Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - Countdown to Infinite Crisis

Posted: Sunday, April 3, 2005
By: Keith Dallas

Writers: Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, Judd Winick
Artists: Rags Morales, Ed Benes, Jesus Saiz, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez (p), Michael Bair, Jim Palmiotti, Marc Campos, Andy Lanning (i)

Publisher: DC Comics

Average Rating:

Michael Deeley:
Shawn Hill:
Judson Miers:
Dave Wallace:

Michael Deeley
Frankly, an 80-page comic for a dollar would have to be pretty awful to get less than .

The Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, looks for money stolen from his company. His investigation brings him into contact with his “fellow” superheroes. Most of them regard Ted as a joke. Along the way, he gets a sense of larger plots in motion. A war has broken out between the planets Rann and Thanagar, both of which have human heroes. Dark times are coming in the world of magic. They might involve Lex Luthor, who is currently organizing a new team of villains. Kord ultimately discovers the O.M.A.C. project, a plot to destroy Earth’s superhumans. It’s run by someone Kord trusted. It’s also supported by Batman. By the end, Ted Kord is dead, and another war is declared.

About halfway through the comic, I realized Ted Kord was going to die. He’s the star and narrator of a story that ends in someone’s death. Up until the last page, I did not want to believe he’d die. That’s a testament to the book’s writers. They succeed in making you care about Ted as a person. You like the guy; understand him; and ultimately miss him.

Infinite Crisis answers a question raised by Identity Crisis: Does Batman know the Justice League tampered with his memory? Yes he does. That’s why he doesn’t trust them. That’s why he’s helped Checkmate in their new O.M.A.C. project. Batman has already taken a side in the upcoming battles between humans and superhumans.

Between this comic and Identity Crisis, DC’s plans for the coming year are growing clearer. You can see signs of larger plots running through the DCU. For example, this week’s Batman shows who was behind the Kryptonite theft seen here. The current Adam Strange mini-series leads into the Rann-Thanagar War, as well as featuring a monster similar to ones seen in JLA Classified and Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight. This Infinite Crisis is shaping up to be something big.

Countdown was designed to spin-off four mini-series. They’re easily incorporated into Ted Kord ’s case, with the possible exception of the villain sequence. Then again, when Kryptonite goes missing, Lex Luthor has to be involved. Overall, the ideas for the mini-series are naturally incorporated into a single narrative. This re-enforces the idea that they are all connected; perhaps in ways we can’t see yet. Credit for that should go to the book’s editors, Jann Jones and Dan DiDio.

I can’t tell what parts were written by Geoff Johns, what was written by Greg Rucka, and what was written by Judd Winick. I’d like to say it’s because all three men are equally good. More likely, it’s the result of writing by committee. All three probably contributed ideas and dialogue which was then organized into this story. I’m also surprised how similar all the art styles are. Jimenez’s and Lanning’s and Ed Benes’s are the most distinctive, but the work of Morales & Bair is identical to Saiz & Palmiotti. Morales and Reis could switch inkers, and you’d never know who did the penciled art. Maybe comic art styles aren’t as distinct as I’d like to think. Maybe there are fixed criteria for “good art” and “good writing” that creators try to achieve. In any case, the writing and art styles blend together into a cohesive work. If they didn’t, I’d be complaining about the abrupt changes in style disrupting the flow of the story.

One thing bothers me about this story: The death of the always-joking Blue Beetle, and the revelation that a member of the 1980s Justice League is an evil villain, signal the end of fun in the DC universe. Terrible things are about to happen. Secrets will be revealed. Friends will be betrayed. And a happier time when superheroes were fun was just part of a sinister plan. We could be looking at the beginning of a new DCU; one much darker, one where “normal” people distrust their superhuman protectors, a world based on the Legends crossover.

Hey, somebody had to say it. This comic was great, but the crossover could still suck.

Shawn Hill

Plot: The Blue Beetle is being targeted financially and personally. Unable to convince his colleagues of his fears, he uses impressive skills and resources to follow a solo investigation to the source, with dire consequences.

