Sunday, 15 April 2007

Countdown to Countdown 4

As pretty much everyone interested in superhero comics is now aware, DC Comics have announced a new weekly maxiseries, Countdown, to start the week after their current weekly maxiseries, 52, ends.

Now, one of the most interesting things about 52 (which is one of the most fascinating projects in superhero comics of recent years, second only to Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers) has been following the reactions among fans - reading 52 Pickup has often been as interesting as the comic itself, and Ralph Dibny's Diary is better than most issues (and is, as far as I'm concerned, canon). I think it will be interesting to see if Countdown holds up as well to real-time analysis.

Of course, 52 and Countdown are very different projects. Every issue of 52 is (supposedly) written by the same four people (supposedly as some issues seem very much the work of individuals), while Countdown is being written by a team under the supervision of Paul Dini. This should, paradoxically, lead to a higher overall level of quality. While 52's writers are 'superstars' (in comics terms - only Grant Morrison has any sort of presence in the mainstream, and even his is limited to a sort of pseudo-counterculture following) they have very disparate levels of ability, and very different writing styles. The people working on Countdown, though, are writers who are (with no disrespect intended to them) solid mid-listers, reliable writers of not especially-popular titles. They're being led by Dini, who is known for solid, crafted superhero tales that don't break out of their genre but are enjoyable for what they are (this is high praise indeed - Dini is practically the only person writing decent pure superhero stories for either of the major companies at the moment) and who also has experience as a TV head writer.

The other difference between the two projects though is that while both involve the whole 'DC Universe', 52 takes place in its own isolated year of continuity, while Countdown will be interacting with the regular comics.

Now, many reviewers have complained about this, and about Countdown generally, seeing it as another example of the short-sighted commercialism that is making the major companies run one crossover after another back-to-back, aiming to sell more and more comics to an ever-dwindling number of ever-ageing devotees, who don't even enjoy them any more and are buying them to fulfill a misguided compulsion. And of course, that is exactly what it is.

But it could still be a brilliant idea as well. I have argued for years that there should be a weekly Adventures In The DC Universe title, which this appears to be, something that can introduce new readers to the sheer wealth of material that is in the DC Universe (or indeed the Marvel universe, but due to my age and location I was primarily introduced to USian comics through the British Invasion of the 80s and so my attachment to the DC characters is greater).

Because while I agree with the ideas of Dave Sim (the only time you'll read that phrase in this blog) about creator-ownership, creator-owned comics, as good as they can be (and I'd put Cerebus, Lost Girls, A Disease Of Language, Roarin' Rick's Rare Bit Fiends and many others up with any work in any medium) miss what I think is the truly great thing about the two big comic companies - the shared universes, which are the real creations which make the comics worth reading.

So while many individual comics in those universes are poor, they're still interesting because they add to (or at least maintain) the mythos. This is , of course, why the recent fad of killing, raping and otherwise rendering unusable characters who don't have their own title is such a bad idea, quite apart from the comics themselves being very unpleasant. Before Identity Crisis , you could tell an infinite number of stories about Ralph & Sue Dibny. After it, you could only tell one (which 52 told extremely well).

Grant Morrison is currently engaged in trying to make the DC Universe sentient, something which, if nothing else, should make for interesting comics. But even if he doesn't (which is rather likely on the face of it), a more coherent DC Universe will make for better comics - but only if that coherence takes the form of opening up new story ideas, rather than closing them off . On the face of it, Countdown appears more likely to do the former than the latter.

However, this comes at a price, as the more pessimistic among us acknowledge. Not all the comics Countdown ties into will be very good. In fact, the first crossover that has been announced involves three titles that I do not buy. It is my fervent hope that it will not be necessary to buy these titles in order to follow the story in Countdown - and from what's been said so far it won't be.

But what this means is I'm going to review Countdown in a different manner to the way in which 52 has been looked at. I'm going to look at the comic every week and review it, make predictions, say what's interesting about it, but I'm also going to post brief reviews of the other DCU titles I'm reading, and look at how they tie in.

However, I do not read anything like all the DCU titles, and in fact miss some of the key titles that will tie into this - looking over DC's solicits for the next few months, the only 'real-time' DCU titles I'm planning on buying are Action (only some issues) , All-New Atom, Detective, Dr Fate, Superman, Batman, Blue Beetle, Shadowpact and Firestorm. Anything that doesn't take place in those titles I'll have to guess about or read on other people's blogs.

But what I'll also be doing is using those comics as a launching pad for rants on whatever subjects seem to fit - mostly comic-related, but I might decide to talk about the application of cybernetics and information theory to the New Gods, with reference to the Anti-Life equation, Mister Miracle and Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety. Or I might say that Rob Liefeld sucks. Whichever. How closely they'll relate to the issue in question depends on how interesting the issue is to talk about.

Either way, I plan at the moment to keep this up for the length of Countdown, posting once a week, but can't guarantee this. I have a tendency to start projects I can't finish, and also I'm not going to commit to buying 52 comics in advance without any knowledge of the contents. But for the next few weeks, at least, expect a post by Sunday evening UK time.

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