Thursday, April 24, 2008

I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing.

More than likely, no one is still reading this, as it's been effectively defunct for almost six months. I've been loyally, if somewhat miserably, reading Countdown that whole time, but to be honest, I just haven't had much to say. When I started this blog, I was coming off the high of 52, and a crucial part of that series for me was Doug Wolk's 52 Pickup blog. Returning home late from bartending on a Wednesday night, I'd crack a beer, read through the new issue and, the next morning at work, match it up with Doug's annotations. Wow, that sentence makes me sound like the nerdiest alcoholic on the planet.

There were two reasons Doug could do what he did. The first is that Doug is incredibly bright. The second is that 52 was bursting with ideas. The spinoffs from 52 were necessary because the four writers involved had packed more stuff into the book than they could possibly deal with in the bounds of the story. What's more, the story itself, centered on a handful of second (or third) string characters, developed those characters in such a way as to make them narratively and commercially viable again.

There were two reasons the writers could do what they did. The first is that they are not only four of the most talented writers in the industry, but they're all writers with the long eye. Each of those gentlemen has, on several occasions, proven that they have a gift for long form serial narrative and in most cases, for rehabilitating lackluster characters. Morrison made his career on it, but Rucka was, to me, central to pulling Batman out of a continuity rut, and Johns and Waid have done the same for Green Lantern and the Flash, respectively. This project was tailor made for these guys, or they were tailor made for it, depending on how you want to look at it. And the second reason is that DC gave them more or less free reign. Granted, there must have been some editorial mandate along the lines of "Hey, at the end we'd like a multiverse", but that doesn't exactly staple a writer's hands to his back; it's a fairly open-ended mandate, as these things go.

Contrast that with the mandate given to Paul Dini. Dini is not a bad writer, and I sincerely hope this project doesn't destroy his career, although it will surely haunt him for the rest of his days. But Dini's strengths have always been in writing short, iconic stories about iconic characters. The brilliant thing about his work on Batman: The Animated Series was his ability to make Batman seem more Batman-esque than he did in the regular comics. Dini followed this up with a series of large format one-shots with Alex Ross, who has the exact same strengths as Dini: Ross is fairly limited as a storyteller, but when it comes to making Superman (or any other hero) look as full-on godlike as possible, Ross is the go to guy. But Dini has never even attempted a long form story and has never been shackled to characters that in any way resemble human beings. Why on earth would DC editorial tap him to plot their spinal column?

But in fact, any writer would have failed at this task. Dini was given a start point and a very definite endpoint. He was in fact supposed to dovetail his story into another story by Grant Morrison, a writer who is kind of his exact opposite. Look at Dini's Detective and Morrison's Batman. Both great books, both appealing to, I'm guessing here, very different audiences. Both creating "timeless" Batman stories, in their own way: Dini by ignoring continuity in favor of concept, Morrison by making continuity the concept. I've suspected throughout Countdown that Dini was sneaking in backhanded digs against Morrison by portraying Grant's babies poorly (I mean, did he really have to make Klarion the witch boy such a asshole? And then there was that Invisibles dig in Arkham right at the outset), but who could blame him if he did?

The issue of editorial mandate brings me to my final point here. Countdown was doomed from the start; it was structured entirely from the outside, by editors who, while they may have many good qualities, are not writers. Any writer can tell you the crucial moment in working a story is when you're bent over the thing like a coroner and suddenly it sits up, politely removes the scalpel from your hand and says, "I'm sorry, but the type of story you thought you were telling? I'm not that kind of story at all. Let me tell you a little about myself." I believe this can happen within a collaboration of writers, but I don't believe it can happen as a result of an editorial mandate.

