52 — or rather, online summaries of 52 — is a fitting form of methadone, since it depicts a “lost year” in the lives of DC’s superheroes, everything that happened to them in the fifty-two weeks following a 2005/2006 miniseries called Infinite Crisis in which, to make a long story short, the universe blew up and got put back together again (the same thing happened twenty years earlier in the similarly-named DC miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, and I read that as a teenager — meaning that last year’s sequel series was an appropriate time for me to conclude that the wheel of comic book fate had come full circle and it was time for me to move on to new hobbies, like this blog).
But 52 has proven to have a life of its own beyond what you’d expect from an epilogue to a sequel and has been very popular. The premise is that Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman take a year off to recover from the events in Infinite Crisis and lesser-known heroes have to pick up the slack, doing a pretty decent job right up until almost the very end of the series, when, unfortunately, World War III breaks out. That happens in issue #50 (out of 52), out in one week (on April 18).
World War III in the comics isn’t quite what you’d expect from World War III in real life, though. Basically, the resurrected, superstrong villain Black Adam, who was active in ancient Egypt, finds himself victimized by the villain Egg Fu (or Chang Tzu, as he is more plausibly known in recent comics, but to longtime fans he will always be known by his older, more ridiculous moniker) and plans to retaliate against the Chinese government, of which Egg Fu is an agent, and by extension against anyone in the world who would dare get in the way of Black Adam’s vengeance. The beautiful thing about comics is that they dare to aim for a feeling of real-world political intrigue and personal drama even in a story that involves a thirty-foot-high talking egg with a human face, which is what Egg Fu is and has been since he was introduced some sixty years ago, at which time he was depicted with a more offensively Fu Manchu-like visage and broken-English speech pattern, full of transposed L’s and R’s (it is truly amazing that DC had the courage to revitalize and update this character). And you thought Kim Jong-Il and Ahmadinejad were ridiculous villains. Imagine having to explain to children growing up in the rubble of a world destroyed by Egg Fu how things came to be this way (“Why are you laughing and crying at the same time, Daddy?”).
Interestingly, there is one man on Earth who must be just the slightest bit frightened that the Egg Fu scenario will come to pass in the real world: 52 co-writer Grant Morrison. Morrison has described himself in interviews as a mystic (a practitioner of chaos magic, essentially someone who, like Carl Jung, believes the statistically unproven but intuitively seductive idea that meaningful coincidences occur in everyday life much more frequently than can be explained by chance and selective attention) and in particular has said that he thinks that things he writes about tend to come true in real life. This is quite an assertion, given that Morrison has written about mutants, gods, World War III (twice), cute cyborg lab animals escaping and fighting against the military (that one’s becoming a movie), a man who knows he’s a comic book character, a man who is either schizophrenic or the agent of a group charged with protecting reality against infection, rival time-traveling anarchist and authoritarian conspiracies stretching across the centuries, and of course Seaguy, the bored last superhero on a completely flooded future Earth who spends his time playing chess against the Grim Reaper (who dresses as a gondolier) and watching bad television with his sidekick Chubby, a levitating tuna who smokes cigars (when Morrison — who, I should add, is my favorite comic book writer — was pointedly asked about the unpopularity of Seaguy, he asked with annoyance whether comics fans were incapable of appreciating stories with “symbolic content”).
Nonetheless, if Morrison believes that he tends to encounter events and people in real life shortly after writing them in his fiction — and given that he hails from the UK (Glasgow, Scotland, where I was just last month) — he has to have been watching the recent tensions with Iran over the captive British sailors with just a bit more worry than the rest of us. I don’t wish Morrison ill, but how wonderful, in a way, to think that there may be one man out there genuinely worried that Egg Fu might cause World War III.