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Countdown 51

Countdown 51

Scheduled to arrive in stores: May 9, 2007

Cover date: May 9, 2007

"Look to the Skies"

Writer: Paul Dini
Penciller: Jesus Saiz
Inker: Jimmy Palmiotti

Neal Bailey Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

Darkseid and Desaad ponder the nature of an individual's contribution to the universe, as Darkseid lords over the DCU heroes in chess piece form, promising to remake creation.

Duela, the Joker's daughter from an alternate reality, kidnaps a Britney Spears style pop star and tries to start ransoming her. Red Hood stops her, chasing her across rooftops.

Trickster and Heatwave discuss re-polarizing their place as evildoers as opposed to having the lines blurred. Pied Piper, on the roof, plays his flute for rats, and hears the pair's plan.

Duela keeps running, now under attack by a being with a laser. She tries spray-tasering him, but the being advances.

Red Hood hears the screams, and investigates. He finds a Monitor trying to kill Duela. The Monitor succeeds, and turns the gun on Red Hood, telling him that he is an anomaly like Duela and must be purged to save the Multiverse. He is saved by another Monitor, who tells the first Monitor that he has overstepped his bounds. They disappear. Duela is (seemingly) dead.

The "evil" monitor that killed Duela goes to the Source Wall and asks how to prevent the coming disaster. The wall answers: Ray Palmer.

2Story - 2: Color me unimpressed, unfortunately, for a number of reasons.

When I heard that Paul Dini was going to get into the comics game, I was quite enthralled, and also a bit dubious. Why? Because I grew up on his Batman animated series. It formed most of what Batman is to me, to be completely honest. However, looking back now, and having read comics concurrently, the comics were always a superior affair because they, unlike a cartoon for children, can cover much deeper subtexts, contexts, personalities and affairs.

The reason 52 succeeded without any of the major players of the DCU, really, is because it knew this. If you had told me that I would read a book without any of the MAJOR seven in the DCU on a regular basis as an event, I would have laughed at you a year ago.

The sad thing is that last week, had you asked me if I would have been disappointed by a major comic event featuring Monitors, Darkseid, and the major players of the DCU as it comes out of the gate, I would have laughed harder. I really missed the mains in 52, even if it was wholly satisfying, because if a major, earth-shattering, year long series featuring every major player in the DCU is going to happen, it shouldn't be at the hands of relative unknowns, it should feature a cast of writers like the last story. It's like they reversed the formula, known writers/tertiary characters, tertiary writers/known characters. I don't get that math.

But don't get me wrong, I haven't seen the others in action yet, I've only seen the architect, but that leaves me worried.

Actually, strike that. I did just read the first half of the second issue, and already it's rife with the inconsistencies that plagued this issue of Countdown. Jimmy knows who Red Hood is under his costume, who Nightwing is, and Superman is sending him in to talk with the Red Hood, who, for some reason, is not being brought to justice despite murdering people. Since when do the DCU heroes sanction or put up with murdering vigilantes? That's Marvel you're thinking of, BUB.

But beyond that, which you'll read shortly, I'll back up my accusations with a rationale, given that this is the beginning of a huge series and I want to be able to point back.

We open well, actually. I joke in my notes here that it's "Darkseid playing with his dolls again!" but all that aside, it really rocks to see a pensive, nihilistic Desaad and Darkseid bantering. We haven't seen Darkseid in true form since Our Worlds at War, and beyond that, we haven't seen a Darkseid with any real, major character development since that Kirby trade that came out. Honestly, I hardly know who he is beyond Kirby, and that should be rectified. This is a first step. Alas, it is only two pages. That, and the fact that these Monitors promise or seem to promise a payoff is the only thing that prevents this from being a one rating.

His dolls are all updated with the modern DCU, meaning he has intel about what's going on on Earth, but somehow he's still playing with Black Adam on the board. Sigh.

The dialogue was atrocious, did nothing to forward the characters, and essentially filled space. There were some that were passably real to read (as in someone might say the things) such as with Darkseid (excellent), with the Flash villains (passable, but irrespective, see below), and Duela, who frankly made me cringe. How can the dude who made Harley suck so bad at writing a Harley-style character?

"Hi! I'm the Joker's daughter! You can call me Duela!"

"I may be from a neighboring Earth, but I have to maintain my bad girl cred, too!"

"Time to ditch no-fun boy!"

"I know Robin-Redux isn't too tightly wrapped, but I never thought he'd blow away another one-time Titan!"

Thunk. That's the sound of writing hitting the floor. Blatant exposition without any attempt at subtlety, stereotype, and misdirection of continuity (glossing over the fact that we know that Red Hood has a secret identity and she wouldn't know it).

