Friday, 18 May 2007

Countdown 50 and scheduling

Well, that wasn't very good at all, was it?

Countdown 50 is a badly put together comic. To all the errors pointed out in the previous post and comments, we can add:
  • Grocer's apostrophes
  • The fact that the Batman/Karate Kid fight is given no context whatsoever anywhere else in the comic - apparently if you're not reading JLA or JSA you're not meant to be able to know what's going on in this, despite the various protestations of those involved.
  • "Who wouldn't want to hit some Kryptonian?" - no Scottish person has ever spoken like this
  • Attempts at 'topical humour' that are three years out of date, that wouldn't have been funny at the time, and that also wouldn't have been funny in the DCU, where the 2004 presidential election was completely different to the one on Earth-Prime.
  • General new-reader-unfriendliness
  • Having worked on several different psychiatric units over the years, I have never seen a straitjacket in use, and my understanding is that they're very strongly deprecated. However, even when they weren't, a straitjacket with no crotch-strap would be utterly useless - it could be pulled over the head with minimal effort.
More annoyingly, we get confirmation that contrary to all the initial publicity Keith Giffen is not involved in the first several issues. This is incredibly annoying - it means Countdown, unlike 52, will not have a consistent sense of storytelling. While here Calafiore does an admirable job (despite my crack in the earlier post about only being able to draw one woman's face) he doesn't have the chops of Giffen. The whole issue feels flabby and disconnected, full of little details that should have been caught. The 'Chewbacca defence' link getting Jimmy Olsen to speak to the Joker was unnecessary - Duella Dent referred to herself as Joker's Daughter, so go and speak to the Joker. No need for the logical disconnect pulling us out of the story.

The Batman/Karate Kid fight especially galls. Not only because it's four confusingly-laid-out pages recapping a fight scene from another comic, but because it goes against the public statements made about its very inclusion. Dan Didio has said :

One of the things we’re doing in that case specifically is that we didn’t want to take it for granted that someone is reading Justice League of America or assume that someone is only reading Countdown. Also, that scene is so key to Karate Kid, and Karate Kid is one of the ongoing characters in the story. So – one of the things I wanted to be sure we did was establish who Karate Kid is very clearly. If that scene played very closely to the scene in Justice League, then so much the better, because we wanted to be very clear about where the story is taking place in conjunction with Countdown.

So, two stated aims:
1) 'establish who Karate Kid is very clearly'. Done by... er... giving people no clue whatsoever who this character is meant to be or why Batman is fighting him.
2) 'Play very closely to the scene in Justice League'. Done by deviating from the story in ways that add nothing and could have been avoided.

But still, I enjoyed the issue, despite everything. Page 18, in particular, sums up everything I hope for once Countdown finds its feet:
  • the Citizen Kane by way of Eisner establishing shot
  • "NO guns, coins, umbrellas, plants, water, playing cards..." - this is just the kind of little detail that I was hoping for.
  • The "What do 4-D beings look like?" bit, which works both as a great example of Morrisonesque weirdness and a parody of the same. I hope this is setting up one of the big plotlines for the story (or even better, playing a long game and sowing seeds for Morrison's big story next year).
The last page, as well, is just lovely, being very reminiscent of All-Star Superman (or indeed the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker comedies that All-Star sometimes seems to be inspired by in its staging), having all the main action happening behind a completely oblivious foregrounded Jimmy Olsen, and leading to a perfect closing panel. The quality of the last quarter of the comic is extremely good stuff, an just throws the first three-quarters into sharper relief. Overall, I enjoyed the comic, but I can't say, yet, that I think it's good. But there's enough good stuff in this issue to let me hope that the bad stuff is just teething troubles.

I picked up two other DC Universe titles this week - Action 849 and Batman 665. I don't have much to say about them as comics - Action is a perfectly serviceable Superman story, while Batman is adding more layers of mystery to a story that I'm enjoying but which I suspect will only come together several months from now.

But both comics are symptomatic of the problem of lateness, which was brought to everyone's (where 'everyone' = 'people who talk about comics on the internet') attention this week with the release of the latest issues of All Star Batman and Authority (neither of which I'm reading). I'm in two minds about the whole issue of lateness in comics. Some comics are so good that I'll just be happy whenever they come out (for example All Star Superman) - those comics are generally ones that will have most sales in trade paperback form anyway. Twenty years from now, no-one will be worried that there was a big gap between All-Star Superman 5 and 6.

Other comics, for example Seven Soldiers, are hurt but not killed by delays - I wish Seven Soldiers 1 had come out closer to the other issues, because the delay meant the story lost impetus, but at the same time you can't hurry art and it was worth the wait. At the other extreme, junk-food comics don't matter to me as a reader - if I want to read a Superman story and there's not one out this week, I'll just read an old one. These delays are, however, harmful to retailers, as Brian Hibbs points out , and thus ultimately to comics as a medium.

