Thursday, December 28, 2006

Week 34: In Sunshine Or In Shadow

The 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.)

More notes:

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.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Week 33: Come Light the Wrong Menorah

A nice breather of an issue--there are enough seasonal touches that it doesn't matter that not much is really happening that we didn't know about already. (Charlie's declining: check. The Suicide Squad's going after Black Adam: check. Luthor's a bastard: check.) And the title "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" is a reminder that we haven't seen Diana yet, outside of the Waid/Hughes origin. But everything slows down around this time of year, really, so I'll just think of this issue as a delivery system for what I fear is the penultimate Montoya/Question scene.

Good cover this time, too--I like the lighting and the ice-rink/tree idea. Still, that Batwoman is running around Gotham beating up monsters while wearing high heels is tough enough to believe, but that she's doing it in the snow, as on the cover, beggars the imagination. At least we never see her feet on the inside of this issue. And Nightwing would be a lot less likely to be falling to his death if, for instance, he were holding some kind of visible Bat-line.

While you're wrapping your holiday presents, why not have a look at, which has put up a fine little Schrödinger's cat of a home page? Or the latest updates to Ralph Dibny's diary?

And speaking of holiday presents: This week's Publishers Weekly Comics Week included PW's poll of comics critics for the best graphic novels of the year, but didn't include our individual lists. (Chris Arrant and Dan Nadel have posted their own lists elsewhere.) Here's mine:

1. Alison Bechdel: Fun Home (Houghton Mifflin)
2. Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie: Lost Girls (Top Shelf)
3. Kevin Huizenga: Curses (Drawn & Quarterly)
4. Grant Morrison et al.: Seven Soldiers of Victory vol. 1-4 (DC Comics)
5. Jaime Hernandez: Ghost of Hoppers (Fantagraphics)
6. Bryan Lee O'Malley: Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Oni Press)
7. Scott McCloud: Making Comics (Harper)
8. Carla Speed McNeil: Finder: Five Crazy Women (Lightspeed Press)
9. Hope Larson: Gray Horses (Oni Press)
10. Eddie Campbell: The Fate of the Artist (First Second)

I mean, the year's not over yet (and there's still an enormous pile of books on my shelf waiting to be read, including the three books from PW's shortlist I haven't gotten to yet), but all ten of these hit it out of the park as far as I'm concerned.

(Hey, commenters--I'd love to see your personal 2006 graphic novel hit parades, if you want to post them!)

So back to notes on the issue at hand:

Pg. 1: Ralph is boozing it up in the Flash Museum, which first appeared here--although they're actually in the rebuilt version, since it got blown up and then rebuilt here.

I can't recall a story involving Ralph, Edgar Allan Poe and Jack the Ripper, although Ralph and Poe appeared in the same story in this excellent comic. (Anybody want to help out?) Edgar Allan Poe also guest-starred in this issue of The Atom and this just slightly pre-Kirby issue of Jimmy Olsen--no Ralph in sight.

The "personal effect" is of course the "Anselmo case" gun I mentioned last week.

"Fella could get accustomed to this sorcery stuff"--what, didn't we establish recently that in the Tenth Age DCU, there's no such thing as a free lunch, sorcery-wise?

Pg. 2: James Pierpont wrote "One Horse Open Sleigh" in 1857.

Pg. 3: We still don't know whether this Nightwing is Dick or Jason, but I lean toward Jason, since 1) he was unabashedly checking out her rack in a rather un-Grayson-like way a few weeks ago, and 2) he's much more likely to be willing to speak for the entire Bat-family than Dick would be, considering how uneasy Dick was about taking over for Batman a few weeks ago.

I do appreciate having the entire lyric to "Joy to the World" running through this scene.

Pg. 4: If it's laser-honed and never loses its edge, do you really want to catch it when it's flying?

Pg. 5: No record of a Luis Dominero anywhere in the literature (cough). But you'd think that with all Luthor's technological savvy, he'd come up with with a way to deal with the blatant bad lorem ipsum that's all over his scenes this time...

Pg. 6: Luthor's "Energy Readings" are precisely the same as Dominero's. Some of the worst figure drawing I've seen in a major-company comic book in a while on this page, by the way.

Pg. 8: For more people complaining about the unfairness of their lives in the wintertime, please see this video (long, but worth watching the whole thing).

