The week after Infinite Crisis, DC debuted 52, its first weekly series since Action Comics became Action Comics Weekly for less than a year in 1988-1989. During Infinite Crisis, the entire DC Universe was moved forward a full narrative year, and 52 set out to tell the story of this missing year in real time, with each issue covering the events of a week. DC had established that Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman were not active during this year, which gave 52 a narrative hook: it would depict, for the first extended story, a DC Universe without DC’s “big three.”
52 was written by a team of four writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, and Mark Waid. This team seems to have worked well together, and they didn’t reveal who wrote what, except that Grant Morrison wrote Animal Man‘s dialogue, in deference to his run on the character. J. G. Jones provided covers for all 52 issues. Interior artists varied, although Keith Giffen did breakdowns for the entire series, helping to unite it artistically.
Beginning with issue #2, 52 began a back-up feature, entitled “History of the DCU,” an updated version of History of the DC Universe, which had followed Crisis on Infinite Earths. “History of the DCU” (10 chapters, 40 pages) wrapped with issue #11 and was followed by two-page origin stories starring various characters, each written by Mark Waid, with various artists. These origin stories appeared in issues #12-20, 22-28, 30-34, 36-39, 41-43, 46-49, and 51 (a total of 33 stories and 66 pages). The other issues featured longer stories and no back-up.
The story of 52 was originally intended to exclude DC’s big three, but they crept back into the story. Particularly memorable was Batman retracing the path he’d taken during his years of training to become a vigilante. But minor characters such as Ralph Dibny, Booster Gold, and the villain Black Adam wound up having memorable story arcs. In fact, Black Adam’s storyline, in which he gained a family of his own only to lose them, led into the series climax, in 52 #50, where Black Adam turned his rage upon humanity, an event known as World War III within the DC Universe. Augmenting this event was a four-issue mini-series, every issue of which was published (and occurred during) the same week as 52 #50.
The 40-page conclusion offered another memorable event: the formal restoration of DC’s multiverse, a concept abandoned in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths. In fact, this was rumored to have been the conclusion of Infinite Crisis, but that story was changed prior to publication. Thus, in 52 #52, the new DC multiverse was said to consist of 52 universes (called Earths as in the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths system), explaining the mysterious presence of the number “52″ throughout the series (as well as the series’s title).
52 became a wild success, with each of its weekly issues ranking among the top-sellers in their month of publication. The series hadn’t missed a week, and its various plots somehow managed to come together fairly successfully. Suddenly, every publisher seemed to be considering weekly publications.
The week after 52 #52, DC began a second year-long weekly series titled Countdown, which began with #51, as if it were counting back down from 52‘s numbering. Whereas 52 was essentially a flashback, set during the DC Universe’s missing year, Countdown was intended as the backbone of the DC Universe, leading into DC’s next big universe-wide crossover. For this reason, halfway through the series, it was renumbered Countdown to Final Crisis. The series, however, was a massive critical failure, proof that the magic that was 52 could not be easily recaptured.