Writer: Paul Dini
Artists: Jesus Saiz (p), Jimmy Palmiotti (i), Tom Chu (colors)
Publisher: DC Comics
With hindsight in gear, I may look more favorably upon 52 now than I did when it was coming out, but if you check the archives for my review of the first issue, you’ll see that I was exceedingly pleased. We were introduced to six various characters who all had one unfortunate thing in common: they were largely ignored and underappreciated C-listers. But within the span of a single issue, we were shown their status quos, given reason to care about them via clever dialogue and teased as to their year-long character arcs of growth and development.
- Ralph Dibny, white male widowed husband who might be reunited with his dead wife.
- Renee Montoya, Latino female ex-cop who might forego booze for self-discovery.
- Booster Gold, white male future entrepreneur whom himself might be thwarted by time.
- Black Adam, Egyptian male tyrant who might push himself and the world over the edge.
- The Question, white male vigilante who might have ulterior motives for stalking Renee.
- Steel, black male mechanic whose ethics might push his niece into his enemy’s arms.
But who does Countdown give us? Ciphers. While the dialogue itself isn’t broken, none of the characters have any particularly witty, defining or show-stealing lines worth quoting. With only one scribe per issue, we’re getting a singular source for sharp dialogue, and with the last year of Paul Dini’s Detective Comics run to show, I’m not all that confident he can deliver. Fortunately, a handful of scripters will take over from the next issue onward to interpret Dini’s plot outlines, but why not get a jam script down for the first issue? As a result, here’s our wildly exciting – and diverse – debut issue cast:
- Jason Todd, white male supposed-to-be-dead guy who might be a good guy or a bad guy.
- Mary Marvel, white female snubbed sister who might never receive a single get-well card from her brother, the lord of all magic.
- The Trickster, white male reformed Rogue who might beat on Flash again . . . for fun.
- Pied Piper, white male reformed Rogue who might also not be reformed, or interesting, anymore.
- Ray Palmer, white male subatomic scientist who might save everyone and everything.
- And soon to come . . . Jimmy Olsen, white male spotlight-deprived supporting character who might . . . do stuff.
- Ion, white male protector of the universe who might stay another execution . . . or not.
- Donna Troy, white female Wonder Woman replacement who might never find a worthwhile role in the DCU.
- Karate Kid, white (is there really any race anymore in 1000 years?) male future guy who might survive the current JLA/JSA crossover.
And forget the mystery of Darkseid, as he’s all too eager to show up before any of the protagonists in order to show off his fancy cosmic chess board. Because, you know, clichés are back in style – just ask the rogue Monitor!
As hard as I’m being on the opening of this white-bread white-washed intro, it was pretty harmless, but tremendously discouraging compared to the strong start of 52. My interest is buoyed 95% by mystery (and the other 5% by the nifty logo twist), but that means I could jump off at the slightest sign of disappointing payoff. I’m not enthusiastic about the writing approach, I’ve no affinity for the cast, and editor Mike Marts has been responsible for some of the worst comics of this century (and no, it’s not too soon to make that statement, as I’ve got two words for you: Chuck Austen). All this issue proved to me is that the creators of Countdown are going to be fighting an uphill battle to win me over.
And for the record, it’s not that I was appeased by the diversity in 52’s cast – rather, the characters took precedence over their skin color so that race was a complete non-issue until actually given some thought. But for some reason, Countdown’s narrow breed of characters sticks out like Randy Marsh on Wheel or Fortune, or Larry David on affirmative action, or Buffy on UPN’s lineup – point made?
Now that 52 is over, we head into DC’s next attempt at a weekly series - Countdown. For all the hype with the “Search for Ray Palmer,” “Look To The Skies,” and the obligatory “Jimmy Olsen Must Die” promos you would think that the book would start off with a bang. Unfortunately here, that’s not the case, as it ends up starting with nothing more than a whimper.
The book opens with Desaad (Darkseid’s faithful servant) spouting some nonsense that I wasn’t able to figure out the meaning of, only to have Darkseid himself chide Desaad for being overly nihilistic. It seems a bit out of place to have this moment opening the book because it really doesn’t make any sense, especially when you see Darkseid looking over various game pieces representing several DC heroes and villains. The moment has some significance, I’m sure, but the meaning is lost on me. That’s the first of several ways this book led me off-track.
