Saturday, 9 June 2007

Countdown 47 - Delenda Est Donna


I'm beginning to think Countdown isn't for me.

This issue has precisely one thing I could call an event - Black Adam giving Mary Marvel all his powers. This has been telegraphed so far in advance that nobody could have been surprised (although Black Adam's new word was actually quite a good twist).

Other than that, here's a breakdown of what 'happened' in Countdown:
Jimmy Olsen had a dream
Someone from a comic I don't read angsted about something I don't know, then kicked someone in the face
The Monitors don't like Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner or Jason Todd
Piper and Trickster have a chat
And there's a big commercial for another comic I'm not reading.

I hate 'reviews' that are just plot summaries (as far too many reviews online are), but I'm just finding it harder and harder to say anything at all about Countdown.

When I started doing this blog, I wanted to use Countdown as a hook to write about what's happening in the DCU generally, and to analyse anything new and interesting in itself. Unfortunately, the comic is giving me nothing to say, and I don't want to keep posting what amount to attacks on it over and over for another 47 weeks - that's pointless. The comics medium is small enough that it's far more important to praise the good than to attack the bad, especially when it's bad work by generally-good creators. I'll be buying Countdown for another month or so - giving it a decent chance - but if it doesn't start going somewhere fast I'll be dropping it.

If that happens, I'll also be dropping this blog, for obvious reasons, but I'd be interested to know how many of the people reading this would carry on reading a general comics blog if I were to do one instead of this? There's a poll at the side - please let me know.

Anyway, on to the other DC comics I bought this week, and thankfully they're much better.

Paul Dini proves in Detective 833 that he can write the kind of story I wanted Countdown to be. Detective features an appearance by Zatanna, and everything you need to know about the current state of relations between her and Batman is put across in the story without it feeling forced. You could give this comic to someone who'd never read anything featuring the character before, and they would be able to get the basics - stage magician, wears fishnets, talks backwards, can do real magic as well, did something bad to Batman a while back that she's sorry for and he's angry about. All that comes through without any problem. The story ends on a cliffhanger (one that almost demands a "Tune in next month, same bat-time, same bat-channel!" caption, in fact) but feels satisfying - there's a mystery which gets solved, it's one which plays fair by the readers (I didn't spot the T-shirt as a clue until the second reading) and it fits with what's been happening in other comics.
There's not much to say about Don Kramer's art, but in a good way - it's good, solid storytelling with recognisable characters. It's the kind of art that the Bat-titles should have all the time but generally haven't had in fifteen years or more. Competence is a very underrated virtue.
Curiously it doesn't fit with what's happening in Countdown right now, although Countdown editor Mike Marts appears to suggest this is deliberate.

Another comic that doesn't fit with Countdown is Superman #663, by Kurt Busiek, Carlos Pacheco & Jesus Merino, which features a character who died a week ago in Countdown. At least now that DC have brought back the editor's box they can acknowledge this - "This story occurs prior to Countdown 48".
I've been in two minds for a while about Busiek's Superman. The overarching story he's doing is tedious in the extreme - dark, dystopian futures are soooo 1985 - while the theme behind it was done better and in many fewer pages by Elliot S! Maggin in Must There Be A Superman?
Then, on top of that, the cliffhanger suggests we're about to do a story again that's a perennial Superman staple, and that was last done less than two years ago.
But on the other hand, his Up, Up and Away! (with Geoff Johns, not usually a favourite of mine) last year was one of the best Superman stories I've ever read. And when he's doing single-issue stories, he gets Superman. Marc Singer has attacked Busiek's penchant for the 'little epiphany' story, and Busiek has been guilty of that, too, with some of these issues... but the 'anniversary' story last year was so good a friend described it to me as 'the missing issue of All Star Superman'. And the 'aliens are stealing our stuff' story was just priceless.
While I couldn't have less interest in the big picture, in other words, Busiek gets Superman and his supporting cast. He gets the potential of the powers (Lana's speech to Superman in this issue suggests Busiek has half a mind to take him in a Julius Schwartz direction) and also gets the effect the man has on the people around him. I can put up with a couple of pages of continuity-fixing (explaining the discrepancies between Arion's appearances here and in Day Of Vengeance) if I get the Young Gods of New Genesis chorusing "Sorry, Superman..."


