Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Countdown 51 - Continuity And 'legacy heroes'

Well, having downloaded Countdown 51 (do not do this. It is bad and naughty. And remember, kids, home taping is killing music!) (actually, I can't feel too guilty about this - I'm buying it, and the entire issue will be legally available for free download from MySpace comics as of Friday) it looks like my earlier post was more appropriate than I thought.

While the issue is mostly setup, it does introduce a few actual plot points. Two (the looming "great disaster" (presumably a reworking of the one from Kamandi ) and Darkseid's big plot) had been mentioned in the pre-publicity stuff I'd read, but the third I'd not heard about. One of the Monitors (a group of characters who've been popping up in DC) titles I don't read for about a year, based on the Monitor (singular) from Crisis On Infinite Earths) has gone rogue and is hunting down anomalies - people from alternate earths, and also people who, like Jason Todd, are continuity errors. In short, he's become one of the continuity obsessives I spoke about in my last post.

Given this fact, the characters appearing in this issue, and the comics the Monitors have been appearing in over the last year, it appears, at this early stage, that at least part of Countdown's storyline will be dealing with the 'legacy hero' problem.

As Steve Flanagan noted earlier today, one of the 'problems' Crisis On Infinite Earths was meant to solve was that, on Earth-Two, time was running at real-time and a generation of characters would have to start ageing. While it solved that problem in the short term, the problem of comic-book time has become much worse in the intervening decades.

Due to the popularity of comics like X-Men and New Teen Titans , comics that were essentially soap opera, from the early 80s on comics companies ramped up the illusion of change. In particular, kid sidekicks like Wonder Girl, Robin and Kid Flash grew up and became young adults. This wouldn't have been too much of a problem, except that their mentors couldn't grow. Meanwhile, because of the need to service trademarks, and because the kid sidekicks were useful characters, replacements for them came along. We now have a situation where Batman has several generations of Robins he has trained up, the youngest of whom must be in his mid- late teens by now.

This causes problems for the characters in the middle. Nightwing (the original Robin) must be in his late twenties if he's as much older than Tim Drake (the current one) as he is portrayed, yet he must be in his early twenties if Batman is young enough to do what he does and still have had him as a 'ward'. These characters are where the stress points in continuity come, and Dan DiDio has spoken of wanting to kill off Nightwing for this reason but having been persuaded otherwise. It looks like the Monitors are investigating continuity stress points, especially in regard to these 'legacy' characters - and if one looks at the characters who appear in this comic some similarities between them start to appear:

Duella Dent/Joker's Daughter - has at various times claimed to be the daughter of several different villains, claims here to be from an alternate universe
Mary Marvel - existed (pre Crisis) on Earth-S , sister and sidekick of Billy Batson, the original Captain Marvel. Freddy Freeman (Captain Marvel Jr) has just become the new Captain Marvel as the story starts.
The Red Hood - came back from the dead due to timeline problems, is the second of three Robins.

They're all legacy characters with even more continuity problems than most.

It'll be interesting to see how this plays out - a lot of DC's current fanbase is based around these 'legacy characters', so they're not going to get rid of them, but they'll have to do something now they've drawn attention in the comic to the problem.

As to the comic itself, it's nowhere near as interesting as 52 was at this stage, but it's still good enough that it makes me interested in reading more. The cover is appalling - one of those big shots of everybody running out with a determined look on their face (unfortunately it looks like all these heroes are running away from something, in as many different directions as they can). The comic is solid, but it's all setup, and feels surprisingly thin given the creative team - Dini has done a lot of done-in-one stories in Detective Comics and so it's suprising that the story only takes a couple of minutes to read. But then maybe I've been spoiled by the information-dense 52. It'll take a while for Countdown to get its own identity, separate from 52, and for now it looks worse for the comparison.

I would be interested to know what format Dini did the script for this issue in. Dini is a solid writer, but one whose stories are affected more than most by choice of artist - compare the issue of Detective drawn by J.H. Williams III, which was absolutely stunning, with those drawn by Don Kramer, which are merely very decent fun Batman stories. This issue was comparatively weak, and reading through it the thing that struck me is that the pacing didn't feel like Keith Giffen, even though Giffen did the layouts (as he did for 52, which he left his fingerprints all over). The number of panels per page, for example, seemed much lower than normal for Giffen.

