52 #14 (of 52)

I swear before this is over I’m gonna hold his dead body in my hands.”

Aw hell, writing team of 52 - now you’re just teasing us.

The first thing that stood out for me in this issue was the art, generally not the most noteworthy element of the megaproject; often, the book’s weekly release pace results in a rushed, perfunctory visual feel, the hodgepodge of attached artists just barely whipped into some semblance of a unified vision by Keith Giffen’s breakdowns. And said layouts are particularly tight here, with nearly half the issue blocked out into tight six or nine-panel grids, the storytelling kept fluid, but extremely regulated. So it’s especially good to see Dale Eaglesham’s pencils and Art Thibert’s inks stand out as much as they do, a real sense of fun brought to the proceedings with Montoya stomping around Kahndaq while biting hard on a cigarette that conveys her emotions through its very positioning (and watch it fly out of her mouth when she gets mad), and all those awesome exclamatory lines jutting out of characters’ heads upon the emergence of any surprise.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, it still feels pretty hustled - just look at that happy character’s eye suddenly going all lazy on the last page of the main story - but this just might be one of those times where extra pressure has led to a lightness of immediacy in the art. There’s even sight gags! And some nasty violence too, but that’s typical for 52 - the dank and the gory always rub elbows with the ebullient here. I’ve come to wonder if that’s not the most fitting summary of the current DCU after all, and helpfully found in the series that strives to map its contours.

By way of further example, Steel is on the cover looking awfully broody as he considers the detached head of Natasha’s old armor. But his story only gets three pages inside, and even his backup short has been delayed and replaced with the Eric Powell-drawn Metamorpho piece originally solicited for next week; surely this issue doesn’t have a damned thing to do with Metamorpho or his oddball origin (which proceeds in nearly stream-of-consciousness style when condensed by writer Mark Waid to only two pages), but hell, he’s part of the DCU too. As are the threat of public executions. And Doc Magnus and his highwater slacks.

Oh yes, if you’ve been a fan of the monthly Magnus/Morrow conversations (one of the better uses of the series’ ‘realtime’ construction - bit of a shame about the weird, perhaps mistaken repeat of the “Week 14 Day 7” label at the end of the issue), you’re in for a big treat here as that long-gestating subplot suddenly springs into beauteous action. Maybe the bit with the government goon hissing “We see the Metal Men as prototypes for a new generation of smart weapons. We don’t need them to tell jokes,” is a bit too overt in its metaphor, but it’s good to see certain portions of the book almost responding to the tone of other bits - contradictory, yes, but in a canny way for a series determined to encompass so many corners of a superhero universe. Why not touch on differing philosophies too? And the Magnus segment practices what it preaches, whipping up a wonderful vision of the security measures necessary for keeping the peace in a prison community for mad scientists: an undercover attack dog, a motorcycle woman with automatic weapons hidden in an ice cream truck, and a helpful flock of bald eagles arriving at just the right moment.

Meanwhile, I’ve also kind of grown to like the cheesy odd couple routine of Montoya and the Question; the whole thing would be insufferably flirtatious if Montoya’s own sexual/romantic longings hadn’t already been explored in some depth, and as a result there’s a strangely compelling dynamic at work, kind of forwarding the tropes of a romantic caper while acknowledging their limitations in applicability. Steel is probably beyond help, though - at their best, the ‘dark’ parts of 52 have managed to skate by on the occasional blast of thundering melodramatic craziness, probably because less adorned pages like those of Steel moaning about Natasha, having rebuilt her armor (the very armor he broke himself! oh the pathos! and he even changed the colors and cut its hair!! “…it’s a masterpiece…”), are hopelessly soppy in the hands of this writing team. Ah well; you can’t love every place you visit.