Week 34: In Sunshine Or In ShadowThe consensus is that this week's cliffhanger marks the end of the second act of 52, so it's worth considering what the overall shape of the series is looking like. Anyone want to take a stab at where you think the first act ended? My arbitrary end-point for that phase of the story would probably be week 19 (the introduction and exit of the series' previous "Danny boy"), after which all of the major characters have pretty much been moved into place.
But if I look at all the dangling plot threads I posted back in week 20, there really aren't a lot of them that have gotten resolved or even clarified much. The notes on Rip Hunter's chalkboard are still almost exactly as cryptic as they were in week 6: only "The Tornado is in pieces" and "Where is the Batman?" have had anything like an explanation offered. A few more of the "52 spoilers about 52" have been dealt with, though--and yes, one of the six original leads didn't see the end of the year, and it was Booster, not Charlie! Given that the new Previews notes that Bialya's population abruptly drops by 26,074,906 after week 43, I think we now know what DCU country gets the axe (yes, I was totally wrong about that one). The only still-open questions from that are the "new team of Freedom Fighters" (probably not in 52 any more); some members of the space team not coming home; Ralph hooking up with somebody/two former Justice Leaguers "bumping uglies" (I assume these are the same, although they might not be); and the "Lex Luthor"/"Monster Island" business, which I am guessing has been de-Lexified and Oolongized, unless there's another secret-island plot right around the corner.
So what's the second act of 52 done to develop the bigger themes of the series? Those themes themselves are a little on the fuzzy side, but the main one seems to be something like: what makes a hero? Luthor's Everyman Project has been on panel a lot, in a thread that boils down to "heroes can't be bought and paid for": they don't know what they're doing, and they're cannon fodder for his self-interest. What Charlie's been doing with Montoya is exactly the reverse--he's deliberately sacrificed his own life to make her the kind of hero she might become, and it's still not clear what he's got planned for her or if she's going to go along with it.
The point of the Black Marvel Family thread seems to be that good intentions don't do the trick either, as the Rolling Intestines of the Persuader can attest. (Certainly the Black Marvel Family have been working hardest to improve the world of any of the characters we've seen here--the people dealing with the Intergang issue are trying to plug leaks, and the Black Marvels are reworking the plumbing.) Ralph's story seems to be some kind of monomyth plot or Gilgamesh-in-the-underworld-type scenario. The space trio's story is what heroes do, in action: the "tiny band against impossible odds" story. And... Booster? Well, we haven't seen him in the second act. At least not calling himself that.
Even so, this series has sometimes felt like it's been stuck in a holding pattern over the past 15 issues, thematically speaking, no matter how much action and how many characters the Fab Four throw at us: the Steel/Natasha/Infinity Inc. plot, in particular, hits exactly the same points every time it turns up, and the outer-space and time-travel plots are inching along or standing still. It's interesting that the thread that's attracted the most discussion seems to be Supernova; Michael Siglain's reader questions session over at Newsarama suggests that the true identity of Supernova is somebody we've already seen in 52. So much for Snapper Carr/Orion/all the other Ph.D.-in-continuity theories. (But they were fun, weren't they?) Still, the only interesting thing about Supernova is the mystery of who he is--and the fact that his identity is the one mystery of 52 to which we've overtly been given "all the clues we need." There's a lot of stuff that needs to be tied up in the next 18 weeks, but if they're paced like the last 15, I can't see how this series is going to get to it all.
Given that this week's title is "Suicidal Tendencies" (and oh how I wish I could've linked to the Kiki & Herb version of that song), it's interesting that the first character we see speaking is not just a Suicide Squid reference but in fact used to have them: in the Ostrander-era Squad series, Count Vertigo was pretty firmly established as having a death wish. (The marvelous final scene of the final issue was Deadshot preparing to kill Vertigo, and Vertigo deciding he didn't want to die after all.)
Pg. 1 is Week 34, Day 1; Pg. 3 is Week 34, Day 3. Time--or something--is broken. And now we see the "Bomb Squad" in creepy action--although it's still not clear to me how Plastique went bad again and/or ended up in Belle Reve.
Pg. 2: Kid Eternity has always been associated with a character called The Keeper, but unless I missed something, the Keeper's usually his ally--the clerk who was responsible for the mistake in which he died 75 years too early in the '40s-era continuity, more recently a Lord of Chaos in the '90s Vertigo series. Then Kid Eternity was killed here, and came back in this Johns-written issue. (Here is a pretty interesting take on the conceptual links between Kid Eternity and the Marvel Family.)
Pg. 6: It's Greenpeace, one word.
Pg. 8: The return of Captain Guts Jr. As predicted last week, Persuader's the one who doesn't come back from this mission.
Pg. 11: "Graves" is Luthor's bodyguard Mercy Graves, of course; that name makes her sound like a Spirit supporting character...
Pg. 12: How old is Natasha? When Priest started his run on Steel, she was 15 or so, I think. And World's Finest would've had a tough time digging up and then printing the artistic nudes of Sierra last month (November), since she didn't make her first public appearance until Thanksgiving...
Pg. 15: Note that this scene happens on day 5, but a few pages later Lex says to release Clark in a scene previously indicated to be day 7--which leads directly into the new year's scene. Time is very broken. Sodium pentothal, by the way, is a trademark... and sodium thiopental, its generic name, is not all that useful as a truth serum. "Gaeamytal" is an invention of this story, although what makes Wonder Woman's lasso work isn't its atomic structure, it's (Ninth Age) magic.
Pg. 17: The song Charlie is singing is of course "Danny Boy," a song that has quite a story behind it--and oh, how I wish I could link to an MP3 of the Weasels' Merseybeat version. EDITED TO ADD: Chris at the ISB points out where we've seen the Question sing "Danny Boy" before.
Pg. 18: The lyric as written and usually sung is "the summer's gone and all the roses falling"--as in the rose Isis gave Montoya. It's sometimes "all the leaves are falling," which rhymes with "pipes are calling." "Leaves are turnin'" or "turning"? Not in any variant of "Danny Boy" I know.
Pg. 21: Yes, another extra page--guess that's our holiday present. Good move not having Charlie die exactly at the stroke of midnight, which would have been a little too dramatically convenient. When I read the spoilers for this issue on the DC boards (hey, I need my fix every Wednesday!), I imagined that the "next in 52" box would be its usual third of a page, but blank except for normal-size lettering in the middle: "Look! Up in the sky!" Which would've been interestingly scary...
The Origin of Zatanna: John is more often called Giovanni lately. Arion the Atlantean can be seen here with an emerald eye that's probably no relation. Sindella was Zatanna's mom, seen here, in a story that brought in the "Homo Magi" business, later referenced hereabouts.
There's always been some inconsistency as to whether Zatanna speaks individual words or entire phrases backwards; looks like Waid's established the reversals as being on the word level. I will leave it to somebody who knows more about magic-with-a-K than I do to tell me if any of the books in Zatara's library are particularly significant, although Grant Morrison has been linked to the phrase "Chaos Magick."
But beyond all that, the real attraction here is Brian Bolland--I've been reading some of his old Judge Dredd stories lately, and it still amazes me that he's been as terrific a cartoonist as he is for as long as he has. Bolland drew a scene very much like the first one on the second page as the cover of this entertaining volume.