The All-New Atom #12 though, I'm in only one mind about. This is just pure fun from beginning to end. I was disappointed with the last storyline in this comic - the return of the bullies from beyond the grave to battle the nerd who couldn't get a date to the prom just felt like fanboy pandering - but this, part one of The Search For Ray Palmer is a textbook example of what a good superhero comic should be. Fanboy pandering of the good kind (Lady Cop!) , robot taxi-drivers who speak in anagrams, a giant floating head, subplots moving forward, a big last page reveal, the Ivy Town Chamber Of Commerce brochure ("Our only known serial killer hasn't been seen in days! Take that, Gotham City!"), a fight scene that's actually exciting...
There's very little to say about this other than that it's excellent, and a welcome return to form in a comic that started out great but has been coasting a little. This is the thing that's given me most hope that Countdown will become something I'll remember fondly - this story is tied deep into the bowels of Countdown, and it's just wonderful.

32 comments:

Marc said...

Andrew, I would much rather read a general comics blog from you than one devoted exclusively to Countdown. Of course, that's largely because I'm not reading Countdown, but then I'm not reading it largely because you and Graeme McMillan have been panning it (and because the issues I leafed through did nothing to contradict you) so... thanks for pushing me out of the way of that bullet.

I hope you'll join me in not reading it, actually. Sometimes a horrible comic can inspire great reviews--I wish Marvel would give Chuck Austen another crack at the X-Men just so I could read a new Paul O'Brien evisceration every month--but it seems like Countdown isn't doing anything but disappointing you.

Thanks also for the comments on Busiek's Superman. I've been wavering on whether to pick up these issues; I read "Up, Up, and Away" and thought it was okay. You seem to be familiar with my take on Astro City: is his Superman the work of the Busiek I like or the Busiek that drives me crazy?

Kim EM said...

Try to get two persons to agree totally on anything, and you're in for a 'herding cats' experience. That said, I'm finding myself more and more in disagreement with the conventional wisdom on Countdown.

I'm sorry; I like the series.

Many of the complaints seem focused around the series' slow start. Well, yeah, in the first issue we only had one death (and that was after making us care about a character who's never been on anyone's favorite list).

What I'm seeing is a build-up. The story is, after all, some thousand pages long. It's striking me that it's following the archetypal three-act structure. We're still in the first act; matter of fact, we're still prior to the point where "everything changes".

We've had the opening kicker; now we're getting the introduction of characters and themes, and yes, I'm enjoying seeing things unfold even without lots-o-fighting-guys-in-spandex.

It's not the way 52 was structured, true. 52 was, well, 'busy'. What with four main writers (five if you count Steve Wacker) 52 had a much less structured approach, more a mosaic, and that led to a real 'density' in the book. There was lots crammed in, and because of the piecemeal approach it sometimes seemed as though there was more story there than actually appeared on the page. For example, much as I enjoyed the space heroes storyline, what exactly happened there that couldn't have been told in a 'done in one' issue?

Countdown seems to me to be just hitting it's stride. I don't fault you (or anyone else) for being left cold by Countdown. It's far different from 52, and isn't everyone's cop-o-tea. I hope you'll keep writing on Countdown, though I'll still keep reading your blog when you widen your focus.

- Kim

JOHNNY ZITO said...

I think there's something to be said with what you did in this post.

Tying the DCU together through Countdown and examining it's strength and weaknesses to the line this week.

plok said...

I'd like to see a general comics blog form you as well...I don't really drop in here for Countdown, but for your commentary.

