The Revolution was less than impressed with the last issue of 52. However, I’m willing to write it off as an aberration. At this critical point in the series, there is no way that the writers can afford to put out back to back weak reads. Therefore, I expect 52 #42 to be a pretty big issue. It appears that we are going to be focusing on our boy Ralph Dibny in 52 #42. Let’s hit the review.
Writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid
Art: Darick Robertson
Art Rating: 4 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Week 42, Day 1: We begin with Renee telling herself to not be scared and to look into the reflections in the ice cave. She sees her face wearing The Question’s faceless mask. (Ugggh.)
Week 42, Day 3: We shift to The Tower of Fate in Salem, Massachusetts. Fate’s helmet tells Ralph that the moment in upon them. That Ralph cannot hesitate. Ralph places several pictures of Sue in a circle. We see Sue trying to break free from the pictures. The helmet of Fate tells Ralph that he is ready. Ralph takes a quick swig from his flask for some courage. The Helmet of Fate tells Ralph to trust him. That their destinies are forever intertwines.
Ralph puts the Helmet of Fate on his head. Ralph takes his pistol and places it to his head and pulls the trigger. The helmet flies off Ralph’s head and lands against the wall. We see a shadowy figure emerge from within the helmet. It is Faust! Faust is stunned that Ralph knew it was him. Ralph responds that he knew because he is a detective.
Ralph tells Faust that he knew that this entire mission was a charade. That t wicker doll at the Kryptonian resurrection ceremony was merely Faust working his magic. Trying to give Ralph just enough hope to hand himself. Ralph then tells Faust that he set up spells of binding to keep Faust from escaping from the Tower.
Ralph then says that Faust played the Croatoans by posing as the Helmet of Fate. This got Ralph involved into the mystery. However, Ralph figured the Helmet of Fate was lying about how Tim Trench died so Ralph was guarded from the start. Plus, The Helmet of Fate’s offer coincided with Ralph’s need too conveniently.
Ralph then said he looked for prints on the Helmet of Fate. This was to confirm Ralph’s suspicion that something strange was going on. Ralph then uses his elastic powers and punches out Faust. Ralph says that he didn’t drink alcohol prior to the spell, it was gingold.
Ralph then picks up his pistol and tells Faust that this gun was a souvenir from a case concerning Altonio Anselmo, a magician gangster. That the gun was enchanted. Put a bullet in the gun, make a wish and fire. That is why way back in the beginning of 52; Ralph was sucking on the barrel of this gun. He was hoping it would grant him his wish of bringing Sue back to life.
Faust confesses to all of it. Faust tells Ralph that he is right about everything. That Faust bargained his soul to Neron. But, Neron gave Faust an out. That Faust could keep his soul if he gave Neron a soul that was pure and strong at its moment of greatest despair. So, Faust picked Ralph.
Ralph laughs at Faust. Ralph says that he was never trapped in Faust’s spell. That Faust was caught in Ralph’s spell. Suddenly, Neron appears on the scene. Neron tells Ralph that he is here for Faust and that Neron has no business with Ralph. Ralph responds that Faust belongs to him now.
Ralph says that he thought about trading Faust for Sue, but that Neron wouldn’t make such a deal. Neron agrees that he wouldn’t make that deal. Ralph tells Neron that if he wants Faust then Neron will have to go through Ralph. Ralph points his enchanted pistol at Neron. Neron waves his hand and the gun flies out of Ralph’s hand and rips off Ralph’s trigger finger.
Ralph says that he has put up with this façade for weeks and has been through hell and back in order to get to Neron. That Neron isn’t going anywhere. Neron takes Ralph’s chopped off finger that has his wedding band on it. Ralph tells Neron to take his best shot. Neron flick the wedding band at Ralph like a bullet. The wedding band rips through Ralph’s chest. Ralph hits the ground and utters that it isn’t over yet. That Ralph got Neron. Ralph then dies.
Neron grabs Faust and tries to teleport away. However, Neron realizes that he is trapped in the Tower along with Faust. That Ralph tricked him. The spell of binding is still in force. That nothing can be removed from the Tower without the permission of the one who cast the spell. Now that Ralph is dead, Neron and Faust are trapped here. Neron curses that Ralph knew this all along.
Week 42, Day 7: We cut to Elysium Cemetery. Fire is standing in front of Sue’s tombstone. Fire call’s Ralph’s phone but gets his voicemail. Fire then spies Ralph’s wedding ring on top of Sue’s tombstone. Fire cries and says “Oh, Ralph…” End of story.
We get a two page back-up story concerning the origin of Green Arrow. End of issue.
The Good: Well, that was definitely unexpected. I’m not too sure were I want to go with 52 #42. I have serious mixed emotions about this issue. Outside the context of 52, I found this issue to be a good read. Taken as a stand alone story having nothing to do at all with the events of Infinite Crisis or 52, I thought this was a well written story.
The writers took a broken down hero who was about as emotionally crippled a character as I have ever seen in the DC Universe. Ralph was completely deconstructed to his core being. And there Ralph was forced to stare into the abyss of his soul in order to see what was still there in the wake of Sue’s death. What Ralph found was courage and the heart of a true hero.
52 #42 was the big payoff to what the writers have put Ralph through since the beginning of 52. We have watched Ralph completely implode. Ralph fell apart and became a mere shell of the man that he used to be. He looked dirty and unkempt. Grew a big “Grizzly Adams” beard. Began drinking all the time. The reader looked on in shock as this once goofy and wacky JLA de-evolved into a sad and pitiful creature completely overwhelmed by grief and despair.
