Funnybook Babylon

August 18, 2007

Downcounting – A Guide for the Perplexed: Countdown #37, “Forbidden Fruit”

Filed under: Articles,Downcounting — Chris Eckert @ 3:22 am

There are a lot of numbercrunching things to talk about, and a lot of things to talk about regarding Dan Didio’s latest interview — but this is already late thanks to a delay in getting to the comic shop, and it seems like people are actually reading this (instead of Countdown I hope!), which is a pleasant surprise. So let’s skip the formalities and take a nice close look at the NARRATIVE SPINE OF THE DC UNIVERSE


I don’t want people to think I am making fun of homosexuality — here is a horrifying ’straight’ drawing too!Sidebar #1: On the topic of this week’s bitterly ironic title: “Forbidden Fruit” is clearly referring to Ivy’s refusal to allow anyone to eat her “fruits”. But I am starting to wonder if somehow DC has gotten trigger-shy post-Batwoman/52 media blitz: Countdown is full of homosexuals, but none of them get to actually express this. Batwoman herself (and ex(?) girlfriend Renee “The Question” Montoya) guest starred last issue with no mention or indication of anything of that sort. Holly Robinson’s a lesbian who has a devoted long-term girlfriend who got mentioned exactly once alongside relative strangers like Batman as people she is cutting out of her life. The Pied Piper is the only person who’s even implicitly revealed to be a homosexual in Countdown so far, and that was just a homophobic joke from Trickster. I’m not sure if Harley and Ivy are supposed to be lesbian lovers or just really good friends *nudge nudge*, but here’s another character who at least *might* be homosexual showing up in the book with no mention of their preferences. I’m not saying everyone should walk around going “HELLO HOW ARE YOU DID YOU KNOW I AM A LESBIAN?” but Jimmy Olsen gets to wander around like a horndog, and it seems like a relevant topic for Batwoman/Montoya and Holly, at the very least. Like I said, maybe someone in DC editorial is sending out coded messages! DRINK MORE OVALTINE!

So here’s the page by page breakdown:
The Doctor is IN…SANEly depressed that he is getting dragged into this.pp. 1-3: Oracle performs the tests she said she would perform last issue on Karate Kid. True to her namesake, she admits she has no idea what the virus he has is. It probably doesn’t help that they only identified that he was sick last issue, and so far they’ve made no mention of how he knows he is ill, nor has he mentioned or exhibited any sort of symptoms; that’d be a tough nut for any doctor to crack. Oracle reasons that perhaps the 31st Century Man who just arrived in the 21st century with a disease unknown in contemporary times might well have picked it up in the 31st Century, which freaks out Una, who sees this as a harbinger to The Great Disaster. Oracle sends them off to have the mystery disease looked at by some new character named Elias Orr who is, like, the greatest doctor ever. If he exists! My money is this will lead to a crossover with yet another Brave New World. Think about it. Last issue we had [Christopher] Robin, two weeks ago was Athena’s owl and the Bronze Tig[g]er… now a Dr. E Orr. Say it out loud. We are Counting Down to Pooh — or poo. Tough to say.

A bitterly ironic image, as if anything involved with this story could MOVE, never mind speedily…pp. 4-6: Apparently taking the tiny incremental plot advancement in Karate Kid’s story as a challenge, Zatanna brings Mary Marvel to her big mansion in Gotham City and shows her how she has a magic door and a magic set of servants. That’s it for now! Apparently conjuring up a bunch of autonomous beings and then making them disappear again is “pretty basic magic”, the type Zatanna seems ready and willing to teach Mary Marvel even though she was worried about her being homicidally crazy last week. I would complain about how this section flies in the face of Seven Soldiers and the whole “magic has to come at a cost” concepts of 52, but I am too busy being amazed at the fact that six pages in all that has happened is that someone is told to get a second opinion from a better doctor, and a person took another person to her house. Also the gigantic, soul-eating eyes everyone has in this issue. David Lopez doesn’t remind me nearly this much of Bratz when he draws Catwoman, so I don’t know if I should blame the inker or a tight deadline, but please don’t judge Lopez on this issue.

pp. 7-9:

thankyoumonitor.jpg

I knew I’d be able to get some mileage out of that image. Playing the role of Toad this week is a young girl who is an apparently meaningless shoutout to Arion, currently appearing with no real connection to this story in Superman. It’s worth noting that according to that article, Arion is a “Homo Magi”, so perhaps this reference serves to reinforce the titular theme. Oh, and Jason Todd is approaching Spider-Man levels of quippage here. And the C-List Monitor Posse is surrounded by exactly the same people they were surrounded by three weeks ago, only this time these people attack! Okay actually they don’t attack this week, but next week! NEXT WEEK!