But, why not just make this blog into a general comics blog?

On DC in general, the level of attachment the editorial and/or creative teams seem to have for Black Adam is...well, it's almost a little creepy, don't you think? Black Adam was a character I thought was interesting, several years ago, but if he's in a comic now, it would pretty much be an automatic no-buy for me. What more could I possibly need to know about him? I never even wanted to know half the stuff I already do.

plok said...

"From" you, obviously...

Garrie Burr said...

More, please…

You wrote that you wanted to use Countdown “as a hook to write about what's happening in the DCU generally, and to analyze anything new and interesting in itself.”

If Countdown itself is a disappointment for a week (or more) then you have already set yourself up on this blog to go into the rest of the DCU where, I hope, more-positive sights may be seen. Your obvious-passion writing on Busiek’s Superman and Simone’s All-New Atom this week shows that you have plenty to say and I hope you will continue.

I, too, have not been positively passionate about what we have seen so far in Countdown.

I am wondering if part of it is how accustomed we grew to the style of 52 that, coming out so soon after that series, the differences in Countdown came as a real jolt. 52 also had detractors at the beginning – for that matter, it had the benefit of following “Infinite Crisis” which, for my money, did not play out all so well.

I am feeling a bit better after sitting down and re-reading the books. Reading them apart from the weekly “binge”, they felt much more cohesive.

Strangely, this week’s issue of the Atom also gave me more hope for Countdown. It was during the big fight scene near the end, with so many of Ray’s old villains, where I found myself double thinking as I turned the pages:

What’s Jason Woodrue doing there in his humanoid form – isn’t he taboo and part of the Vertigo universe, now? That’s the Thinker in his old costume – isn’t his body dead and his computerized-spirit now a “member” of the JSA? Are these mistakes? Did Superboy-Prime punch another wall? What’s going on?

By the end of the book, I had my answers – they knew what they were doing. I put Dini in the same-class as Simone, so my Countdown hopes re-kindled… Somewhat weak, yeah, but… (I agree with you about Dini’s Detective story this week, too, but I’m wondering if this Joker is post-Morrison or pre-Morrison?)

I’d also previously been put-off by the apparent-commercial for the JLA/JSA/Legion crossover – discrepancies between what we’ve seen in the actual books and the Countdown scenes illustrate one of Countdown’s hurdles:

Where 52 was meant to be separate from the One-Year-Later books coming out at the same time, the DC line we’re getting now is meant to be happening at the same time as Countdown. This is a much-rockier road to travel. Missed-deadlines can have an impact on more than just Countdown itself – as Marvel learned during Civil Wars. Editors can screw this up, too.

What I’d forgotten though, was that Karate Kid is supposed to be one of the main Countdown characters. At least that’s what Didio wrote earlier. I don’t know where they’re taking him, but he’s more palatable now.

Holly’s appearance was also troubling to this Catwoman-reader: Didn’t recognize her at first, as being the character from Catwoman, and then in re-reading Countdown in preparation for this writing I see that she was part of Darkseid’s chessboard in the very first issue. As Holly’s appearance takes place in front of the Athenian Women’s Shelter, perhaps the “Amazons Attack” appearance at the end has more of a purpose than to advertise that particular mini-series.

Anyhow, Andrew: enough babbling from me. What it all comes down to is: the DCU is a bigger place now, and I hope you’ll continue to use this blog to explore it.

Thanks!

--Garrie

Andrew Hickey said...

Marc - I will almost certainly drop Countdown at the end of the month. I'm giving it until Giffen has done a couple of issues, to see if he raises its quality, but I don't have enough cash to keep buying comics I don't enjoy, even if I wanted to.

As for Busiek on Superman - I think you'd be absolutely infuriated. There was a story recently where an elderly black woman gets helped by Superman so often she thinks he's an angel sent by god whenever she prays for help, and uses her praying-for-Superman-power to get the muggers to leave her area. But then once Superman can't come when she needs him, and she ends up in hospital, and she learns a valuable lesson about pride, but the attack on her shocks people into taking action, so everything is for a purpose...

