52: The Graphic Audio

October 19th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A couple months back, I reviewed Infinite Crisis in “Graphic Audio” form. Graphic Audio is a company that takes books and turns them into jacked up radio plays. I didn’t know what to expect, but came out entertained. Luckily, there was more fuel for my ears in the form of Graphic Audio’s take on Greg Cox’s novel adaptation of 52.

Hm. Already, I could tell that this wasn’t going to be more of the same. Infinite Crisis and 52 are very different. Infinite Crisis was seven slightly-longer-than-usual issues, condensed. For the novelization, they had to add in bits from other comics from that time to pad out the story. The Graphic Audio experiment took an average story and transformed it into something pretty good. In fact, reader Illvillainy, who picked up the CD set based on my review, had this to say:

Granted my imagination had me envisioning Doug Mahnke doing, say 12 issues, of gorgeous art while listening to the CDs but going back to read IC afterwards and seeing 7 rushed and badly paced issues of Phil Jimenez trying to be George Perez with scrunched up layout and one page splashes was severely disappointing. The audiobook wasn’t perfect but it made me like the idea of IC a hell of a lot more.

52 is another beast entirely. The quality was far superior on all fronts and due to lasting 52 issues, the story was more decompressed. Well, maybe “decompressed” isn’t the best word for 52. It’s just that there were so many subplots going on that if you were reading it for one of them specifically, you could go at least a month without an update. I cared about all of them to at least some extent, so I was cool with it. Though, really, I was mostly in it for Booster’s storyline.

But what is 52 about, really? How do you describe the story other than saying that it’s a year without Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman? Infinite Crisis, despite the million different things going on, could be written off as “The DC Trinity and their sidekicks vs. the outsider survivors of Crisis on Infinite Earths.” There wasn’t one thread holding all the 52 plots together. Let’s look at the pieces of the puzzle:

– Booster Gold vs. Mr. Mind
– Renee Montoya vs. Intergang
– Black Adam vs. the world
– Animal Man vs. Lady Styx
– Doc Magnus vs. Egg-Fu
– Steel vs. Lex Luthor
– Elongated Man vs. Felix Faust
– Random other stuff like the Trinity re-discovering themselves, Firestorm’s new JLA, the Chinese superheroes doing stuff, and Red Tornado being a piece of junk

That’s a lot to take in and you’re probably already wondering, “How can they possibly fit all 52 issues of that into twelve hours of audio?” The answer is that they didn’t. Rather, they cut out a lot of the comic and focused on only a few of the subplots. See the above list? Compare that to what’s covered in Cox’s adaptation:

– Booster Gold vs. Mr. Mind
– Renee Montoya vs. Intergang
– Black Adam vs. the world

That’s it. The space guys, Ralph Dibny, Luthor, Magnus, Batman, etc. are ignored. Unfortunately, this includes the new JLA, meaning that I never did get to hear voice acting for Ambush Bug. Nuts. This also means a lack of crossover scenes. Looking back, that seems to only cover Booster Gold bits. In other words, there’s no sign of the scenes where he talks to Ralph Dibny, his team-up with Wonder Girl, his instances of open disdain for Lex Luthor, being yelled at by Fire for not caring about the heroes in space, dealing with Doc Magnus, and so on.

An interesting thing is that they do have a variation of the scene where Luthor insists that Supernova is Superman, only instead of Luthor, it’s Bruno Manheim in a more private setting. Rather than just be the top villain in the Question/Montoya subplot, they try to make Manheim a bigger threat by giving him some kind of presence in each storyline. They even use him instead of Egg-Fu for the Oolong Island scenes. It does work out in the sense that the story has a more solid conflict. Put the three stories together and you get a loose feeling of “heroes vs. Intergang”. Mr. Mind’s mutation is at least linked to the Intergang thread enough to make it work.

I actually went back to the comic and counted how many pages were covered in the Graphic Audio. While I’m probably off a page or two, I got about 480 pages across all 52 issues. That means that this version of the story covers the about 22 issues of material.

I don’t know if it was intentional, but cutting it down does really help push the theme. This is a year without Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman told through three major plots. Each plot involves stand-ins for the Trinity. On one hand you have the science fiction superheroes flying through Metropolis. Then you have the gritty detective becoming a masked vigilante to save Gotham from a major criminal threat. Finally, there’s the story of gods trying to protect and coexist with humanity. It’s very cut and dry.

There are thirty-one voice actors, which is a bit surprising. Granted, it’s a couple less than Infinite Crisis, but that audio book had a ton of characters. 52 keeps it simple in comparison. Most of the stories don’t branch out too far from their core characters. Dry narrator Richard Rohan makes his return.

