This is more like it. Countdown 43 is by far the best issue of the comic so far.
Which is not to say it's good. It isn't - it's competent. But competent is still better than this series has risen to previously. If every issue of this title had been this not-terrible, I wouldn't be dropping it. As it is, this level of mundane competence isn't enough to save it, but it is enough to make me feel better about the £1.50 I spent on this issue and the £1.50 I will be spending next issue (my last).
The responsibility for this surprising display of competence could rest with several people. The most likely possibility is writers Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti - those few issues of Countdown that have displayed some small sign of ability have been theirs, to the point where my opinion of them has risen while my opinion of everyone else involved has dropped. However, it may also be that new editor Mike Carlin has stepped in and insisted on the people involved pulling their fingers out a little - Carlin has some experience of delivering superhero comics on a weekly basis thanks to his editorship of the Superman titles in the early '90s (the 'triangle number' period where the four titles were essentially one weekly).
But another possibility is that Keith Giffen has finally come onto the title. Admittedly, he's not credited, but he wasn't credited for issue 3, either, and it was later revealed that he laid out that one. The storytelling is far stronger than in earlier issues, and it has many of Giffen's stylistic tics - six- and nine-panel grids, aspect-to-aspect movement and so on.
Either way, this comic has its share of faults, but at least someone seems to be trying. In particular, the comic feels a lot more organic than the earlier issues, thanks in large part to the funeral, which contrives to bring several of the 'plot' threads (such as they are) together. Of course, this in its turn brings in one of the worst problems with the issue, which is that the funeral is in response to a death that happened in another comic - the death, in fact, of a character who has not appeared at all in this series.
Having said that, the funeral is handled as well as these things ever are, and page 4 in particular is very well done - some quite subtle characterisation is put across in the different characters' silent reactions to the funeral. Although I can't help at this point but suspect that superheroes' funerals would be more likely to be like Metamorpho's in Morrison's JLA run rather than this stadium event.
pp10 & 11 - I wonder where Monarch got those from? That size army couldn't be assembled without anyone knowing.
p12 & 13 - I suspect that most women's refuges aren't quite like this... "The beds here are warm and soft, and very big... our life must seem very dull and quiet compared to yours - we are but eight score young blondes and brunettes, all between sixteen and nineteen and a half, cut off in this castle with no-one to protect us. Oh, it is a lonely life. Bathing, dressing, undressing, making exciting underwear..."
About a million questions present themselves here - like who is paying all the women performing massages and so on - but I suspect these are things that will be answered later. However, I don't think questions like 'how is this Holly character so dense as to not realise this is some sort of trap?' will be... or indeed questions like 'who is this Holly character and why should we care?'
However, for those who don't know, Harleen Quinzel is the alter ego of Harley Quinn, a Batman villain created by Paul Dini who had an obsession with the Joker but has apparently reformed as of her most recent appearances.
p18 - At the time Bart made this video, there had been three heroes named The Flash, and only one of the three had died, so getting killed 'in the Flash tradition' doesn't really make sense.
p20 - I don't know if Monarch's face is a colouring error or a clue...I am, however, reasonably sure that they're trying to make us think the woman Forerunner is after is Donna Troy - which means she almost certainly isn't.
Meanwhile in the back Dan Jurgens' History Of the Multiverse has become some sort of horrific bad-comic Orobouros - it's recapping the same stories that the History of The DCU he did last year recapped, down to almost identical choices of panels to reswipe, and those stories themselves happened so recently (less than two years ago) that anyone reading Countdown
must have read them. At this rate, expect a backup in Final Crisis - Dan Jurgens' History of The History of the DC Universe which just consists of panels drawn by Jurgens showing himself drawing himself tracing panels from Zero Hour.
Anyway, I'm almost regretting the decision not to buy Countdown as it starts finally to get readable, but this month's All-New Atom suggests I'll be able to follow the plot (if it ever gets one) by reading good comics instead. After the last storyline (which was just horrible - Ryan Choi getting revenge on his old school bullies and getting dumped again by the girl who wouldn't go to the prom with him) Gail Simone has started again giving us high adventure, comedy, dodgy pseudo-science, good characterisation and tiny men riding toads fighting snakes with swords.
In this issue (which comes between Countdown 43 and 42), The Hunt For Ray Palmer continues, with Ryan visiting the South American area where Ray Palmer adventured in the 80s Sword Of The Atom series, ending up (for good and logical reasons) in the same costume Palmer had then, and getting involved in a civil war between Palmer-worshippers and those who think Palmer was the devil. But the best thing in this wonderful issue is the little fat masked alien scammer pretending to be Palmer - "I Ray Pama! Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! Trech-Ery Woman!"
I honestly can't imagine anyone liking superhero comics at all and not enjoying All-New Atom, but it's selling in miniscule numbers. Please buy this and support one of the funniest, cleverest comics out there.
In other Countdown-related comics, Paul Dini proves in Detective that he can write a good comic when he wants to. The plots in Dini's Detective run have often been contrived, but they play by the rules of both the superhero and mystery genres, portray the characters in ways that are consistent with their previous appearances while still occasionally showing new sides to them, include occasional new characters who are usable in future stories, and generally are the kind of good, solid, enjoyable but disposable fluff that should be the mainstay of the superhero genre but is currently as rare as a good metaphor in one of my posts. This story again relies on the villain leaving obvious clues in an obvious place, but it deals well with the relationship between Zatanna and Batman, gets Zatanna out of the death-trap in a way which makes sense and doesn't cheat, has that escape give Batman the clue he needs to look for further clues, and in general does what you'd want from a good Batman story.
I only bought Action Comics by accident - I'd actually forgotten there was meant to be an 'ongoing story' in here at all, given the sheer number of fill-ins this year, and I'd been following the fill-ins rather than the regular team (whose work I'm not interested in). I can't really say much about this story (part four of a story whose first three parts I've not read) but I will say that the delays to this title have shot the 'regular team' of Johns & Donner in the foot in a way they won't have realised until recently. Their next story, starting next issue (this story will be completed in an annual at some point in the future) is 'Escape From Bizarro World'. If that had come out late last year, as originally planned, it would have been judged on its own merits. As it is, it will be coming out only three weeks after All-Star Superman 8, which is about how Superman... escapes from Bizarro World. I'm going to be writing a proper post about All-Star Superman at some point in the next few days, but for now, let's just say "Bizarro am think Geoff Johns much better writer than Grant Morrison! Richard Donner am have lots experience writing good comics! Escape From Bizarro World am sure to be critically-acclaimed masterpiece, and not suffer at all in comparison!"