52 has, for a long time, been one of my favourite stories in superhero comics. This is probably because it focuses on a lot of the B- and C-list characters who I’d always felt got shortchanged and also covers the gamut of the kinds of stories superheroes tell well: ruminations on the nature of power and responsibility, wild space epics, weird twisty soap operas and the like. Add to that that it’s all ostensibly one story told through various narratives in a structure not entirely unlike a lot of major Epic Hourlong Television Series and if I were (as I originally planned) giving out ratings for ambition and execution, I know that at least the ambition side of things would get a solid 5 out of 5.
As for execution…
The short form, before the deep-cut babbling starts, is that this thing doesn’t read as being very welcoming to beginners. You get enough information about each of the main principals that you could probably figure out what their deal is and if you picked up the trade, I think you could probably get invested by the end of it. You’ll figure out who everyone is and that Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman aren’t around for… reasons and that there are a lot of disasters that people are recovering from in the background.
It’s sadly very FAR in the background.
But that’s from a guy who already knew about or read most of the Big Events referenced in the book because I like a big, dumb superhero event comic quite a bit more than those big, dumb superhero event comics deserve.
The places where the story shines is when it’s not trying to tie into the larger superhero universe, when it’s not talking about what’s going on with Batman or press conferences for the JLA. Those are the moments where I, in my suddenly-skeptical state of mind regarding the superhero, started getting uncomfortable.
Because for all this superheroic universe is built on the foundation of Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman, the levels to which the people in the universe act as if this is the case is sometimes distressing. You won’t see a lot about police except as occasional roadblocks for one character, nor will you see much about members of government or the voting public in general except as a necessary footnote to a Green Arrow sideplot that takes up about five of the 1000-ish pages or as entities in league with various criminal or supervillainous organizations.
There’s also an entire arc about whether heroes are born or made or something else that waffles back and forth and for all it comes to a fairly satisfactory ending… it doesn’t quite work. It’s “resolution” feels more like fiat than actually deciding anything more than that the superheroes we know and love are, indeed, heroic.
I think overall it succeeds more than it fails and as someone who’d always been aware of the complicated comings and goings of the DCU, it was a great way to get me engaged in those characters the first few times I read it…
Now I’m not so sure.
It’s still good but it’s not really at “very good”, though at times it does brush up against it.
Now, I’m about to go more in-depth so for simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to try and break things down to the major arcs and just sorta go on about them a little.
Oh and while this thing’s a few years old now, I feel it only proper to warn that SPOILERS follow.