The next few pages involve Duela Dent attempting to kidnap a singer for some inexplicable reason, only to run into Red Hood (the former Jason Todd). He stops her, but not before she jumps off the roof using a parachute of some sort to escape. Completely pointless scene for me, although it does reference the multiverse (as revealed in the final issue of 52) by some of Duela’s comments.
The following couple of scenes involving the Flash’s Rogues Gallery and a small 2-page sequence with Mary Marvel don’t really do much to set anything up. This is a good example of too many players trying to fight for space over the course of 22 pages.
When the fight resumes between Jason Todd and Duela, we see the appearance of one of the Monitors. He says something cryptic about Duela being an “incongruity” after killing her. The Monitor is stopped from killing Jason Todd by another Monitor, but manages to escape and winds up at the source wall. The last page of this issue is the only thing keeping me coming back with the final panel, because of what it reveals, but I won’t spoil it here.
Overall, Paul Dini’s writing is passable and Jesus Saiz’s art (which I loved on Checkmate) serves the story well, making it easy to follow. The problem here, as I’ve stated, is it’s just not very interesting. Much like how 52 kind of petered out near the end for me, Countdown starts off with a similar pace. It’s a small recommendation, but if you’re at all curious where DC is headed over the next year with their titles, you’ve got to start somewhere, and this is the one book that’s going to be central to it all.
It has officially been a year and roughly two weeks since Infinite Crisis ended. 52 ended with many readers re-evaluating the value of the series and most importantly, the ground work for the next two years of DC Comics storytelling. 52 also managed to do something unique and innovative. It managed to keep readers involved not month to month but week to week maintaining the same handful of storylines involving the DC Universe without the major super-heroes. While it may have become a book centralized on the main characters of those storylines, it still consistently hit shelves week after week. There were many things that worked and many things that needed improvement, but I was overall satisfied with 52. Bring on the next weekly series that will lead up to the next DC crisis that is sure to set the precedent and possibly even reset the universe once again, Countdown. With Paul Dini serving as the brains behind this weekly, unlike 52, this series will feature different writers and different characters and multiple plot lines counting down to the next Crisis.
Continuity is perhaps the greatest cosmic mess in the known universe. That is, a mess in the pages of DC Comics. A lot of people have stated that Infinite Crisis did not do what is believed it was intended to do: clean up DC’s continuity. I personally think that Infinite Crisis was the first step toward something greater, the spark to an even bigger Crisis that would take a great deal of time and character to develop. This appears to be the case with the beginning of Countdown
The biggest difference between Countdown and 52 is the time it takes place. 52 took place between Infinite Crisis and “One Year Later”; Countdown takes place now, and with a great Andy Kubert cover and access to the major DC characters, this first of 52 issues features minor, even obscure characters. With the exception of Desaad and Darkseid, Duela Dent, Red Hood, Mary Marvel, Heatwave and the Trickster are the main characters featured in this inaugural issue. And oh yes, those characters who kept popping up throughout the pages of Ion, the Monitors. Apparently, they are the ones who manage and maintain the 52 Earths, and of course, one of them is rogue; one of them wants to destroy “anomalies.” Based on Ion, I’m assuming that “anomalies” are not only the characters like Donna Troy and Jason Todd that have seemingly cheated death, but the characters such as Captain Atom, who recently returned from the “Wildstorm Earth,” who can jump from Earth to Earth. Duela Dent appears to be one of these anomalies and is dealt with accordingly.
Countdown brings a few interesting ideas to the table, but it still doesn’t start off with a bang. It starts slowly and quietly, nothing universe-changing… yet. What this issue does is helps me realize exactly how important the twelve issue Ion series is. I knew there was something greater going on in Ion, and I have a theory that Darkseid is completely aware of all of the anomalies, hence why he picks up Duela’s statuette. Also interesting is Mary Marvel, easily a D-list character, who based on promos and advertising, will play a huge role in what is coming. Her story could have the results like that of Black Adam’s in 52, an obscure character making a jump to the A-list through massive character development and key moments. My hope is that knowing what has happened in other series such as Ion, and following every moment of Countdown won’t bring down the overall success and appeal of this series, but I suppose we will find out.