I would suspect that Dini wrote this issue full-script, with panel-by-panel breakdowns, and Giffen followed his pacing rather than impose his own. If this is the case, I think the single thing that could most improve the comic is if Giffen was allowed more leeway to control the pacing and flow of the narrative.

Other than that, there's not much to say about this issue, except that I'm waiting for the next...


Kim EM said...

That cover -- it's what I call a "Dick Giordano Cover". Lots of artists have done this kind of cover -- Neal Adams comes to mind -- but I've seen so damn many of this type drawn and/or inked by Mr. Giordano that I identify the style with him.

Anonymous said...

I'm not denying there is a time compression/continuity problem with the World's Mightiest Mortals, but I am curious why you singled-out Mary Marvel?

Billy has been portrayed as pre-pubescent in every one of his post-COIE origins, though when exactly Captain Marvel has debuted in the DC Universe has changed from relatively recently ("4 years ago" as of Zero Hour) to immediately after the first appearance of Superman (First Thunder). I've only seen promo work of The Monster Society of Evil, but this seems to be the case there, too.

Captain Marvel's first post-genesis story is *always* the search for Mary, who becomes Mary Marvel shortly thereafter. The comes Freddy Freeman/Captain Marvel, Jr.

The age compression problem would seem to apply equally to all three of these characters (who have all been portrayed as being within a year or two of each other in age), esp. since First Thunder (which makes Captain Marvel appear along with or slightly after the first appearance of Batman).

If First Thunder is considered cannon, Billy was about eight years old when he was chosen to be Captain Marvel, that would make Mary about ten years old, and Freddy Freeman either eight, nine, or ten (his age is never pegged to Billy's or Mary's, though he's always portrayed as a contemporary to the two of them).

If Captain Marvel debuted one year after Batman, that would mean that he's been Captain Marvel since the same time that Dick Grayson became Robin. Assuming that Batman wouldn't take anyone who wasn't at least a teen ager into harm's way, that would make Dick Grayson five years older than Billy Batson and three years older than Mary Marvel.

I don't want to sound like I've thought about this too much (too late, I know), but Nightwing is generally portrayed as (for a comic book character) violent, hairy, and sexually-active - all cues that would peg him in his late twenties or possibly even his early thirties, which puts the *entire* Marvel Family somewhere in their mid-20s!

As you can see, Mary isn't the only Marvel with continuity issues to worry about...

hilker said...

I think anonymous's Marvel family continuity issues go away if their alter egos don't age while they're in superhero form.

fantomenos said...

Suspendium, baby, suspendium. Also, Monitors with guns?! Maybe the worst thing I've read/seen since, oh, I dunno, pick something out of WWIII.

Anonymous said...

hilker - that's a good point, and I wish I had thought of it.

But, now that I am thinking about it, it does leave open the messy question of wouldn't (shouldn't?) the supporting characters in the lives of the Marvels (Billy's girlfriend Crissie What's-Her-Name, the Bromfelds, Uncle Dudley, and Ms. Wyrmwood who I hope to Jesus, Vishnu, and Allah is out-of-continuity now!) notice?

UNLESS the bizarre time warp that Ibis the Invincible had placed Fawcett City retarded EVERYONE's age. But then you have the opposite problem of Billy, Mary, and Freddy growing up much more quickly (due to their time outside of the city limits while adventuring) than anyone else around them...

Ouch, my head hurts...

BTW, this is the same anonymous who made the original post (not any old anonymous - haha).

Brian said...

I found the artistic treatment of some Kirby awesomeness to be depressingly lame (and in fact the whole thing about as uninspiring as can be---starting off a year long epic with the Joker's Daughter? What, have they killed off the Sizematic Twins?)---Darkseid looks and talks far less otherwordly and meanacing and weird than he should, and the source wall hand gets all the visual play and conceptual wonder of a temporary secretary--and shouldn't it be a bit more cryptic and with its own agenda than merely being a deus ex answerman?
Ah well, one more issue this uninteresting and I save $150 over the next year...

Brian said...

Best chance for a good outcome for series so far: It indeed ends as teased with klassic Kamandi-style Great Disaster. (Some minor female characters die brutal deaths, natch.) At the end, all DC comics are starring intelligent animals adopting the costumes, powers, and weapons of the major superheroes--for a few months, until some rigamarole involving Robby Reed's "dial-H" dial restores the status quo.

Andrew Hickey said...

Kim - true, but Dick Giordano's heroes didn't look quite as... constipated as these.

