Saturday, 30 June 2007

Countdown 44: Is Anyone Still Reading?

The DCU is getting crossovered to death.

I read a fair chunk of the main DCU titles - this month, for example, DC released 32 titles in 'current continuity' (i.e. not non-DCU, Confidential or similar ) of which I bought twelve (the four issues of Countdown, Detective, Blue Beetle, Atom, Action, Superman, Brave & Bold and Shadowpact). Many months I buy more than that (there was no Batman this month, and I'll be buying All-Flash next month, for example).

I can not realistically afford more than this - I also buy several non-continuity titles like All-Star Superman, some Wildstorm titles, a few Marvels and a few from smaller companies. Even if I could afford more (and there is a little leeway there - I will, for example, be buying JLA when McDuffie comes on as writer) I don't like many of the comics they're publishing. I'm not going to spend a significant amount of money on something from which I'll get no pleasure.

This wasn't a problem last year. DC had a cohesive universe, but you could read most DC titles without having to read twenty others. Awareness of events in, say, Aquaman might make Superman more interesting, but you could read one title without the other with no problem. That's no longer the case.

Every comic in the DC universe now appears to be telling one incredibly complex yet banal story. The following information is what I've been able to find out from the internet - The Flash died in Flash, his funeral was in (or will be in?) Teen Titans, which crosses over with Amazons Attack, which in turn crosses over with Wonder Woman (as far as I can tell, the story in Amazons Attack so far is that some Amazons are attacking somewhere. Whether it's just the US or 'man's world' in general, or maybe even just some cities, I'm unsure). Meanwhile the previous Flash comes back to life and learns of his successor's death in a crossover between JLA and JSA. That's six titles telling what appears to be one story.

There was also over the last few months a 'CheckOut' crossover between Checkmate and Outsiders which is, as far as I know, contained only in those titles. Then there's the separate 'Sinestro Corps' crossover which started in the Sinestro Corps special and appears to be going between Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps. That will almost certainly play into whatever the Big Cosmic Event coming up is, as the last splash page of Sinestro Corps was just a reveal of every characterless crossover Macguffin villain ever created for a DC crossover (I was amazed not to see Doomsday there).

In the space of 18 months the Johns/Meltzer/Winnick axis of DCU writers seem to have gone from trying to recreate the mid-80s to bringing back everything from the early 90s. This week saw two separate Dan Jurgens crossover villains come back - Monarch from Armageddon 2001 and Cyborg Superman from the return of superman/Zero Hour. I thought everyone had agreed to pretend those disasters never happened. Next Marvel will be doing The Return Of The Clone or something...

These crossovers are, from what I can tell, incomprehensible if you've not read a bunch of decades-old, out-of-print not-very-good superhero stories, but that's fine - obviously some people like that kind of thing. But they're starting to encroach on the comics I like - Blue Beetle this week seems to be setup for things to happen in Countdown this year, and we all know that Atom is going to tie into it very heavily. From a sales point of view that makes sense - Blue Beetle, Atom and Shadowpact, my favourite three DCU titles not starring Superman or Batman, are also the three lowest-selling DCU comics not yet cancelled. Doing anything at all to get them readers makes sense at this point.

And if this event were being structured like DC's last megacrossover, I would have no problem with that. While the main Infinite Crisis title was a mess, you could read any of the four minis leading up to it without having to read the others, and while every comic acknowledged the events of the crossover, most could be read independently (there were crossovers within 'families' of titles, but that was about all). There was a through-line through the events of the crossover, and while that crossover may have been a horrible unreadable mess, it was easy to know what you needed to read if you wanted to follow it.