pp. 10-13: Piper and Trickster break into an abandoned greenhouse and eat some fruit. They’re really hungry since they haven’t eaten since they got captured by Deadshot! Well, I mean, if you ignore how Penguin was feeding them steaks and such when they were hiding out at his restaurant. But other than that — starving. Of course, Poison Ivy is hiding out in this greenhouse, and she swears to kill our Defiant Villains for the crime of picking and eating her precious plant’s fruits.

A pin-up captures Poison Ivy as she is informed she will be appearing in CountdownI have no idea why Ivy would do this — I mean, the entire point of plants having fruit is to spread their seeds, which is often largely based on being eaten by animals. It’s not like Piper and Trickster are eating fetuses. Furthermore, Ivy has the plants shoot their fruits off to pummel Piper and Trickster as they try to escape, which is fucking disgusting if we follow the logic of the fruit being the plants’ “children”. Further furthermore, the back-up origin of Poison Ivy in this week’s issue states that “Ivy currently finds her environmental cause less important than vengeful caprice”, which makes you wonder why she’s being characterized like this in the very same issue. Perhaps we’ll find out NEXT ISSUE, because all that happens this issue is Ivy capturing P&T and declaring they are “DEAD MEAT” (haw haw).

Sidebar #2: is Ivy a carnivore? Does she understand that meat sources eat plants? Does she eat plants? Maybe she is racist (or speciest) and only eats plants, but not fruits? She’s a botanist, she should have a better grasp on these things.

Lesbians aren’t allowed noses in some culturespp. 14-15: We check in on Confirmed Lesbian (though you would never guess it from Countdown) Holly Robinson as she works out in a gym and provides copious panty shots as she is still complaining about how she doesn’t really know if she is comfortable with whatever it is they’re all doing at the women’s shelter. Whatever that is. Apparently it involves training. Also suspected-lesbian Harley jumps on Holly to congratulate her “training”, in what might be a coded reference to a budding crush, or it could be standard funnybook “ooh hot girls all rubbin’ on each other” fanservice. Perhaps we will see in the future!

pp. 16-17: Hey, we’re back with Mary Marvel and Zatanna! Zatanna is going to teach Mary Marvel all about magic. Eventually. A mummy attacks Mary Marvel for some reason, and then Zatanna continues to promise to teach her about stuff. Mary looks at some magical artifacts and goes all Gollum for the precious power… power… why, I hope Mary Marvel isn’t going to get corrupted by all this power she seems to want!

Remember Superman II when Lois discovered Superman’s ID?pp. 18-20: One of the problems with Countdown is that things happen at such a crazy breakneck speed, that sometimes people get lost in all the exciting new developments! Luckily for them, Jimmy is sitting in the Daily Planet newsroom recapping all the stuff that he’s been recapping for the past several issues, musing on how random and contrived all of the strange things happening to him are. By chance, during this recollection, he suddenly gets another contrived epiphany — CLARK KENT IS SUPERMAN! Golly. At this very moment, Clark Kent wanders into the room, allowing Jimmy to rip his shirt off to declare I KNOW YOU’RE SUPERMAN!

I have to admit, this is a significant event, probably the only “important” thing to happen 15 issues in. Jimmy’s an iconic character, and he hasn’t known Superman’s secret identity at all, so if they stick with this development it actually has some lasting effects, far more than killing off Sleez, who was dead before they brought him back to kill him. Pretty much every other story in Countdown hasn’t really gone past its initially promoted plot beat, or moved at all. I think this might be the biggest flaw with Countdown, and really a lot of DC books in general — DC gives away far too much about their books before they even come out. Prior to the first issue of Countdown, they hyped up that Mary Marvel would be corrupted (by Eclipso), Piper and Trickster would get shackled together against their will, that people would be searching for Ray Palmer. And now, fifteen issues in — Piper and Trickster are shackled together, people are searching for Ray Palmer, and Mary Marvel hasn’t even met Eclipso yet. Much like the new Outsiders lineup, the return of the Multiverse, and Black Adam getting his powers back, most of the ‘big’ events at DC get teased and previewed so much there’s remarkably little impact when they finally happen.

