Before we begin, I'd like to apologise for the comparative lateness of this post - we got our comics even later this week than usual, thanks to the bank holiday, and my job requires me to work weekend shifts on occasion.
The consensus on this week's issue of Countdown seems to be that it's more of the same, but a very slight improvement, and I have to agree. Over at The Savage Critics they said the issue "did mark the first time that the series didn't feel like a terrible mistake", which is a little harsh, but which seems to sum up the overall reaction.
This is the blandest issue so far, in both bad and good ways. It has nothing to match the great moments in the last couple of issues (the "no umbrellas" sign, Elastic Lad), but it also has none of the obvious errors and bad writing we've seen in the earlier issues - where things seem wrong, they seem to be plot points rather than errors.
This leaves comparatively little to say about the issue, but to cover the key points:
p3 - Even Perry White knows who Jason Todd is...this is one mystery that could actually play out rather interestingly.
p8 - The composition in panel 3 here looks very familiar, but I can't think where from - anyone know? (It's going to be something incredibly obvious, isn't it?)
pp10 & 11 - This Karate Kid story still makes no sense whatsoever. It's only comprehensible if you're reading two other comics, JLA and JSA, which in turn are only comprehensible if you've read some other comics from 20 years ago that haven't been reprinted. Further, there's not even any way to know where to look for the information without looking online. Several other DC titles have (finally) brought back the "See Othercomic #7 - Ed" box, and I can't imagine a comic that needs it more than this one...
p12 - The transition between these two pages is very awkward
p13 - As Scipio points out, Jimmy Olsen has had superspeed before, just like the Elastic Lad powers. I would hope this was pointing to the return of Hypertime, but I suspect not...
p15 - For those of you who don't know, Lightray was a character whose primary function was to appear in crowd scenes, say things like "Orion, your impetuous nature needs to be tempered by wisdom" , and not much else. Also, he was in the JLI for about six issues...
The History of the Multiverse is still comprehensible, amazingly...
In other DCU comics this week, Action 850 was a pretty decent flashback issue of the 'important moments linked by a framing story' type. It did a good job of filling in the back-story of the current iteration of Superman (the Supermullet is officially out of continuity now) though Clark's reaction to his mother's bereavement rang false, and I found Supergirl's 'nice' and 'cute' comments about her cousin a little unnerving.
Anyway, now a few issues are out, I thought I'd engage in some speculation as to what Countdown is counting down to. All we know for sure at this point is that it's to be another Crisis along the lines of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the title Final Crisis has been mentioned, and the names Kurt Busiek and Grant Morrison have both been bandied about.
Now, if it really is a Crisis type story, DC have a big problem - their universe is getting rebooted every few minutes at this point, and another reboot could quite possibly kill their comics line stone dead. So we can assume it won't be a reboot.
The most popular opinion among fandom seems to be that it will be leading to an Ultimate-ised DCU - the start of a second line set in a fresh universe, uncluttered by continuity baggage. I suspect that this isn't the only thing happening, if it's happening at all - you don't start your new continuity-free line with a 52-part story plus tie-ins referencing a 20-year old comic.
Other people have suggested that the "Ultimate DCU" would provide a chance to have the grimungritty characters and stories in one Earth, while having more Silver Age-esque stories take place on New New Earth. Depending on how the Earths were split up, Earth Bronze could be the private fiefdom of Geoff Johns while Earth Silver could be the playground of Mark Waid or whoever, in the same way Roy Thomas used to have Earth-2 to himself.
This separation of storytelling styles could seem a good idea short term, but one of the big strengths of the DCU is the fact that Mr Mxyzptlk and Swamp Thing both live there, as do Batman and G'nort. The real world contains tragedy, horror, humour and hope in equal measures - the DCU should do likewise, and for all their occasional missteps, I think the DC editorial team have shown they understand this in the last year.
But there is one way such a separation could work, and I think I got this idea from my friend Tilt, but all my instincts tell me this is what they're going to do. You make one to throw away.
At the end of Final Crisis the multiverse is left intact, but we concentrate on two Earths - call them Earth-Silver and Earth-Bronze. Earth Silver is the shiny neo-Silver Age rebooted universe with no continuity, Earth-Bronze is our current DCU. As a result of the Crisis, Earth-Bronze is going to die.
Set it up so that the superheroes of Earth-Bronze know, for a fact, that their universe has, say, three years left before it is totally destroyed, and use those three years to tell every end story the writers ever wanted to tell. Superman pounding the walls of reality, trying to change things and fighting to the end, Batman keeping order to the last, policing a Gotham whose citizens have nothing to fear because they know they're going to die anyway. You can do these stories and have them 'be real'. A Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? for the whole DCU. Meanwhile, if the new Earth-Silver doesn't work out, at the last minute they could always pull a Macguffin out of a hat and find a way for Earth-Bronze to survive.
So my prediction for what we're counting down to? Two lines of comics - one small (to start with) line featuring all the icons at their most iconic - what All Star was originally promoted as (and I think it likely that All-Star Superman would become continuity there) starting fresh and building up a new continuity, while the other, larger, darker line would be heroes raging against the dying of the light.
What do you think we're counting down to?