Comments: I hate to admit I enjoyed this, but I did. Unlike Identity Crisis, the threads Beetle uncovers in this mystery have direct and immediate payoff. And unlike Avengers Disassembled, the last act of this hero is explored fully, subjectively from first person perspective. Whereas “Chaos” was a travesty, an exploitative depiction of corruption, this truly is a tragedy, one that moved me greatly. The loss experienced at the end is real and more earned than many recent ones.

DC has brought out the big guns for this story, and that’s nice to see. The three writers mesh well, combining to give a sensitive portrait of a lonely hero doing his best at a crucial time. There’s also a comprehensive sense of the scale and scope of the DC universe (this I put down to Johns), as this thick, rich tome uses the excellent artists to give us full view of all the major players in today’s comics.

The division of artists by chapter is a wise idea, and while Benes and Reis are the weakest of the lot, they’re still competent enough to maintain visual cohesion with the excellent drama and detail of Jiminez and Morales. Saiz is the revelation of the bunch, proving that his Manhunter work is no fluke as he manages to ground the most magical of the chapters in compelling realism and moody shadows.

Less interesting: There’s a near fatal flaw, however, in that I just don’t believe Beetle would be left with no allies in this much danger. That’s not what the Watchtower is for, and the rebuffs he receives from his friends are overwrought and unconvincing. And I hope it wasn’t Rucka writing the Wonder Woman appearance, because this automaton who speaks platitudes is a piss-poor showing for the character. When are we going to stop hearing about the awe others feel around Diana and actually have her do something awesome? The last person to do that was Morrison. It didn’t matter that he treated Wonder Woman and Hippolyte as interchangeable, because he wrote a Wonder Woman that took action in both cases, always leaping into the fray.

Batman also makes a very poor showing, understandably irked at the events of Identity Crisis perhaps, but is a “raze the field” approach really the best choice of response?

Still, Ted’s friendship with Booster is sensitively portrayed, and by the time we get to the gorgeous spy drama of final chapter (where Jiminez hints even more than the story at compelling new directions for O.M.A.C.), the tension is riding high. The burgeoning “society” of super-villains has promise for the DC universe as well, though if the price is going to be the deaths of all supporting characters, it may not be worth the ride.

Judson Miers

I will have to say that I’m not a DC or JLA fan at all, but 80 pages for $1 certainly got my attention! To set the story, there’s been a class war raging under the surface of the DCU. Unlike most of the Marvel heroes, the DCU heroes have more of a varsity type of mentality. If you’re not varsity, then you’re the JV team, and the JV team isn’t good enough to fully interact with the varsity heroes. Sounds like a good old high school rivalry, doesn’t it?

It seems, there’s been a conspiracy against the meta humans (varsity heroes) by the rest of the humans. Apparently, Batman has been a busy little boy taking notes on how best to “take down” any of the other heroes if there was ever an uprising. This doesn’t surprise me at all about him! It’s not very contradictory since Peter Parker was talking with MJ about how all of the heroes in the Marvel Universe also “take notes” about how to take care of whomever might get out of line. Anyway, Blue Beetle (definitely JV material) has uncovered something fishy in his bank account and tries to unravel the mystery. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I just hope that DC actually keeps its fallen characters fallen and doesn’t resurrect them like Marvel continues to do. (Cowards!!!)

Overall, the storyline is intriguing and has gotten my attention like the recent Superman arc has. The artwork is also of the same level as Marvel. (In the past, DC’s artwork has been rather static compared with Marvel’s artwork.) I don’t know that I would let my kids read this issue (definitely PG-13), but after the debacle with Spidey and JMS, I may have to switch companies to the DCU…

Dave Wallace

The reasoning behind DC’s decision to only charge a dollar for an 80-page one-shot comic book which loosely spins out of Identity Crisis and into the upcoming Infinite Crisis was apparently purely marketing-motivated, with a fairly long-term strategy at that. The comic is bound to appeal to longtime fans of the DC universe, dealing as it does with a conspiracy which undermines all the heroes of earth, from Superman to the Blue Beetle, from Batman to Booster Gold. However, DC also seems to be trying to reach out to an audience of readers who aren’t such rabid DC enthusiasts, but who perhaps – like me – read the recent Identity Crisis and enjoyed it, and would like to learn more. Unfortunately, it looks like this latter group will be disappointed, as this whistle-stop tour of the DC universe as seen through the eyes of a washed-out second-tier superhero struggles to be anywhere near as accessible, coherent or downright enjoyable as Identity Crisis was.