Pg. 10: Okay, one major gripe to get out of the way before the good stuff (and I'm not even going to complain about the timeline/what-year-is-this problem). The menorah in panel 1 (and on page 13, panel 7) has seven branches, and it's the one Kate has been using (there's melted wax on it). But that's the kind of menorah that was associated with the old Temple in Judaism--see this page for details. It's not a Hanukkah menorah, which is the kind Kate would use, and has nine branches. That's sort of the point of it, really: the middle candle is the shamash, which lights the other ones, one for each of the eight nights of the holiday.

If you'd like to see what a Hanukkah menorah looks like in a comic book: Colossal Boy and his family use one in the 30th century.

Now to the heart of this issue: Charlie's delusional monologue, which is actually one reference to his past after another. The poem he's reciting at the beginning of the scene is a slight misquotation of a frequently misquoted poem by William Hughes Mearns, the father of "creative writing."

The rest of the scene is mostly lines from the final few issues of the marvelous Dennis O'Neil/Denys Cowan incarnation of The Question, which take place around Christmastime too--several pages appear in this thread. The "leaving Hub City"/"Mommy told me" bit is from a scene in this issue, in which the badly beaten Vic Sage is telling his lover Myra about a dream he had about his mother. Myra doesn't really look the way she's drawn here; she wasn't wearing earrings in any of the relevant scenes, either. Three cheers for reference!

Pg. 11: Jackie was Myra's daughter, who died in this issue--although this Rucka-written issue claimed she was still alive. Anyone want to identify the "son, can you hear me?" panel?

Pg. 12: The "I couldn't say it" business fills in a blank from this issue, the last one of the monthly Question series (followed by the short-lived Question Quarterly). Myra, undressing and getting into bed with the sleeping, recovering Vic, says "We've never said the words, have we? Even in the heat of passion, neither one of us has ever mentioned love. I don't know if that means we're brave and honest people--or cowards. I used to think it didn't matter. Now, I'm not sure. I wonder if saying the words aloud might not make the words true. You're not awake. That's good, because I wouldn't be able to say these things if you were." (She kisses him.) "I wouldn't be able to finally say, 'I love you.' I do say it, Vic. For what it's worth." And he says "Myra?" Cut to the next morning--Christmas morning, actually... and a scene in which he says, among other things, "We're going to play in the snow, Tot," and "after last night, I should hope so."

Incidentally, the last three issues of The Question were $1.50 apiece at my local comic shop. Mile High Comics currently has most of the series very heavily discounted, and if you throw in the half-off THANKYOU code word mentioned in their latest newsletter, you can pick them up for pennies.

Pg. 14: I'm guessing Morrison wrote the scene with Ellen Baker on her front porch, because Americans say "Merry Christmas," not "Happy Christmas." This page is the first we've seen of Bea in a good long while. I like the look of that junkyard dog in the panel with Red Tornado's head. And apparently Guy Gardner doesn't know what a Hanukkah menorah looks like either.

Pg. 15: Selina is looking very pregnant for somebody who's not due until May. I hope the fact that the Steelworks' lights are out is a sign that John Henry's having fun with Kala somewhere--after the end of his series, he deserves a break love-life-wise. Commissioner Gordon's also back a little early, since as of One Year Later, which would have to be May, it's been three months since Gordon's return to the GCPD.

Pg. 16: Rather pointless recap, except for the "crocodile tears" bit.

Pg. 19: As I've noted before, the case for Black Adam as an "international terrorist" is very weak, I think; I still have yet to hear a good argument for it--or any argument at all, actually. Anyone want to make one?

Pg. 20: Atom Smasher's incarnation of the Suicide Squad appears to include the not-yet-reformed Owen Mercer/Captain Boomerang II; Cole Parker/Persuader; Plastique, who actually was a self-described terrorist for a while, then reformed and was pardoned, and hasn't done anything we've seen that would have landed her back in Belle Reve, although she's turned up in Rucka's Checkmate in the Suicide Squad too; the Electrocutioner, who according to Justice League of Meltzer #1 has since teamed up with Plastique as the Bomb Squad; and Suicide Squad stalwart Count Vertigo, who's also been appearing in Checkmate. Which is to say that Persuader is the only one who stands a chance of getting killed on this particular mission.

