Overview

52: Week Eighteen

Review

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52: Week Eighteen

Credits

  • Words: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid
  • Art: Keith Giffen, Eddy Barrows and Joe Bennett
  • Inks: Rob Stull
  • Colors: Alex Sinclair
  • Story Title: Dismantled
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Price: $2.50
  • Release Date: Sep 7, 2006

The Tenth Age of Magic officially begins with the unveiling of the new Doctor Fate! Plus: Montoya’s late night love affair, crashed by Black Adam!

Without doubt, 52 has begun to hit its stride with the convergence of its chief plot threads, shocking developments for its mainstay protagonists, and an exploration of complex, mature themes rarely found in mainstream, core titles. After the bittersweet death of Booster Gold in a previous week’s installment, Week Eighteen continues to turn the screws with the much-awaited hunt for the new Doctor Fate. The Croatoans – a group of detectives (culled from the pages of Grant Morrison's Klarion?) – track down the Helm of Fate, only to find its initial selectee eloquently exterminated. At a loss for answers, one of the Croatoans, the Detective Chimp, gathers his other team (the Shadowpact) and tracks down the one-month absent Ralph Dibny, recruiting him to help solve this one, final mystery. Meanwhile, in Kahndaq, Black Adam presents The Question and Renee Montoya with honorary medals, marking their bravery for a recent, heroic action. However, Renee is aggravatingly absent, and this leads Adam into a red rage which culminates in a shocking, compromising sequence between him and Renee!

The hunt for the new Doctor Fate and the bizarrely cathartic events in Kahndaq are meticulously handled, written with a chary as well as playful tone that evokes an honest, sincere sense of drama. The ushering in of the so-called Tenth Age of Magic is an event that has demanded thorough explication, an absolute schema of what-is and what-isn’t between the previous Ninth Age and the current Tenth. During the course of Week Eighteen, the quartet of 52’s super-star writers gives us the beginning of just such a thing. Magic is shown to be deadly, possibly more disastrous than ever before, and the sequences, therefore, are suitably spooky, and sometimes downright eerie. They left me eagerly anticipating the next Shadowpact or House of Mystery to see how these ideas play out long-term.

Though as well-executed as the Fate sequences were, the gold, once again, goes to the Black Adam scenes, in which the big black cheese rams through a wall to uncover – Montoya and a her randomly-selected, lady one-night stand! With the death of the teenage suicide bomber heavy on her conscious, it seems the ex-police detective is more engrossed than ever with drowning her sorrows in sex and booze. While most mainstream books would never touch such a subject matter (and certainly not via a scene as overt as this) the writers involved deserve a rousing, roaring, perpetual standing ovation for the subtlety and sensitivity with which they play the pathos of the picture. Adam’s surface-level disgust with Montoya (an extension of his overall antipathy toward humanity in general), and Isis’ shrewdly conceived, indulgent sympathy for another woman’s descent into pitiable self-loathing are both blatant. Yet both are shown through generally silent methods, allowing the actions and expressions of the players to portray far more than the heated, emotionally charged words ever could.

And on that note: Eddy Barrows returns to 52 and pours out some of the best art the series has yet received , including an immaculate handling of the Kahndaq scene, utilizing an intuitive sense of body-language and facial expression that borders on the uncanny (though some of this credit must also be given to Keith Giffen, who laid down the outline, the blueprint positioning of the characters, acting as choreographer and director both). Barrows’ work has been strong in previous installments, but with this issue he simply puts his earlier work to shame, crafting an indelibly disturbing opening, a powerfully dramatic moment between Black Adam, Isis, and Montoya, and finally a thrilling finale with the chosen new Fate revealed at long last.

Though not all is wine and roses; two story slights reared their ugly heads in the course of the issue, both of which rang the fan-boy-continuity chime in my head and irritated me with decided intensity. The first: Detective Chimp (and all of Shadowpact, for that matter) are supposedly over in Shadowpact #1-3, trapped in a dome made of blood for the entirety of 52’s fifty-two weeks. And week eighteen isn’t nearly close enough to either bookend to squeeze this continuity error through with "DC-time" vs. "real-time" creative timeline tinkering.

Second: when last we saw Mr. Dibny (in Week Thirteen), he was cackling hysterically a lá the Joker, and cradling the straw version of his dead wife in his arms, obviously nutso-cuckoo beyond traditional redemption. Yet when he appears here, a mere five weeks later, he’s more or less subdued, recovered, and ready for more. Admittedly, he’s not portrayed as emotionally centered (not yet), and as still transparently reeling from the death of his wife, but that basically puts him back where he was at Week One, where this all began. The sudden switch from insane to quietly distraught felt akin to those times when an incoming writer disregards a cliffhanger plot thread left over by the outgoing writer of a book, a move which is always disheartening to any reader who enjoyed the concept that’s being swept surreptitiously under the rug. The explanation given is that Ralph was hiding out in Belgium and recuperating, but, no-way-Jose-uh-uh-sorry that just doesn’t work as an honest explanation – a trip to Europe may bring someone back from the precipice of an employment burnout, but what it emphatically does not do is wipe away the lion’s share of trauma caused by seeing your recently murdered wife resurrected in the form of a haystack scarecrow, a resurrection which you yourself bungled and witnessed the horrifying results of!

Yet even with these two rather egregious errors, Week Eighteen is so far the absolute height of the 52 run, a run that has so far reached above the expectations of most, I think (at least it catapulted over the entirety of the true fears the comic community held). The myriad plots are beginning to swim together and coalesce, and the big, big, fingers-crossed hope is that it’s all going to lead somewhere worth sticking around for. Not that the ride won’t be an attractive one all on its own, but the payoff of a fifty-two issue storyline does need to be a memorable one.

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