Saturday, 12 May 2007

Countdown 50 preview

Well, DC have posted a preview of (the first few pages of) Countdown 50 (unfortunately you have to be a member of MySpace and a 'friend' of their comics community to read it), and it's a definite improvement on the first issue - more happens in these few pages than in the whole of the previous issue. But it's not all necessarily good news.

These pages throw up a ton of apparent plot holes, continuity errors, inconsistencies and stupidities. Please note the word 'apparent' there. While some of what I have to say about this issue might be pointing out real failings, a lot of the following may well be deliberate on the part of the issue's writers. Given that we're talking about a story dealing with multiple universes and inconsistencies in the timeline, I think a lot of slack is called for. That said, let's look at the preview in detail...

Page 1 - If you were Superman's pal, you wouldn't open your own door either, would you?
Page 2/3 - This didn't need to be two pages. The second page adds nothing. It's possible that the second page is meant to show that Superman is no longer around, but if it is, it's terrible storytelling, and I suspect it isn't. Interestingly, in the credits Keith Giffen is again not mentioned. The layouts are a lot more imaginative here than in the previous issue, with more of Giffen's feel to them, so it seems odd that the person who has been mentioned in every piece of pre-publicity about these comics isn't given any credit in the comics themselves. Either DC have been seriously misleading customers about the creative team on this comic or (far more likely) there's a very serious omission in the credits that should be rectified straight away...
Page 4 - This is the big problem that everyone has already noticed - Jimmy Olsen knows who both Jason Todd and Dick Grayson are, which means that unless he is the stupidest person in the universe he also knows Batman's secret identity. Now, there are a few possible explanations here. The most obvious one, but the least likely, is that this is a massive cock-up that will never be referred to again. I doubt this - if something's stupid enough that a dozen readers on MySpace notice it within minutes, it's stupid enough that it would be picked up by editorial. It's also possible that it's a massive cock-up for which an explanation will be quickly rationalised and inserted into a future issue in the manner of the Cult of Conner slip-up in 52. But I suspect it's a hint at something bigger.
Of course, what I hope is that Jimmy and the rest of the Daily Planet staff have always known everyone's secret identities for years, and have just been going along with the pretence to humour Clark:
"Oh look, Clark, an alien invasion fleet... that's OK, I know they bring on your stomach trouble, you get along to the toilet. I'm sure Superman will be along to fix this any second..."
page 5 - while it's not absolutely clear, it certainly appears from both the art and narration that Jason has just killed at least eight people. He's certainly killed more. Given that Superman knows exactly where he is, it's odd that he didn't do anything at all to prevent this. For that matter, Jimmy seems very unfazed by the whole thing. But then, that's Jimmy Olsen for you - he's cool like that.
page 6 - Wasn't Jason involved in the Crisis? I would have thought he would recognise a Monitor.
"If you want answers for questions beyond reason, there's a guy in Arkham asylum who wrote the book on crazy" - is it me or does this make no sense? "Something odd happened, so go and ask an insane serial killer". In fact the total non-sequitur pseudo-logic here reminds me of the Chewbacca defence:
Why would a Wookiee, an eight-foot tall Wookiee, want to live on Endor, with a bunch of two-foot tall Ewoks? That does not make sense! But more important, you have to ask yourself: What does this have to do with this case? Nothing. Ladies and gentlemen, it has nothing to do with this case! It does not make sense!

page 7/8 - Apparently Calafiore can only draw one woman's face. And that looks nothing at all like Mary Marvel. Still, always nice to see Madame Xanadu.

The rest of the preview is taken up with a context-free fight scene. We're given no explanation of why this matters, and the dialogue doesn't help. I would be completely clueless about what Batman is referring to if I hadn't read Steve Flanagan's review of the most recent issue of JLA - it appears this is the same scene that took place in that. Except it isn't - compare these two images
There is just no way to reconcile the action, dialogue and figure placement in these two pages. Civil War was (rightly) excoriated for this kind of inconsistency with its tie-ins, and one would hope that those involved in putting Countdown together would have learned from that.

See you in a few days for a review of the whole thing and some of the issues it's brought up.


Anonymous said...

This is clearly PART OF THE PLOT of Countdown.

Don't get me wrong - I am no apologist for the other plot-holes that have already appeared in Countdown (Mary Batson instead of Mary Bromfeld, Harlequin speaking openly of being from another Earth) and 52 (like Terra Man referring to Power Girl as "Supergirl Lite" even though PG has been around FAR longer post-Crisis than any incarnation of Supergirl), but to me this is obviously part of the story's set-up.

I wouldn't be surprised if the conclusion of Countdown results in a complete restoration of the pre-Crisis status quo, resulting in everyone who isn't indigenous to the pre-Crisis Earth-1 either dead or so horribly "evolved" (like the new Marvel Family) that they're unrecognizable from their pre-Crisis/newly restored Multiverse counterparts.

God help us all.

John Foley said...

I blame Brad Meltzer for everyone knowing everyone else's secret IDs. I just had no idea that this even extended to Jimmy freakin' Olsen.

Andrew Hickey said...