It might be easier if I just cover this story-to-story. Let’s start with Montoya.

The Montoya subplot is easily the most literal of the three. I suppose this is both because of Manheim’s enhanced role and the fact that the only story Montoya crosses over into is Black Adam’s. Thinking back, the only major bit I recall missing is when Montoya and the Question are arrested and have to escape jail. Here, they simply just escape capture altogether.

In terms of voice acting, Montoya’s fine. She sounds like a 30-something woman who’s had one too many bad days. That’s all well and good. Bruno Manheim comes across as a Godfather reject who’s trying his hardest to sound eloquent. It’s especially entertaining when he reads from the Crime Bible. Batwoman comes across as bitchy with the, “I don’t have time for this shit,” tone to her voice. There’s the laid-back Nightwing and Richard Dragon, who left so little of an impression that I can’t remember a thing about him.

The real star in this story is Vic Sage/Question. We all know and love Jeffery Combs’ portrayal of the Question on Justice League Unlimited, where he played a more family friendly Rorschach, but Question in 52 is a different kind of guy. He’s a total smartass. Either you love what he has to say or you want to punch him. His voice actor nails it.

What really makes him exceptional is the scene in the story where Vic is succumbing to his cancer and wanders through Kate’s home rambling from memories of his old solo series. It’s hard to read in print and it’s harder when you have to hear him. It’s a fantastic effort.

Cox goes a little overboard on the Montoya/Kane scenes. Nothing wrong with pointing out how they still have a thing for each other after all these years, but damn. Whenever they get angry and passionate at each other, the narration becomes borderline trashy for way too long. I do NOT need to hear Richard Rohan saying this stuff.

Next is the Black Adam storyline. Getting through this one is such a downer. They scale down on the part of the plot where Black Adam is putting together allies to police the world. It’s there and all, but the stuff with the Great Ten, Hal Jordan and Power Girl are missing. Also missing is Terra-Man. Black Adam still does his vicious demonstration in America, but he instead tears apart the surviving Intergang member that tried to offer him Adrianna Tomaz.

Black Adam’s voice seems better here than it was in Infinite Crisis. I’m not sure if I think that way because the voice actor got better, I got used to it or I’m affected by the better accents coming from Isis and Osiris. He sounds less vampire-y, at the very least.

Sobek’s voice makes it difficult for all the right reasons. His voice is so trusting that in the back of your mind, you want to believe that this time things will be different. This time Sobek will not turn out to be an evil Horseman of Apokalips. But there’s also that feeling of dread, like when you want to warn a movie character not to walk through a door when you know a killer is on the other side. Osiris comes off as so likeable and pure that you wince upon realizing that his days are literally numbered.

The other Horsemen also rule. They sound absolutely evil. Especially War, who sounds like a demon speaking to you through a McDonald’s drive-thru speaker.

The mad scientists on Oolong Island are a mixed bag. Dr. Sivana is absolutely perfect. From now on, that’s the exact voice I’ll hear whenever I read a comic with him in it. They try to mix it up with as many stock mad scientist voices as they could, though I do dig how one of them talks just like the nerd character from Robot Chicken. T.O. Morrow sounds like an old man at a country club, which I wasn’t down with. The biggest buzzkill is Ira Quimby, also known as IQ.

I can’t believe DC’s dropped the ball on IQ. The fact that you’re probably wondering, “Who the hell is IQ?” verifies that. Quimby is the Oolong scientist who, during Black Adam’s attempt to destroy them all, rallied all the other scientists to put aside their fears, work together and take down this bully for the sake of nerds everywhere. It was such an unexpected scene, but played out great.

Then… nothing. Quimby was able to lead a bunch of powerless scientists to physically defeat a threat so large that weeks later, all of Earth’s heroes found themselves having to resort to magical manipulation in order to put him away. By all accounts, that should make him A-list. From what I’ve seen, he only showed up briefly in Suicide Squad after that.

Anyway, Quimby’s voice here sounds less like a mad scientist and more like a cheesy caricature of a superhero. You know, the Dudley Do-Right voice. I wasn’t feeling it.

The filler from the World War III miniseries is missing, but it’s not like we need to see the death of Young Frankenstein. Sure, it scales back Black Adam’s rampage, but the dude already murdered a country’s entire population with his bare hands. He and Kid Miracleman should get together and make a game out of that.

