Week 1Let's start with the title, shall we? It's a strange phrase: "Golden Lads & Lasses Must..." Both its content and its form may be familiar. The content is actually a misquotation from Shakespeare's Cymbeline: the line (from the incessantly quoted funeral song in Act IV beginning "Fear no more the heat o' the sun") actually runs
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.
The form, though, should immediately resonate with experienced superhero comics readers: it's patterned on the title of the first issue of Watchmen, "At Midnight, All the Agents..."--the beginning of a line from Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row" (the rest of it goes "...and the superhuman crew/Go out to round up everyone who knows more than they do"). That's not the end of this issue's echoes of Watchmen, but we'll get to that.
But why is the first issue of 52 called this? The weird pun of Shakespeare's line has no relevance here, aside from the fact that the heroes are dealing with debris; this is also not a story about death, really, or about the end of youth, and as for the "golden lads and lasses"--is that supposed to refer to the Superman/Superboy statues? To Booster Gold? What?
The point of this episode is that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have gone away--maybe the climactic scene at the dedication predates the final couple of scenes in Infinite Crisis #7, maybe it doesn't. So: what does it mean thematicallythat the Big Three are missing? To expand a little on a slightly too gristly idea that I tossed off in my Salon piece this weekend: What they have in common, which other (DC) characters don't, is that they all represent in some way the idea of human perfectibility--and, to some extent, the weak spots of that concept. Superman is the perfect person, as the result of a combination of an accident of birth and his upbringing; he's also not actually human, and as Geoff Johns pointed out in IC, his existence is proof that the world he's in is imperfect. Batman has made himself as perfect as a person can; as a result, he has systematically sacrificed his humanity. Wonder Woman is a sort of prophet of human perfectibility, in the sense of self-help: her mission in the world beyond Themiscyra has been to present the world with her vision of what society and individual behavior ought to be. (She is, of course, the least human of the three, both in her personal history and in the sense that she wants to remold the world rather than simply protect it.)
That schema, in turn, opens up the question of where 52's six lead characters fit into it. (Well, six to begin with; from some of what we're seeing on the Web site, it looks like there will eventually be three more.) In the order that we see them:
*Ralph Dibny believes himself to be hopelessly imperfect; he couldn't save his wife, he couldn't do much in the crisis, he's a relic of the Silver Age, etc. Hence his near-suicide attempt. But he is a detective, after all, like Batman--and, actually, like Montoya. And what detectives thrive on is mysteries, like the mystery of what's going on with Sue's tombstone. (The 52 site suggests that he no longer has his powers as a result of the various Crises. This makes no sense to me; if somebody can tell me where it was explained, I'd be grateful.)
*Montoya is the only one of these characters who has no pretense to anything other than baseline humanness. It's worth noting, though, that she's already rejected Black Adam's idea of declaring her own idea of justice to be superior to the law (by not killing Corrigan). I really enjoy her as a character--I loved Gotham Central, and I hope this series drives some readers back to discover it--and I suspect she'll act as a sort of grounding force for the series by being altogether outside the Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman vacuum/definition-struggle. If she turns out to be Batwoman, I'm gonna be disappointed.
*Steel tried to fill the Superman role back when he first appeared, of course, but in a way that presented itself as filling in for the perfect person to the extent he could. He is terribly wary of arrogance, to the point where he shuts down his niece when she presumes she deserves the recognition she doesn't yet. (Their conversation is the only dialogue this issue that rings really false for me; maybe I just miss Nat's zingers from Christopher Priest's issues of Steel.)
*Booster Gold doesn't appear to be interested in filling any of the big-name roles--he wants to be counted among their ranks (note that he doesn't try to give Superman's speech himself, he just wants to be part of the photo-op), and it could hardly be underscored any further that he's in the superhero business for the wrong reasons. He wants to appear, rather than to be, perfect. Also, his story is where the cracks in DC's new, "unified" timeline begin to appear: we now know that recorded history doesn't match up with a lot of our characters' memories of that history. You'd think that if history could be altered by the Giant Hands of Alex Luthor Smashing Stuff Together, a little memory-alteration would go along with that, wouldn't you? Plus wait: if Superman gave his famous speech after the invasion of Metropolis in Booster's history, that implies that the Crisis still happened in Booster's timeline, but in that one he wasn't de-powered?
