Through a happy coincidence, the final issue of this comic shipped in the USA last Wednesday. Or, as they call it over there, 5/2. Coincidence, or something more sinister? No. It is a coincidence.
Anyway, 52 was, for US-based DC Comics, something of an experiment; instead of one issue shipping once a month, 52 was a year-long weekly comic, with the same writers and breakdown artist, as well as a variety of recurring pencillers and inkers. Given that a large number of comics from DC (and, to a worse extent, their market rivals Marvel) have been shipping at a less-than-monthly rate in recent years, there was inevitably a fair amount of scepticism amongst comic retailers and readers alike as to whether the weekly frequency would be maintained. And if it was, what kind of quality would we be looking at?
Overall, though, 52 was pretty good. Set in a world where the three main heroes (Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman) are absent, the story – notionally told in real time, like the TV series ‘24’ – showed the DC universe from the perspective of a cast of less-well-known characters, though of course some of the villains remain the same – Lex Luthor, for example, tries his best to exploit the absence of Superman. The story had a broad canvas, veering from the alleys of Gotham to the far reaches of outer space, and as such did a pretty good job of keeping my interest, though some weeks were inevitably better than others.
There were quite a few mysteries that ran through the series – the identity of new character Supernova (I guessed that one), the Elongated Man’s search for his dead wife (I did not see the twists there coming, and liked the revelations), and overarching it all, though only really apparent in the last six weeks or so, the mystery of which DC villain was trying to manipulate events to their own benefit.
This latter point led to the re-establishing in DC Comics of the ‘multiverse’ – a series of 52 alternate Earths existing in parallel with each other. I don’t pretend to understand the way it’s all meant to work – I’m not that bothered as long as there’s consistency, and not slavish adherence to continuity – but I have to admit I don’t truly understand what DC see as the benefit here, both in storytelling terms and in terms of luring new readers. Unless, of course, they’re going to make it simple for newcomers to know that on (say) Earth-10, there’s no Superman, or there is but he’s made of Fuzzy Felt, or whatever.
You either have to make the stories very easy to understand (often not the case at the moment, unfortunately), or ensure new readers are so very keen to know more that they’re happy to go to the effort of figuring out the multiverse thing (not really something DC should rely on, to my mind). Maybe DC will publish some cheap, or even free, primer on their universe, I don’t know. It would certainly be a good idea, as the comic-buying market is increasingly limited already, and this restricted marketplace could just be amplified by the fact that the comic stories now take place in one of 52 alternate universes, and you need to be able to figure out which.
Still, it did pretty well for them in terms of sales and interest, which was a good thing in the short-term. Especially as sales on some new titles have been near-disastrous (the Flash relaunch, for example), and the aforementioned scheduling problems have plagued the whole DC line, with fill-in issues aplenty and even creators dropped mid-storyline to take on a new team in the hopes of getting things back on a monthly basis (I’m looking at you, Wonder Woman).
52, then. A pretty good read, but in my humble opinion, far from a good thing in terms of attracting new readers.