Monday, April 28, 2008

51 Issues and Nothing On

Well, then, here we are: 52 (strike that, 51) weeks later, we've had our "greatest phase of change" and "every major event and and nearly every character spinning in and out of the story." (So sayeth Dan DiDio) So, never minding the sheer editorial incompetence I discussed yesterday, what, exactly, did we learn about the DC Universe? What was the story about, and how was it told? Did Countdown matter, even if ineptly executed?

In terms of the story, at least, we learned virtually nothing. The climax of the storyline, in issue #2 (because most countdowns climax at two, you see) was just the wrap up-up of the storyline from Death of the New Gods. That's right, the the 8-issue limited series DoNG didn't even wrap up on it's own, but was to-be-continued in Countdown. Unfortunately, issue #8 of DoNG appeared AFTER Countdown #2, so we got the story's ultimate chapter before it's penultimate chapter...way to go, guys.

Seriously, that was about it...the entire point of Countdown was to show the outcome of some other mini-series. It turns out the whole reason we were on board for 52 (ahem, 51) issues was to watch Orion kill Darkseid. So why not make DoNG a 9 issue mini-series? Good question, padawan...

What else did we learn? We learned that we were severely misled, as the series premiered with a cover promising this:

Almost none of these heroes had meaningful appearences in Countdownand delivered us a series starring this:

Seriously? These guys??Not a good way to start a relationship, lying to us like that (probably a wise marketing decision, though).

We also learned that the emperor has no clothes...Paul Dini, that is. Sure, he's pretty good at Batman, and he wrote some decent cartoons (okay, some really good cartoons), but this series showed that he's not good at plotting something epic length, and that he's not at all good in keeping continuity in a fully shared universe. He has little feel or regard for how characters were portrayed before he took them up, and showed a total inability to explain anyone's motivations. And the number of loose ends left untied, even after 52 (ahem, 51) padded and rambling issues, is stunning.

Let me say one thing before we continue on: I'm tired of hearing "it was mandated by editorial" as an excuse for a crappily written story. Sadly, that's become a convenient excuse to let writers that we like off the hook for piss-poor execution. And frankly, it's self-serving: as we saw with JMS's Spider-Man comments over the years, he's always been quick to publicly declare that every story fans hated was the editors' fault, and everything fans liked was all his doing. Conveniet, eh?

Yes, there are a TON of sins that can be laid at the feet of Mike Carlin and Dan DiDio; but at some point Dini himself is the one who put plot and words to paper, and he has to take his (ample) share of the blame. (And yes, we can always blame some of the "co-writers" and "creative consultants," but Dini was "head writer" throughout this mess, and that means nothing if we keep shifting the blame off to others).

Examples? How about Pied Piper?

Piper has amnesia, it would seemExcuse me, Paul Dini, but Piper ALREADY was on the side of the angels. He had reformed, remember? He and Trickster were just infiltrating the Rogues to get the dope on their plans, remember? You ought to remember, because that's exactly what you wrote in #51! So for the big climax to the arcs of one of your main characters, you forgot whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. Smooth.

Example: Captain Atom/Monarch. You know, I won't say Captain Atom is one of the top guns of the DC Universe, but he's hardly insignificant, either. And when someone like him goes off-the-deep-end rogue you really need to have SOME discussion in the series he's "starring" in about WHY he's gone bad, don't you? (Unless, of course, he was possessed by the color chartreuse or some such nonsense) However, we had no such discussion, no characterization, nothing. Hell, we hardly had any mention that he used to be a hero.

Example: Monarch & Superboy-Prime: They were both prime movers in this silliness. They faced off in issue #13, and theoretically killed each other: Prime ripped open Monarch's suit, and the resulting explosion destroyed THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE of Earth-51 (don't worry--it got better. Really). But Captain Atom has survived things like that before, either being thrown about in space/time or into another dimension. And Superboy-Prime survives (he's one of the villains in the upcoming Legion of 3 Worlds, so he was most likely just thrown forward in time). Yet despite the fact we've been beat over the head with how dangerous, how huge a threat to the multiverse these two are, there's not even a single inquiry into their final fate. Not a word balloon, not a thought balloon, not a caption, nit an asterisk, nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Example: The Challengers of the Unknown (what are they challenging? It's unknown!!). We've been shown REPEATEDLY through Countdown that these guys were no match for a single Monitor...but somehow we end up with this:

These guys couldn't take down Lord Havok and his Extremists...yet now they're going to boss around ALL the Monitors? Really? Does that make a lick of sense?

