Funnybook Babylon

August 9, 2007

Downcounting – A Guide for the Perplexed: Countdown #38, “All Hell!”

Filed under: Articles,Downcounting — Chris Eckert @ 2:32 pm

Before we kick off this week’s Downcounting, I want to make a few things clear about why I am doing this. I know I say a lot of mean things, but I bear no ill will towards anyone involved with the production of Countdown. Comic nerds can be a vitriolic lot, and I know people are making “Dan Didio Must Die” shirts and the like. I don’t want to be seen as party to that kind of attitude; I’m sure everyone who works on the book is a good person; I’ve met a few of them (Mike Carlin, Jimmy Palmiotti, Tony Bedard, all cordial and patient) and I have enjoyed other books pretty much everyone on board has worked on. I believe that many if not all of them are making a good faith effort towards turning in an entertaining product. But the road to this week’s title are paved with good intentions and nice guys, and at this point Countdown is a full-blown fiasco. People love a fiasco, and at a certain point start howling for blood, demanding a bigger fiasco. We’re past that stage now, and the fine folks and DC keep throwing more chum into the water. I’m only human. That’s why I couldn’t keep all my metaphors straight there, and am going to move on before they get any more tangled.

So! What happened this week in the NARRATIVE SPINE OF THE DC UNIVERSE???

Hey Lois, remember that time I served as background cannon fodder for an ‘event’ comic?pp. 1-3: Trouble! The DC Universe has got Trouble with a Capital T! What? No, not Amazons Attack, that’s apparently over. No, it’s — no, the Sinestro Corps War is self-contained in the Green Lantern books, although Hal is finding time to pitch in here too. No, the trouble I’m talking about– no, “Camelot Falls” is also self-contained I guess? Anyway, Trouble with a T rhymes with C which stands for Calculator being a super computer hacker and making crazy stuff happen so we can have a montage of superheroes DOING THANGS.

pp. 4-6: Zatanna and Mary Marvel find time to chat on the deck of the cruise ship for about two panels before Slig, a member of the Fourth World posse “Deep Six” appears out of nowhere, apparently frightened of some evil creature pursuing him. He starts changing cruise ship passengers into crazy sea creatures to “mask [his] escape”, not really noticing that none of the people he transforms end up looking anything like him. Then Mary Marvel uses her DARK NEW POWERS to blind Slig, and he rips her shirt so you can almost see some titties. Yes, that is the level of class this book hits.

MESS WITH DA BEST, DIE LIKE DA REST!p. 7: After fighting so vehemently to come talk to Oracle, Karate Kid and Una stand around looking like douches while Oracle and Calculator trade non-sensical computer slang/bragging in an effort I guess to make computer hacking seem sexy and dangerous. You can practically see their hands going CLACK CLACK CLACK CLACK randomly on their keyboards while a mouse cursor moves on the screen, like they are in Swordfish or some other shitty movie. I am not computer-hacking-savvy enough to break down their nonsense, but hopefully someone similar to Tom Foss will take up the challenge. Calculator GOES THERE and blacks out all power to Gotham City which leads us to–

p. 8-9: Batwoman and the Question, about to LAY THE SMACKDOWN on Trickster and Piper for the murder of Bart Allen. Oh yeah, just about every scene transition in this comic has one of those cutesy Watchmen-aping things where Person A in one scene says “But why are you reading–” and then Person B in another scene says “such a shitty comic?”

This is a woman easily swayed by puppetry.Anyway, the Question demands a confession from them — why I don’t know, since my understanding is that they’re globally wanted criminals, but I guess that’s how she rolls — and rather than try to explain himself rationally, Trickster pulls out some hand puppets and makes OJ Simpson jokes to prove his innocence. I feel like it’s not even worth pointing out the art inconsistencies in this subplot anymore — maybe I’ll make a spreadsheet of them all at a later date — but rather exceptionally, Trickster gets the stripes punched off his pants between pages 8 and 9. Also of note:
1. Trickster confesses that they did not kill the Flash, which directly contradicts the comic where the Flash died. You know, the one where they Piper and Trickster were kicking him to death. Maybe he’s supposed to be lying?
Could this be the Flash’s true murderer?3. Again, an OJ Simpson joke. In 2007. I know Graymiotti were also the braintrust behind the phrase “Edison juice” last month, but ouch. Let’s rename the book Countdown to Monica Lewinsky and ‘Dude, You’re Getting a Dell’ Guy Jokes.
4. This “confession of innocence” is apparently good enough for Renee Montoya, former homicide detective, to let them go. I’m really not sure what the purpose of this scene was — was it to hammer home that no foolin’, even if the big ‘event’ comic that kicks off the entire storyline shows them kicking Bart Allen to death, that according to Countdown Piper and Trickster are really innocent, and if you don’t believe Mike Carlin, you should listen to the Question? Are they trying to show that the Question is really stupid? Did they just hope bringing in more 52 characters would have a halo effect on people’s perception of the book, and this was a weak payoff to a dumb cliffhanger from last week? It could really go any of those three ways, I think!

p. 10 Uh so I guess Oracle beats that L@M3R N00B H4X0R |=/.G the Calculator at their Hackers style face-off? And she puts off listening to Karate Kid, who has been waiting so patiently for fourteen goddamn issues for his storyline to advance, so she can hear about the Question’s brilliant deduction on the previous page.

