Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review in Progress: Countdown #51 - #41

In 2007 DC Comics was bringing their critically acclaimed, yearlong limited series 52 to a conclusion. I hadn't read a single issue of that comic and it killed me. The reviews were great and what I had glimpsed of the story was epic. As luck would have it in those final weeks and months DC begun releasing teasers for a follow-up called "Countdown" which would also be a yearlong/weekly series. Knowing how well received 52 had been I promised myself that I would buy every issue of the comic without fail so I could capture what I had missed out on during the previous twelve months. And, sure enough, I kept my promise.

It was the single biggest blunder of my comic book fandom.

Countdown sucked, plain and simple. When it was over I had never felt so grateful to be done with a comic book in my life. Once it was complete I tossed the books un-bagged and un-boarded on a bookshelf in my rented house and never thought of them again. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Nearly ten years later, during a move, those same comics came back into my possession having been bounced around un-read through a few houses of friends of mine. They were mostly undamaged. Initially I thought that maybe I should just toss them out to make space but then I thought it might be more fun to revisit them. After all it had been a decade. I'm older, I'm wiser and perhaps I might be able to appreciate the comic more. Perhaps I was too hasty in my judgment back then. And what's the point of revisiting such an epic comic if you don't document your thoughts and stick them on the internet?

So here's what's going on: I will read every issue of Countdown and talk about it in a "Review in Progress". This will be several parts, with each post looking at a batch of issues (this first one looks at the first eleven issues). I probably won't be releasing them super regularly but the plan is to have the entire run reviewed by the summer at the latest. We'll see. If you would like more information regarding background story information feel free to check out my previous blogs "Countdown to Countdown Parts One Two”.

Countdown #51 to #41 after the jump.

Oh hey, it's a female character!
Better kill her off to move the plot forward!
-After her attempt to kidnap an heiress is foiled by the Red Hood, Joker’s Daughter is murdered by the returning Monitor, presumed dead since Crisis on Infinite Earths. While he attempted to kill the Red Hood as well he is stopped by a second Monitor who admonishes him for overstepping his boundaries. The two alien beings return to their realm where they are two of fifty-two separate Monitors charged with overseeing the multiverse. The murderous Monitor convinces his fellows to take a more proactive and deadly stance when dealing with reality jumpers and other aberrations (such as Joker’s Daughter and the Red Hood) due to the impending “Great Disaster”. The second Monitor rebels and goes to recruit Red Hood and Donna Troy to help him find the one person who can stop the oncoming crisis: Ray Palmer, aka The Atom.

-Mary Marvel awakens for a coma powerless and seemingly abandoned by Captain Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr. Desperate to regain her powers Mary accidentally comes across the disgraced Black Adam, still powered but mourning his family’s recent death. On a whim the villain gives Mary all of his Shazam related superpowers, but the greater abilities seem to be having a dark affect on her...

-The Trickster and the Pied Piper, previously reformed villains, become involved with the murder of the current Flash, aka Bart Allen. Though they didn’t participate in the deed they soon find themselves on the run from the law.

-Holly Robinson, fleeing a murder charge, ends up homeless in Metropolis where she is soon recruited by the Greek goddess Athena into her woman’s shelter.

-And finally, Jimmy Olsen, covering the murder of Joker’s Daughter, finds that he has somehow acquired superpowers that only activate when he is in danger. As he tries to understand this  Lightray, of the New Gods, crashes into Metropolis and dies leaving the photographer to ponder what could possibly kill a god.

There are two Monitors?! Also, who the f**k is the Monitor?
If there is one word to describe these first eleven issues of Countdown it's...”dull.” These books weren't particularly awful but none of them were all that interesting either. The various storylines are stretched to the point of feeling like filler and most of them read like set-up more than anything else. At this point I guess Countdown is still revving up its engine, even after eleven weeks. There are only really two things that happen in the series so far: 1) the murder of Duela Dent (which mainly occurs to introduce that not only has the Monitor returned for the first time in twenty years but that there are a ton of them now) but the death itself is quickly swept under the rug and forgotten about. 2) The death of Lightray, which by itself isn't really all that memorable but the implications of the death are major. Everything else wasn't all that important.

Where Countdown has actually infuriated me is how many storylines are actually being told in other comics. For example, I didn't bother mentioning Karate Kid and the Legion of Super-Heroes in the synopsis because their storyline only seems to exist to make you go and buy the then-current issues of Justice League of America. Karate Kids starts off the comic fighting Batman. Why? Never explained; go buy JLA. After being help captive for issues he's suddenly allowed free reign along with other LoS members, none of whom remember what their mission is. What is their mission? Never explained; go buy JLA. Then finally the LoS, their mission complete, head back to the future (minus Karate Kid and one of Triplicate Girl's copies). What the hell just happened? F**k you; go buy JLA, you nerd! Similarly, the storyline of Pied Piper and the Trickster joining the Rogue's takes seven goddamn issues of the reader watching Mirror Master and Heatwave doing cocaine before it finally leads to the murder of the Flash....which occurs in a different comic series leaving readers of Countdown with nothing but the immediate aftermath.

Countdown is a commercial for other comic books, which is doubly frustrating because it's ten years later and I can't really read those comics even if I wanted to! I mean, I don't want to read them...but it's the principle, goddamn it!

Mary Marvel's new powers include the world's shortest miniskirt
There are also some issues with the characters, but they're relatively minor. A lot of the voices feel inconsistent both within the comics and also with traditional characterization. For example, the Red Hood is working with the Gotham City police and apparently has some sort of history/friendship with Donna Troy despite Jason Todd being a murdering vigilante who recently framed her best friend (Nightwing aka Dick Grayson). Yet these two are portrayed as cordial and the police seem to think he’s pretty cool as well. It's just weird to read.

Art wise things are mostly fine with its rotating cast of artists. Though one major problem I have is how many panty shots of Mary Marvel occur. Once she acquires Black Adam's powers her storyline becomes "Fan Service City" as she gets drawn heavily sexualized. By the way, she's probably sixteen. Thanks for nothing, DC.

Donna Troy is a gangsta!
There's also a back-up story, "The History of the Multiverse" which is exactly what it sounds like. It's fine, though I cannot confirm with certainty how accurate the information is.

One last thing before we wrap up: this book contains a demon that is completely made out of stillborn babies. His name is "Pharyngula". I have no idea who this dang comic is being written for.

Replace "stillborn" with "aborted" and suddenly he's tasteless, right wing propaganda
Bottom line, the first eleven issues of this book are a slog to get through and so far there has been no payoff; just the promise of payoff sometime in the future with very little to enjoy before then. That said, there's nothing too offensively terrible either. There's no garbage fire to be found in these pages so far but then again overall there hasn't been anything worth reading. Unless you're into underage girls. Or into dead-baby body demons. Yuck!

Score So Far: 2 out of 5 Adorable Pandas 

Money Unwisely Spent: $32.89

If nothing else, Countdown has a lot of cool covers
We'll get back to Countdown sometime soon(ish). However starting next time we'll begin our annual tradition of looking at black superheroes for Black History Month.

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