I'd like to bring Marvel into this for a minute. Marvel has an epic every couple months, and for the past two years, they've generally been okay. I mean, you can take whatever issues you want with the characterization in Civil War or the pacing of House of M, but they've been nowhere near as egregious as Countdown. All of the Marvel events come out of a similar approach. Editorial says, "We need an epic. Anyone got an epic?" and someone (usually Bendis) says, "Yeah, I've got this epic." And so the writer (usually Bendis) gets to have their epic and editorial figures out what to do in the aftermath. This used to be the model at DC as well: at the annual conferences of Batman or Superman writers, someone would present an idea, the idea would gestate among the writers and editorial would help direct the fallout. This was certainly the case with DC's most successful epic this year, the Sinestro Corps War. Which I loved. It was packed full of ideas and personality, it was clumsy and big and dumb, but the story was primary, the aftermath resulted from it. Countdown was always about aftermath. It was a pre-fabricated epic. It was like your dad planning the family vacation including a dozen required tourist stops on the way to Disneyland. At each stop, everyone ceremoniously and disinterestedly loads out of the car, stands in front of the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota and then loads back into the hot, sweaty, uncomfortable car. If you're lucky, the whole mess doesn't break down somewhere in the middle. But all anyone in the car wants is to get to Disneyland, goddammit!

Anyway, here we are at Disneyland. Grant Morrison is doing astounding superhero work right now and he's been given all the toys in the chest. The whole thing is going to be done up in sexy Chip Kidd-designed covers. That teaser image of Wonder Woman with tusks is hell of cool. Those of us who've read all of Countdown have paid a little higher admission price than everyone else and we came in a busted up Volvo that needed a new engine in Sioux City and lost its AC somewhere in the Great Plains, and its easy to look askance at those folks who just stepped off the plane and wound up in Disneyland. But the point is, we're here, the rides look awesome, and getting there isn't always half the fun.

Monday, November 26, 2007

#23- Special Guest Superman: Jack Bauer

I don't watch much/enough tv, but I do catch just enough to know that around the time Gitmo kicked into gear, torture scenes became par for the course in American television. Sure, the methods were brutal. In fact, they were staggeringly creative in their brutality. But to ease our collective conscience regarding actual acts of torture being perpetrated just off the east coast, tv's torturers were always in desperate situations and the guys they were torturing were generally pretty bad cats.

But Mr. Mxyzptlk never really hurt anybody and doesn't seem to have any crucial info. Mixy does inform us as to how SuperCopyrightInfringement Prime got all growed up. Looks like the black suit and some sort of "encounter" that will hopefully be explained as soon as Green Lantern 25 hits the shelves bulked up our boy. Except for his, ahem, superpackage. Lil' Supes has built a torturtastic Fortress of Solitude in the Source Wall (which Source Wall is anyone's guess) and is burrowed away with Mixy and Annataz Arataz, the evil equivalent of Zatanna. The torturing, including one nasty little facial tattoo, doesn't net us much information, except that Mxyzptlk is the third dimension's trickster god, sometimes known as Anasazi, Loki and Coyote. So, um, there's that.

In other news...actually, there is no other news. The aliens from Invasion show up briefly, only to get blowed up by Monarch's crew, currently lead by Lord Havok, who you might remember from never having cared about him before.

In the end, Annataz gives up her life to protect Mixy from Supes, and Mixy responds by flying away from the whole scene. And that, my friends, is all that happens this week. This week's treatment of Mr. Mxyzptlk is fairly indicative of DC editorial's treatment of some of their lesser properties. Whereas 52 tried to take the silly parts of the DCU and make them viable, it seems that Countdown is taking ideas that were never officially part of the DCU and doing violence to them. I hope no one actually likes any of those Elseworlds characters, because I get the feeling they're about to be trashed, for no good reason whatsoever.

#24- That's Really Super, Superman-Prime!

When legal issues and publishing issues collide, it's a perfect storm of poorly executed comics!

So our black-clad Superperson is revealed to be the Annoying Little Twit Formerly Known as Superboy! But of course, we can't call him Superboy, because DC might not own the rights to the character.

To make things even better, he's showing up here in a new outfit and VISIBLY OLDER than he appears in the still on-going Sinestro Corps War, which won't finish up until December.

Now I ask you, what the hell is that all about? Why is DC so committed to sabotaging the Sinestro Corps storyline? Dan Didio is over at Newsarama asserting that pulling Kyle and Prime into Countdown before they've finished out their stories in the Lantern book is what's best for all involved. The argument seems to be that coordinating multiple storylines is hard. You don't say!

It also seems that the epilogue to the Sinestro Corps War will be published before its conclusion. How could anyone be confused?

No Rogues, no Jimmy and still no sign of Harley and Holly this issue. Maybe they got eaten by those guard dogs a couple weeks back.

