I read the first 13 issues of 52 and was bored so I dropped it. Ping33 kept telling me how great it was -- and Ping got me on board with Casanova and All Star Batman. Then Matt Fraction had a long post on his blog about how he also read the first dozen or so issues, got bored, came back and it got brilliant. That convinced me -- someone else who was bored by the first issues but then found out it got better beats Ping, who liked it from the beginning when I didn't. So I have been reading the trades, and am now at week 30.
I have discussed this before, but I want to come back again to the Heresy of Paraphrase. Cleanth Brooks discusses the Heresy of Paraphrase in his book The Well Wrought Urn. Here is a quote from the Wikipedia entry (I am being lazy today):
The book is a polemic against the tendency for critics to reduce a poem to a single narrative or didactic message. He describes summative [that's not a word, Wikipedia...], reductionist reading of poetry with a phrase still popular today: "the heresy of paraphrase." In fact, he argued poetry serves no didactic purpose because producing some kind of statement would be counter to a poem’s purpose. Brooks argues "through irony, paradox, ambiguity and other rhetorical and poetic devices of his or her art, the poet works constantly to resist any reduction of the poem to a paraphrasable core, favoring the presentation of conflicting facets of theme and patterns of resolved stresses."
I keep coming back to this again and again, reading 52. 52, at least as far as I have read (and Fraction says the turning point comes later, and I am not done reading yet), fails to resist the reduction of the comic book to a paraphrasable core. I think a detailed summary of the issues so far would be exactly as good as the comic book itself.
You can summarize Casanova all you want, but Ruby Berserko has to be seen in the comic book itself. You have to experience the density of ideas. In 52 you are not missing much if you miss what Infinity Incorporated actually look like. The meanwhile-somewhere else-the next day structure is really kind of a non-structure, so you are not missing much there. Would the comic book really be worse if you heard each thread (the space thread, the Booster Gold thread) summarized separately?
The Heresy of Paraphrase could also be a great blow to people who are ok with merely serviceable art if the story is good -- art like Quitely's prison panels in All Star Superman 5 cannot be paraphrased. The art for the first eight issues of the Invisibles on the other hand -- I think I might like them better just reading the paraphrase, or just reading the script.
Is the heresy of paraphrase a good test for distinguishing a good comic book or movie or poem from a bad one? I suppose this will only tell good stuff from mediocre stuff, though I do not think life is long enough to read mediocre stuff. There are things so bad they have to been seen to be believed, like I Know Who Killed Me.
I don't want to talk about I Know Who Killed Me.