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52 by Greg Cox
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441015078
Date: 03 July 2007 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

It's a year without Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman, but not a year without heroes.

In the aftermath of the Infinite Crisis, when the superheroes of the DC Comics universe confronted the darkness in themselves and the world around them, the three greatest champions are gone. This leaves others to pick up the pieces, as the world comes to grips with massive changes... and the growing threat of tremendous evils.

The criminal syndicate known as Intergang plots nothing less than the overthrow of law and order around the globe. Following prophecies inside the infamous Crime Bible, Bruno Mannheim seeks to sacrifice the "twice-named daughter of Cain" to bring about a worldwide apocalypse. Hot on his trail is the enigmatic Question and his protegé, ex-Gotham City detective Renee Montoya.

On the other side of the world, Black Adam finds love and peace of mind in the person of Isis, a fiery young woman committed to peace. But the workings of an island full of mad scientists (including longtime Marvel Family nemesis Dr Sivana) ensures that this tranquil existence cannot last... and Black Adam's fury will shake the world to its roots, erupting in what many will call World War III.

Superhero inventor Steel (aka John Henry Irons) has problems of his own in Metropolis, as Lex Luthor offers superpowers to anyone who asks, free of charge. The offer hides a complex and diabolical plan, as Luthor creates his own superteam and abruptly depowers a number of latter-day superhumans on New Years Eve -- just to spit in Superman's eye. What's worse is that Irons's own niece Natasha wants powers of her own, not just a suit of armor which she may not be mature enough to use properly. Her recklessness leads her into the heart of Luthor's machinations, and it may take everything Steel has to break her free.

And in the absence of the Big Three, new heroes rise to help out. A new Batwoman emerges in Gotham City, while a mystery man named Supernova struggles to prove himself in Metropolis, as Booster Gold's increasingly desperate PR stunts leave him discredited and then dead. But with a time-traveler, is anything truly as it seems? And what's wrong with Booster's sidekick Skeets? The golden robot is acting awfully erratic and his knowledge of the future is increasingly shaky. There's a mystery to solve here as well, one that may hinge on the seemingly meaningless repetitions of "52" that are found in Time Master Rip Hunter's lab... and babbled by the head of the Red Tornado.

If this sounds like an awful lot to take in, it is. Greg Cox's novelization of 52 is based on the DC Comics' yearlong miniseries of the same name, showing how the world fares in the absence of its three foremost heroes. The book shines the spotlight on many of these secondary characters, showing how heroism isn't a matter of one's power but one's heart.

It's fair to say that many of these heroes do not emerge unchanged -- or even alive -- from the events of 52, but the story completes the new status quo of the DC Universe and is one roller-coaster read at the same time. Cox undertakes a heroic effort himself in trimming down the myriad complex storylines into a coherent, cohesive narrative; this book is an excellent companion to his novelization of Infinite Crisis, DC's last major crossover event.

Fans of great superhero fiction will want to check this out right away. Be warned, there are some significant stories from the comic that are not included (such as the struggles of Will Magnus [creator of the Metal Men], the doings of the spaceborne heroes, and the travails of Ralph Dibny) but the essence is here. And what a story it is.

Recommended.

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