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...