Countdown has been being promoted as something along the same lines. The line they've been using in interviews is 'the spine of the DCU'. It's not. It's more like the toenail clippings. It's a collection of random, rather repulsive, bits of detritus which once taken away from their context have no function, and even in context are near-useless. This issue, like almost every one before it, is nothing but a series of snippets, each gesturing at some other story apparently being told in some other comic, with no hint given as to what comic this might be or why we should care. There's no narrative here in any sense that anyone outside of the comics hardcore would use the term, no story, nothing one could review in any reasonable sense of the word. One can enumerate events - though not give any reason as to why these events are important - but not review this as a work of art or craftsmanship because it isn't one. No thought has gone into this, no love, no excitement or inspiration. It has no reason whatsoever for existing except to alert that tiny number of existing comics readers who are reading some but not all of DC's titles that they are missing out, but it does not even do that properly - nothing could be more likely to put me off from trying a new title than the knowledge that it's tied into this soulless mess.

I will be reading Countdown for two more issues, but at this point those two issues would have to be by a creative team of Alan Moore, J.H. Williams and the ghosts of Jack Kirby and William Shakespeare to rescue the title from the morass into which it has sunk. It's simply not telling anything like a story (and not in an innovative avant garde way but in a can't-be-arsed way).

Without a through-line, crossovers become a matter of all or nothing - you either buy everything that company does, or you buy nothing. DC's recent creative team announcements and announcements of new projects have been exciting ones - I would buy almost all the new comics they've announced (Waid back on Flash, Crime Bible, Milligan on Infinity Inc, and so on) in a heartbeat. But if they make it so that only the hardest of the hardcore can follow their comics, they'll lose not only the casual fans but even those like me who go to the comic shop every single week without fail, read a dozen comic sites regularly, but just buy with some sort of discrimination.

Do these people not know what happened directly after all the huge 'event' comics they're so keen to emulate now? Do they not remember what happened after Death Of Superman, Knightfall and Zero Hour? No? Nor do I. Because I, like millions of other comics readers, stopped buying them then. I wonder if the industry can survive another crash like that...

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Still reading? Yes. Still (yet) enjoying? Not really.

You do remind me that, for the same investment, i could try out 4 other promising DCU books (like the good word-of-mouth Blue Beetle) each month. Maybe that's what i should do then.

Marc said...

Andrew (and Anonymous), why are you still reading a series you aren't enjoying?

You obviously loathe this series, and with good reason to judge by your recaps. This is at least the third time you've vowed to stop reading it (and you've fantasized that DC would cancel it at issue 35, which reads like you're hoping DC will stop it for you). Don't drop it in two issues: drop it now. You'll have more money and less grief and, from a purely selfish perspective, I would much rather read your thoughts on comics you actually like.

Listen to your imaginary wife, Andrew!

hilker said...

I was able to derive some enjoyment from this issue by using the voices of various Venture Bros characters for the dialogue. Goth Mary is Triana, Billy/Shazam is Dr Orpheus. Monarch is The Monarch (which is what got the ball rolling initially), so Forerunner is Dr Girlfriend. Jimmy Olsen is either Hank or Dean, take your pick. Trickster and Pied Piper are Henchmen #21 and 24. I didn't come up with a good voice for Holly Robinson, but the whole 'Winged Victory from Astro City women's shelter that inevitably turns out to be a front for a Granny Goodness operation' storyline is probably the least interesting thing going in the book, and that says a lot.

Andrew Hickey said...

Marc, to be honest the main reason I'm reading it is this blog. The second is some residual trust in the creators (fading more with every issue, especially since Giffen is still not on the book). There's also a sense of fair play - I want to give them every chance to show they're trying to do something - and a hope that if it gets not-bad enough it'll be possible for me to keep reading the comics I do like when they tie into it. Plus they're on my pull list and my comic shop has already ordered those issues for me. But it's off the pull list now, and it'll take something extraordinary to put it back on.

Andrew Hickey said...

Also, you can expect fairly regular posts from me on the good stuff anyway. I'm hoping to write about A Disease Of Language next week if I have time...

Imaginary Wife said...

Thank you, Marc! I'm not surprised that he's too stubborn to listen but it's nice to see someone on my side.

fantomenos said...