Anonymous - I'm singling out Mary because she's the one in the story ;). Plus, Billy and Freddy have both essentially lost one of their identities, which means it's easier to fudge them. Incidentally, Mary was established as 16 in the Giffen/DeMatteis minis recently (though whether they - or anything else - is 'in continuity' at this point is open to question).

Brian - I must say, I wasn't hugely impressed either, but more so than you. The gun-totin' Monitor was a bit of a misstep (although since the original character was an arms dealer...) but the main problem was just that the issue is so slowly paced, which I wouldn't expect from Dini. I think in this case we won't know if it's worth continuing with til at least four issues in.

And I totally agree about the Great Disaster Aftermath - bring back the Justa Lotta Animals!

Anonymous said...

So Mary Marvel is now Mary Batson and not Mary Bromfeld?

And she's a broke, homeless street urchin, apparently.

And her brother (whom I mistakenly ID'd as being two years younger than she - not older, sorry...) left her in a coma by herself without so much as an "I always wanted a brother" note...

SO... PISSED... OFF... RIGHT... NOW...

Kim EM said...

Andrew -

Constipated, yes. Most of Mr. Giordano's characters on a cover like this would have been grinning.

I'm suspecting that there were a lot of swipes on this cover. While I realize it's difficult for an artist to draw so many faces differently, a number of them show the styles of various other artists. Golden Age Flash, for example, is pure Byrne.

Anonymous -

In Billy's defence, he's been a bit tied up on the Rock for the past year. Not good social graces, but in Comics there seems to be a pattern of characters who are promoted to cosmic-level powers who just seem to forget about the things were important to them before -- until they get smacked upside the head by who-or-what-ever they left behind. I suspect this will prove true in Billy's case, as well.

badartdog said...

I'm really just posting to wish you all the best with this blog - I found you through the 52 pick-up one which I enjoyed a lot. I like your writing style, and hope that you are willing and able to maintain your posts on Countdown.

I read Countdown #51 and enjoyed it a fair bit. Although I've read comics for decades I've never been so involved with/in the DCU to give much of a hoot about continuity - can it ever make sense, does it have to make sense? I think Grant Morrison summed it up neatly in Seven Soldiers #1 where he referred to it as a coat made by too many tailors to ever fit properly.

I know next to nothing about most of the characters from #51, with the exception of Kirby's creations - it was the same with 52, where I only really knew Montoya's backstory and recent (ie Identity Crisis) events in Ralph's life. I never felt that this hampered my enjoyment of the tale. It led me to seek out earlier stories of some characters (Vic Sage, the mad scientists) and treat others as players in 52 alone (Steel, the Marvels).

I'm pretty happy with the first issue. The art is good over all though I thought the scale on the double page splash was a bit off (whoulda thought Darkseid collected heroclix?) - and agree with brian that the source wall could have been a lot more cosmic! I'd say it was better than the vast majority of the 52 art which was, more often than not, merely serviceable.

The dialogue is fine so far - hopefully individual voices will come through more clearly as I read more. As noted, the plot is mostly set-up, but i think it's intriguing enough to persuade me to follow the title for a while at least.

So, all the best to you at the start of what I hope will be a great year's reading.

WildCard said...

The entire Marvel Family spent 25 years (possibly longer now) in suspended animation due to a botched plan of Sivana's. So while they started out older than Dick Grayson, they are now younger than him by a generation. I think this works to explain their age differences. Also, Billy, Mary, and Freddie have all aged to their late teens since being released from Suspendium. So I would say they are high school grad age now.

Andrew Hickey said...

All the pre-Crisis stories were retconned post-Crisis, with the new Marvel family only coming into being after Legends.
Of course, that then was contradicted by First Thunder, and then the suspendium thing has been a plot point in 52, so who knows what the status of any of them is, continuity-wise?

Andrew Hickey said...

BAD - thanks - and I'm more likely to be willing and able if I know people are reading this, even if the series doesn't live up to expectations. I'm in a simillar boat to yourself with these characters - I'm very familliar with the Kirby characters, have a vague idea about The Red Hood thanks to Infinite Crisis and a couple of odd pre-OYL issues of Batman, am familliar with Mary Marvel but haven't read the Trials Of Shazam mini, and was only barely aware of the existence of the various Flash rogues and Duella Dent. Luckily, most of the issue was fairly clear, and I hope it remains that way so those of us who are selective about what we buy won't be totally lost...