If you’re at all familiar with the DC comics landscape of the last decade, the number 52 will have some meaning to you. With a little research, you’ll eventually end up discovering the eponymous 2006-2007 limited series. On paper 52 seems like madness. The plan was simple: DC would bring together five of the best creators in the business and they would publish a weekly coming for one year. It was an audacious plan and the mere fact that each and every issue shipped on time would make 52 a singular triumph. It is, consequently, very easy to forget that hiding in the history lesson is a truly fantastic story.
52 was Conceived as a story chronicling the year after the company wide Infinite Crisis in which the DC’s trinity: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, go missing. It brought together industry heavy-hitters Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, and Keith Giffen (on storyboards) to tell the story of how the DC universe dealt with the disappearance of its cornerstone characters. At least that was the plan. At some point, however, the creators went a little off script and the result is complex, multi-dimensional story that tells interchangeably personal and universe shattering stories.
Though the story is a collaborative effort the fingerprints of each creator can be seen all over certain story arcs. Greg Rucka tells the story of the last days of the Question. Mark Waid follows Ralph Dibny (the elongated man) as he investigates the strange happenings surrounding his recently deceased wife. Geoff Johns focuses alternatively on the Booster Gold in his quest for fame and Black Adam in his quest for … something. Finally, Grant Morrisons touch is obvious in two story-arcs: one focusing on an island of mad scientists, and the other on a mis-matched team of space-faring adventurers and all the while is clearly building to something.
If these story-arcs sound disparate and the character names don’t ring any bells (Intergang? Steel? Will Magnus and the Metal Men) and that is, in many ways, the point. 52 isn’t so much the story of any single character, or even any group. It’s a complex tapestry of wildly different narratives that show any reader that any character can be interesting and any story can be compelling. This is the story of a universe, from the personal struggle of rogue cop Renee Montoya to the multiversal machinations of *spoiler*. 52 really does capture lightning in a bottle with super-star creators going wild with what appears to be relatively little editorial oversight on one of the broadest canvases of all: the entire DCU.
52 is everything superhero comics can be: at once a rollicking adventure and an intimate character piece. It’s a sci-fi adventure, a mystery, a time travel story, a coming of age story, a crime thriller, and a love story (sort of).
When re-reading 52 for this review I realised that the story just turned 10 years old. Yes, there have been some great superheroes told in the last decade but it would be a real shame if you missed out on this one. Collected in two, awesome, oversized volumes, you can read the entire series right now. Available, of course, at Greenlight Comics.