Nope, just dropped it this week, and my LCS owner said I wasn't the only one. Realizing I needed to be reading Flash, JLA, JSA, etc was just ridiculous. I buy quite a few comics, but I think my pull-list is totally out of continuity, which is a shame. I'm enjoying The Spirit, Shazam & the Monster Soceity and Justice, and thought 52 was wonderful, but the current state of the DCU is just nonsense. I have also been enjoying the heck out of this blog, and will continue to read it for as long as you want to write it.

badartdog said...

The whole 'the flash is dead' thing had me wondering if i'd missed an issue.
I get home, I read the comic, now i have to go back into town to buy the Flash issue? Which one? And Teen Titans? I don't buy either of those titles (which may be DC's tactic).
So a Flash has been murdered and is being replaced by an old flash or something? I dunno, not so sure i care.
It occurs to me that one way of not missing anything here or over in World War Hulk and all the other crossovers would be (sshhh) torrents. I don't, and I don't want to - but it does seem to me as though the big two are driving readers away.

Andrew Hickey said...

You won't be able to get hold of the issue in which Flash died. DC published deliberately misleading solicitation information (including soliciting two more issues they had no intention of ever producing) to 'keep it secret'. You'll have to wait for a reprint.

I have downloaded torrents in the past and will no doubt do so again, but for comics I couldn't get hold of, or to try something new. If the reason I've not bought a comic is because it's no good, it's not worth the time it takes to download and read either. There are already many good comics I've not got the time to read - devoting any of my finite leisure time to reading *bad* ones, just so I can understand a good one, when there exist other good ones that can be read on their own, seems a waste.

Oz said...

That last panel of Sinestro corps needed a guide to pick out who was what. Although honestly, the hastily run plot in the last few pages, leading up to Ion being a parasitic being (er...huh?) seemed far fetched even for a made up comic book. In fact, the whole book made me have to re-read to see if I missed something somewhere, since it seemed hodgepodgy - kind of like reading bits of 20 different half formed stories.

Which is a good lead into Countdown. I'm glad I don't have to pay for my copy - borrowing a friend's after he reads it - as I don't get it at all. I hope, someday, it will make sense, but so far it's tons and tons of preamble without a plot or point in sight.

Oz said...

In case I missed anything, I wandered over to wikipedia to double check. The sinestro corps has "heralds" that were previously able to single handledly manhandle the entire DCU. Superboy-Prime. Cyborg Superman. Anti-Monitor. Parallax. Even Sinestro, in a way. I'm sure we're in for us winning due to Truth, Love, and Apple Pie. Fun art note - look at cyborg and prime supermen's chests. Depending on where you look - cover, promo art, cover page, even the cyborg inside, they have different chest art. Sometimes S, sometimes Sinestro. Apparently no one could decide?

Like you said, just missing Doomsday, so I expect he'll show up soon enough, perhaps in clone form like he did in the Supergirl story a year or so ago.

Seems silly, really.

badartdog said...

i'm confused, Andrew.

Has the 'death of the Flash' issue been published? What issue number was it?

Andrew Hickey said...

Sorry. The Flash died in Flash 13. But as retailers were given no advance information about this (and indeed two more issues were solicited which are never going to come out, to throw people off the scent) no-one ordered enough and it's sold out in every shop. So if you want to read it you'll have to wait til your comic shop gets a second-printing copy in, or torrent it.

Garrie Burr said...

Andrew:

One of the problems for someone like me (who -is- following most of the other books) is that the series seems superfluous. It's like reading a fill-in issue by a guest creative team while you're put-off waiting another month to find out what really happens.

I'm wondering if things will turn around under new editor Mike Carlin. Also, wondering what problems DC editorial perceived that called for such a change.

The last time I felt this bad about a DC book was during the initial issues of Bart Allen's Flash book. Hopefully they're not planning to do the same thing with Countdown -- abruptly cancel it and claim it was always meant to be a mini-series...

