Tuesday, July 24, 2007

52 The Novel

(Based on the DC Comic Series)
by Greg Cox
Ace Books
359 pages

Comic book heroes are by necessity larger than life. The visual identity of the graphic story lends itself to modern myth building as laid out by a particular artist. Whereas a novel will explore the world of the fantastic through the use of pure imagination. For years comic fans have argued the relative value of each element and its importance to the whole. What is more important, the story or the art?

With Greg Cox’s novelization of DC’s mega series, 52, we are given an entirely different interpretation of a once told tale. It is an interpretation I found both insightful and wonderfully entertaining. Having not seen the year long comic series it was based on, I was able to enjoy this book on its merits alone. Thus is my review aimed and not on the comics.

For reasons explained in a previous storyline, the world’s three most famous superheroes, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, have taken a self-imposed leave of absence.
Their sabbatical is public knowledge and the criminal elements of the world seize upon this as a golden opportunity. One such villain, mobster Bruno Mannheim, using stolen alien weapons and black magic, launches a two-fold diabolical scheme. The first is to gain control of Gotham City. The second, more grandiose plot, is to recruit the god-like Arab dictator, Black Adam and turn his country of Kahdaq into a haven for criminals and terrorists. Meanwhile something strange is happening to the very fabric of time that threatens to destroy the universe.

These threats are met and challenged by three very different and unique heroes. Booster Gold, himself a time-traveler from the future, is perfectly suited to take on the enigma plaguing the time continuum. In doing so he encounters a brand new hero calling himself Supernova. At first Booster believes the new mystery man to be an ally, but events soon transpire that lead him to wonder if this new player is really the true menace he is attempting to uncover.

Meanwhile, a former Gotham City detective, Renee Montoya, is recruited, against her wishes, by a faceless entity in a trench coat and fedora known as the Question. It is this noirish truth-seeker who reveals to her Boss Mannheim’s plot to take over the city. No sooner do they begin their attack on the gangster’s beast-men soldiers then they are joined by a startling new fighter in an all too familiar get-up. Enter the beautiful and dangerous Batwoman, who Montoya soon learns is her former lesbian lover, socialite Katherine Kane.

At the same time, over in Kahdaq, Black Adam, a one-time foe of Captain Marvel, is undergoing tremendous psychological changes. He falls in love with a slave girl who is then transformed into the hero, Isis. Then he and Isis save her brother from the same slavers and the boy is transformed into a junior version of Black Adam, calling himself Osiris. For the first time in his immortal existence, Black Adam believes he has found true happiness. But his joy is short-lived when his new family becomes the target of a group of super-villain scientists under Mannheim’s employ.

To his credit, Cox juggles these complex and intertwining plots like so many glass balls, always keeping them moving and spinning at the same time without a single misstep. His handling of each of the many characters in this mega-saga is true to their illustrious backgrounds. He propels the action with an economy of words that I appreciated and what looks like a big book is easily devoured in no time. 52 is a terrific adaptation and stands on its own merits as a powerful tale of good versus evil. In the end, isn’t that what all good superhero adventures are all about?


Glen said...

I haven't read this book, but now I'm curious as to how it compares to the comic. I had many problems with the series not the least of which was the art.

Ron Fortier said...

Which is a problem you don't have with a novel, Glen. This is, much like old time radio, theater of the imagination. And Cox's prose is solid throughout.

Anonymous said...


I'm reading 52 myself and am enjoying it. If you get the chance read Greg Cox's "Infinite Crisis".


Ron Fortier said...

Hi Ric, thanks for the tip. After enjoying 52 so much, I hope to pick Infinite Crisis one of these days.

Glen said...

Well, Like I said, the art was only one of the problems with the series that I had.

I'm intrigued by the novel because I'd learn how much of the problems with the comic was caused by the weekly format, or the writing by commitee, or what have you. For instance, in the comic, the space team would simply vanish for months of real time, then come back for two pages, to come back two weeks later dominating the book. A novel wouldn't have these sorts of problems.

Ron Fortier said...

Right you are, Glen. Keep in mind, Cox did trim lots of subplots, and I for am, and grateful he did. The three story-lines here are more than enough to tell a good yarn, with action and drama in equal doses. Once again drumming the cause of what a novelization has to offer comic readers.