Busiek's been showing all his weaknesses in this run (partly I think because he's had to (with Nicieza) write both titles because of Johns & Donner's ridiculous lateness) but he *gets* Superman as a character enough for me, but I suspect not you, to ignore it.

Andrew Hickey said...

Kim - no need to apologise, even jokingly, for liking Countdown - I'm very glad someone's enjoying it. I get what they're doing, but in 52 there was stuff happening (and by that I don't mean death). I've paid one and a half times as much, so far, for this story as I did for Superman Showcase 1, and there's a limit to how much money I'll pay out just on trust. I'll still be keeping this blog Countdown-focussed for a few weeks, but at this point I can't commit to doing it that much longer.

Johnny - that's what I want to do, but it's going to be difficult if the main comic itself carries on being something I get no pleasure at all from.

Andrew Hickey said...

plok - I couldn't agree more. In fact it was the return of Black Adam that more than anything has soured me on the series.

Andrew Hickey said...

Garrie - even if I discontinue the Countdown focus, I expect any comics blogging I do to be largely DCU based. A solid majority of the (pamphlet format) comics I buy are DC superhero titles, and I don't expect that to change.

"52 also had detractors at the beginning – for that matter, it had the benefit of following “Infinite Crisis” which, for my money, did not play out all so well."

True - I disliked IC quite a lot. But Countdown is reading to me more like IC than 52. After the first few issues of 52 I was basically committed - there was so much *stuff* in those early issues that even when it went flabby for a couple of months I knew there would be enough good moments to make up for it.

Atom gave me more hope for Countdown, as well - I'm hoping Countdown takes on some aspects of the Atom, rather than the other way round. Incidentally, Jason Woodrue appeared in the Crisis Of Confidence (or was it Conscience) storyline in JLA in 2005, just before Infinite Crisis...

Marc said...

Thanks to the internet, even anonymous idiots can dig up witty quotes about criticism.
- me

plok said...

God bless you, Marc.

I felt kind of assaulted there for a minute, and it isn't even my blog.

Andrew, this title actually isn't too bad for a general comics blog that's DC-focussed, is it? In fact I think it's all worked out kind of serendipitously. And I'm not just saying that because I don't want to make sidebar changes if you move, honest!

Blood E. said...

Count me in as one who has begun to enjoy the series after taking time this weekend to reread the first five issues. It's weaknesses aren't surprising given the pressure to maintain a weekly schedule. And we've already seen Black Adam walk away from the story (I hope!).

I enjoy coming for the Countdown breakdown, but if the comic doesn't lend itself to a passionate appraisal, you certainly shouldn't force yourself to do anything. I can't say how often I'd show up without it. You're in my toolbar at the moment.

Blood E.

Bibliomike said...

I will continue to read your blog whether you continue with "Countdown" or not. I am a newbie to comics, so I rely on blogs like this one to keep me in the loop on what's worth picking up on Wednesdays and what isn't. So keep up the focus on the DCU and I'll be there!

Lefty said...

Andrew,

Don't take this the wrong way, but if you do shutter the doors on reviewing Countdown, do you know of any other blogs that you think ARE doing a good job of doing the same?

One of the things I enjoyed about 52 Pick-Up was the discussion of the issue in the comments sections, and wanted to find something similiar to tickle my inner fanboy.

Thanks for the past few weeks of reviews.

Andrew Hickey said...

Lefty, that's precisely the sort of comment I posted this for, so I won't take it the wrong way at all - I wanted to know if the 'service' (such as it is) this blog provides was one people actually wanted.

As far as I'm aware, no-one else is doing a blog about Countdown (another big difference with 52, where there were quite a few different ones). Most of the big comics sites are doing issue-by-issue analyses though - I know Newsarama, IGN and comicbookresources are doing so. But those are of course a different kind of thing. If anyone else knows of one, please let me know and I'll add it to the sidebar.

