At first glance the Dibnys’ arc in this story looks like it has all the same problems as, say, the plot of the Mario franchise: guy is despondent without girl, guy quests for girl while girl appears to do nothing to facilitate her own freedom, guy succeeds in quest and unites with girl happily ever after as though this is a natural consequence of success and not a relationship with its own intricacies and challenges.
But there are a few key differences that make this a lot less problematic.
1. Ralph isn’t questing for some princess he’s just heard about- he’s questing for his wife. The relationship between them isn’t founded on this rescue, it’s already long-established when our story begins.
2. Sue isn’t off in another castle sitting idly and waiting for rescue. She’s dead, which means by definition a) she’s got a damn good reason not to succeed in escaping on her own, and b) we can’t actually say she’s not trying because we have no idea what she’s doing. (This also means Ralph’s quest isn’t just a rescue, it’s the biggest mystery ever- the perfect job for the Ductile Detective.)
3. Ralph doesn’t actually rescue her. Along the way his quest becomes thoroughly complicated by the actions of numerous third parties, and by the end of the story his final victory is in doing something completely separate from resurrecting his dead wife. In fact, rather than overcoming the menace holding her and him apart, Ralph is reunited by succumbing to it- in the end he dies, and joins Sue in the afterlife. To reiterate: the guy doesn’t defeat the thing that overpowered the girl and prove his superiority- he surrenders to it, and meets her again by joining her in captivity. Take that, traditional narratives!
This is the final card in our Deck of 52. Thank you for reading.
If you’ve been wondering where one of our protagonists has been this whole time… here he is.
Ralph has been through some shit in this story. He started this year having lost his wife, and it’s been huge ups and downs ever since, from the not-quite-defacing of her grave and the locked-room murder of one of his closest colleagues to a wild ride through the mystic side of the universe that nearly cost him everything he had left.
But in the end, not only did he endure all this, he won. He beat two of the baddest bad guys in magic using nothing but his detective skills and his flask- and he earned his happy ending.
Wow. This guy certainly looks out of place next to those smiling faces from the previous card, doesn’t he? But then, that’s the point. Four is Death, after all, and who better to represent the death of caring and friendship than the monster who assembled the first Rogues’ Gallery team to counter the forces of three orphaned kids, killed the most endearing sidekick in this book, and now threatens to tear apart the very fabric of space-time? He’s even the villain of a family-driven storyline, bringing together three generations of time-traveling Carters to defend all of existence at a very personal cost.
Thank you for reading Deck of 52. Two updates remain.
We’re approaching the end of our journey here, so it only seems fitting to arrive at what some of us have been pulling toward all along. This is what Animal Man has been fighting for all this time. This is what’s been his compass, his goalpost, his horizon. Not world peace or lost treasure or untold fame and fortune- just the waiting hearts of those he loves, hoping to see him again.
There are three people on this card, but I think even if there weren’t it’d be in the same place in the deck. Three hearts- three make a family.
Thank you for reading Deck of 52. Three updates remain.
Shaolin Robot / August General in Iron Ten of Clubs
Okay, so I missed a whole week, but can you blame me? I had to figure out how to explain Shaolin Robot.
And that’s hard, because 52 tells us nothing about this thing. Literally nothing. It doesn’t get talked about. You can’t read its dialogue unless you know the I Ching off the top of your head or have a copy handy- and even if you do, the concepts expressed are so vague that it’s more like reading tarot cards than translating from another language.
So we’re down to what we can tell by looking at it- that is, what it looks like, and what we see it do.
What does it look like? A human-shaped, human-sized, armored robot with a gun for one arm and a blade on the other. So Shaolin Robot is made for fighting. It’s got a Chinese character on its chest, too- I don’t know what the symbol means, but I know it’s intended to mean something. So Shaolin Robot is like Superman- there’s a message in what it does, or at least an identifier.
What do we see it do? It fights Black Adam. In accordance with its design, it shoots at him and tries to hit or stab him. It doesn’t last long, but it’s hardly alone in that, and it gives its all. More specifically, it does so as a member of the Great Ten, at the orders of a teammate. Like a soldier.
We don’t know what the Shaolin Robot is, where it came from, or what purpose it ultimately serves. But we know that it fights, and it fights in service of something greater than itself, as a super-functionary of the Great Ten. Of the four suits- Hearts for love and family, Diamonds for wealth and perfection, Spades for death and absence, and Clubs for growth and energy- it clearly belongs in the fourth.
Thank you for reading Deck of 52. Four updates remain.
Seven Deadly Brothers / Celestial Archer Seven of Clubs
Due to a spell cast on him by seven taoist sorcerers, Yang Kei-Ying possesses complete knowledge of the seven schools of kung fu, and the ability to divide into seven identical selves each of whom is a grandmaster of a different style. However, he is also cursed with a supernatural lust for violence and unnaturally long life, making him a great Seven of Clubs- a team unto himself, embodying brute force and mysticism.
This card probably makes a lot more sense the second time around.