Everyone's favorite copyright infringement finds himself on the apparently quite pleasant Earth-15, a planet where the sidekicks have become the heroes. And Zod has become Superman, which doesn't jive with the rest of things, but I guess it doesn't much matter, since Prime toasts Mr. and Mrs. Zod in the first couple pages.

Possessed by Desaad, Firestorm still can't figure out a way to effectively use his pretty mind-bending powers. You give a guy who's supposed to be some sort of torture genius the ability to turn anything into anything else and all he can think to do is fire poorly-aimed laser beams at Karate Kid, whose superpower is...karate? But the Atomic Knights come to the rescue, defeating Firesaad with a shiny ball of goo! One more panel would have been enough to explain what the ball of goo was all about, but instead, a significantly less fiery Desaad boomtubes back to Apokolips into the middle of a Darkseid-Mary Marvel rumble. Mary might be entirely insane, but she's still devoted to free will! Granted, sometimes free will means magically not-quite-killing-but-for-all-extents-and-purposes-killing a whole lot of people, but some New Gods just go too far. Mary toughs out some Omega Beams, zaps Darkseid with her poorly-defined powers, poses for yet another upskirt shot and escapes into, well, she escapes.

"Elsewhere", Donna and Kyle have a heart-to-heart on an earth that apparently doesn't even rate a name. Looks like if you're a Green Lantern, "stick together" is sometimes a euphemism for "make out". Hope springs eternal, Mr. Rayner.

Back to Earth-15, we get a very brief glimpse of the JLA made up of Garth, Connor and Cyborg. Oh, and Martian Manhunter, but that guy's like the J in JLA. And then they get exploded.

Even the combined power of the Bat-plane and the Invisible Jet are not enough to slow this little legal loophole! In a move that can only be described as "a slight over-reaction", Prime decides that if the people of Earth-15 can't learn to love his psychotic self, he'd simply plow through the earth's core and explode that, too. I'm no geologist, but I'm pretty sure that's not how the earth is set up. Yes, this is the one thing I'm taking issue with: I don't believe that flying through the earth would cause it to blow up, and I challenge any of you to fly through the center of the earth and prove me wrong.

So what book is this anyway? Couldn't we resolve one threat before adding another? I wasn't all that interested in Lil' Supes in Infinite Crisis or Sinestro Corps and I'm not that interested in him here. I'd be much keener on Cyborg Supes or the AntiMonitor showing up here. Hey, maybe 52 AntiMonitors! You know, someone who doesn't come off as a complete blundering idiot. Even blundering your way through the center of a planet is still blundering.

#25- Catching Up on the Countdown

For starters, an apology. The combination of a busted hard drive, a death in the family and a looming book deadline moved Countdown to the back burner for quite a while.

Anyway, let's get back into it. After last issue's recap -fest, we're focused in on Karate Kid and Singular Girl as they are inexplicably accompanied by an elderly man and a small child through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. With the help of Firestorm, they hold off a couple of the Atomic Knights who've been patrolling Bludhaven since it done got blowed up. Not patrolling well, mind you, just patrolling. After a little bit of blood-specked chop-socky from KK, Firestorm remembers that he has the power to change any element into any other element, which is a handy skill to have, and the intrepid group proceeds into the bowels of Command D.

The Atomic Knights, by the way, show up in some of the post-Great Disaster stories, being all knightly and stuff. They also put Captain Atom into his current Monarch suit and we can see how well that went.

The Rogues once again escape from imminent capture through the stupidest means possible.

Over on Apokolips, it seems Jimmy Olsen's mysterious power-provider isn't the only one who cares if this little chucklehead lives or dies. Darkseid lays some Omega beams down on one of his own slavedrivers for messing with the kid. A nice gesture, but I've got to say, I just don't trust that Darkseid fellow. Something about his tendency to vaporize employees.

Mary Marvel, or Crazy McMiniskirt, gets the sales pitch for the Dark Side from Darkseid. Who can resist the thrills of "true darkness", you ask? Once again, we are confronted with the absurdity of self-aware evil. Darkseid is hoping to check one more item off his list of "Evil Things to Do Today..." But Mary looks a little wary. I mean, teaming up with the Wrath of God who happens to be inhabiting the body of the woman who trampled on your friend's brain is one thing, but...actually, I forgot where I was going with that.