I'm not yet committed to stopping this, though, and maybe by the time I make a final decision, someone else will take up the challenge...

aaron s. said...

i started coming here for the Countdown commentary, and i would be sad if it disappeared. Especially since, as someone else pointed out, one of the best things about 52 was coming to 52 pickup to watch everyone discuss what they thought would happen next. that said, if you switched over to general comic blogging, i would still show up, and probably enjoy it. im one of the people who actually likes countdown, but i have no problem admitting that its nowhere near as meaty in content as 52 was, so your possible decision to broaden focus a bit is pretty understandable.

Bill said...

Re: Your comments to spideyfan

The man, while approaching it the wrong way, does have a point.

To criticize any work you must ask yourself three questions:

What was done?
How well was it done?
Was it worth doing?

I think we're a little too early in the game to be making judgments concerning that that last question, yet that question is what your reviews generally hang on.

Andrew Hickey said...

Bill, I disagree, as I've no doubt you'll be unsurprised to hear.

Countdown is being issued as a serialised story. Each issue is being sold as a unit in itself, inviting criticism on that basis.

The fact is, each issue of Countdown costs £1.50 . For the same amount of money that I've spent on the five issues so far, I could have bought one new paperback novel, a Showcase edition of some Silver Age comics, five or six classic novels in cheap editions, a 'twofer' CD with a couple of classic 60s albums on it, a cheap DVD, or a night at the cinema. The entertainment value of any one of those things would have been vastly greater than the value I've got from Countdown.

That may sound mercenary, but the fact is I find it utterly reprehensible and unjustifiable to charge money for something and then not deliver, but merely keep promising that if you just pay that little bit more you'll eventually get something good.

Simply put, if Countdown only works in blocks of (let's be charitable and say) 120 pages, it should be released in 120-page chunks. Either that or the readers should be able to withhold payment until the comic gets to the payoff.

Andrew Hickey said...

Oh, incidentally bill, if you read 'spideyfan's posts, they are all either personal attacks on myself, attacks on the very concept of ever criticising anything, or mere statements that 'Countdown rock' (sic). The only 'point' he has actually expressed is a personal distaste for me... if you have any criticisms to make of what I've been doing on this blog I'm more than happy to hear them, but I'd prefer it if they weren't couched in terms of support for personal abuse against me. Thanks.

No Radio said...

Hey Andrew. I wanted to thank you for picking up Doug Wolk's project doing critical reading of these stories as they come out. While Newsarama, CBR, et al. are basically putting up issue recaps and bland teasers from DC editorial, your blog, and Doug's before it, have been great places to go to give actual thought to what's going on with these books.

That said, it's apparent "Countdown" isn't grabbing your interest in any substantial ways and, seeing more of your writing on comics you like, I'd rather see you discussing books that interest you rather than "Countdown".

But since I'm planning on sticking it out with "Countdown" for awhile and would like to see intelligent people turning a critical eye to it, I'm starting up my own little thingie. It's called "Counting to None" (tip of imaginary hat to Grant) and is located here:

http://counting2none.blogspot.com/

Hope you like it, hope you keep up commentary on other books and thanks for keeping a fire burning the last couple weeks.

yers,
bob

Andrew Hickey said...

Posting this both here and at Bob's blog...
Hi,
Just so you know, I've not given up yet, and may well not do - but I'm still glad to see someone else doing this. Actually, I'm far more likely to keep my own one up if I've got 'company'... if other people find intelligent things to say about it above the level of "OMG Jimmy has stretch powerz!" then it may keep me going... I've added you to the top of the blogroll on my own site.

Bill said...