Flirt all you like Ollie, they’re still killing your ass next month.It doesn’t seem like DC is getting any better with it; they’ve teased Oliver Queen’s death on his wedding day like nobody’s business, Jason Todd’s conversion to “Red Robin”, The Death of the New Gods… they’ve announced in interviews and solicitations that the Monarch is assembling a multiversal army across two different mini-series before they spend what will undoubtedly be like four issues worth of foreshadowing to MONARCH’S ARMY being revealed in Countdown. Likewise, Salvation Run (and related book Gotham Underground) have already been described at length as involving the quarantining of countless major villains on a prison planet, and the subsequent power vacuum it creates on Earth. Still, there will doubtlessly be scene after scene slowly revealing this epic plot. It’s not that things shouldn’t get explained in-book, and maybe this is the sort of complaint that is restricted to “six or eight internet fans” who actually do things like consume all the promotional material DC puts out. I am sure that is somehow our faults.

Anyway, how is the Narrative Spine of the DCU affecting other books this week?

Action Comics #854 is one of two official Countdown tie-ins this week, and it cheekily spoils Countdown‘s big reveal on the very first page. Why it would do that when last issue left them with a perfectly good cliffhanger — Krypto’s back, which somehow became a big issue when his backstory got tied up in the S*perb*y lawsuit — but instead they decided to jump ahead for no apparent reason other than being dicks. I mean, look at this blurb:

Editorman: Comic book readers are a cowardly and superstitious lot…. I shall become A JERK!

OOOOOOOOOOOOOPS! You would’ve been able to warn people if you actually wrote the comic in a coherent and linear manner, fellas. Besides spoiling Countdown for the week, this issue has only tenuous ties to anything else about the book. Jimmy Olsen still has crazy powers, that’s about it. The rest is yet another Kurt Busiek fill-in that incrementally moves forward ongoing plots like the Kryptonite Man and Krypto — whose backstory is still verboten to discuss because of S*perb*y. Anyway, the heroes win, and for some reason Superman asks Jimmy to take care of Krypto for him. This works out great, as Jimmy has a neighbor he really wants to have sex with, and she was previously established as loving dogs! I am not sure if this portrayal of Jimmy as a bipolar dude who fixates alternately on being “What it All Means to Be a Hero” and “Getting Laid” is supposed to be another Silver Age callback or what, but I’m worried for poor Jimmy — it’s well demonstrated (or will be, if you’re not aware of this, in an upcoming FBB article) that DC only lets its young heroes have sex if they’re planning on killing them off. Maybe this is the real reason that Jimmy Olsen Must Die?

oh man this book is going to be so fucking edgyOutsiders: Five of a Kind #3 – Thunder & Martian Manhunter is the other official Countdown book, and momentarily appeared to spoil another major Countdown plot point (the murderer of the New Gods), but it was a fake-out. Basically, the purpose of this issue was to reintroduce the character of Grayven, Darkseid’s bastard son. Grayven’s origin is recapped and his mind is restored from his lobotomy in Ion a few months ago. Then it’s revealed that he isn’t really Darkseid’s son! Then it’s revealed that he really is Darkseid’s son. Then he’s murdered by the dude who is killing all the New Gods. Good thing they spent all that time straightening things out about a character they were planning on killing off at the end of the issue! Also, Batman kicks Thunder off the Outsiders because she was willing to aid and abet Grayven, a murderous supervillain, in his quest to murder Darkseid, another murderous supervillain. Batman is looking for “ruthless” people who will “cross the line” and “live life on the edge” — which is why he is yelling at people for killing people in battle, or consorting with criminals. These people will be EDGY AS HELL, as they… er… do nothing to set them apart from every other superhero team on the planet. But they’re OUTSIDERS.

Flash v2 #231 is a pleasant introduction to the new West Family Status Quo, with Wally’s kids stealing the show. The Vagina Monster Cover wasn’t present as either of the 50/50 cover variants, although they do emerge as the villains in the final pages. No direct Countdown tie-ins, but there are some interesting things to note. Waid (who is meant to have a “consulting editor” position at DC and was one of the architects of the whole 52 thing) has been left in the dark regarding just about everything else DC is doing, and it shows. Here’s an interview with him from this past Tuesday:

Careful with that Wally, you want to end up like Daredevil?“I honestly have no idea [if Wally will join JLA],” admitted Waid. “I haven’t had any idea what’s going on, continuity-wise, in ‘Justice League of America’ for a year. No other writer at DC does. ‘Justice League’ is its own little corner of the world and who knows what is going to happen. I believe [that Wally will be featured in ‘Countdown’] but same thing there, they play it pretty close to their vests on ‘Countdown,’ too,” laughed Waid. “

What’s most striking about this statement isn’t that Justice League of America #12 reveals this week that Wally will in fact join the JLA, it’s that Flash v2 #231 also reveals this. Presumably someone in editorial slipped in the “I’ve got a JLA meeting” line into the issue, since 24 hours before its release Waid claimed to be in the dark about Wally’s JLA status.