Where are the Challengers? They're off in a tie-in issue. How about Holly and Harley? I'm not sure, but I'd bet whatever they're up to includes the phrase "scantily-clad".

And finally, KK, Singular Girl and the gang reach the super-secret caramel center of Command D, where the find Desaad, who is torturing an old guy! But not just any old guy, Professor Stein, who used to be the sciencey old guy portion of Firestorm. And by torturing said old guy, Desaad manages to take over the Firestorm matrix! Which I thought only had room for two people, but is currently housing three. Firestorm (or possibly just the Firestorm matrix) is not just an Elemental (which means he gets to hang around with Swamp Thing) but also contains part of the Life Equation, which is like the Anti-Life Equation only Life-ier. Despite his amazing powers, Firestorm is in the running for Most Killed DC Character. I'm pretty sure he died a couple times in Infinte Crisis and once got offed in Manhunter, which all of three people were reading anyway. You would think total control over the structure of atoms would keep you more or less intact (remember the Metamorphing Girl in Sandman?), but Firestorm and Metamorpho seem to be arguments to the contrary.

Before I sign off, let me just mention Ron Lim's art, which is wonderful, clear and makes the most of Keith Giffen's layouts. At some points it reminded me a bit of Matt Wagner's work on Mage, which is fairly high praise. A well-focused issue, which advances at least one of our stories a bit. At this point in Countdown, that's about the best we can expect.

Incidentally, I'm not picking up any of the Search for Ray Palmer specials. Salvation Run led off well, but it was Bill Willingham that got me in the door on that one, and Rucka's Crime Bible book is nice and sparse in the way Rucka's early Batman scripts were. Of course, all of this was trumped by the one-two punch of The Black Dossier and the new Scott Pilgrim. But you knew that, didn't you?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

#26- Expositionaggedon

You know what the Countdown team could have done to completely win back my heart? Simply titling this issue "Monitors watching monitors." That would have done it.

You know, I've had that joke in my head all weekend? How sad is that?

So starting this week, I'm following a whopping three weekly storylines: this one, Messiah Complex and the Return of Ra's A Ghul. Which puts a simultaneous strain on the patience and the pocketbook. Somehow I expected this would mean $10 a week worth of whiz-bang fun, but as I read through these three books, I realized I was following the resolution of a storyline I never really bought into with the X-Men and the surprise resurrection of a character whose superpower is resurrection. Next week will decide the fate of both storylines, but for now I'm feeling fairly yawny across the board.

But you're not here to find out about my comics purchases. You're here for non-stop Countdown to Final Crisis action! And title change means non-stop exposition!

This issue's purpose seems to be two-fold. The first is to bring new readers onto the title and get them caught up. Now some comic book companies might have done this by promoting the issue through ads. DC opted to promote this as a jump-on issue through Newsarama's weekly Countdown rundown, which, particularly during the contentious first weeks of Mike Carlin's reign on the title, is sometimes more interesting than the book it discusses. Before I post this, maybe I'll stroll around the corner and ask the fine folks at Comics for Collectors if they've seen a jump in sales. The second purpose seems to be alerting those of us who've been on board (almost typed "bored") for the last six months that we've been effectively scammed out of $77.74.

The art on this issue is the best we've seen so far. The layouts have a cramped, claustrophobic sense that effectively gives the reader the feeling of being crammed into Monitor HQ. Even the linework on characters contributes to this feeling and I really think that along with an improvement in the script, the art plays a huge part in making this issue feel taut in a way that the previous twenty-six installments don't. Tellingly, the art feels ill-fitting in the issues two interludes which occur outside of Monitor HQ and fail to evoke a feeling of open space.

Calling this issue a recap doesn't quite hit the nail. What this issue manages to do is bring together most (not all) of the stuff that should have been clear from reading Countdown and make it clear for the first time. Yes, it's highly annoying that the Monitors are once again deciding to rally behind Bearded Monitor, which they decided to do in, like, the fourth issue? And it's equally annoying that they declare war things. Things they dislike strongly. But at least we get some sense of what they're trying to avoid.

