Yow - 52 *SPOILERS* in dis post!!

*52 Dept: I think the big irony of the World War III issue of the series is that it’s probably the best of the issue-length plot resolution issues thus far (the Black Adam one, obviously), and definitely the best of the all-fight issues. 52 has proven to be awfully weak in the fight department, and I’m certain a lot of that’s due to its lack of emphasis on the visual element - sure, you have Keith Giffen blocking everything out, but that’s never quite going to compensate when the pencils and inks themselves constantly seem so rushed, or even haphazard.

This issue, however, manages to slip in enough resonance with the rest of the story thus far to compensate. From the bit with the coalition of superheroes patiently waiting for China to allow them access (in contrast to the skirmish between the Great Ten and the Green Lanterns near the beginning of the series) to the pleasantly random presence of Booster Gold, now acting on information from later in the series (I guess), the ending does sort of feel like an ending. The details of Captain Marvel's concluding scheme to zap Black Adam with magic lightning then switch his Marvel Family login/password to something he’ll never guess (galumph? Joementum?) while he’s frazzled do seem a little jumbly, if not nearly so much as the mystery electrical solution at the end of the Steel storyline, and there's a constant feeling that everything could have gone a little smoother in a storytelling sense (like, if the rest of the Marvel Family were a more consistent presence), but at least there's been build and climax. Hell, there's even a touch of polish in the denouement, with Our Anti-Hero grasping at straws (and only reminding himself of everything he's lost) as he hobbles away.

So it's not outstanding or anything, but it does behave like there's an actual story to finish.

World War III the miniseries, in contrast, is flat-out terrible. It’s like a mirror to some horrible parallel dimension in which every single thing that possibly could have gone wrong with 52 actually did. I mean, it's nice that they finally explained how Hawkgirl shrunk down, but there's no useful context. Obviously nobody behind this figured that anyone who wasn't reading 52 would want to read this (they're probably right on that), since it doesn't even try to be its own story, clumpy Martian Manhunter narration notwithstanding. But it also doesn't really work off 52 in any substantive way. It just lines up DCU characters and quickly spells out what's happened to them just prior to One Year Later, often in cryptic terms that render the whole effort useless.

So the problem isn’t really that World War III is little more than a 90 or so page clump of continuity porn. The real issue is that it’s gonzo continuity porn. As in, there’s only forty-five seconds of repartee, if that, before those discrepancies start resolving.

In this column this week, Dan Didio essentially admits that 52 hasn't done a swell job of actually explaining One Year Later - instead, it turned into something else. At its best, it's been a dizzy tour of much of the DCU, kind of a universe-in-a-bottle, structured as a group of journeys made by a cast of regular protagonists. And I think it's a good credit to the 52 writing team that they've mostly succeeded in making big portions of this material accessible to new or unfamiliar readers by positioning it all as signposts and meetings along a series of clear character 'paths.' Even if it's not perfectly explained who or what everything is, the context makes it easy enough to guess. That's kind of the series' charm to me - it makes all this vast sprawl of stuff seem like it can be grasped.

But something like World War III only serves to repel. It doesn't bother with any build, any context - it's just a bunch of stuff that happened, and only the most devout believer in DC continuity can possibly care. Nobody else is given a reason to; it's presumed that your affection for all these characters is already set. That's not what 52 itself has been about for the last year, although it's had its share of failings. Heaven knows there's still plenty of room to trip up in the final two weeks, but I'm still convinced that the writing crew hasn't lost sight of what they're attempting. One can only hope these four issues were a way of getting the difficult stuff out of the system - only then will they have had any valuable use.