A few short words.

52 #52 (of 52)


Well, I’ve got to hand it to 52 - it didn’t quite go where I’d expected it to in its last issue. Rather than attempting to tie the series together via plot or theme, the final issue is actually more-or-less business as usual for the series’ endgame: a near issue-length wrap for the last lingering storyline, with a few extra bits of epilogue for the storylines that still had some lingering ambiguity. And then they call it a day (year).

As far as the issue-length wraps go, it was ok. Lots and lots of characters screaming jargon at one another while zipping back and forth through time to collect items and toss together a hastily-explained solution to their problems - that's been a hallmark of some of these endings, characters pulling out wild, half-explained solutions. I keep hearing that the whole series reads very well as a big chink of stuff, and maybe I'll try that someday, although I still get the feeling that some of the more evidently wheel-spinning bits (like with Steel, or out in space) won't operate as smoothly without one week gaps to justify their presence in keeping the balls up in the air.

But this issue still manages to feel like a finale, firstly because the writing team has managed to save up the most flamboyant settings for last, with Booster and Rip Hunter and the new Supernova zooming through the restored multiverse as Mr. Mind prepares to feed on everything. As a result, the plot can’t help but embody everything that 52 has been so far - there’s some semi-cute, semi-futile uses of the ‘real time’ gimmick, some jostling around of general DC continuity, a heated mix of violent action and unfettered absurdity, and a genuine interest in renewing a bunch of B and C-list characters. There’s also a segmentation of the action, because even though most of the 52 storylines interacted a bit, they never really dovetailed - this is taken to the extreme in this issue, as the biggest action of all takes place away from the view of virtually everyone in several worlds, and the few characters involved aren’t inclined to speak of what they’ve seen.

In the grand scheme of things, this issue is more entertaining than it’s not, which also goes for 52 as a series. I really do appreciate the series’ efforts at giving readers a self-contained wide-view of the DCU, and making it seem almost perfectly accessible, although the story couldn’t help but feel like it should be working better for those with a pre-existing understanding of the characters and concepts therein. Lord knows there’s several sequences in this issue that are obviously primed to drive Blue & Gold fans wild, and while the basic emotional beats Booster’s character goes through are duly set up in earlier issues, it’s evident that the closer you are to the earlier stories, the more you’ll get out of the newer stuff (the same goes for, say, Montoya, who experiences a logical transformation over the course of the series, albeit one that only truly started in earlier works by team writer Greg Rucka).

However, 52 seems to know this. I think what I appreciated the most about this last issue is how it implicitly admits that it can’t truly succeed without bleeding outside of its boundaries. If there’s any ‘theme’ that emerges with definition, it’s in the very last sequence, with Montoya mimicking Vic’s actions from the start of the series. Everybody’s gone on their journey, some of them didn’t come back, and some of the old guard have turned into the new guard. Some of the neophytes have turned into different people. But more than anything, the DCU is presented as self-restoring, hatching new iterations of existing characters as surely as old ones depart, even if those iterations are only somewhat different than what has gone before.

If 52 was meant in part as a grand tour of a superhero universe, then its character arcs represent the effects of renewal and waste on the character that need to make their way through it, as well as a sense of cyclical motion - one Question falls and another is raised, one magical superhero rises to power and subsequently falls, several people are lost in space then return to their old families, Skeets dies and returns, Doc Magnus goes away and goes mad and returns to a job he’d worked on at the beginning, John Henry is back in the lab he started in, and the multiverse has returned from its long absence. Coincidently in very much the same form as it held before, albeit a bit more finite! Hell, Mr. Mind is defeated by becoming trapped in a literal time loop, an irony which couldn’t have escaped the writing team (it also counts as one of several 52 ‘fake-out’ character updates, along with the return of Super-Chief and the death of Animal Man). The other loops aren’t quite so cruel, as they generally position the characters as old but new, whether literally embodied by different characters or at least powered by new situations or motivations, even characters like Animal Man, who has a few new powers, or Adam Strange, who has brand-new eyes. Improvements big and small, though even the big ones aren't so much big.

So in the end, Montoya, the new old Question, shines the new old Bat-Signal (is it a private Bat-Signal? why didn’t anyone fix it?) at Batwoman, restarting the cycle of journeys. It has to keep going outside of 52, just as sure as it didn’t begin in 52. As such, it acknowledges that it didn’t quite hold everything against its chest as it maybe could have - it’s not so much a seamless saga as just A Year in the Life, as the final title reads. And, being built on owned concepts, which can rarely change all that much, even the more extreme changes aren't all that extreme - there's repetition, as is probably a natural product of the universe as it is now. 52 demonstrates both the comfort and frustration in that notion, as well as the joy and irritation in its operation.