The Origin of Martian Manhunter: I'm still not sure why he's wearing one of the leftover costumes from Grant Morrison's X-Men, and I've never read Justice League of Englehart #144. But now I know what I want for Hanukkah.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Week 32: Holiday Charm

The big tease in this week's issue is of course the last page (page 21! hey, a bonus!): Ralph's declaration that he "already knew" that "'the end is already written,'" and that he'd written it himself "back in May, at the end of the Crisis, at the Ambassador Hotel."

So let's review: what did Ralph do at the Ambassador Hotel in May? It was way back in Week 1. On his bedside table, we saw Sue's obituary, the invoice and room-key from the Ambassador, a coffee cup, and two pill bottles. On his pillow, there were some wrappers from a package of mints. He got a voice-mail message from Bea, who we haven't heard from in quite some time; then he got the message from Elysium Mortuary, just as he was preparing to shoot himself, with a gun he acquired in the "Anselmo case" in 1995. (I was hoping that would turn out to be significant, but it's just a Moonlighting reference. Unless any DC-philes can tell me differently.)

One take on this is that, as Wizard's analysis suggests, Ralph would have been reunited with Sue more quickly if he'd just gone ahead and offed himself. Another possibility is that Ralph did in fact kill himself but it didn't take, since there are rather a lot of other people who were supposed to die right around then and didn't (Dick Grayson and Donna Troy among them), and that we're seeing some kind of Sixth Sense scenario. A third is that he killed himself and it did take (perhaps with whatever was in those pill bottles, rather than the gun?), and the whole series is a dying vision of what might have happened over the next year; not likely, but hey. (That might explain why the chronology of Ralph's story is so strange, though--didn't he tell Fate to take him to Nanda Parbat right after their encounter with the Spectre, more than a month ago? so why'd he detour via the U.S. first?) Another is that we're seeing some kind of metafictional "author/writing" gambit, although that's more Morrisonian than Waidian, and we're already seeing hints of that in the outer-space sequence, with Buddy talking about how the universe likes him. Or it might have something to do with Bea, or with the mints, or the coffee, or something; who knows what's a clue and what's not?

The title of this week's issue is a variation on Seven Years in Tibet--it's a book, it's a movie, and it's a song by David Bowie, which he also sang in Mandarin Chinese.

Two other interesting notes: the Snakes on a Plane daggers we saw in Rip Hunter's lab back in Week 6 are being wielded by a couple of the cultists attacking the beginning-of-career Batman on page 1 of Week 30. They look singularly un-useful for stabbing anyone very deeply, but there you go. And if you happen to be in New York and near the Jewish Museum, have a look at the Masters of American Comics exhibition--the "superhero" room curated by Jerry Robinson is hit-and-miss, but it does include Robinson's original design sheet for the Joker, which is precisely the same as the Joker card being held by a gloved hand on the first two pages of Week 1. (And while you're at it, do spend some time lingering over the Will Eisner and Jack Kirby and Chris Ware and Gary Panter etc. originals--it's kind of an amazing show, even if they do have a signed Basil Wolverton piece identified as a Harvey Kurtzman.)

More notes:

Pg. 1: About time we hear Boston Brand mentioned. For those of you just joining the show, he (or rather his spirit) is better known as Deadman, and he can possess and control other people's bodies. A useful sort of ability to have if you're going to be involved with a super-being who isn't just one individual. Not that I think he's necessarily part of Supernova, but it's an interesting thought. (For further Supernova speculation, see the terrific comments for last week's 52 Pickup; I like the idea of Supernova being former series-mates the Atom and Hawkman, but the "nobody knows where Hawkman is" business that was going around a few weeks ago makes me doubt that one.) Most importantly, when Boston Brand visited Nanda Parbat, he took on physical form. Curious. Even more curious: Dr. Fate has definitely encountered Deadman before. While we're at it, how does Ralph know that what he's found is actually a mystical amulet and not just a holiday charm?

Pg. 5: Another variation on the "super-team membership drive" problem. Do the Titans have a charter? Is there something they've got a responsibility to do? Why would they need to hold auditions to scare up more members instead of bringing in people they already know? I mean, within the story, that's Steel's suggestion for some reason, but what would the public understanding of why they'd be holding auditions be?