However, during all of these terrible events in 52, I never questioned that Ralph’s courage and true heroic nature wouldn’t resurface at some point. That point was 52 #42. Here we see Ralph clean shaven, hair neat and wearing a suit. Ralph has returned back to his clear minded self and shows off his razor sharp detective mind. In 52 #42 we get our hero back.
I absolutely loved the scene where Ralph exposes Faust. Faust is stunned and asks Ralph how he knew it was a trick. Ralph stands over Faust and responds “Because I’m a detective.” That was a ballsy scene. Just perfect. The writers show the reader Ralph’s greatest strength: his brilliant detective mind. Readers constantly forget that after Batman, Ralph Dibny is the DC Universe’s greatest detective.
The writers do an incredible job showing off Ralph’s detective skills as the reader learns how Ralph figured out that it was Faust posing as the Helmet of Fate. And then how all along, Faust was trying to trap Ralph in his spell, when in the end it was Ralph who trapped Faust. This was a wonderful reversal of positions that make Ralph look like a total stud.
Then we got the showdown with Neron and Ralph. I loved this scene. Here is Ralph who is a mere gnat compared to Neron’s awesome power. Ralph stands no chance at all against Neron. I mean absolutely none. However, at no point does Ralph back down. At no point is Ralph afraid. Just the opposite occurs during this encounter. Ralph acts like he is the one in total control of the situation. And, in truth, we find out that he was.
Ralph stands in front of a massively more powerful foe and spits in his face. Ralph displays the courage and heart of a true hero in this scene. Ralph’s dying words reflect his courage as he laughs at Neron about how he fell right into Ralph’s trap. And Neron’s horrified realization of how Ralph has trapped him was excellent. Neron is enraged that a lowly mortal like Ralph could trick and then trap Neron in such a fashion.
Of course, as we all know, Ralph is second only to Batman in cunning. And, honestly, despite his seemingly omnipotent power, Neron never stood a chance in a battle of wits with Ralph Dibny.
If you just follow Ralph’s story independently from Infinite Crisis and 52, then you have a well constructed and crafted story that takes Ralph to his lowest point and rebuilds him into an even stronger and more courageous hero than he was before.
Ralph died like a true hero. Ralph came across as a total stud. My respect factor for Ralph went through the roof after this issue. If you have to go out, then go out a man and do it by tricking a foe who is massively more powerful than you. That is exactly what Ralph did.
Plus, now Ralph gets his wish: For him to be reunited with his beloved Sue. The two of them are now together for eternity. Hopefully, Ralph has finally found the peace and serenity that he has been so desperately searching for.
The Bad: All right, now if you read 52 #42 in the context of the events of 52, then I found this ending to Ralph’s plotline to be massively anti-climactic. It turns out that Ralph’s big mission was to expose Faust and trap Neron. None of this has anything to do with the events of 52. Faust is a re-tread villain that doesn’t get me all that excited. And Neron is a total D-list villain.
To have Ralph die stopping a D-list villain like Neron is a bit disappointing. If it weren’t for having seen Neron over in the Teen Titans issue that spotlighted Kid Devil, then I would have never even heard of him. If Ralph is going to die fighting a villain, then I’d rather it at least be a villain that has more of a pedigree than what Neron brings to the table.
Also, Neron has had absolutely nothing to do with Infinite Crisis or the events of 52. It just seems like the writers came up with this ending out of nowhere. I would have liked to see that Ralph’s mission somehow played into whom or what is the “52.” At least have Ralph’s mission tie into the villains that we have been introduced to throughout 52. Either, Intergang, the Four Horseman constructed by the mad scientists on Oolong Island, Lady Styx’s horde or something like that
Instead, we get Neron and Faust popping up out of absolutely nowhere. It feel terribly out of place. It seemed as if the writers didn’t know how to wrap up Ralph’s plotline. It seemed way too random.
My other problem is that if a hero is going to die, then there death must result in a sacrifice that accomplishes something lasting. A hero dies to save a much of lives. A hero dies to save a planet. A hero dies in order to kill the villain along with him. A hero faces insurmountable odds and kills as many bad guys as he can before he falls in battle. Those are all good heroic deaths.
However, Ralph dies in order to trap Faust and Neron in the Tower of Fate. We know that Neron is free when he grants Kid Devil his powers. Kid Devil did not have his powers when he appeared in 52 #32. But, he certainly has them when the One Year Later storyline begins. So, he gets them something between Week 33 and Week 52.
We also know in Justice League of America #1, that Faust free and running around the DC Universe. Faust impersonates Deadman in order to get Red Tornado to give up his robotic body. I would have to say that if Faust is freed from the Tower of Fate then Neron would also be freed from the Tower of Fate. That means that Ralph died to temporarily trap Faust and Neron in the Tower of Fate for about ten weeks. Huh, yeah, that makes Ralph’s death seem pretty pointless. That Ralph’s death didn’t really accomplish much of anything.
Oh yeah, about the first two pages of this issue. I get it already. Renee is the new Question. You have been beating me over the head with hints about this ever since the first issue of 52. Just get it over with already so Renee can go on to be a total bust of a re-make of an existing hero just like the new Firestorm, the new Atom and the new Blue Beetle. All of those titles are getting pathetic sales numbers.
I found Robertson’s artwork to be pretty unimpressive. I found his art to be inconsistent from panel to panel. Some of the facial expressions were awkwardly drawn. The same could be said for Robertson’s anatomy. The art just looked a bit too crude and rushed for my taste.
Overall: 52 #42 was both a good read and a disappointing read. It all depends on the context in which you read this issue. I applaud the writers for trying to do something interesting with Ralph’s character. However, I just wish Ralph’s death could have served a more impressive purpose. I definitely think that Ralph’s plotline doesn’t need to be included into 52. Ralph’s storyline could be packaged together in its own trade paperback and be read independently from the events of 52.