This is the sort of crossover that so trouble the Monitors!pp. 11-13: Oh good, Mary Marvel has somehow regrown the ripped part of her shirt. I guess this means she isn’t turning dark and evil after all, she’s just — oh. Mary’s decided to just start randomly punching the transformed cruise passengers instead of doing anything constructive. Awesome. So then a mysterious glowing being rises from the sea and shoots something that looks like an Omega Beam out towards Slig. Slig is begging on his knees and promising to “spit in the face of Darkseid” to avoid death, even though it’s been established since the days of Kirby that the dudes in Deep Six are constantly being killed while serving Darkseid, and he constantly resurrects them. But you know, apparently before Countdown no Fourth World character has ever died. Even though Deep Six, Sleez, Forager, Desaad and Darkseid himself have all died before, and somehow come back. But come on, this is important! Honest!

Maybe it was Robin who killed the Flash!pp. 14-16: Jimmy Olsen goes to Titans Tower to pitch his MISTER ACTION character to Robin, who thinks it’s kind of stupid. Jimmy is still too stupid to understand how his powers work (or maybe he read issue 40 where it appeared as if his powers were voluntary) but has an epiphany — perhaps his powers only work if he is in mortal danger! Really, we get it.

p. 17: Back on the cruise ship, Mary Marvel is still DARK SO DARK and apparently has crazy magic powers that neither she nor Black Adam have ever had. And oh no, Eclipso is still sitting around talking about how eventually she is going to try to seduce Mary Marvel to the Dark Side! But now she reveals her plan — not only will she do that, but she will turn Mary Marvel into a “fearsome minion”! I can hardly wait for Countdown to Mystery to learn more about Eclipso and her plans to have FEARSOME MINIONS!

p. 18: The Monitors, no longer content to recap what happened in previous issue of Countdown, take it upon themselves to recap what happened in THIS WEEK’S ISSUE OF COUNTDOWN. In case you weren’t paying attention, Deep Six got killed and Oracle beat Calculator. Oh yeah and the C-List Monitor Posse are looking for Ray Palmer. No one knows where Ray Palmer is. Just a reminder to everyone. We don’t actually see CLMP this week, but I think we can safely assume the scene went something like:

thankyoumonitor.jpg

p. 19: Oracle gloats some more about pwning Calculator, and the people from the 31st Century no understand-ee computer talk-ee. Karate Kid explains why he needed to see Oracle so badly — he’s dying. We’ll have to wait at least another week to know why he knows he’s dying, why he’s dying, what this has to do with the Great Disaster he’s supposed to prevent, why Una is with him or anything else. But at least we know he’s sick, from the actual printed comic this week! Things are looking up for ol’ Karate Kid, his plot is starting to get explained! Another 14 issues and maybe something will happen in it.

p. 20: Darkseid smashes his toys! He is planning on starting a Multiversal Dynasty! Apparently, according to the caption at the bottom, this story will continue!

Finally, in the Fell Format Back Matter, this week’s issue features the final chapter in the Monitor Exposition Festival and I have to say, it’s a fucking doozy. Okay really I just wanted to use both of these Riddler pictures This whole “History of the Multiverse” lecture appears to be an expanded version of the debate Bob the Monitor (of CLMP fame) and Solomon the Monitor (of gatting Duela Dent fame) had way back in Countdown #49. Well, it’s twelve issues later, and the back-up has finally gotten to the point where Bob the Monitor storms off as all the other Monitors decide it’s time to start shooting “crossovers” in the face. It’s a sentiment I can empathize with, reading this book. What is mindblowing about this debate is that it is supposed to take place alongside Countdown #49, as last issue’s story mentions how maybe they could send Forerunner out to stop these anomalies. Solomon did send Forerunner out to kill Donna Troy and Jason Todd in issue 46, and Bob the Monitor intervened to save them and form his Posse. This week, this is referred to in an argument that ought to be taking place before that ever happens, and effectively like three minutes after they initially discuss the possibility of sending her out. Riddle me this — what the fuck is going on in this story?Then, someone even mentions how Forerunner “betrayed” the Monitors and joined forces with Monarch, which didn’t even happen until issue issue 44. Ultimately, even after hearing a recap of those events, the Monitors vote to send Forerunner out, which I guess they had already done, and Bob the Monitor sadly teleports off to do the things he’s already talked about having done in the past. Holy shit, I made a joke in the podcast the other week about wanting growth in the work of comic creators, and jokingly used the example of Dan Jurgens forsaking superheroes for avant-garde non-linear mini-comics. I had no idea he was going to take me up on that challenge. Well scouted, Jurgens!