Again, I refer you to Kalinara's breakdown of the missing-year Titans. On this page, we can see Young Frankenstein, somebody (next to him) who looks like he or she is wearing the armor Natasha was working on, Mas y Menos, Aquagirl, Miss Martian, Talon, Molecule, both Riddler's daughter (who looks like she's wearing a Question outfit) and Joker's daughter, Flamebird (not this Flamebird or this Flamebird or this Flamebird or this Flamebird but, I think, this Flamebird--and you can tell that that cover was originally trying to do this, can't you?--who is a.k.a. Bette Kane, which just go follow the link because my head will explode if I try to explain her relationship to the previous Batwoman) and, speaking of that cover, Kid Devil, as well as a bunch of others... I'm just going from what's on the board of Polaroids. Also, why does Titans Tower have a golden statue of Superboy kicking himself in the groin?

Pg. 6: Talon notes that he's from a different Earth. Interesting--both that there's a parallel Earth and that he's that up-front about it. According to Tony Daniel, he's supposed to "look a bit like Owl-Man from the Crime Syndicate"--who are indeed from a parallel (anti-matter) Earth, post-COIE and pre-IC--and Talon's a good name for an Owlman sidekick.

Pg. 8: A bizarrely awkward scene, although I like Sobek's Tawky Tawny-isms. "Every village in southern Modora" would not be a lot, since this issue established that Modora has a population of 400. (Sonar, incidentally, appeared in Week 10, as part of Black Adam's coalition.)

Pg. 10: Starfire's home world, Tamaran, was destroyed here.

Pg. 11: 9999 stairs!

Pg. 12: So either the monsters we've seen associated with Intergang have to do with this "atavistic trigger gene," or there's a big coincidence going on.

Pg. 13: A tongue click? Wow, it really was a bad idea for Charlie to leave Nanda Parbat.

Pg. 14: The year of the pig doesn't begin until Feb. 18, 2007. (We're currently in the year of the dog; the previous year was the year of the rooster.) "Equanimity" rather than "peace": interesting.

The rest of this issue is fairly self-explanatory, except as mentioned above... EDITED TO ADD: ...and except for the awesome little visual joke on pg. 19, which I didn't notice until several other people pointed it out. See comments.

The Origin of Him with the Big 52 On His Chest: All I can say is I love the word "chittery."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Week 31: Plain Aryan Worms

The Captain Comet sequences of this issue, creepy and effective as they are, indulge in one of my least favorite science-fiction comics tropes: "alien cultures" that are in no way alien. If you're going to do the story where the commander tells the young soldier in Prussian military finery to save himself, but he doesn't, and then his bereaved fiancée mourns him, and then the soldier comes back as a zombie and turns his fiancée into a zombie too, that's totally okay--but don't make them residents of the planet Vardu and call the soldier Jodd and his fiancée Luribel and their god O-Dell, because transplanting genre-fiction archetypes of any other kind to outer space and changing them not a whit besides giving all the characters weird phoneme combinations for names and non-human skin colors is just about as lazy as SF construction gets. There are ways to make genre-fiction clichés of any kind fresh if you're willing to transplant them into a genuinely different cultural setting and see what happens to them--anybody remember Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hard-Boiled Shaman? go pick it up from the cheapie bins at your local back-issue store if you don't, because it's ridiculously fun--but the "alien names" thing isn't one of them. At least Xax has a pleasingly weird perspective and dialogue.

Really, though, the Captain Comet plot is transparently meant to do two things: set up Mystery In Space and the larger-scale Jim Starlin cosmic-DC project, and establish Lady Styx as exceptionally bad news. (And no, I never get tired of doing that.) It does fine with both of those, even if the church-plus-annihilation thing makes her come off as a cross between Darkseid and the Magus (from Starlin's mid-'70s Warlock stories). I have mixed feelings about the Big Scary White Cubes, but they do have a certain chilling blankness--speaking of Prisoner allusions, as I was a few weeks ago, they're somewhat Rover-ish. (Love the name "glorifiers," though.) And the idea of them being from "beyond the [52?] gates of spacetime itself" makes them come off as greater-than-three-dimensional incursions into three-dimensional space. (Morrison has played with this idea a lot before; if Barbelith from The Invisibles is its benevolent form and the business with the cubes/dice that turned up in various Seven Soldiers books, especially Zatanna, is its value-neutral form, this sure seems like its malign form.)