So here's the deal. The Source Wall(s) separate each of the 52 universes from one another, which is pretty important. Every time someone passes through one, it degrades the Source Wall a little bit, like termites in wood. If this keeps up, the Source Walls are all going to collapse, resulting in a Final Crisis, which is not to be confused with a Great Disaster. So Monarch and Bob the Monitor are bad news. I think it's still okay for Bearded Monitor to jump from HQ into whatever universe he damn well likes, but since I can't for the ever-loving life of me figure out where in this cosmology Monitor HQ, Apokolips or New Genesis are supposed to be located, that's just an assumption.

As if a Final Crisis wasn't enough, we're apparently also staring down the barrel of a Great Disaster. Karate Kid, who was hale and hearty last week, is suddenly vomiting blood. Greatly Disastrous blood. Once he's out of his containment suit, his Karate Sense starts tingling (you know, KK, that tingling feeling might just be the deadly virus) and a helpful Firestorm shows up to blast the whole gang into the offices of Command D. Firestorm's got one of those truly baffling backstories that regularly force DC to ditch its entire continuity, but the (possibly) relevant point here is that he contains one-fourth of the Life Equation, which is like the anti-Anti-Life Equation that Darkseid's so keen on. Good to know, eh? Thanks, wikipedia!

Possibly my favorite line this week is Bearded Monitor's assertion that apparently "SOMEONE considers Olsen invaluable." Certainly not readers, but someone. Jimmy, in case you haven't been reading, has developed wacky superpowers, most prominently the power to not get his dumbass self killed. What's not mentioned here is Jimmy's connection to the Source Wall, or the fact that there's a new Source Wall that contains all the dead New Gods. Jimmy and Forager dive right into Apokolips and get dropped like a box of rocks by a small army of Parademons. So much for that plan.

Oh yeah, someone's been killing the New Gods. So, along with a Final Crisis and a Great Disaster, you can add the End of the Fourth World to the mix. Which wouldn't be such a major concern, except that the Fourth World is the current DCU.

Mary Marvel's decline in mental health is mentioned, but that's about it. And perhaps the same hand is behind all of these things? Perhaps a big stony hand in a big blue glove? Perhaps the hand of the guy she's shown cowering before on the cover?

With all that bad news mapped out and the assertion that someone is certainly behind it, the Monitors, spurred by Bearded Monitor and Probably Kryptonian Monitor, decide to go to war against whoever happens to be certainly behind it. PKM makes with a sneaky little smile and a line about fear being a powerful motivator, straight out of the Sinestro Corps training manual after interrupting BM's communication with (wait for it) someone unidentified! I hope those guys know fear is also the path to the Dark Side, but seeing how versed everyone in Countdown is with films of the 1980s, I'm sure they do.

Next up, it's time for some interludes! The first is a reveal that really could have waited til next week. I mean, come on, give us a minute to sweat it out, why don't you? Yep, Jason Todd's switching of teams was a clever ruse, coordinated with the omniscient and totally useless Bob the Monitor so that the Challengers could teleport to somewhere still not very far away. The important thing about this interlude is that it gave the writers a chance to drop in this week's offensive adolescent put-down. Since Jason is so aggressively heterosexual, there's no use impugning his manliness, so Donna hits him with her "Re-Todd" zinger, receiving a high five from Kyle for her effort. Again, folks, this is not okay. How can we make this any clearer? Using sexual orientation or mental disability as insults is not okay. Words like "gay" or "retarded" should not be used as pejoratives outside a fucking elementary school. Editors and writers at DC, please grow up and stop putting embarassing crap like this in your comics.

I really am looking forward to issues where I don't have to include little tirades like that in my reviews. I can't express enough how much I'm looking forward to that.

The second interlude on Earth-15 opens up what looks like a whole new can of worms. A character who looks a whole lot like the post-resurrection Superman flies off into space with Earth-15's Lex Luthor, who looks like not such a bad guy. I mean, anyone whose willing to throw a thumbs-up at a camera can't be pure evil, can they? We know Zod is wearing the ol' blue and reds on Earth-15 and that the black suit was for maximum absorption of yellow sunlight. Oh, and we know that Black Suited Supes was getting chummy with Cyborg Supes and Kingdom Come Supes in the second teaser image. That, my friends, is about all we know. To clear up a minor point, my understanding of current continuity is that the S-symbol stands for Kryptonianism in general and not just the House of El, so your guess on this new guy's story is as good as mine.