My guess is that the knowing the secret ID thing is definitely a plot-point, while the inconsistencies between this and JLA are just a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing...

edus said...

"There is just no way to reconcile the action, dialogue and figure placement in these two pages."

Unless... these scenes are happening instantaneously in two different (and equivalent) places of those 52 parallel worlds...

Oz said...

They also had a sex change. The person is "her" in the first one, and "he" in the second.

Sebastian said...

The Jla/Countdown issue is not wrong. I mean, it's clear that in both, Batman moved so Black Lighning would knock out Karate Kid. In the JLA issue it doesn't show Batman touching the Legionnaire.

And about the Joker. Yeah, Jason may have used the insane thing to reference the Joker. But really, if someone called the Joker's daughter is killed, who would you interview? The Joker.

Two inconsistencies explained. Still, I don't like Countdown.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or are a lot of comics fans generally let-down by the cynical approach the DC and Marvel have taken towards "post-modern" Comics?

I thought once we moved past teams of leather-clad anti-heroes with BFGs that superheroes that looked and *acted* heroic without being ridiculous cliches were the new norm.

This worked well enough when animation was the medium (all "Batman" animated series, Justice League/JLU, and X-Men: Evolution), or when the creators were paying homage to characters and/or concepts (Alex Ross' big-books on Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Captain Marvel, his Justice Series, and the various Astro City books). It *can* be done, so my question is: why isn't done more often?

DC's resurrection of various Silver Age characters has been just God-awful IMO, and blood-soaked. I think that Superboy Prime could have been turned into "the greatest threat the Universe had ever known" without gallons of on-panel blood being spilled - and don't even get me started on the ridiculous "character development" of Black Adam, who is (apparently) a mass-mass-mass murdered of innocent men, women, children, and Teen Titans created exclusively for the privilege of taking center stage in a snuff comic.

Mavel is no better, and in many ways is even worse. Spider-Man and the X-Men have given reader's nearly 40 years of angst-ridden drama without resorting to self-mutilation.

"Penance" my ass! Speedball has been reduced to someone who has mistaken cutting for a superpower.

Honestly - with the possible exception of "Identity Crisis," which admittedly used rape, murder, and some on-panel gore to *set* the story - can anyone name a single "iconic" story line from either big publishing house that's come out in the past 20 years that hasn't been a re-hash of something done during the Silver Age?

I can't - and I spend WAY too much time thinking about it!

Andrew Hickey said...

Sebastian, the problem isn't with the action (although things like the positioning of the figures, how torn Batman's cowl is and so on really should have been more consistent, but that's just nit-picking). It's that the dialogue is different, and it's different in mutually-incompatible ways.

Anonymous, I think you're being a little harsh. While most of the examples you mention have been godawful train-wrecks, that's not all that the 'big two' publish. While it depends on your definition of 'rehash' (and I'm not sure what you mean by 'iconic' here), because so many of the concepts in the 'sandbox' are silver age that it's impossible not to use them, in the last year or so there's been All-Star Superman, Seven Soldiers, most issues of the Atom, the Up Up And Away storyline in the Superman titles, most of 52 (the Black Adam parts excepted), Blue Beetle, Dini's Detective and Morrison's Batman. Over the 20 years you mention there is a *huge* amount of good stuff...

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Good points; sometimes I can't see the forest for the trees and I overlook things like the examples you offer up of reinvigorating Silver Age characters.

What I mean by "iconic" story lines are major story arcs that set the standard for the genre. Think the original COIE, "The Dark Phoenix Saga," "Nightmares of Future Past," etc.

Just because it's been done once doesn't mean it can't be done again and stand on its own. "The Dark Knight Returns" is, IMO, DC's answer to "Nightmares of Future Past."

"Kingdom Come" and Marvel's current post-"Civil War" are retreads of the Squadron Supreme maxi-series from way back; the former being an example of rehashing a story the right way, the latter (again, IMO) not so much.

Up until "World War III," I think "52" did a great job of covering new ground in that: 1) it told a relatively coherent set of intertwined stories 2) in a consistent, weekly format that 3) took a bunch of second- and third-stringers and made them shine. The various "Infinite Crisis" tie-in series ("Shadowpact" "Secret Six") also nailed #2 and #3 pretty well.

Unfortunately, it was a long time coming. Compare these mega-crossovers/"epic story arcs" with let-downs like "Our Worlds at War," and "Zero Hour."

See where I'm going with this?

I fear that "Countdown," with its gun-toting Monitors, slut-ifying of Mary Marvel, and bizarre circumstances (like Jimmy Olson interviewing vigilante-killer Red Hood while apparently in contact with Superman - who doesn't swoop down and arrest said vigilante) is already well on its way down that road only two issues in.

Chris Mosby said...

That hole with the Batman\Karate Kid scenes is just a bunch of crap. That shouldn't have seen print

Don said...

I'm surprised you didn't comment on the address on Madame Xanadu's door (page 7). It immediately jumped out at me like a big bright flashing alarm.

On the one hand, I get a huge kick out of seeing that number in a series that's all about other superhero universes. On the other, I can't believe DC let it through - these days they seem loath to admit Marvel even exists.

Andrew Hickey said...