--Garrie

Andrew Hickey said...

Garrie - Carlin taking over as editor seems weird to me, as does Giffen *still* not being on the book two months later. Even more interesting (if true) are the rumours Rich Johnston has posted, both about DiDio losing his job and about Waid getting an executive position.

My suspicion, based purely on guesswork and supposition, is that DC editorial are thrashing around like wounded animals, trying anything at all to 'save' the next year's worth of stories after the monumental cock-ups on Action, Flash and Wonder Woman derailed their original plans...

JOHNNY ZITO said...

I'm done too.

I love crossovers but I only buy the main title and that's how I decide if it's any good.

I thought IC was easy to follow but occasionally clunky with exposition.

In contrast Amazons Attack and the Fall of the Flash It's all over the place.

Countdown suffers from the same issues. It's not important and spin offs like Countdown to Adventure have convinced me all the action is elsewhere.

I'll waste my $3 on the All New Atom, Blue Beetle, JLA with McDuffie and Aquaman if I'm not too late.

Keep posting I'll, keep coming back.

Andrew Hickey said...

Johnny, those are fine choices (not reading Aquaman myself, but the other two are excellent and McDuffie's a good writer). I only hope that Countdown doesn't intrude too much on them for you to enjoy *those* titles either... and thanks for the vote of confidence. Nine days and I'll be free of Countdown myself (unless it gets *much* better), but I'll be posting here about the *good* comics out there...

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly, there was a note to retailers to buy extra copies of Flash #13. And Didio isn't losing his job... Mark Waid is going to be directly under him.

Andrew Hickey said...

There was a note , yes, but when they're deliberately lying about the contents, it's *impossible* for retailers to judge how seriously to take that note. And it wasn't to preserve suspense or anything like that, because they announced it at a convention the weekend before.

As for DiDio - like I say, I know nothing at all about DC's internal politics and am only interested insofar as it impacts on the finished comics. I hope you're right - I don't like it when people lose their jobs - but the various editorial/creative changes suggest a period of unrest at the very least.

Andy G said...

Not convinced that DC is being crossovered to death. This is how both major companies are going to be cranking out product for the foreseeable future, presumably under the assumption that it's easier to fleece superhero junkies than pick up new readers. In terms of following storylines, its hardly Finnegan’s Wake is it?

And you know, you don't have to read bucket loads of comics to keep up. I currently am picking up the following:

Justice League
Justice Society
Green Lantern
Green Lantern Corps
Superman (Busiek issues)
Action Comics (when Donner/Johns are on it)
Batman (Morrison issues)
Checkmate
Atom
Countdown

That's one weekly, and only five or six monthlies. I may pick up the new Flash, and Legion Of Superheroes if it gets a decent artist. Even including the other non-DC titles I get I'm hardly spending a fortune.

I know what happened in Flash #13 because I picked it up and read it in my local comic shop. It took all of 30 seconds and saved me the heartache of wasting any money on it. If I decide to read any of this stuff in twenty years time I won't be agonising trying to remember what happened in Flash #13, or Teen Titans #anything, or Amazons Attack. Because nothing happens in any of them. They're rubbish.

I've been reading DC since the mid eighties but I only read Morrison's JLA in the whole of the nineties, but I'm still able to follow what's going on. The best comics have always had a conflict between pace and explanation.

Some of my favourite comics from my early youth were single issues of team books halfway through a storyline, picked from the newsagents (newsstands). I loved trying to figure out who was who and what would happen next, the chances of picking up consecutive issues in a newsagents in a remote Scottish seaside town far less than that of the costumed heroes escaping their cliff-hanger fates.

Not knowing how the Outsiders' storyline fits with the Teen Titans for example (I know they don't at the moment, it's an example) is infinitely better than knowing, as that would involve reading the damn things. I can fill in the gaps imaginatively and have a far better time. Death to completism!

