52 to overlap Robert Altman-style, and I was a little disappointed that they didn't. Sure, we got the shout-out to the various plotlines in the end, but I spent much of my reading-time trying to figure out how Steel would become involved in the Booster Gold story, and the like. Ultimately, I guess, you can draw a tie through the stories--Skeets attacked Infinity, Inc., Renee met Black Adam--but I expected the heroes to all end up together. Then again, as I'm writing this, I'm realizing how, in this way, 52 becomes a lot like Seven Soldiers--each 52 character played their part in saving the universe, without ever meeting.

I'm cautiously optimistic about the return of the Multiverse to DC Comics lore. I'm not opposed to it, let's say, but at the same time I recollect well that the Multiverse was abolished in the first place because it just became too confusing, and I have little faith that this won't happen again; let's face it, continuity falls apart almost constantly, and the Multiverse just offers more opportunities for that. But as I said in my review of 52: The Companion, I do like how DC's lately making Golden and Silver Age stories back "in continuity" now, and the return of the Multiverse contributes to that. Let's look at it like the return of Superman's super-intelligence: I like the idea, and I trust the writers who came up with it; we'll just have to see how it plays out from there.

[Contains full covers, "Previously ..." section, commentary, sketchbooks.]

Thanks for tuning in for the Collected Editions 52 reviews, and for spending these 52 weeks with us; it's been a blast! Keep your radars tuned to Collected Editions; more reviews on the way!
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