Count Chocula Cereal is Part of this Dark, So Dark Balanced BreakfastNot a lot of tie-ins this week. Black Adam: The Dark Age is a special kind of Countdown tie-in, one of those “reverse mysteries” DC seems so fond of lately. As a first issue, this isn’t too bad; Doug Mahnke’s art is effective and creepy for the most part, and Pete Tomasi’s writing is accessible enough, thought with a few tics like Wildcat being so gol-durn old-fashioned he still likes to talk about “Krauts and Nips” and generally talk like someone’s trying to write for a tough-guy Grandpa Simpson. There are some plot elements that don’t really make any sense within the Greater DC Universe towards the end, but as a first issue it sets up some intrigue surrounding some questions people surely had at the end of 52:
— Will Black Adam get his powers back?
— What is his “secret word”?
— Will he succeed in resurrecting his beloved Isis?
— Will he be brought to justice, by his former teammates or anyone else?

Yes, these are all pretty decent plots for a mini series, it’s just that anyone reading Countdown, the narrative spine of the DC Universe, discovered the answer to these questions like two months ago, making anything that happens in this book pretty moot. I know they say sometimes the journey is more important than the destination, but come on, the destination is Countdown. What wouldn’t be better than the destination? Aim higher, fellas! Black Adam totally went cannibal, though. I guess that’s pretty hardcore?

Outsiders: Five of a Kind #2 – Katana and We Can’t Put the Words Captain Marvel on the Cover [Shazam] is another reverse-mystery, along with another ostensible tie-in; there’s an ad for the New Batman & the Outsiders book in a bunch of DC books this week that claims that “The Countdown Continues” in that title, as well as showing the MYSTERY LINEUP of the New Outsiders. That ad shows Katana on the team but not Captain Marvel/Shazam, so there you go. I am guessing by the fact that this is written by original Batman & the Outsiders scribe Mike W. Barr and dedicated to original artist Jim Aparo that the main story here, involving Katana and her soultaking blade, is a follow-up to some old stories I never read in the 1980s. The plot is basically that Katana kills people and their souls go into her sword, but now the souls are escaping her sword so she has to kill those people again, at which point I guess they die for realsies? Or go back into the sword? I mean she kills herself with the sword and goes into the sword, which is something she’s apparently done before, and then at the end she comes back to life outside of the sword? SPOILER ALERT — This is not the lineup for Batman & the Outsiders Oh yeah and Captain Marvel stands around talking about how magic is out of balance and how he cannot interfere too much and then wanders off at the end. Nothing is really resolved, so it doesn’t even serve the purpose of “wrapping up loose ends” from over twenty years ago, as it leaves those loose ends open. I guess the book might serve as a useful demonstration of how hardcore and willing to kill Katana is for a DCU hero, but the four-page epilogue from B&TO writer Tony Bedard explicitly sets up the fact that Batman is forbidding her to kill while part of his team that will “cross lines that would stop most people cold”. So what, is she gonna have to drink expired milk? Skateboard to the Krusty Burger and back, naked? Actually read and attempt to comprehend Countdown every week? Just how far are these “Outsiders” willing to go? I guess we’ll find out eventually.

6 Comments »

  1. Hilarious. I guess Dini said at ComicCon that there was miscommunication between them and the guys on the Flash at the time and Piper & Trickster were just supposed to have been there and not actually participated in the murder. Maybe now would be a good time to apply for an editor’s job at DC, or perhaps the nepotism there is as bad as the Bush administration?

    Comment by Nate — August 9, 2007 @ 4:44 pm

  2. A lot of things were said at Comic-Con. Most horrifying.

    Ironically, the “now is a good time to work for DC” joke was made, by DiDio himself, when a fan screamed out “Kill them all, then bring them all back” during a panel. The response: “Quick, someone hire this kid, I like his style!”

    Comment by Syrg — August 11, 2007 @ 7:49 am

  3. This really might be the biggest train-wreck company “event crossover” in comics history, actually. Even if you’ve read most DC Comics for thirty years, it’s pretty hard to make sense of parts of it. Even harder to care.

    Especially when you throw in stuff like Amazons Attack and the Sinestro Corps. In the latter event, you’ve got the Anti-Monitor, Superevil Prime, Cyborg Superman, about a zillion evil aliens, Warworld, Parallax, and it’s having ZERO impact on the big cross-over series or anything else for that matter? The Monitors are still sitting around debating whether it was a good idea to off the Joker’s Daughter?

    Comment by Timothy Burke — August 13, 2007 @ 1:33 pm

  4. Oh my God this blog is amazing. Thank you.

    Comment by Douglas — August 14, 2007 @ 1:54 am

  5. Didn’t Mike Carlin once break your fanboy heart by announcing he’d be six feet in the cold, cold ground before Ambush Bug appeared in another DC Comic. That might also be why he’s asking the Internet to explain how the other books tie in to Countdown and for that matter, why DC editorial seems to lack the cohesion needed to pull off something like this, since Carlin’s editing from a six foot deep hole.

    Comment by Nick — August 23, 2007 @ 6:45 pm

  6. Mike Carlin did exactly what you described several years ago.

    However, the last time I saw him in person was shortly after Ambush Bug made a much-heralded appearance in 52, at a memorial service for the 10th Anniversary of Mark Gruenwald’s passing. I felt bringing up “so why aren’t you dead?” under such circumstances would be kind of gauche.

    Comment by Chris Eckert — August 24, 2007 @ 3:09 pm

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