Thursday, April 26, 2007

... One to Go

52 is coming to a close, so far it's been really satisfying. The pleasure of multiple plotlines is when they cross and merge, and with this week's revelations of what Evil Skeets is and what he wants, tying the Space Heroes to the Mad Scientists to Booster Gold, and with Renee Montoya, Will Magnus, and basically every superhero on Earth preventing Intergang's attempt to destroy the world in the last few issues, all the last issue has to do for me is explain what any of this has to do with Ralph Dibny's magical mystery tour or Lex Luthor's Everyman project.

Plotwise, that is. Thematically, I think I've got this egg cracked.

Over at the indispensable 52 Pickup, Douglas Wolk asks, "in a sentence, what's 52 about?"

And my answer is: "52 is about change, those that try to change the world, those that try to change themselves."

Thematically, global change vs. personal change is what ties the major plot threads together. Each plot features at least one character out to remake the world, whether it be Intergang with their Crime Bible, Lex Luthor and his mad dreams of Planet Lexor, Black Adam's "Freedom of Power" treaty, Lady Styx and her hunt for what the Space Heroes saw outside the universe, or Evil Skeets, whom I'll get to later. Even Ralph Dibny was trying to re-write the laws of the new age of magic to get his beloved wife back.

And they all failed. As they learned, real change can't be imposed from without. Anything that can be changed easily can just as easily be changed back, and difficult changes will be fought and rejected by the world itself. This is the pattern of DC's major crossover villains, from the Antimonitor to Parallax to Superboy Prime: they keep trying to destroy the universe in order to remake it as they want it to be, only to be beaten back by characters who refuse to go. (Ironically, it's always in storylines in which the writers and editors are specifically destroying the universe to remake it as they want it to be, only to see the changes they made undone with the next five years).

52 argues that change IS possible, though, but it has to come from within. Ralph can't bring back his wife, he can only become the hero he once was. Natasha has to build her own armor. Dr. Magnus rediscovers his inner mad scientist. And Vic Sage can't make Renee Montoya the new Question, she has to become The Question on her own.

It all comes back to transformation and the question "Who R U?"

Therefore... of course the caterpillar is the Big Bad of the series!

The villain of 52 had to be Mr. Mind, a character capable of making the personal change that Black Adam and Lex Luthor could not. Mr. Mind doesn't just change; he endures a literal metamorphosis! And it is only through metamorphosis that Mr. Mind can adapt to the new world (or worlds, I should say) before conquering it!

Doug Wolk worries that if you don't already know who Mr. Mind is, the reveal that he is Evil Skeets makes no sense. But I think it's a Fair Play Mystery. Mr. Mind's clearly seen in the very first issue, where Sivana talks about whether science or magic changes the world, and the image of his cocoon ominously ends both issue 3 and issue 10. Issue 39 even takes two panels out of the deployment of the Four Horsemen to introduce background info on Mr. Mind in a "We can't tell you why, right now, but this is important information" kind of way.

In a genre and medium famously criticized for the stagnancy of its characters and stories, it's nice to see a story devoted to the very idea of change, taking on new identities and new forms, growing from experience, or falling from grace. And in that context, a villain evolving before our eyes is the only kind of villain that makes sense!

Read More (spoilers)...


ShellyS said...

Great summary and analysis. There were a number of heroes on personal journeys -- even Batman and Wonder Woman were shown near the end of the year on their journeys -- and their growth has been real and engrossing.

Here's hoping Countdown is as good.

Anonymous said...

That's a brilliant analysis.

In this light, everything makes sense.

I suspect Countdown will not have the same thematic linkage.