I thought about commenting on that (and probably will mention it in the full post I do tonight) but wasn't sure if it had already been established as her address.
I always thought the 616 numbering was interesting for the MU given that at the time DC's address was 666 Fifth Ave - both 666 and 616 being different translations of the Number of the Beast...

Chris said...

I'm not seeing the JLA/Countdown inconsistency.

While the dialogue is different, the final intent is the same.

In jla he calls clark and says "meet us at the hall there's someone you need to see"

in countdown he says "keep an eye on him black lightning I'll be back in a minute and then we'll take him to the hall"

Where's the contradiction. Both lines of dialogue could have happened easily without contradiction.

My take is karate kid goes down, bruce calls clark then he utters the dialogue from countdown, what is in jla to suggest he took karate kid to the hall immediately?

Even if there is something I'm missing this cannot compare to the "captain america and iron man's last attempt at peace" debacle.

Anonymous said...

This is the same Brian who posted on another thread. Can't deal with this comment guardian system.

It struck me with this issue--which I mostly enjoyed more than the last, enough to commit to at least the next three issues (though it was the least-good of the comics I bought yesterday)---that these DC mega-epics are like makework projects for each other. So, 52 laboriously recreates the multiverse. Why, you might wonder? Apparently, to provide a plot-theme for COUNTDOWN, which seems to be about the Monitors attempts to solve the problems that result from there being a multiverse again.

And this is considered an "entry point"? A story whose entire plot regards fixing continuity glitches in your own overly complicated little world, the one that, you know, is difficult to find an entry point in 'cause it's so overly complicated? They've got me hooked---I'm the kind of longterm obsessive fan I guess is all they care about--but that ain't the kind of theme or scope that will prove of longlasting value or interest.

Noah Bawdy said...

If' there's 52 universes that were created when Luthors tower was destroyed... does that mean there's 52 Superboy Primes ?

Ajit said...

This is the big problem that everyone has already noticed - Jimmy Olsen knows who both Jason Todd and Dick Grayson are, which means that unless he is the stupidest person in the universe he also knows Batman's secret identity.

Jimmy learned the identities both of Batman and of Robin waaaay back in World’s Finest 144, ‘The 1,000 Tricks of Clayface and Brainiac’, when Superman and Batman, uh, exchanged partners. It wasn’t just a one-off, the fact was referred to again in some other tales.

Andy G said...

I think the biggest problem with Jimmy Olsen is that he's been off the radar for so long as a major DC player that we're all (as these posts prove) a little confused as to what he's all about. Does Jimmy know all sorts of superhero secrets that he keeps to himself? Is he an experienced reporter or a new kid on the block? The Post Infinite Crisis world carries a lot of "if it was a good story, it's canon", and there's enough in Countdown to suggest this is a Jimmy closer to the Silver Age Superman's Pal than later, vaguer iterations. Here's hoping for a little clarity soon.

I think the biggest concern here is that the writing isn't good enough. Compare with Jimmy Olsen in the recent All Star series. I don't know the ins and outs of that version, but I instictively buy it, because of the strength and charm of the writing. An unfair comparison perhaps, as All Star's Jimmy is unencumbered by the weight of continuity, but there's a flatness to the writing in this issue as a whole that worries me in terms of the series.

52 was hardly flawless, but it had the zip and energy of four writers on the top of their game stretching themselves with a brand new experiment. So far Countdown has the flat lifeless quality that many American TV shows have.

The plot holes discussed at length here seem to me enevitable when you follow the head writer model they have here. I'm supposing that Dini's Bible reads like "Jimmy Olsen interviews Red Hood, which leads him to the Joker" or "Intro to Karate Kid, see JLA", which is all well and good for these things. Dini's animation work suggests a certain quality that I hope to be reflected in later plot developments. But the trouble comes, I fear, from the week-to-week writers.

Assuming that Dini's plot points are as brief as I'm suggesting, the week by week writers aren't making the jumps from plot point to plot point convincing enough. I'm sure Dini would have envisioned his notes being fleshed out to a readable transition from Jimmy to the Red Hood to The Joker, but one doesn't emerge. It reads like Jimmy meets the Joker because that's what Paul Dini says has to happen.

And the JLA stuff, regardless of whether you prefer an altered impression of the original scene or a Gus Van Sant Psycho style shot for shot copy, is just flabby and dull storytelling.

I think it was a mistake for the series to kick off with the writer rotation. If Dini had written the first month say, it would have set a tone for subsequent writers to pick up on. And boy do these issues miss Keith Griffen. The subtle influence of a consistent layout cannot be underestimated in a weekly series. 52 would have floundered without Griffen laying the artistic foundations. And if he was too busy with 52 to jump on Countdown from the start, they should have waited a couple of weeks.

The numbers on the covers don't work anyway. All that visual choice says to me is: Coundown - Getting more and more inferior to 52 week by week.

Anonymous said...

karate kid's costume is different too - mind you it's such a mess in the JLA issue - collar appears, disappears; he's in red and gold when he taunts Bats, but white and yellow when he hits the floor....

at least it stays magenta and gold in countdown


Jedeye Sniv said...

Andy G - It's Giffen.