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Fifty-two, DC's year-long, weekly series, reshaped their universe and became one of the most successful "event" comics of recent years. It birthed a number of spin-offs, not all of them quite as successful. 52 Aftermath: Crime Bible uses two of the series' most successful characters and one of its oddest elements. It thus began with considerable promise. It ends with many of its readers asking why DC didn't bother finishing the story.

Writer: Greg Rucka
Art: Tom Mandrake, Jesus Saiz, Matthew Clark, Diego Olmos, Manuel Garcia, Jimmy Palmiotti, et al.
Colors: Santi Arcas, David Baron, Javier Mena.
Covers by John Van Fleet

In 52, Renee Montoya took on the identify of The Question after the original, her mentor, died. Kathy Kane made her first appearance post-Crisis as a significantly revamped Batwoman.1 As their stories unfolded, we learned about a Religion of Cain with its own Crime Bible, spreading throughout the DC Universe. In this series, Montoya seeks answers to questions about this cult, whose members apparently consider her a figure of some significance. As in all stories about dark forbidden books, the knowledge may come at too dear a price.

Cain, Lilith, and others merit mention by the followers of the Dark Faith, but not Satan. Nevertheless, this reads in places like some bizarre crossover between DC's universe and Jack Chick's. Crime Bible doesn't quite live up to that description, but the fact that it suggests it earns DC some points.

Renee Montoya continues to bring out the best in DC's writers. She's a complex character with a troubled past. Her encounters with her former associates prove interesting. They clearly know she's become something else, but fear naming it. This may explain how some of DC's lesser-known superheroes maintain their private identities; no one wants to go there. It also nicely parallels certain historical attitudes towards alternative lifestyles. The series draws distinctions between her ex-girlfriend Kathy Kane's two identities, both in appearance and apparent personality. Kathy Kane gets depicted as a contemporary rich-girl-turned-ninja-bohemian, the sort of person who, in DC's alternate reality, might become a superhero.

Villains have been less consistently-well handled. Crime Bible gives us an interesting depiction of the Penguin. He's an old-time villain interested in the bottom line, and has no place for a Religion of Crime-- save when the faithful wish to pay him for his services. The series' other key villains, alas, are largely interchangeable, thugs with a warped philosophy but little personality.

The quality of the artwork varies with each contributor. Clark gets Gotham City street-level right, while Garcia and Palmiotti's brawls balance real-world and superhero physics. Olmos's approach appealed to me least, and yet I cannot deny that the look of his art, reminiscent of old DC and Dell horror comics, suits the tenor and the tale of issue #4. The third issue, where Renee returns to Gotham City, represents the high point of the story. The city exists somewhere between past depictions and present big city reality, and we see a Year Onesque balance between the everyday and grotesque fantastic.

Crime Bible has an interesting premise and considerable potential. Although it references 52, its story could stand alone. Unfortunately, a rather padded final issue ends with a twist that's more of a cliffhanger. Once again, an entire series gets our attention and then becomes a prologue to something else. Greg Rucka reportedly will be writing a new Question series and doubtless we will learn more, but I would have liked a conclusion to this story within the mini-series itself.

1.Batwoman makes for an interesting study. DC originally introduced the character in the 1950s, in part as a response to the crusade against comics and Fredric Wertham's claim that Batman and Robin represented a homosexual ideal. Batwoman and Batgirl provided regular romantic interest-- without the kinky complications of Batman's obvious fascination with Selina Kyle. They were both later replaced by the Barbara Gordon Batgirl. Kathy Kane was forgotten, and then reintroduced so DC could kill her off. After the landmark Crisis on Infinite Earths series, she retroactively never existed.

Times have changed. A hero created in part because of homophobia has been retooled as perhaps the most visible gay character in mainstream comic books.

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