Holly, Piper and Trickster are noticeably absent from BM's rallying speech, indicating that neither he, nor the editors have any idea how their storylines tie in. Mike Carlin has intimated that only two out of the three are going to be around by next month. Anyone want to place a bet?

I know I read the first installment of "Thy Kingdom Come" over in JSA, and I know it's probably of crucial importance to Countdown, since it contains not one but two universe-hoppers, Supes and Starman, who is one of my favorite folks in the DCU at the moment. But I can't for the life of me remember what happened. I'll give it a re-read and post on it if it seems relevant. The Death of the New Gods seems to be moving at Starlin speed, which is slow but steady (catch the "steady" part there, Countdowners?), with Mr. Miracle donning darker colors and heading for Apokolips with Superman and Orion, and Takion finding a new Source Wall that looks more like the devil's rec room. Instead of becoming one with the Source, the souls of the recently deceased New Gods are getting stuffed and mounted, which will probably lead to some sort of Great Crisis or Final Disaster.

Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get my hands on the first issue of Crime Bible, but I've got a copy coming soon. Like a lot of people, this was the 52 spin-off I was waiting for. Even if DC can't summon up the intestinal fortitude to launch a Batwoman title, cause lesbianism is clearly such a blow to sales, at least Montoya's back in rotation.

Not a bad little issue, except for Donna's awful little comment. I feel like the story is on more solid ground than it has been, and there were less WTF moments here than previously. Maybe DC truly has circled the wagons?

Monday, October 29, 2007

#27- The Countdown to the Countdown to Final Crisis is Over!

So that's all folks! It's been a hell of a ride, kind of like one of those old-timey wooden roller coaster that shakes you violently and uncomfortably for longer than you'd really like, causing chipped teeth and mild abdominal brusing, till it coasts into the station and you say to your neighbor, "Did we seriously wait in line for that?"

This is the last official issue of Countdown, which will be replaced with Countdown to Final Crisis next week. And what a last official issue it was! Let's get to review, shall we?

First of all, we could review the ways to ruin a surprise ending. There's the ever popular "mention the ending in another comic" method used to ruin the Sinestro Corps War and the first issue of Death of the New Gods. But then there's also that Countdown favorite, use the surprise ending as the cover! So I won't be spoiling anything by telling you that this issue ends with Jason Todd shooting Donna Troy. With a gun Bob the Monitor has been apparently carting around this whole time. Wait, Bob's had a GUN this whole time? What is with that guy being captain of the Useless Patrol? Jason offs Donna to prove his allegiance to Monarch. Which actually makes more sense than a lot of crap that's gone on around here. Let's remember, since he got Superboy-punched back to life, Jason's been a fairly unpleasant guy, not the loveable scamp we've seen here in Countdown. I don't necessarily think Donna's actually dead, although she's been dead about a dozen times before, so she's probably getting used to it. But for once, Countdown actually pulled a surprise that was at least mildly surprising and also made sense. And it only took them six months.

So the Challengers enter CtFC down two members and still stuck on Earth-8, which was a pretty stupid place to go in the first place.

Speaking of stupid places to go, Karate Kid, Singular Girl and World's Best Grandpa Buddy Blank take the kid who maybe might be Kamandi on a scenic tour of Bludhaven. No threat of impending death is going to keep Buddy from showing his grandkid "what the world could one day become." He's a tough kid, after all. I remember when my grandpappy set me on fire to show me that fire is pretty hot. It was a learning experience and I'm better for it.

Hey, it's Darkseid! And he's got a little Kid Who Maybe Might Be Kamandi chess piece! Oh, the foreboding of it all. And that look on Darkseid's face as he looks at the bottom of the chess piece clearly says, "Made in Taiwan, huh?" For those of you who aren't reading every other DC comic, you should probably know that at this point, everyone on the planet earth is working for Darkseid. Checkmate? Darkseid. Eclipso? Darkseid. Athena? Darkseid. Darkseid? Darkseid.

