Wednesday, February 21, 2007

52, the Multiverse, Retconning, and Death in the DCU

52 42: A Review

Do not read if you do not want this issue spoiled. This is the only WARNING I'll give. :)

"Because, Faust... ...I'm a detective."

With that one line, Ralph Dibny became, once again, the character I loved when I was a kid. Ralph and Sue were the perfect couple and Ralph had a good heart, the best ethics, a joy in life and what he did with it. I hated seeing Ralph sink so low after Sue's death, giving up being Elongated Man, moaning and groaning and being rather pathetic though single-mindedly determined, all with good reason, but still.... And here he was, being the Ralph of old, tempered by grief into a hardness he didn't have before, but still, Ralph, the detective, the man who could outthink nearly every human in the DCU, having figured it out. He'd figured out Supernova and he figured out Faust and he got the last laugh, only he's dead now (for good?) which means he's with Sue where he belongs. And I want to hate DC and the writers for this, but I can't because this was so damn good.

And now my confusion over the Dr. Fate miniseries, re: where the helmet's been if it's been with Ralph for most of the missing year, but no mention of that is in the miniseries, well, now I know why.

The intro with Renee and the "Question" was nice, but could've been moved to an issue featuring her, because it was so unnecessary here, taking away from Ralph. This was Ralph's issue. I guess we'll be seeing that in issues coming up, issues focusing on the major players of 52 to resolve their storylines. Is this the "big death" or will there be others, too? I don't know, but I can't wait to find out.

Maybe Ralph is really dead, never to come back. Maybe someone else will be Elongated Man someday. It won't really matter. Because I realized a few things while reading and enjoying 52.

I've said before that after Crisis on Infinite Earths, I gave up comics because Supergirl was killed. From 1985 (I didn't even finish reading Crisis) to 1991, I read only New Titans because I loved those characters. In my mind, the collapse of universes and the end of the multiverse never happened. In 1991, I gave up New Titans, too, because all the fun had been sucked out of it. I started reading comics again, bit by bit, in the mid-'90s, because I'd read that they'd changed a bit and got curious and went into a comic shop and saw lovely books that insisted I read them. So, I read the Nightwing mini and the Arsenal + Batman one-shot and the Arsenal mini (because of my lust for all things Roy Harper). And over the years, I learned I'd missed a lot.

I didn't know from Parallax or Zero Hour. I'd missed half the retconning and forgotten most of the rest. Slowly, I came to see that DC had had second thoughts about a few things. Characters came back from the dead. Green Arrow, for one. Hal became Spectre and finally Green Lantern again. I found I didn't mind some of the retconning. Dinah Lance being the daughter of the original Black Canary on this one Earth, carrying on her mother's "job," made sense. I could live with it. I got back into the rhythms. I figured enough out to keep track. And finally, Kara Supergirl was returned, even though she's pretty much unrecognizable. Such is life.

And that brings me to the whole point of this, this thing 52 has taught me, along with Identity Crisis and Infinite Crisis. Nothing is etched in stone. Things change. Just like life. But this is a fictional realm, one with superpowers and magic. These characters don't live "normal" lives and we shouldn't expect them to. They are not of our Earth. Characters come back to life and that's okay. I know there are people who think death should be permanent or it loses meaning and I agree with that, in principle. But in the DCU, things work a bit differently.

Death is still felt keenly. Characters still mourn. Not everyone comes back or comes back the same. Characters have to deal with their, with their own resurrection or that of others. Some, like Power Girl, have had to cope with being on the wrong Earth. Dinah had to face Ollie's death and then his return and how that affected her since she'd finally moved on. His cheating on her was a scab his coming back tore off. Nightwing is facing the realization that he was supposed to die. In the DCU, anything can happen, and they all know it. They feel the pains as well as they joy and when the writing is good, we feel those emotions, too. Even retconning, when done as part of a story, is a part of the way the DCU operates. And sometimes, it just a way to fix a problem or an unpopular choice -- ignore it!

Maybe the multiverse is returning. I hope so. I'm a big parallel time fan, from comics and science fiction novels. But I know it might not be what it was or what I'd prefer. All I can ask is that it be interesting, true to the characters, well written, and beautifully drawn. Sometimes, DC has dropped the ball in one or more of those areas, but they seem to have figured out how to do it right. They've demonstrated that with 52. I'll be with them for Countdown. Because I want to know what happens next. Because I enjoy seeing how things thread together. Now, in other books OYL, things that had to wait until the big reveals in 52 can now be told in those books. Some were not part of 52, but others did include events from 52. Now we see which events affect which books. It's been one big, fun jigsaw puzzle to piece together.

Yeah, DC still has areas that need improvement, but telling a good, complicated tale is something they've shown they can handle.

But they'd better not kill of Roy Harper, in Countdown or otherwise. ;)


  1. Nicely said, Shelly. Ralph was sensational, wasn't he? And somewhere, I hope he and Sue are together.

  2. Thanks, Sally. I always thought of them as the perfect couple.