Example: The Morticoccus. OK, those of you who haven't read this series aren't going to believe me on this. The sole point of having Karate Kid in this series (the SOLE point!) was that he was infected with the Morticoccus, a sentient super-virus that can exist in multiple dimensions and is essentially death on wheels. KK's version was especially deadly because it came from the future, and so was already assimilated to 31st century medical technology, and laughed at our medicine. (Note to Brainiac-5: exiling people to the past with extinction-level diseases can't be good for the timeline...) Earth-51's universe is destroyed (the second time) by the Morticoccus...yet despite the contention that it was now airborne and that their immunizations were temporary, the Challengers traipsed back to Earth-1 with no ill effect, and Morticoccus was never mentioned again. At all. The whole "threat to all universes" bit was completely forgotten. The fact that Ray Palmer had to go around spreading his immunity to other universe was never mentioned again. Karate Kid was in this series just so we could spend 3 entire issues showing the origin of the Kamandi universe (which Kirby could have done in 3 pages, or even 3 panels...).

I could go on, with the pointlessness of it all. Jimmy Olsen: got superpowers, lost superpowers, absolutely no character growth. Why was he in this series? Jason Todd: still a vicious killer and torturer of criminals. Why was he in this series? Holly and Harley: were Amazons for 5 minutes, had gods-granted powers for 5 minutes, now they don't have them and are back in Gotham (with no mention of WHY they left Gotham in the first place, or any particular character arc whatsoever). Why were they in this series? Kyle Rayner: well, he was in this because...well, I don't have any idea whatsoever. Now he gets to moonlight by Monitoring the Monitors (get it? GET IT?!?!), with absolutely no mention of whether he gets to keep his day job in the Oan Honor Guard.

Hey, you want a fun drinking game? Check and see how many unexplained events and unexplained characterizations had to be covered by Carlin & Co. in the Newsarama re-caps each week, and drink for each one that is NEVER covered in the 52 (ahem 51) issues. Just don't plan on making it to work the next day.

I used to complain that there wasn't enough story here for 52 (ahem, 51) issues, so all we were getting was padding and repetition. The sad truth, as it turns out, is that there was no story, period. The climax to another (shorter and better) mini-series, the creation of a new group that I guarantee will have less impact (and not last as long) as the "New Guardians" spun out of Millennium, and Mary Marvel being completely destroyed as a character. Seriously, that was it. Anyone care to wager on how much of this gets followed up in Final Crisis? Any of it?

A 52 (ahem 51) issue series with no plot, no characterization, and no reason for being? I'd like a refund, please.


Anonymous said...

Now THAT'S the way to stick it to DC and the reeking turd that was "Countdown". Thankfully, I bailed after the first three or four issues when I realized early the "Emperor Had No Clothes" (thirty-five years of reading comics has its advantages)...but like any big car wreck, it was hard to completely turn away.

THANK YOU for delivering the skewering this empty shell-game of a series so richly deserved. Pleny of people have complained about Countdown, but nobody's hit the bulls-eye as dead-center as you, Snell! OUCH!!!!

Unknown said...

A weekly book like Countdown should act like a primer for people not as familiar with the DC Universe, and instead was confusing as hell and ended up being pointless.

FoldedSoup said...

Bravo! Just what I was thinking.

Luckily, I was only suckered into buying the first 10 issues and read the remainder from the shelves. Dodged a costly bullet, right there..

Fantastic rant. Thanks!

Siskoid said...

I'm at a loss as to how this can happen.

I mean, you have a whole year to FIX IT somehow. Nudge the writer in the right direction or simply CHANGE writers. A whole year!

There's incompetence, and then there's negligence.

snell said...

Siskoid: Well, they changed editors in midstream (we see how well that worked out), they brought in Keith Giffen as "creative consultant," they (sorta) changed the focus a little bit around #26, not feeling compelled to cover each storyline every week (ie, make it more like 52). All to no avail.

I think it came down to the fact that the fundamental premise was untenable: let's take a bunch of minor, uninteresting characters, shove them in a 52-issue weekly that leads up to the next mega-series (even though we apparently have no idea how to tie that in), without altering anything significant that might tie Morrison's hands.

Siskoid said...

Interesting point, Snell.

After all, 52 could have been about anything. The title makes no promises.

But Countdown has to Countdown towards something. Then again, if 52 is so titled because there are 52 issues, then why not treat Countdown as if it's a series that counts down from 52 rather than go up from #1? (That's what happened anyway.)

De said...

I liked 52 quite a bit and am actually quite glad the writers took it and ran. If the editors had had their way, 52 would have ended up like Countdown. As for the World War III debacle, the recaps in 52 did the job just fine without that embarrassment of a mini-series.

Countdown was just a giant mess. I tried to stay with it only to lose interest and try to jump in later to no avail. All the tie-in mini-series and one-shots pretty much killed it for me too.