It’s also nice to see one of my favorite DC concepts, the Source Wall, an entity so powerful that even the Monitors go there for advice and guidance. This also brings everything right back to Darkseid. How could Darkseid know of the multiverse? Is he an anomaly? The answer is simple; Darkseid was once thrown into the Source Wall and was also subsequently freed. One of his goals has always been to learn the secrets of the Source Wall, and perhaps he has done just that. But if Darkseid knows of such things there are four other characters that have also been beyond and have returned from the Source Wall. Those four characters are Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Swamp Thing and Lucifer Morningstar, two from DC, and two from Vertigo. I may be thinking too much into this idea, but it is interesting to note nonetheless.
Jesus Saiz, Jimmy Palmiotti and Tom Chu do a fantastic job with the artwork on this issue. It is a huge step up from 52, and everything looks consistent and clear. The tone is dark, and just by looking at the artwork, one can surmise that this series has an air of mystery about it. I also don’t think I have ever seen the Flash Rogue Pied Piper look quite as menacing and evil as he does in this issue. Either way you cut it, I don’t think the Monitors have ever looked so evil either.
This series is a decent start to what should be a great series. Dini needs to look at 52 and what did and did not work with that series and apply it to Countdown. Hopefully, DC’s editorial team can maintain the Countdown storyline, which is now the main DC book, and reflect it throughout all of their related titles. Unlike 52, Countdown carries a $2.99 price tag, and I hope that the $155.48 I am going to spend on this series will be absolutely worth it in the end. After all, Ray Palmer, the solution to the great disaster, is also arguably the man who started it when his ex-wife killed Sue Dibny.
DC (and/or Paul Dini) must firmly believe that the much-hyped concept of Countdown has fired fan enthusiasm to the point where there is no need to put a big “Wow” moment in the first chapter of this 52-chapter series.
Either that or they believe that the answer the Source Wall gave one of The Monitors to the question, “What is the solution to The Great Disaster?” is a big “Wow” moment that will ensure a return for the next installment.
The problem with the answer the Source Wall gave is that Ray Palmer hasn’t been a major player in the DC Universe for at least 40 years—if even that. The truth is that the 1960s Atom series only lasted 45 issues—with the final seven issues co-starring Hawkman and crafted by the creative team that came over to the title from the recently canceled Hawkman series (though replacing Gil Kane with Joe Kubert was an egalitarian switch).
In other words, here is yet another DC series that seeks to target a demographic of fans who grew up reading comics before 1985. However, unlike with Infinite Crisis, they might actually do a good job this time.
For the most part, Paul Dini writes well-crafted stories that don’t offend when it comes to dialog, internal logic, and plot points. Of course, Dini is not going to write all 52 issues of Countdown. Instead, he is the “head writer” who is mostly going to oversee the work of other writers and help them craft the story that he envisions.
In other words, he’s going to be sort of like an old-time editor who occasionally writes an issue. I have no doubt that having a real story editor on the series is going to improve the quality. Meanwhile, Mike Marts can manage this project with the assurance that Dini will be editing the story.
I was under the impression, though, that Keith Giffen was going to storyboard the series as he did with 52, but I didn’t see his name in the credits. Even with Giffen laying out 52, the quality of the illustrations varied widely from great to terrible over the course of the 52 issues.
Thus, I’m concerned about the quality of the illustrations in Countdown if there isn’t going to be anyone overseeing that aspect of the creative process the way Dini is going to oversee the writing.
The fact that the writing probably won’t bother me coupled with the use of characters from my childhood will probably be enough to keep me coming back each issue—which, as I implied in my fifth sentence, seems to be DC’s audience-targeting strategy.
Still, this is just the opening chapter in a 52-chapter novel, so it’s too early to say anything of substance about this project other than I’m intrigued by the reference to “The Great Disaster” and the possibility of visiting “Earth Kamandi” where we might get to see the one, true OMAC that Kirby created.
What did you think of this book?
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