This week's barely intelligible award goes to Jimmy Olsen! Jimmy and Lady Forager have moved their poorly-dialogued tete-a-tete from the roof to the storeroom of the Daily Planet, and they've conveniently moved the Newsboy Legion to just outside the door. Huh? Congratulations, Jimmy Olsen, you've won Countdown's Continuity Error of the Week. What are you going to do now? I'm headed for Apokolips! Boom.

Mary and Eclipso (apparently they're close enough now that Mary can just call her "Jean" rather than "Crazy Lady Who Killed Sue Dibny" or "Spiky-Haired Embodiment of Evil") handily beat down Shadowpact. How did the 'pact's decision to hunt down Mary end up with her at the Oblivion Bar? Who knows? Countdown is too action-packed to deal with minor story elements like that. More importantly, Detective Chimp looks silly without his Sherlock hat, and our wacky Thelma and Louise analogs have headed far, far away. I hear Apokolips is nice this time of year.

Precious story pages couldn't be devoted to the Mary/Shadowpact story because they were so desperately needed for Roger Corman's "Locker Room Confessions" on Paradise Island. In a brief moment of respite, we get to catch up with some women we've never met and see Holly and Harley in their bathrobes. Then Granny Goodness releases the hounds! It takes another upskirt shot of Holly for her to realize things are maybe not what they seem at this particular insane Amazon boot camp. In the past couple hours, she's been attacked by eyeless sharks and weird hydra things, chased by dogs and flanked by armor-clad AMAZONS who, you'll remember, recently ATTACKed the United States, but it's not till she sees a prison tower that she realizes this secluded, shark-surrounded island is like a prison. Catwoman needs to get a little choosier with her sidekicks.

Piper and Trickster's plan to get very close to where the villians have been taken, get practically no new information and then run away succeeds flawlessly. Wait, that wasn't their plan at all. They do learn that Checkmate is RUNning some sort of prison called SALVATION. I guess they didn't know the name last issue, so they're up by one. But the original totally absurb plan to break everybody out of prison (which is a sure-fire way to prove their innocent of killing Bart Allen, which is what this whole thing is all about) gets abandoned in favor of MORE GAY JOKES!

Shouldn't Two-Face be upgraded to baddest-assed bad guy at this point? He was trained by Batman pretty recently. Of course, most of the One Year Later stuff has been abandoned, so maybe we should just put Face the Face out of our minds as well. Certainly no mention of it in the back-up feature.

On the subject of art, I've got to say the six panel grid seems blocky and slow, and there's no continuity between panels. Mango is on the better end of Countdown artists, but the two central fight scenes here are horribly laid out, making me wish Countdown would abandon these melee scenes altogether until they get someone who can draw them.

And thus, we reach the end of the Countdown to the Countdown to Final Crisis. Man, we've had some good times, haven't we? When I think of all the spinoff miniseries we still have ahead of us, I get a little misty, I tell you what.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

#28- Jimmy Olsen's Package

Finally, someone other than Mary Marvel gets Countdown's patented upskirt shot. This week's cover treats us to a view of Jimmy Olsen's business, and if you're in the market for cub reporters sans pantalones, you're in luck.

The busty new bug shows up to bring Jimmy back to task. "Forget about your current futile quest," she insists, "let's get back to your initial futile quest." Apparently the New Gods have not only been dying, but their souls are being stolen. And for a case this important, you'd naturally want to recruit A COMPLETELY INEPT REPORTER. Seriously, call up Batman, call up Lois Lane, call up the ghost of Ralph Dibny, for crying out loud. But asking Jimmy to help out just cause he's hung with the New Gods before? Batman using a wiki page for background would be a far better choice. Poorly played, Forager.

The new Forager, by the way, is only a distant cousin of the original, who got offed in Cosmic Odyssey. Her stilted dialogue is a pretty solid example of why the New Gods have to die. "Lowly anthill race"? Shouldn't someone a little sensitive about bug references avoid pejorative comparisons to ants?