But the one type of story that is really hurt by delays is the 52/Countdown model. If Countdown misses an issue, much as if 52 had, the comic is effectively destroyed. The problem comes when that title is interwoven with other comics.

The delays caused by Civil War last year were bad - it held up release of a significant portion of Marvel's line, and may well have actually put retailers out of business - but delays to Countdown could be catastrophic for DC. The problem is that Countdown is tying into other comics. While 52 was set in its own year, Countdown is supposed to reflect what's happening in the other titles. The question is, how is that going to be possible? Action's supposed main story is so delayed that there have been whole fill-in 'arcs' between issues in the main storyline. While they're getting the title itself onto something like a regular basis (another fill-in issue is out next week), there will have been a four-and-a-half-month gap between issues by what is supposedly the regular writing team by the time the next issue by Johns & Donner comes out (and they're only back for one issue before another fill-in).

Batman is less late (only a two-month gap since the last issue by the regular team) and I'm willing to cut it a lot more slack because it's such a good comic,but it's still at a point where issue 667 (the first issue of a new storyline with the Godlike J. H. Williams III on art, for which I've been drooling in anticipation since it was first solicited) will actually come out before issue 666, which wraps up the current storyline.

If a comic with a crucial plot point comes out even a week later than allowed for, that could set a whole row of dominoes falling. DC have now committed themselves to a course of action that will, no matter what (either by late comics, spoilers appearing outside the main titles, or fill-in writers and artists), lead to a huge amount of criticism and probably lost sales. I hope it turns out that the comic they're hanging all this on will be worth it, for them and for us. As Sir Humphrey would put it, doing Countdown was a very courageous decision.

Before I finish this post, I would like to say how pleasantly surprised I am both by the number of people visiting here and by the intelligence of the majority of the comments. I know this entry has not had much to say compared to some of the others, but I'm hoping to do some more discursive essays in the near future (I have one on Jimmy Olsen half-written).


Bibliomike said...

Hi -- I am a relatively new reader to the DCU who didn't find "Countdown 50" as bad as you feared new readers might. It's true, I have no idea who Karate Kid is -- and I can imagine I'd be frustrated if I'd known the stated expectation to avoid crossover with "Justice League," which, again true, I don't read -- but it was a brief enough sequence that I figured, "Ok, so he's a Batman villain of some kind, and I'll Google it later and find out."

I enjoyed the Joker sequence -- especially, as you did, the "no playing cards, etc." bit. The Joker's such an iconic villain, even a rookie like me could appreciate that.

Mary Marvel's plotline is slow getting started, it seems, but I am going to give the series a few more weeks before deciding whether to stick with it or not.

Thanks for a cool blog.

badartdog said...

i think the Grocer's Apostrophes are the super villain team in Grant Morrison's next series.

Kim EM said...

I dunno. There's some issues with the book, although I'm not so sure they're all of critical importance. Maybe with a few more issues some of these problems will be shaken out.

I'd much rather they'd gotten the bugs out prior to the first issue's release, but, well, I'm getting the feeling that much of the 'team' on this book aren't folks at the top of their game, but rather 'comers' who are being expected to grow into their roles. Good idea? Probably not, in my reckoning, but it appears of a piece with the philosophy of the book.

We've got Paul, Jimmy, and Justin as the 'old hands' (and eventually Kieth), but beyond that it's folks who are still getting up to speed.

As to continuity issues, as well as the 'spin' behind the characters, I'm guessing that they're all matters of things that we, the readers, don't yet know. We've got the "New Earth", the parameters of which haven't yet been defined, as well as 51 alternate worlds, none of which have yet been established.

We don't know yet whether all the action we're seeing is on "New Earth" (although I suspect it is), but we've had graphically established that there's been a great deal of 'slop-over' from one world to the next (Duela, Jason, etc). In a series that appears to be *about* the anomalies, it seems unfair to criticize the ones we don't understand, especially as we're only two weeks in.

On another issue, much of the criticism I've seen in various places is that "Countdown" isn't "52". True enough. It's not, but then again, it wasn't intended to. The method of doing the book is different, the purpose of the story seems different, etc. Yes, the new book is less dense, but then again, I'm guessing that's intentional. Let's give it a little time to find it's own voice before setting it up alongside "52".

- Kim

Wayne said...

I am trying to figure out if the Mary Marvel story takes place after the end of Trials of Shazam or during it. Since we have not seen Freddie, either are valid at the moment.

Steve Flanagan said...

"I have one on Jimmy Olsen half-written."

I quite understand - you have to be "Mr Action For A Day" before you can finish it!

Brian said...

Issue 49 out--haven't seen such a stonecold artistic rip of classic Adams w/ Palmer inks in decades. Storywise---is Adam Adam again? Or are all these people just worthless and weak?

I'm really not finding the Rogues dilemma to really be holding my interest dribbled out like this.