Andrew, you say it's a serialized story that should be considered on an issue by issue basis, but let's not forget 52 didn't really get cooking until after the first 8-10 issues. Besides that, the story of Countdown is the story of the DC Universe as a whole. So if you don't want to pick it up you don't have to, but then again don't be surprised in six to eight months when you have a ton of questions as to what's happening in the universe. I'll not be the only one telling you to track down issues of Countdown.

That being said, I've found Countdown cohesive, coherent, and much more thematically tied together than 52 ever was. Can't wait to see where it goes.

Andrew Hickey said...

I actually thought the first few issues of 52 were very strong - they set up a *ton* of plotlines in those early issues. In fact, it was those first few issues that hooked me, and the promise in them kept me going through quite a few rough patches.

And one thing I'm not ever going to do again is buy comics I don't like so I can understand those I do. If I *do* drop Countdown, I won't be buying it again unless the reviews (which have been pretty much uniformly negative) improve drastically. If anything I buy ties into it, I'll muddle through if I can, or drop that comic too if I can't understand it.

That said, I'm definitely not dropping Countdown *yet*. I'm giving it at least another three issues...

Bill said...

Look what they've set up already:

-- Jimmy Olsen's multi-versal echos
-- Mary Marvel's walk on the wild side
-- Jason Todd, Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner, and Nightwing don't belong
-- Pied Piper and Trickster's relationship
-- Monitors divided
-- Holly's on the run
-- Darkseid's machinations are currently running
-- Karate Kid is out of his time, and will be for awhile
-- The Joker knows something
-- Ray Palmer is the only thing that stands between the DCU and the great disaster

Heh, not bad for FIVE issues! And the story hasn't even started cooking yet.

WildCard9 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WildCard9 said...

I am on the borderline as well with Countdown. I was expecting something self-contained like 52 was, although some some players moving in and out as their own series demanded it. Instead we get a not-quite overview of what is currently going on in the DCU, in a very muddled way. So far, the only stories that have caught my interest are "what is happening to Jimmy Olsen?" (I though he took his Elastic Lad syrum before going to Arkham as a smart move), and the Mary Marvel story I want to see in its own mini-series separate from Countdown (so I can read what I am interested in without the rest that I don't care about).

Daniel said...

Hmmm, just checked, and you can indeed vote multiple times... that shows well why 'no' is that high. Better to take off the pool, then, and find one people cannot spam? It is not like it can serve its purpose either way, now...

And for that matter, 'yes'!

Andrew Hickey said...

Daniel - it's served the purpose of letting me know there are a significant number of people who *would* carry on reading what I post. I'm not particularly interested in how many people wouldn't - the 'no' option was just there to let me know if people were ignoring the poll or not. So even though the poll doesn't represent anything now about the actual readership of this blog, it does tell me that a significant percentage of those currently reading this would carry on doing so...

Andrew Hickey said...

You know what? Fuck it. I see no reason at all to leave *any* of the abuse posted about me here one second longer. It's all going. Start up your own blog about how much you hate me if you want.

(Oh, and 'spideyfan', there are functions that blogger doesn't provide but that there are very simple add-ons out there for.)

Robert said...

Andrew, I just wanted to pipe in. I say regardless of what the poll says, if you want to start a general comics blog, start it.

I honestly can't say at this point if I will follow your blog if you change the format. I came here because I was a frequent reader of 52 Pickup and was hoping for something to fill the void, sort of the same as I was hoping Countdown would do for 52 itself.

But I would like to see what you would write about comic topics that excite you. Until I see that, I really won't be able to tell if I enjoy your writing or not. And its a shame you haven't been able to get that feeling of excitement out of Countdown. But I guess "C'est la vie"

Oh, on the subject of Countdown itself, I haven't given up on it yet... but I am worried. Of course, I felt that way at the beginning of 52 as well, so who knows?

Kim EM said...

Somehow I got motivated too, and have added Countdown to the things I cover in my blog. I'm planning, as of this writing, to cover it at least weekly, with some other content from time to time. If anyone's interested, it's at http://kimem.blogspot.com/

Thanks! - Kim