They really don't want to give me a lot to write about, do they?
Countdown 45 is superior to many of the previous issues in that it is, at least, comprehensible on its own terms, without needing to have read any issues of any other comic, and without having to refer to creator interviews to fill in missing information. However, the reasons it's comprehensible are actually the biggest faults with the issue.
Firstly, behind the traditional Countdown cover of dozens of characters who don't appear in this comic all running in different directions looking constipated, is a comic with no plot.
This issue consists entirely of fight-scene and exposition. The exposition reveals precisely one plot point previously unknown to us - Forerunner is the creation of a breeding programme by one of the Monitors (although it's also stated that she was created because of the Monitor 'taking the Duela Dent matter into your own hands' - presumably Forerunner's race breed very quickly).
We also see in this issue, for the first time, that Monarch (about whom more below) is doing... something. Possibly this is to do with the something Darkseid is doing. Or maybe it's to do with the something the Rogues are doing. Or it could even be to do with the something Karate Kid is doing. As we're still not sure what, if anything, these characters are doing (or, more to the point, why we should care) it's difficult to say. Whatever it is, Monarch is definitely doing it, and those villains/heroes will rue the day they came into conflict with/teamed up with Monarch and his dastardly/heroic plans.
It's also stated that the members of the Legion of Superheroes (who have still not been identified as such within the pages of this comic, as far as I can recall) don't know why they're in the past, but as I'm not reading JLA or JSA I don't know if that information had been previously revealed.
This brings us to the first - and most serious - problem with this comic. Two important threads in Countdown - the Rogues' plot against the Flash and the... whatever... with Karate Kid - got tied up this week. But they were tied up in, respectively, The Flash and JLA. These resolutions (which apparently tie into each other - the Legion bring back Wally West while the Rogues kill Bart Allen) were not mentioned at all in Countdown. As I don't read JLA or Flash at the moment, this means the only reason I know those plot threads have been tied up is because I read various comics websites. Countdown has been promoted as being a stand-alone story, but it's now absolutely apparent that it's anything but. If you're not prepared to buy every single comic DC are putting out, you have to resign yourself to missing chunks of the 'story', such as it is.
As I've pointed out, this issue is comprehensible because of the huge chunks of exposition in it, explaining the 'plot' of the previous issues. Incidentally, this exposition is handled as well as possible, and reflects well on Palmiotti and Gray, the writing team for this issue. But I suspect (and this is only my suspicion) that the reason for all this exposition reflects a fundamental disconnect between the comic the Countdown team think they're producing and the one they're actually putting out.
This first came to mind when reading Mike Marts' latest interview on Newsarama. As always in these things, Matt Brady threw in a very soft question, asking about Countdown's pacing so far - " Mike, with 52, there was always talk of the first few issues setting the stage, and then, things really taking off once all the players were where they were supposed to be. Is that similar to what we're seeing in Countdown's first few issues?"
Now, the answer I would expect for that question would be along the lines of "Yes, we've been doing a slow-burn to start with, but you'll see things start to ramp up over the next few issues. Especially 42 - you won't believe what hit you in that one. All I'm saying is fans of Mr Terrific will have something to talk about!" or words to that effect. Instead, the answer Marts gave, which I'm still boggling at days later, was "No, with Countdown we took a different approach—we decided to blow #%&! up from the very first issue and never allow readers to catch their breath."
Now, if they think that they're not allowing readers to catch their breath - if they think they're putting out some sort of roller-coaster ride of a comic - then the comic they think they're putting out is not the comic that's getting released. And that makes me wonder if they do think they've been putting out a self-contained easily-readable comic. Because this is the seventh issue. Comics these days are usually written in 'arcs' [sic] of six issues, for release as trade paperbacks. The exposition in this issue only really makes sense if they're imagining this being released in trades, with this issue being the first issue of trade number two. If this is their plan, I pity anyone buying this in trades - the fragmented, incoherent nature of the story so far would read as absolute gibberish when divorced from online commentary and without the other comics that week.
I'm beginning to wonder, in fact, if the huge rash of new announcements DC made in the various conventions they attended last week were not a form of damage control. I can't see this title lasting the full 52 issues - I don't believe anyone, even the most die-hard of DC anoraks, will stand for 45 more issues of this drivel. I don't have access to the sales figures (I know some retailers read this site - anyone have any idea of sales?) but this title appears to be haemmoraging readers at a ludicrous rate. It would not surprise me at all if this title were to be cancelled sooner rather than later and the remaining plot parcelled out between various other projects.
However, those announcements have done their job with me at least - after the announcement of McDuffie on JLA and Waid on Flash, to go with the previous announcements of Giffen on Four Horsemen, Milligan on Infinity Inc and so on, I'm positively drooling at the prospect of all the comics I'll be reading this year. So much so that I'm going to carry on reading Countdown for now, even as we head into our third mis-solicited Giffenless month, even as there is no story to speak of, for at least another month. DC editorial are getting enough right right now that I still have some trust in them. But if within another month I'm not seriously blown away, I'll be dropping Countdown, and also dropping any title that ties into it enough that I need to read Countdown to understand it.
Anyhow, on the assumption that they are eventually going somewhere with this, a couple of interesting points. First, Jimmy Olsen apparently doesn't know the difference between the Tomorrow People and the Forever People, even though he knows the secret identities of everyone in the world. And secondly, there's yet another reference to an 80s action/SF film, this time Terminator. A few people have suggested that these references - all pre-Crisis - might actually be a plot point. I hope so, because otherwise they're horrifically annoying.
I was going to write in this post about Monarch, and why he's important, and why you should never let Dan Jurgens near a crossover, but I think this post is long enough. I'll write that post on Wednesday.