Come on reporter lady, how can you forget a face like this?Waid’s writing in this issue also flatly contradicts what was established in Countdown issue 43, where a huge funeral in Keystone City shuts down the entire city and is broadcast worldwide as a city mourns the loss of Bart Allen, the fourth man to call himself The Flash. Jay Garrick goes ahead and reveals the secret identity of both Bart and his (currently only possibly) deceased grandther Barry Allen, the second Flash. There’s also footage shown at the funeral of a younger Bart thanking “Wally” for being such a mentor to him when he began superduping. This would suggest to me that any investigative reporter worth either title would be aware that the lineage of the Flash goes Jay Garrick –> Barry Allen –> Wally ______ –> Bart Allen, and it honestly wouldn’t be too difficult to dig up the fact that Barry had a nephew named Wally West and that Bart Allen often hung out with this same Wally and that he was probably the 3rd Flash. But instead, Waid’s investigative reporter acts like there’ve only been three Flashes, somehow forgetting that Bart ever existed and forgetting that Barry’s name was broadcast to millions a couple weeks ago.

None of this detracts from my enjoy of this issue of Flash, which is a good use of Daniel Acuna’s sometimes distracting art and a typically pleasant Waid script, but it does serve as a great examples of editorial interference and confidence games being played at DC. Please don’t let this sway you away from buying this book instead of Countdown, though.

Amazons Attack #5 is basically a full-issue delay of the final Battle at Helms Deep epic blow-off fight next issue, hinging on a hilarious plot device: Circe has sealed Washington DC up in a MAGIC BUBBLE that none of the JLA can break through, and their most powerful members are trapped outside of the bubble! Never mind the fact that the new Justice League headquarters, full of teleportation tubes, is inside the bubble. That gaping plot hole ends up being irrelevant, as the Magic Bubble dissolves before anything of note happens inside it. Next issue: a fight that is practically guaranteed not to make any real impact on the DC Universe!

Catwoman #70 was just barely an Amazons Attack tie in, which is just barely a Countdown tie-in. Not surprisingly, this is a blessing. This was much more a continuation of the past year’s worth of Catwoman storylines and while it’s not the best issue of the series, it’s still a lot better than Countdown, and more deserving of your money. You can really go back and try to pick up this book anywhere you like; it was good under Ed Brubaker before Pfeiffer took over, and it even managed to be at least moderately readable through War Games, Infinite Crisis and everything else; it deserves better sales than what it has for being that resilient!

diamond in my fuckin’ teeth / when i talk i spark - Booster’s #1 StunnaBooster Gold #1 wasn’t really a Countdown tie-in at all, but it was a lot of fun and again, more deserving of your money than Countdown. I am not a monster, and I do not want to take money out of any DC Comics employee’s pocket; I feel that since I am begging all of you to stop buying Countdown and other terrible books, that I should at least try to throw them some business when they do something good. Besides, it’s clear that Rip Hunter is a friend of the blog:

Don’t worry Rip, I’m on it like Con Ed!

So take Rip’s advice, pick up… well, practically anything other than Countdown, and meet me back here next week. Don’t worry about me; I’ve read Millenium and Avengers the Crossing. I can handle this.

3 Comments »

  1. Holy crap, I couldn’t believe the OOPS thing! Jeesus, are you serious? Did they replace editors with m0nkeys?

    Comment by Joseph Mastantuono — August 18, 2007 @ 12:17 pm

  2. Excellent as always.

    Comment by David Uzumeri — August 18, 2007 @ 2:53 pm

  3. I live for the Downcounting column! I don’t read DC books and could not care less about Countdown, but Downcounting is some fantastic reading! I *loved* the Dr. E Orr joke! I told it today to a car full of non-comic people and everyone loved it!

    Comment by Kenny — August 19, 2007 @ 12:10 am

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