Speaking of pejorative, how about Piper's gay crack? Should we really believe that a homosexual who named himself after the Pied Piper would call a Harry Potter reference gay? Tony Bedard defended the comment by saying it was meant in the sophomoric sense, as opposed to every other reference to homosexuality in Countdown. The Rogues manage to duck (literally) the Suicide Squad's roundup by hiding behind the counter at Denny's, then in a stroke of brilliance decide to get in the van with them anyway. I can't even remember what the point of these characters is anymore. They're not really escaping from anyone in particular, they're not really escaping to anywhere in particular. Trickster can apparently MacGuyver up an invisibility cloak out of styrofoam to-go containers, but he can't undo the shock chain they're wired together with. Finally, could there be an editorial memo forbidding the use of the glowing Piper eyes? He wears glasses. Some of my best friends wear glasses, and not one of them lights up like night vision goggles, especially in the middle of the day.

Mary Marvel is on the rampage and the Shadowpact are on the case. Because they did such a bang-up job when Eclipso took the Spectre out for a ride. But Mary hasn't killed anyone...yet. Just turned a couple people into stone (they were subsequently beheaded, but that's not MM's fault), turned some poachers into squirrels (they were subsequently trampled by rhinoceri, but that's not MM's fault) and fatally aged some death row inmates (they...well, it really looks like they died).

Okay, here's a tricky bit. Apparently last issue's cover, which seemed to have no bearing on the contents of the issue, actually happened! That's right, Karate Kid actually kicked Brother Eye in the eye at an indeterminate point within last issue. In fact, it seems to have happened between panels. But things are just so tightly plotted at Countdown, there was only room to show this incident on the cover. According to Mike Carlin, that's actually how it went down. So Brother Eye was totally justified in attacking them. Luckily for everyone involved, Buddy Blank's child endangerment powers save the day! Little Tommy placates Brother Eye by giving him props, which is apparently all he ever wanted. Brother Eye doesn't really have answers for them but (surprise!) sends them somewhere else. The gang is headed to the city of Bludhaven, which wasn't much of a hot tourist spot before it became a chemical wasteland. Maybe it's the name? Perhaps if it was called Puppyhaven?

Specifically, the gang is headed to a little spot called Command D in Bludhaven. Last I checked, this site housed Captain Atom, currently making the rounds as Monarch. And Kirby fans will remember a certain tow-headed boy emerging from Command D after a certain Great Disaster.

A clear up on the Brother Eye confusion: this Brother Eye is the predecessor to the evil Batman version. Hence, it is only mildly evil.

In another poorly conceived and poorly drawn fight scene, the Challengers throw down with the Extremists, Monarch, Forerunner and the CSA, who have apparently joined up with Monarch. Gee, too bad Bearded Monarch didn't stick around for five minutes. It's unclear how Monarch finds the Challengers in their secret hiding space or where his Big Red Train of Doom has gone, but Bob the Monitor continues his completely useless streak and Donna gets sliced up pretty good by...someone. Forerunner, I think.

In other news, Big Barda and the Black Racer are dead and Oliver Queen is alive.

In the abstract, I've been pondering the whole "self-identified evil" thing. It's not a new concept: Shakespeare is chockful of cats who proclaim themselves as evil for the hell of it (although they usually have some kind of motivation), but Countdown's been kind of pushing it lately. One of the things I liked about Darkseid was that he always had a clear purpose. He wanted to get his big gray hands on the Anti-Life Equation, and I could get behind that. I mean, up with science, right? But now, he and Monarch are both on about this Multiversal Dynasty noise (possibly the worst line of this issue was Bob the Monitor's "Gee Whiz, he really will be a Multiversal threat!"), which amounts to evil for evil's sake. Contrast this to the Sinestro Corps stuff. Yeah, they're out to spread some fear, which is kind of absurd. But they want to use that fear to create order, which is weirdly admirable, or at least understandable. I just wish one or more villians in Countdown would state their purpose outright, so the readers felt less like they were in the Rube Goldberg version of a Machievellian machination.

Next week is the last issue of Countdown as "Countdown" with the halfway-point switchover coming up the following week. The pacing is picking up, but the title is still kind of a mess, only made worse by the fact that other titles are doing Countdown-related stories so much better. Say what you will about Judd Winick, but he just tied Green Arrow flawlessly into the Big Plans of the DCU with exactly the amount of turnaround time Ollie's "death" warranted, producing a solid read in the process. I'll try to drop a review of Death of the New Gods in here soon, but the first issue was a solid start.