Week 5: All Harnessed in GoldThere's a line from the Book of Judges, "the stars in their courses fought against Sisera," but I'm betting the way the title of this issue is meant to be understood comes from Rudyard Kipling's "An Astrologer's Song":
To the Heavens above us
O look and behold
The Planets that love us
All harnessed in gold!
What chariots, what horses
Against us shall bide
While the Stars in their courses
Do fight on our side?
That's an awfully confident thing to say, and its confidence is a little like the 52 puppet-masters' confidence: if the DC Comics promotional machine insists that 52 is the most important mainstream comic right now, then ipso facto it is. The problem is that that atittude removes the obligation to make 52 awesome in practice as well as important in theory, and although I'm totally engaged in the story--well, you may have noticed that I haven't talked much about the series' artwork so far. That's because it was unobtrusive in its first four weeks; this is the first issue where it's a real problem.
The verbal tone of 52 has gotten established pretty well by now--I can still identify the four writers' parts most of the time, but they've worked out a consistent kind of pacing. Having Jones draw all the covers was a great idea, even though the three out of five that are supposed to show scenes from the story rather than symbolic abstractions have had inconsistencies with the interior art. And having Giffen do layouts for the whole series is a very smart idea too, just in terms of keeping the story-flow consistent. It's interesting to compare his layouts at 52thecomic.com to the finished comics, too. The layout for week 3, for instance, shows Black Adam beheading Rough House, and also indicates that the blindfolded woman in that scene is named Andrea--also, it looks like Detective Jiang on page 1 of that issue was originally Detective Driver from Gotham Central, and Akteon-Holt was originally Glassonix (whose logo Booster's wearing on the cover of week 2).
But the style Giffen is using to draw his layouts has real flair, and a specific aesthetic. The finished artwork doesn't--it's just boilerplate superhero-comics cartooning, and that's a major opportunity lost.
Every memorable superhero comic I can think of has a particular, focused, unmistakable visual aesthetic. That tradition starts with C.C. Beck's Captain Marvel stories, goes up through the obvious Kirby and Ditko work in the '60s, and continues through recent stuff: Alex Maleev's Daredevil had a look all its own, and so did Michael Lark's Gotham Central (continued by the artists who came after him) and Darwyn Cooke's Catwoman (ditto), and so does Barry Kitson's Legion, and Mark Bagley's Ultimate Spider-Man, and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman (which even looks significantly different from Quitely's other work), and everybody's version of The Authority. And nobody's done that for 52.
Grant Morrison has worked on some projects that had lots of different artists who each had their own distinctive visual style, but those were comics where that was part of the point: The Invisibles is about multiplicity of perspective, and Seven Soldiers is eight miniseries with dramatically different tones about characters who experience the world very differently. (Even the musical-chairs game on Mister Miracle's artwork was formally appropriate for that storyline.)
Here, though, the rotating artists are working toward an absence of style rather than toward a specific style, which means that the drawing is bland at best, and often worse than "best"--especially this issue. Jimmy Palmiotti is one of those inkers who puts a pretty significant stamp on anything he works on--not quite as much as, say, Alfredo Alcala used to, but as much as Vince Colletta. Like Colletta, though, he's known as a guy who works really quickly, and sometimes it shows: his chunky lines here don't do the storytelling many favors. There's also a lot of dodgy anatomy and unconvincing facial expressions here, which might be Batista's problem and might be Palmiotti's, but it's somebody's. (See, for instance, Ellen on page 1, panel 2, looking like her eyes are pointing in two different directions, or Maggie's Dick Tracy-ish facial expression on page 14, panel 4.)
As far as this issue's story goes: It's amazing how much I enjoyed it, considering that a) it's mostly devoted to wrapping up leftover gobbets of plot from the Rann/Thanagar Mess, and b) although the Red Tornado's utterance seems to be foreshadowing whatever the main plot of the series will be, the character arcs we've already been following don't seem to be getting advanced at all. Booster? Hanging out on a rooftop, being irritable. Ralph? Eating a sub. Steel? Still acting funny. Montoya? Still has the Kirbytech gun. Black Adam? Natasha? The Question? Who? And I suspect the mad-scientists plot isn't even going to get resolved in 52, since a line in a recent issue of Geoff Johns' Teen Titans suggests lots of scientists are still missing.
The good stuff, really, is pretty much all character play this time: Ellen holding out hope for Buddy, Alan trying to be strong enough to carry everyone else's weight and not realizing how messed up he is, Pieter talking about "metahuman care," Buddy meditating on the picture of his family while Kory's enjoying herself.
"History of the DCU": Donna Troy weeps again. I can't wait for this to be over.
Pg. 4: Do we recognize anybody in panels 3 or 5? That's ringless Ralph in panel 6, yes?
Pg. 5: So apparently John Henry's face doesn't have the liquid-metal effect we saw last issue, and he's cleaned up the Steelworks, and either Natasha didn't find out about the explosion last issue or it's not a big deal. And Hawkgirl has switched from the ridiculous high-heeled boots she's wearing on the cover to more sensible shoes with treads. Why are they still wheeling her into the hospital, by the way, if Alan's had time to get himself cleaned up, get an eye-patch and notify Ellen Baker that Buddy's missing? Or is it just that she won't fit through the door?
Also, St. Camillus of Lellis is the patron saint of hospitals and hospital workers--a fitting name for a medical center, although it might have been funnier to figure out who the patron saint of superheroes would be. (On the other hand, St. Camillus was supposedly large and powerfully built, so maybe he is.)
Pg. 6, panel 5: That's definitely Ali-Ka-Zoom in the hat, and I'd like to think that the character he's talking to is Ystin! Of course, we're not going to find out for sure until Seven Soldiers #1 comes out, which now looks like it's going to be considerably beyond Week 7.
Pg. 8, panel 3: Wait--when did John Henry lose his hand? I don't remember that part. Issue number, please? And how convenient is it that the Red Tornado's voicebox was neatly implanted in Mal's chest (along with the robot-ish parts embedded in his face)?
Pg. 9: Pieter and John getting on with business while Alan keeps nattering away. Although I'm sure that his line about "the one I do have isn't even my own"--so the score for this issue is four eyes down, one eye up. And what exactly is his new eye? It looks rather green. Might it have something to do with the Emerald Eye of Ekron?
Pg. 16: I can't wait to see what Polite Dissent makes of this--something seems sort of dodgy about the treatment Hawkgirl's getting, in particular.
Pg. 17: Apparently the Red Tornado's last words were plugging the hot new series from DC Comics.
Pp. 18-20: The "heaven" where Adam, Kory and Buddy have been dumped appears to be the planet Adon, from Jack Kirby's Forever People #11, and even more conveniently they appear to have ended up with a spaceship--considering that they were apparently zeta-beamed there, does that count as a crash landing? I'm guessing that those eyes watching them belong to Devilance the Destroyer, given that the tag for Week 9 is "who dies before Devilance?" and it looks like him on the cover. But what is Devilance doing on Adon? They both appeared in the same comic originally, but Devilance spent the entire issue on Earth, and didn't seem to have any way of getting to the way-way-way-far-away planet where the Forever People ended up...