And as for the last page of Sinestro Corps you have:

Cyborg Superman: He's an evil cyborg Superman

Superboy Prime: He's an evil superboy from an obsolete alternate universe

Anti-Monitor: He's the Monitor from the Anti Matter universe of Qward, destroyed at the conclusion of Crisis On Infinite Earths, which if you haven't read why bother reading any DC title? Available in lovely softcover from most good bookstores.

Ready? Let's go!

Andrew Hickey said...

Andy, the problem with that is that of the nine monthlies you mention (not 'five or six') only three are of any interest to me at all - Busiek's Superman, Morrison's Batman and Atom all of which I'm getting. I actively dislike Geoff Johns' writing and that of Brad Meltzer. You're lucky enough to be reading and presumably enjoying those titles anyway. I'm not.

DC have presented me, and other readers like me, with an all-or-nothing choice. Either read all the titles you name (and how *anyone* is meant to follow the Rogues or Karate Kid stuff without either reading those or following the events in them online I don't know) or read none of them.

As I get no enjoyment whatsoever out of those titles, have only a limited amount of money, and have a severely limited amount of leisure time, and as *even without having to pick up all those extra titles* comics represent about the worst value for money in entertainment, I am choosing 'none' rather than 'all', especially as Countdown has given me no reason at all to believe that it will ever get round to telling a coherent story or having the creative team originally solicited.

As for it not being Finnegans (no apostrophe) Wake - well, it's hardly of the same quality as Joyce either, is it? These things are meant to be ephemeral throw-away pop entertainment - reading them should not require any more investment of time, money and effort than acquiring the actual issue itself (though ideally it could *repay* such an investment).

The sad thing is that your argument (which I don't think it unfair to rephrase as "If you'd only spend another ten pounds a month on things you don't like, you might be able to figure out whether the story you're already paying six pounds a month for is any good or not") is the closest thing to an argument for reading Countdown I've seen yet - I've not seen anyone defend it on the basis of its actual quality...

Warlock Mag said...

You made it much further than Warlock Mag did. What's the opposite of congratulations?

http://www.warlockmag.com/?p=177

Andy G said...

Hello Andrew

Enjoying your blog.

I appear to have drawn your venom with my comments. That certainly wasn't my intention.

On a quick pedantic point, if you count on my list which titles actually come out on a monthly basis (and I thought I was clear that I'm not picking up fillers on the Superman and Batman titles, I think my calculations are pretty accurate. But it's not important.

If your condensing my argument to "If you'd only spend another ten pounds a month on things you don't like, you might be able to figure out whether the story you're already paying six pounds a month for is any good or not", then I didn't make my point very well. I was suggesting that anyone can read the titles they're not interested in in a comic shop without parting with any cash, if they're that concerned about following continuity.

Your anger about the number of titles connected to Countdown and their general quality makes me wonder what you were expecting. I came here via the excellent 52 Pick Up blog and figured I would get a similar perspective on the event. Not your obligation, obviously, but some of your most recent posts makes me wonder why you named this blog after Countdown in the first place. You've written passionately about non-Countdown related stuff, and I can't fault any of your choices of study material. But I can't connect that with someone who would have given Countdown the chance of a single issue, let alone the couple of months you've been following it.

And I hear you about Brad Meltzer, I'm not going to put my name to any defence of his comic work, but it's a shame, I think, that you can find no enjoyment in Geoff Johns, or GEOFF JOHNS as they call him in Barbelith. The capitals are appropriate for his over the top meledramas, but paired with some slick artists like Van Sciver, Kubert or Reis and he produces glossy fun that whiles away a pleasant minute or two. If you didn't get a sick thrill of excitement at the end of Sinestro Corps then seriously, ditch the superhero books, they're obviously not your cup of tea.

Anyway, whatever you decide to write in the future, I'll happily pop in and read.

