Monday, January 23, 2017

Countdown to Countdown, Part II

I feel like most of this stuff doesn't play out in Countdown
Better buy every DC Comic to make sure
We've reached the second and final part of the Countdown pre-blog. If you haven't yet be sure to check out Part I. I'll wait.

There are a lot of characters in Countdown and we follow a lot of plot lines, much like in 52. While looking at every single character that is important in this book would not only be hard to write and hard to read but it would also spoil important plots that I’m not willing to do. (“Yet”, I should say. Trust me; I’ll be spoiling the hell out of this series once we get to the reviews).

However there are certain key characters that I think would be helpful for someone reading my review to have passing knowledge of and know what they were up too leading up to the series. For example, the average person reading this may not know who Kyle Rayner is, that Donna Troy is one of DC’s most complicated characters or that Superman was once Jimmy Olsen’s abusive father.

Superman: "Your love and admiration disgusts me, Jimmy."
Okay, that last one isn’t really all that important, but still…never forget.
Important character notes after the jump.

Jason Todd
He's a 90s antihero who missed out on the 90s
The second kid to act as Batman’s sidekick Robin, Jason Todd is most famous for being the one that was killed. Already a controversial figure due to his somewhat bad attitude, and that he may or may not have murdered a criminal one time, DC decided to have phone campaign where fans could call a (1-900) number to vote on whether Todd should survive the then-current storyline. They voted for him to die and thus he was brutally murdered by the Joker and stayed dead for YEARS. After a fake out resurrection in the early 2000s DC finally brought him back by way of the reality altering effects of Infinite Crisis (specifically, Superboy-Prime punched the walls of reality super hard). Now it turns out that Todd survived the attacks, hooked up with the League of Assassins, and returned to Gotham City as a young adult murdering the crap out of criminals and majorly pissed at Batman for having never avenged his death. He began calling himself the Red Hood, named after the Joker’s original identity. Since then he has become an antagonist to Batman, Nightwing and his Robin-successor Tim Drake.

At this point the Red Hood had not been back that long and DC was still trying to figure out what to do with him and whether he should be a hero or villain. And then Countdown happened and began the long road to making Jason one of DC’s worst characters.

Donna Troy
In the "Before Time" her origin was pretty straight forward
The (mostly) original Wonder Girl, Donna Troy, aka Troia, is one of the most convoluted and retconnd characters DC ever produced. Troy was created solely because a writer didn’t actually read the Wonder Woman comic, assumed that the “Wonder Girl” character that periodically showed up was her child sidekick (actually just Wonder Woman stories when she was a kid), and then inserted the then unnamed Donna into the brand new Teen Titans book. Since then Donna has suffered many continuity hiccups, her origin essentially being drastically changed every few years. It got so bad that DC actually made her confusing background a plot point. By 2007 it was established that Donna was some sort of living conduit of all Donna Troys from the multiverse smooshed into one being. Or something; honestly I’m not f**king sure and since my nose has started to bleed I’m going to move on.

The main thing to remember is that, like Jason Todd, she has recently come back to life, though she hadn’t been dead all that long.

Kyle Rayner
R.I.P. Kyle's sweet 90's costume
Kyle Rayner was the 90s Green Lantern, having taken the role following Hal Jordan, a personality-less wooden board the classic Silver Age Green Lantern, becoming the omnicidal super villain Parallax. Rayner held the role of GL for years but was put into the background once editors and writers who were fans of Jordan brought the character back to prominence in the 2000s after they figured out how to make him interesting. While there were attempts to keep Kyle Rayner relevant it was pretty clear that DC preferred Hal to the younger character. At this point in history the Green Lantern Corps. is fresh off the Sinestro Corps. War, which pit Hal, Kyle and all the other space cops against the likes of the Cyborg-Superman, Superboy-Pime and a resurrected Anti-Monitor.

Back in the day Kyle and Donna Troy used to date.

Joker’s Daughter
Do you have a Joker fetish but aren't attracted to dudes?
Well, good news!
Someone who is for sure not Harley Quinn, Joker’s Daughter, aka Duela Dent, was introduced in the 70s as a heroic figure. She turned out to be the daughter of Two-Face, of all people, and wished to fight crime and join the Teen Titans as a way to balance out her criminal father. Over the years that character has shown up on an irregular basis, no longer the actual daughter of Two-Face (due to a past retcon) but often claiming increasingly bizarre parentage including Catwoman and even Doomsday. She mostly appears as a hero but has sometimes been depicted as a very unpredictable adversary. At this time, 2007, she is active but her parentage and origins are a mystery and the general consensus seems to be that she’s the daughter of the Joker.

Shortly after her introduction she changed her  identity to Harlequin (again, no relation to Harley Quinn) but has since returned to calling herself Joker’s Daughter.

The Atom
Um...sometimes Ray Palmer is a tiny sword fighter
Ray Palmer was one of several Silver Age remakes of a Golden Age character. The Atom’s main shtick is that he can shrink to tiny sizes, including small enough to pass into the “Microverse” and is a renowned scientist. Ray didn’t have a ton going on in the 2000s until the critically mixed miniseries Identity Crisis, a murder mystery where it turned out that his ex-wife had been the killer in a convoluted plot to win back his love (…sigh). So mortified over the experience was Palmer that he shrank into the Microverse and hadn’t been seen in a few years by 2007. He was replaced by Ryan Choi, a Korean-American hero who DC will eventually kill off a few years later despite being one of the very few Asian heroes in comic books.

Jimmy Olsen
This is a pretty typical day for Jimmy Olsen in the Silver Age
If you know who Superman is then you’re at least vaguely aware of who Jimmy Olsen is; a young photographer for the Daily Planet, scrawny redhead, awkward,  and in constant need of Superman’s help.