Five updates left. Be here Friday when we finish with the Great Ten.
Ghost Fox Killer / Immortal Man in Darkness Ten of Spades
Both of these titles refer to roles more than the people chosen to play them, and both pertain to death in service to one’s country, but where the powers of the Immortal Man in Darkness are a slow death sentence, the powers of the Ghost Fox Killer are judge, jury, and executioner. The as yet unnamed Killer comes from a hidden colony of mythical ghost fox women somewhere in the Chinese wilderness, and serves both as emissary and warrior for justice, wielding mystic pistols, a touch of death, and command over the spirits of those she’s killed. She is often accompanied by a living jade statue of an Imperial guardian lion, which protects her and obeys her orders.
Simply looking at the Killer’s tactics in battle or her actions as a member of the Great Ten, it would be hard to view her as a reimagining of Wonder Woman, but upon learning about her history and background, the parallels become clearer. Does her darker nature reflect some change in the culture that produced both characters at different points in time, or is she simply the other side of the same coin- a peacemaker who accomplishes her duty in battle, rather than vice versa? It is said that the society of ghost fox women will crumble if she fails to deliver the spirits of the evil men she dispatches…
This is yet another example of an interesting and nuanced character created to occupy a space that could easily have been filled by Background Superhero #3, and I salute the creators who made that happen.
Socialist Red Guardsman / Mother of Champions Ten of Hearts
We’re coming into the home stretch now- which, of course, means that the biggest battles, the greatest shocks, and the most important life-changing events are still to come. The Guardsman here may not directly fuel any of those, but it takes any number of pebbles to make an avalanche…
Gu Lao, like another of the world’s greatest superheroes, derives his powers from our sun. Unlike Superman, however, he constantly converts that energy into deadly radiation, requiring him to spend his days locked away from humanity, whether in a shielded chamber or a protective containment suit. He’s held his role and powers for decades before the public premiere of the Great Ten, and personally helped implement Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, raising worship of the state above religious or smaller political concerns for the Chinese people. Since then, however, things have been going steadily downhill for Lao, with the dismantling of that regime taking its toll on the man who’d tied so much of his identity to it, leaving him disillusioned with the nation he loves and disappointed by the generation that has superseded his. Perhaps the one new light in his life has been the teammate with whom he shares this card- the Mother of Champions, whose unique biosystem is immune to his radiation and who has been the first human to touch him in over fifteen years.
Things are coming to a head in Gotham, but that doesn’t mean they’re slowing down anywhere else. On Oolong Island, for instance, home of Chang Tzu and his Science Squad, one of the more reluctant mad scientists among the group that gave rise to Intergang’s Four Horsemen is getting ready to make his move.
If you’ve been paying attention, you remember that in the tradition of the original Justice League, the Sevens of this deck all belong to teams. So that makes sense, especially considering that there are six Metal Men (Platinum being the one not pictured above- that stuff is hard to come by on a remote island) plus the Doc himself. But why the Hearts for an emotionally remote intellectual and his team of two-dimensional machine intelligences?
Because, well, that description is just wrong for these guys. The Metal Men are some of the most expendable characters in comics- Iron and Lead could be rebuilt in minutes from new responsometers and scrap metal- but Magnus never treats them that way. He doesn’t even really consider himself their inventor- as he tells Chang Tzu, his theory was always that the elements are already alive, and just need a little push to express themselves. Nor do they consider him either an almighty creator or an oppressor to be overcome- through thick and thin, the Metal Men remain in Doc’s corner no matter what he’s up against, but treat him as a scientific adviser and mascot more than a “father” or even a team leader. Mercury loves being the center of Doc’s attention, and Platinum even has a not-so-subtle crush on him.
In short, like the best teams, they’re a family. None of them were born heroes, but they’ll never quit, either- not even timid Tin or prideful Gold would think of leaving the others, and that goes double for the Doc. Off his meds and surrounded by madmen with death rays, he’s still got the Metal Men in his corner, and that’s how you know he’ll make it out just fine.
At the end of Infinite Crisis she was an ex-police detective turning to alcohol, cigarettes and anonymous sex as coping mechanisms after the death of her partner. It took a crazy old vigilante with no face to get her up on her feet and out of her apartment, let alone the city.
Since then, she’s circled the globe more than once, following Intergang and their death grip on Gotham to the Middle East, the Himalayas, and more. She’s trained with Richard Dragon. studied with Aristotle Rodor, and been awarded the highest honor the government of Kahndaq can bestow upon a non-citizen.
Now she’s back in Gotham.
Her partner is dead. Her city is ablaze, in danger of being wiped off the map entirely. Her ex-girlfriend is held captive by monsters intent on carving out her heart.Her allies are few and far between.
But this time she’s ready.
As a police officer she worked by a code of law, and it held her back at crucial moments. Now she’s someone new- someone who can write her own code, and feel comfortable with her choices after making them.
If you were given a second chance to make a difference in the world… wouldn’t you?