Keep on trucking.

Andrew Hickey said...

Andy, my apologies for appearing venomous - I was in a bad mood when I typed that comment, and my phrasing was much harsher than it should have been. Your original post didn't deserve the tone of my reply, and I thank you for your far more reasonable response.

My original intent *was* to do something similar to 52 Pickup, but Countdown is of far lower quality than 52 was. When I started this blog I was immensely enthused about Countdown - I liked all the previous work by Dini I'd read, I am a fan of Giffen, and I like the characters. While I do like more complex comics, I'm as much of a sucker as anyone for Big Mega Crossovers where Worlds Will Die and Nothing Will Be The Same Again!

But Countdown is just *sloppy*. I've given it every chance, and if it had been even basically competent I'd have been praising it to the skies, because I love the idea of a weekly DCU 'spine' - it's something I've genuinely wanted them to do for years, and done at all competently could be a lot of fun. But it's just tedious. And after a few weeks it becomes impossible to keep writing 'the Rogues said some Tarantino-esque stuff, the Monitors looked imposing, Jimmy Olsen has a new power, this comic is bad' without falling into a deep torpor - hence the more recent change in focus. 'No Radio' at http://counting2none.blogspot.com is finding it a little more interesting to write about - you might want to check that blog out.

I get tons of excitement from plenty of superhero comics - I'd probably put Seven Soldiers in my four or five favourite comics of all time, for example, and right now I can't wait to get to the comic shop to get Atom, Detective (I want to know how Zatanna escapes from the Joker - I've been holding on for a month!) and All-Star Superman. Morrison's Batman is excellent, Fantastic Four is very good at the moment, Blue Beetle is fun and I love Brave & The Bold.

But I've never been able to get into Johns as a solo writer, and I've given him a reasonable chance (a few issues of Flash and JSA, Green Lantern: Rebirth and the first few issues of Green Lantern, and Identity Crisis). It's not that I think he's talentless - he appears to work very well with other writers (at least one of my favourite moments in 52 was his, and the Up, Up And Away storyline he wrote with Busiek was one of the best Superman stories I've read in years). I've not read Sinestro Corps, but I can't see it doing much for me...

Andy G said...

Seven Soldiers was the story that got me back into the capes and tights after long absence. A stunning riff on the old JSA/JLA team up. That followed onto 52 and I've been picking up all sorts since, but I do get the feeling the general quality across DC's line is dropping after a reasonably rich period.

That said, Grant Morrison is still writing Batman and All Star Superman's coming out regularly (weirdly low key issue this week) so it's not all bad. Have you picked up Daredevil? Good hard boiled stuff.

Countdown does suck though. I was reading it in my local store and the bit where Monarch takes his mask off made me think they'd coloured Captain Atom's skin wrong, rather than inviting any intrigue in his identity. And there's one panel of Holly in a bath where her legs look like she's pulling an elongated man underwater. I just can't part money for something that BAD. Big missed oportunity.

JOHNNY ZITO said...

Andrew, I don't mind the Countdown concept. Like I said I love the big events.

It's the actual book "countdown" that doesn't work for me.

The idea that there are 52 Universes being policed by 52 crazy aliens and their genetically engineered body guards works fine for me. I'm happy to see where it goes and all the interesting stories that spin out of the concept to hopefully return in some substantive way in the end.

The delivery is what's killing me.

Andrew Hickey said...

Johnny, I agree totally about the concept. Everything I read about Countdown prior to the first issue said it would be exactly my kind of thing. It isn't. It's lazy, tenth-rate drivel.

Oz said...

One of the monthlies I read had a breakdown of the poster you have on the front page. I'll see if I can get the text and post it up. Basically it explains the stuff in it. Honestly, it seemed really cheesy with the explanations. Stuff like "anyone on bare ground is doomed". What does doomed mean? And Atom's arm is to show he's lost. That gesture appears to be of a drowning man, not lost.