Interesting enough, there’s one scene that’s added into the story. When the JSA breaks into Oolong Island to retrieve Black Adam, Greg Cox had written an entire sequence of the JSA vs. the Science Squad. It works out, since it gives closure to the Black Adam beatdown from earlier. While the scientists were able to hold it together to beat the Egyptian Marvel, their plans fall apart going after an entire team of superheroes. Dr. Cyclops tries using a black light gun to blind Dr. Midnite, which of course has no effect on him. Bug Baron sends a swarm of robot wasps at Mr. Terrific, but since Terrific is invisible to technology, the wasps just fly past him. Dr. Tyme zips Hourman forward in time to the point that his powers have worn off. Despite being powerless, Hourman is still able to lay out Tyme with one punch. It’s all great fun.

Though one thing that totally messed with my head was when Power Girl responded to an attack with something along the lines of, “My last bikini wax hurt more than that!” Now, here’s the thing. I know it’s messed up to think about a fictional character’s lady business, even if it’s a character whose claim to fame is having a giant rack. I get that. That doesn’t stop that line from causing havoc on my brain. Maybe it’s just me, but the scientific applications of Kryptonian genital grooming is up there with the “three sea shells” from Demolition Man.

Last is Booster Gold’s storyline. Though a lot of his scenes from the comic are tossed away, they do include a scene of Supernova looking through Dr. Sivana’s lab, as a way to foreshadow Mr. Mind’s metamorphosis. This also includes the newspaper clippings of missing scientists used in the missing Magnus/Morrow meeting scene.

Unfortunately, one of the best moments from Booster’s arc gets removed. That scene where he meets Blue Beetle for the “first” time is gone. That sucks. Instead, he just uses the stolen 52 seconds to steal that weapon from Steel back during the Black Adam rampage.

Another big change is that the Mr. Mind reveal doesn’t take place in T.O. Morrow’s hideout. Considering Red Tornado is a non-factor in the audio book, there’s no reason. Instead, to tie things together better, Booster’s confrontation happens before all the spectators at the World War III memorial. As everyone is confused at Booster being alive, Bruce Wayne smirks and says quietly, “Ah, time travel. Of course.”

As for the voices? There’s nothing special with Daniel Carter or Rip Hunter, though Rip’s scrambled chrono dialogue is really well done. Booster Gold retains his voice from Infinite Crisis, where he sounds much like Keanu Reeves. That’s pretty inspired when you think about it. What other kind of voice can you give a guy that makes him sound like an idiot no matter how serious he’s trying to act?

Supernova has a distortion to his voice that hides his true identity. You can’t hear the Keanu part of Booster’s voice, but if you listen to it closely enough at times, you can hear the same vocal patterns. It’s a nice touch.

The real king here is Skeets. In the beginning he sounds like the Billy West portrayal on Justice League Unlimited. He’s got the same chipper, smart-ass style to him. As time goes on, he loses the humor in his voice and becomes very cold and emotionless, segueing into his betrayal of Daniel. Then he becomes more and more vicious, vocally, like when he slaughters Waverider. He makes the transition into Mr. Mind, who has a similar high-pitched voice. After becoming a monster butterfly, the voice sounds downright demonic.

I enjoyed the set, but it did have some stuff working against it. I suppose that when I think about what made 52 great, I have a cornucopia of moments in mind from the different storylines. Like I said earlier, there are 22 issues worth of content here, which means 30 issues worth of casualties. They had to do it, no doubt, but it still stings.

Is it worth getting? I guess that depends not on how much you liked the series, but how much you liked those three specific storylines.

Now let’s take a look at some samples.

This Booster Gold clip is brought to us by Soder Cola!

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Black Adam casually crushes a dude’s head with one hand.

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Black Adam tears a bad guy in half at a press conference.

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Question scares the crap out of Renee in a car.

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Black Adam flies in on some hot lesbian action.

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The death of Booster Gold.

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The Question wants to see if Osiris’ new powers are catching.

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Some F-List superheroes chatting it up at Booster’s funeral.

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Vic Sage’s delusional flashbacks.

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Rip Hunter’s incoherent speech.

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The death of Vic Sage.

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Oh, Sobek!

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Oh, shit! Sobek!

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The Horseman of War.

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The Horseman of Pestilence.

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The Horseman of Death.

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Ira Quimby rallies the Science Squad in his ridiculous voice.

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Evil Skeets reveals his true form!

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Mr. Mind gets his just desserts.

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So what’s next on the Graphic Audio agenda? From what I’ve been able to find, they’re going to be releasing a Countdown to Final Crisis adaptation this December. I’m going to go strangle children and piss on nuns because Lord knows that enduring that is going to be my penance.

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3 comments to “52: The Graphic Audio”

  1. They really nailed the Q’s voice.

  2. It sounds pretty damned intense to me. Geez, never thought I’d enjoy listening to a man being ripped in half.

  3. They’re also doing adaptations of some of the Justice League novels that came out a few years ago. Next up looks like Flash: Stop Motion in November.