Kept Short, Full-Sized

52 #21 (of 52)

Oh, 52 editor Stephen Wacker has left DC, in case you haven’t heard. There’s been an easy-going comment or two posted at the link, a real picnic lunch of good vibes all around. Wacker’s issues will extend up past the halfway point.

Actually, I kind of got to wondering why this issue is ‘full-sized’ while the others aren’t - that seems like the sort of thing that would happen in the actual halfway point issue, which is still a few weeks away. It does kind of shine a light on what terms like ‘full-sized’ or whatever mean for a book like 52, since there’s actually only two spare pages to throw around. Maybe a spot just happened to be scheduled in where nobody was realistically available to turn in art for the backup feature, so it was instructed that the main story should just happen to go on a bit longer? That seems feasible to me, as it’s one of the concerns that go into organizing a book like this; or maybe the team just had to roll with unexpected punches, which is another concern. Or hey, maybe everyone agree that this particular issue really needed those extra pages. Regardless, all of this goes into illustrating how important the role of the guiding hand truly is in a unique (for the English Language) series such as this.

Still, since we’re approaching the halfway mark I think I’d like to preliminarily hand out my blue ‘Most Improved Storyline’ ribbon to the ongoing saga of Ralph “No Explanations Necessary” Dibny, whom we spot in this issue have quite inexplicably burst into “The Netherplains” with his new sidekick, Dr. Fate’s Helmet, all decked out in vintage jungle exploration gear, complete with shorts. How does one choose their dress for the Netherplains?

Dr Fate’s Helmet: “Ralph, hurry up! We’ll miss our flight to the Immateria!

Ralph: “Do you think I should pack shorts? I mean, are we going to pass through Hell or anything? I hear it’s hot.”

So what we see in this issue, I think, is pretty much the way to tackle the storyline outside of its most important bits - just keep zipping back to Ralph ever other week or so, engaging in some absurd metaphysical antic or another at another spot in the DC spirit cosmology. For example, this week Ralph needs access to the underworld, so Dr. Fate’s Helmet puts the scary red demonguard to sleep and Ralph rubberizes him with Gingold and literally ties him in a knot. “…you’re going to be forced to listen to the sound of your own bones shattering, splintering and puncturing organs as you slowly stiffen up,” declares Our Hero from behind his droopy mustache, underscoring the clash between patent goofiness and Crazy! that’s given this plot virtually all of its zip. Just to underscore, the sequence then concludes with Ralph bellowing “Shuddup!” and kicking the guard down the steps to the underworld.

All we’re missing is some sort of transition to the ‘real’ world, where we see Ralph has actually been thundering around his outdoor patio and demanding the plants afford him access to Malebolge, and then a panel of Detective Chimp looking on, a single tear running down his cheek. But I think it’s best not to play all the cards so soon, as we’re still not yet halfway through.

Meanwhile, the real focus of this issue is the adventures of Lex Luthor’s terribly generic superhero team, currently the new Infinity, Inc. thanks to some canny acquisitions, a storyline which has at least now incorporated its characters’ generic nature into the plot itself (note the stunned crowd’s inability to tell anyone apart). Not that it makes this thing any less a half-baked reiteration of superheroes-as-stars observations which date back decades now. I am slightly intrigued that Luthor has been recast as, for all intents and purposes, a reality television producer, cruelly fixing lives for his nefarious purposes; I do believe reality television was one of the abandoned concepts that team writer Grant Morrison had planned to use in Seven Soldiers, so it’s possible that some of those concepts are getting a bit of air here, although the jokes are played up a bit too much (way too many panels of Luthor’s reactions at headquarters).

And it’s not that the notion of a corporate body cynically swapping around the lineup of a ‘name’ superhero team they happen to own and then viciously concocting murder schemes to goose public attention through catchy ‘event’ battles isn’t a cute one to exploit in a major DCU series of this sort, it’s just that all it’s amounting to thus far is some corny jokes, a little generic fighting (though Joe Bennett is back on pencils for this issue, so it looks better-than-average for the series), gobs of familiar melodrama, and a guest appearance by the Teen Titans. Yes, Luthor makes a comment about how glad he is that the Teen Titans have shown up to lend his revamped team credibility, but such winking metafictional trickery has gotten old as the hills for Big Two superheroes by now. A bit more will be needed, though I’ll readily say that the storyline is showing an incremental increase in potential now.

And finally - an all-new body for DCU superstar wonder hero Red Tornado!! Who knows how this story will look if extended past two pages at a time...