There seems to be a bit of a "devouring" theme going on in 52 lately, especially this issue: there was the cannibalistic Crime Bible ritual in Gotham and the turkey-and-chainsaw business on Oolong Island, and now we get the cubes "chewing" their way toward the Vega system, the turkey massacre reprised with Jodd's fate, Hannibal the Cannibal digesting what human relics he can, Ralph gulping his tipple (you know, he used to be satisfied by gingold...), and finally Lady Styx enjoying a crunchy power-ring nosh with her grasshopper pie. Implicit in a lot of these is the very old idea that you can get something's power and knowledge by eating it--the "planarian worms in the maze" theory whose most famous comics application was Alan Moore's early Swamp Thing stories. It's pretty firmly discredited science at this point, but that never stopped anything from being a seductive metaphor.

It's worth noting that the new Geoff Johns-written Justice Society of America #1 seems to have a lot of 52-related teasers: the first page is an image from World War III, as teased by Rip Hunter's blackboard in Week 6 (although not Morrison's earlier World War III or, I suspect, World War III as in the Atomic Knights stories), which happens before the main story proper; anybody want to bet this is where 52 is going for its climax, what with the international tension and promised destruction of a country and all? Can't imagine where else it might fit--unless, perhaps, it was an earlier 52-second-long world war nobody knew about.

JSofA also features references to a fight between Damage and a Reverse-Flash that I don't think we've seen, as well as teasers for the forthcoming year involving a "doctor... with no face," someone with a Legion flight-ring whose fringe implies that she's Dawnstar, and Kal-L emerging from the grave. And there's a bit with the not-so-coherent new Starman saying "There's a star on Thanagar. I dreamt about it. Ha! 52!" Plus, of course, a "Wacker Going Out of Business 52% Off" sign... Incidentally, confidential to Mr. G.J.: Harvard University does not have sororities (or fraternities), and virtually all undergrads live on campus.

More notes:

Pg. 4: There's something about Thormon Tox that looks very Gil Kane-drawing-y, but I don't think we've seen him before. Xax, on the other hand, first appeared here; he was killed off here. A different Xax appeared as a Darkstar here. At least he seemed to be a different Xax.

Pg. 7: The "Stygian passover" implies that there's some place that Lady Styx et al. didn't do this.

Pg. 8: Oh good: John Henry's discovered text-messaging at last. But Jade was Nicki Jones two weeks ago--why is she "Sierra" now?

Pg. 10: "Coles 87" would be the New York Jets' Laveranues Coles.

Pg. 12: Either Ralph's drinking ectoplasmic booze (that leaves a red stain on the hand, or whatever that oddly drawn body part in the final panel is), or something even weirder is happening, since liquid should be coming out of the flask in the first panel and it's not. He's already been to Nanda Parbat and come back, the chronology suggests, although it looks like he's going back there for next issue. Also, as far as I know, there's no DC precedent for the name "Derek Mathers"; anyone know differently?

Pg. 13: Okay, we get that Marseilles is important. But why? Could it have something to do with... Mlle. Marie? Incidentally, a postmark from Marseilles wouldn't say "Marseilles," it'd say "Marseille." Perhaps that's just a screw-up. Perhaps it's a clue.

Pp. 14-15: Here we have a very strong piece of evidence suggesting who Supernova is, along with a small contradiction. Ralph's dialogue suggests that Supernova is the JLA's early non-super pal Snapper Carr--I don't have the time to go into his long and not-entirely-comfortable relationship with the League, but he's basically the DCU equivalent of Rick Jones. Or vice versa. In any case, Snapper was briefly a (gizmo-powered, if I recall correctly) bad guy called the Star-Tsar here and here thanks to the machinations of the Key. One of two Keys. If you want to be cute about it. Later, Snapper had teleportation powers for a little while--activated by his Silver Age character tic of snapping his fingers--until in a typically nasty Tin Age plot twist, he got his hands cut off (and then replaced). And we know he's interested in odd colors of Kryptonite nested in devices having to do with hands (see Week 20). The contradiction here is that he makes a point of not being familiar with Cassie, with whom he is very familiar through his time with Young Justice; he's also very worried about being heard. Any theories about that?

Pg. 18: Curious that the only place Adam seems to have any skin left is his face--otherwise his costume appears to be clinging to his flayed body.

Pg. 19: She's wearing Xax's dismembered corpse as an earring as she eats the ring. Scary!

The Origin of Robin: That's a whole lot of iterations of the Robin costume there... not much else to say about this one, I fear.

Since I'm eager to stir up commenting again, here's a question that I'd like to open up to, particularly, people who haven't commented here before: is there anything you wish I were doing more of in 52 Pickup? I'm not promising anything, just curious.