Pictured: A young, scrawny and awkward redhead?
Jimmy has stayed mostly the same over the decades, save for that he’s portrayed older than he was back in the day and usually depicted as successful photojournalist. Back in 2007 it was mostly much of the same for the guy. Really, the only thing you need to know about Jimmy going into Countdown is that back in the Silver Age of Comics he starred in his own title, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, where he with shocking regularity gained superpowers and became a crappy superhero only to lose the powers by the end of the issue (the best identity of course being Giant Turtle Boy). The book is also famous for Superman constantly trying to hurt, embarrass or sometimes murder Jimmy on the covers. It’s pretty rad.

Speaking of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen…

The New Gods
"There came a time when the old gods died!"
Jack Kirby is generally considered to be the most important comic book creator in history, mostly due to his vastly inventive imagination and art style that shaped the industry and is still inspiring artist to this day. One of his greatest creations were the New Gods.

After leaving Marvel for DC in the early 70s Kirby was put on the company’s lowest selling book, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, where he introduced these new characters gradually until they gained enough popularity to be spun off into their own books. These stories are collectively referred to as Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. The Fourth World is pretty vast so to summarize: the New Gods feature two factions of god-like beings at war; the gods of New Genesis and the evil gods of Apokolips. The most well-known of these characters is Darkseid, ruler of Apokolips, who is one of DC Comics most iconic and endearing villains. Although Darkseid is often front and center in the DCU the vast majority of the New Gods do not tend to get a lot of panel time (some exceptions include characters like Mister Miracle, Big Barda and Orion, who have all been members of the Justice League), but it’s a good idea to know that these guys exist and they are pretty powerful beings.

Holly Robinson
Another gay superhero, vanished from the comic pages
Don’t feel bad if Holly Robinson doesn’t sound familiar. She is a child of the streets of Gotham who is a close friend of Catwoman, aka Selina Kyle, and briefly took over the role shortly before Countdown begun. Aside from that she is pretty much a minor character in the great cast of Batman-related characters. Just remember if she gets mentioned that she is a friend of Catwoman. Once Countdown finishes Holly for the most part disappears into obscurity and, unlike characters like Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, there wasn’t a huge amount of fan backlash over it.

Legion of Super-Heroes
If you want to know more about the LoS check elsewhere
Better folk than me have gone mad trying explain them
The Legion of Super-Heroes are a very complex group of characters, mostly due to the continuity problems that arises with them whenever DC does a reboot or otherwise major retcon. Their basic premise is that they’re a huge roster of teenage superheroes from the 31st Century (give or take), made up mostly of aliens. There is a storyline that occurs around the time as the early issues of Countdown over in Justice League of America wherein the Legion of Super-Heroes have arrived in present times for reasons not immediately clear (it involved the return of Wally West, the greatest Flash of all time). Two of the team will get hooked into the void that is Countdown; Karate Kid, who is a next level martial artist who can easily outfight Batman, and Triplicate Girl, who normally can split into three versions of herself.

Mary Marvel 
The amount of sexually charged images on the net of Mary is depressing
Mary Baston is the twin sister of Billy Baston, aka Captain Marvel, and like her brother derives her fantastic powers from the wizard Shazam. As part of the Marvel Family she fought crime as Mary Marvel alongside her brother and their friend Freddy Freeman, (aka Captain Marvel, Jr.) During the extended events of Infinite Crisis Shazam was killed and the trio lost their powers, Mary doing so in mid-flight and was seriously injured. In a coma ever since, she was absent for the more recent developments of the Marvel Family in which Billy has become the new wizard, called "Marvel", and Freddy has become the new Captain Marvel, called "Shazam" (so confusing). The main thing to know is that Mary and her friends are traditionally depicted as lighthearted as can be . Of course, Countdown is sure as hell not a lighthearted story…

Prime, in a rare instance of not punching the walls of reality
Finally let’s talk about Superboy-Prime who in the span of about 2 and half years went from forgotten silly Bronze Age trivia question to major recurring DC supervillain. This guy is a teen from “the real world” or “Earth-Prime” where Superman is a well-known comic book character. Adopted into the Kent family his parents, clearly assholes, named him “Clark” because they obviously didn’t give a shit. It turns out that Clark is a real life Kryptonian and therefore has Superman powers. So, of course, he becomes Superboy. His universe is destroyed by the Anti-Monitor during Crisis on Infinite Earths and goes on to a paradise dimension with survivors of others destroyed universes only to return twenty-years later as the villains in the sequel story Infinite Crisis. Here Superboy-Prime is portrayed as a very immature and quick tempered child with immense power at his disposal. He later re-appears during the Sinestro Corps. War in the pages of Green Lantern where, now a full-on psychopath, dubs himself “Superman-Prime” Anyway, in the end of that storyline Prime has been super charged from alien energy and has gone into the newly discovered multiverse. 

Basically, Superboy-Prime is young man with god-like powers with a severe case of arrested development. At his worst he can seem like a whiny dork and if this sounds like DC is trying to make a commentary please hold that thought; we’ll get into that later.

So there are a ton of other characters but they’re either not that important or not important early enough to risk spoilers. Maybe take the following in mind: 1) Monarch was a villain from the 90s but is now a new villain traversing the multiverse and is also a now an evil Captain Atom. 2) The Trickster and the Pied Piper are Flash villains who previously rehabilitated but have recently seemingly become criminals again. 3) Harley Quinn is in this comic but this was before she achieved the huge popularity and wasn’t doing a lot at this point.

 Regardless next time we should be ready to start this review. Next time (whenever that may be) we’ll be looking at the first few issues of Countdown proper.

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