The five short chapters of “Countdown…” revolve around Ted Kord – the Blue Beetle – and his uncovering of a large-scale conspiracy to undermine the heroes of the DC universe. Whilst the sporadic scenes which deal with Kord’s eventual grand discovery create a suitable sense of amazement and scale, the flashbacks which make up most of the issue paint a picture of a sad, washed-up superhero who can’t quite hold it together in the same way that the big-hitters can. He appears to be a constant irritation to his peers and, as such, they ignore his continuing suggestions that something strange may be afoot. This premise is all well and good when the Blue Beetle has no evidence to back up his paranoid suspicions, but when a warehouse of Kryptonite goes missing and Superman doesn’t bat an eyelid, or when Booster Gold is almost killed and the Martian Manhunter barely has time to care about it, it just makes the heroes look like idiotic divas, blind to the possibility of extreme danger because their egos won’t let them take on ideas from an embarrassingly third-rate hero who used to be their friend. This scene also occurs not once, not twice, but at least four times – ramming the idea home far too often for it to be interesting or surprising, and making the heroes look even more foolish for never even looking into a problem which has been alerted to them more than once.

When the Blue Beetle meets a sticky end at the end of the issue (and if you didn’t see that coming then you’ve probably never read a comic book in your life) there’s a tinge of sympathy for him, but you’re almost inclined to think that the rest of the DC hero community had it coming, thanks to their arrogant inaction throughout the story. They certainly don’t look like the “Gods walking the earth” that this issue would have us believe. The only scene which comes off really well is the sequence in which Kord visits Bruce Wayne in the Batcave. If any hero has the god-given right to come off as a paranoid, angry, anti-social loner, it’s Batman, and his cryptic comments at the end of Countdown’s first chapter give me some hope for his significance in the overall Infinite Crisis crossover.

It’s difficult to succinctly critique the artwork of this book when the five different chapters all contain work by different artists, but I will say that the style of art feels very coherent and doesn’t jar in the slightest. It’s the book’s greatest strength, as the artwork manages to make sense out of some very overblown and unoriginal writing, rendering the action scenes in a fairly kinetic and exciting way and keeping things moving even when the book wants to repeat the same scenes over and over again. It also manages to convey a fair bit of exposition, helping new readers to understand character relationships through the art which certainly aren’t spelt out by the fairly inaccessible writing: and maybe this is the crux of the problem. The most frustrating part about this issue for me was that there were occasional moments of interest which hearkened back to unresolved Identity Crisis threads (Dr. Light’s brief appearance; Batman’s justified paranoia), but the majority of the events of this issue relate to parts of the DC universe I’m completely unfamiliar with, and as such lot of it may have been lost on me. If more care had been taken to make these elements easier to understand for a new reader, Countdown could have been a far greater success.

Rubbing salt into the wound of my general disappointment at the quality of the issue is the constant presence of ads for the four upcoming miniseries which spin out of this issue’s thin story. As if the commercial nature of Countdown… wasn’t transparent enough, every few pages bring another full-page plug for a DC miniseries which plays out of a single scene in this book. Even more heinously, it’s sometimes the case that - due to the way the ads have been placed - the scene which is the catalyst for the events of the miniseries advertised hasn’t even happened yet in the book before we see the ad. It’s sloppy, it ruins the storytelling, and it comes off as just a little too desperate to attract readers and boost sales.

Regardless of the fact that it’s a fairly weak one-shot which apparently only exists to plug four upcoming miniseries (only one of which looks remotely interesting to me, and only then because it deals with the Batman mind-wiping thread from Identity Crisis and his secret plans for how to take down the JLA), you’ll probably pick this book up anyway. It’s only $1 (I’ve seen it for 40p in England – and sometimes cheaper, as my copy was given away free with my weekly standing order), it features a lot of cameos from DC star characters, and it purports to be hugely important and significant as far as the DC universe goes. However, I found it to be dull, repetitive, difficult to follow for a relative newcomer, and hugely anti-climactic. I’ll be vaguely interested to see what becomes of the O.M.A.C. project in that miniseries, but Countdown to Infinite Crisis has hardly sold me on DC’s big crossover event this year. A wasted opportunity.

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