*Black Adam is explicitly trying to fill the Wonder Woman role--look closely, and you'll see that he's set up shop at the old Themiscyran embassy. He's a superman in the Nietzschean sense that he makes his own morality; he also intends to convince everyone else of his rightness, to "lead the world by example." (Wonder Woman basically thought the same way, a bit more benignly.) The clumsiest scene this issue is the one where he rips the would-be suicide bomber's arm off--why does Geoff Johns seem to be so fascinated with dismemberment? It makes for a dismal comparison with the Watchmen scene where Rorschach starts breaking someone's fingers to get information that nobody in the room has. We got the message that he was a violent loose cannon, but that scene was shocking because it was so understated compared to the usual throwing-somebody-through-the-bar-window scene; this one's just more spurting-artery grossness.
*And the Question? Good, uh, question. We've had some sense of his motivation in the past; we don't here. The sharpest scene in 52 #1 is his solo turn on top of Gotham Central, peeling the sticker (who knew it wasn't just a painted panel?) off the Bat-signal and replacing it with a spray-painted question mark. Does that mean that he's planning to replace Batman (as a self-made hero), or that he's planning to get Montoya to fill that role (and, if the latter, why has he picked her out, anyway?)?
That scene, by the way, seems like another sort of Watchmen homage--not just the nine-panel grid and Ditkoesque storytelling (for the scene with the Rorschach-analogue!), but the particular way its pace seems to recall the scene in Watchmen #1 where Rorschach climbs up Eddie Blake's building.
But that reminds me: this Crisis hasn't been especially kind to the alumni of the Lillian Charlton Home for Wayward and Uncommercial Characters, has it? Blue Beetle/Ted Kord whacked, Judomaster with his back broken, Peacemaker shot through the chest (and yes I know it's a different Peacemaker but still), Captain Atom swapped back from the Wildstorm universe (maybe switching places with Breach?) and getting three words of dialogue in the final IC before the plot moves on (and hmm, maybe the new DCU earth isn't quite as unified as all that, given that Captain Atom got there from somewhere)... did something awful happen to Nightshade or Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt, and I just missed it?
Some other notes: The "two story pages" added to this issue after it was otherwise finished (as someone noted in an interview) have to be the first two, with the "new Earth" coalescing from bits of the rubble of recent continuity. It's a more striking beginning than Ralph's hand holding a gun, and I'm pleased to see Animal Man in there (and that repeated image of a hand about to play the Joker card, rather than just an image of Mr. J himself); it just doesn't seem to match the rest in tone.
Pg. 3: So the "Monster Society"--which I'm guessing has to be the Monster Society of Evil, from the mid-century Captain Marvel stories (have they used that name more recently?)--is active without Mr. Mind (the worm we see in Sivana's hideout on pg. 16)? Or is the Monster Society a sub-group of the bad-guy Society?
Pg. 4: Is Montoya's bar really called "52"? That somehow seems a little cheap if that's its referent within the story--although the Dominator in Supergirl and the Legion talking about the "fifffdeeettttooo" is more promising.
Pg. 5: God bless exposition.
Pg. 16: Glad to see Dr. Sivana back where he belongs: plotting behind the scenes in a fully-equipped Mad Scientist lab (those transistors!)
Pg. 17: Even more glad to see Dinah Lance being the person who welcomes Ray back. Her friendship with Ray--and the way that accidentally turned, once, into her falling into bed with him--was one of my favorite aspects of Priest's run on Ray; it's been ignored ever since, but this looks like someone's subtly acknowledging it. It also looks like Zauriel's okay, although he sure didn't look too healthy in IC last week. But neither did Dick Grayson.
Pg. 18: And it looks like Alix Harrower from Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer is facing up to superherodom.
Pg. 19: Wait: did the ending of Seven Soldiers, which it looked like the final spread of IC was spoiling, just get un-spoilered? And how weird is it to see multiple Soldiers in the same location? I know Morrison's co-writing & therefore signing off on this, but I still can't bring myself to think of them as a team. (Yes, I know a couple of them already appeared together in IC, but this seems more concrete.)
Pg. 24: Nothing much to say about the "next week in 52" montage--I'm not going to start speculating about its contents until a few weeks from now, it gets to stories whose scripts I haven't read in rough form--but I really like the concept.
A bit of administration, to wrap things up. A weekly 52-issue American comic is a dodgy idea, in some ways; a miniblog to review every issue of that series is an even dodgier one, especially given that I've got a book deadline in a few months and at least nominally have to write other stuff to put zwieback crackers in my baby's mouth. I'm going to try to update here as soon as I can every week for a while, and see how it goes. If it gets boring or impossible, I may have to abandon or modify my plans. (I am cheating a little this week to get in at the beginning: reviewing it not from the comic itself but from an advance photocopy. Future weeks' reviews won't appear until at least Wednesday night.) Comments, incidentally, are encouraging.