I didn't know who Duela was until I read that dialogue, granted, but there are better ways to do it, and the more important factor here is that if you're going to put two "anomalies" together in a scene for Juxtaposition, and a Monitor shows up to fix an anomaly, which does he go after, Duela, someone who has little to no impact on the DCU, or Red Hood, a major mitigating factor in everything Batman, a proper and major player in this universe, does?

You can argue that he does try to purge Red Hood, but why even bother with Duela? And for that matter, if they have the tech to go to the Source Wall, what's making him use a ray gun on terrestrials? It's hokey.

Character is also inconsistent. Red Hood is suddenly played as a hero. Next issue, he's a dude who kills people. He tries to capture Duela, but he seems sad when she dies. He's a murderer. Incongruity.

The larger problem here, as well, is that this is a dilemma that was just addressed. Black Adam went hero for a while, despite having killed people. The DCU let him have a pass, because he seemed to be reforming. Then he killed a few million people.

One Year Later, Red Hood, who kills people and seems to have reformed, is still running around? Why confront the same dilemma again, dramatically?

Another issue. Red Hood can own Batman, but he's having trouble catching Duela? He doesn't just shoot her?

The "kidnap a teen idol and ransom her" plot is dry and boring. It's the first issue of a major event, don't yawn me with this crap.

Duela gets more introduction (hasty and badly written as it is) than Mary Marvel, one of the series' focal protagonist. I haven't read the Shazam trials series because I found it horribly hard to get into and a ridiculous attempt to make Shazam interesting and "edgy" when he's already awesome, writers just need to turn it up. I tried, I really did.

Apparently, however, Freddie Freeman is the new Shazam, as I understand it, and Mary can't turn into a Marvel. That's all I think I know. I may be wrong. Either way, we're introduced to one of the focal series protagonists, and we aren't told who she is, why she's in the hospital, what she means to the DCU. I'm UP on the DCU. UP UP UP. I pay attention, and I don't buy the argument that a dude can't just jump on the internets and find out what's up. And I was annoyed with how little I knew about her and her current situation. Don't go, "I'm Mary! Mary Marvel! And I had my powers taken away!" but clue us in subtly. As good writing does in comics.

Small but important issue, I was drawn out of the hospital scene by the fact that (for whatever she's in for, I don't know) Mary Marvel starts to pay her hospital bill AFTER she's been healed. I don't know about you, but I live in a world where even though my throat was closing they wouldn't admit me into an emergency room without a way to pay up front.

The first page she's on is also confusing, because she's not in costume and I don't know who she is, even with the Shazam caption, for the first half of the page. It took me a while. That, too, is bad, unclear writing.

The "COMING DISASTER" and "END OF ALL THINGS" will make this series a critical failure if it's just something arbitrarily cataclysmic that kills eighteen tertiary characters and one major player off. Because, you know guys, rad as that may be on paper, we've done it fifteen times in the last twenty years, and we just had a crisis. We're not fooled by it any more, especially when you show us the game you CAN step up to with 52.

Forgive my sarcasm, but I just read Our Worlds At War again, and every single moment of impact that series had has been reversed, often twice, for the cheap thrill of bringing back or killing a villain. It's gotten endemic, and the fact that this series starts off with a tertiary death signaling the COMING DISASTER does not bode well for me.

The worst thing in the whole issue, however, was the waste of three pages in what's called expository dialogue without purpose. The Flash villains pop up with no purpose at all except to shoot the %#@$. This is high school writing, and honest-to-God, if a professional handed me a book with that in it, and told me to proof it for him, I'd ask if the lady's son had gotten ahold of her manuscript or something.

INTRODUCING a character in order to later capitalize on familiarity is one thing, and an important thing. However, one of the RANK AMATEUR and basic rules of writing is that if a situation does not, in some way, forward your plot, and more specifically any of the primary or secondary conflicts, you delete it. And if it survives editing even though it doesn't benefit plot or conflict, it's a "little darling" and an editor should whack it.

Heatwave and Trickster clowning offered NOTHING to this plot, and to see it played off and allowed in the MAJOR introduction of a series that will sink or swim whether people will buy this series frankly infuriates me and makes me want to drop it.

Listen. You want me to spend another hundred bucks on a weekly series? You have to EARN it. Johns, Morrison, Rucka, and Waid EARNED that money week by week with 52 even if I disagreed with a given particular issue or two. It was all coherent, and it was ALL pro.

This is a poor start. The dilemmas are minor, the plot is archetypical, and the only thing going for this issue is lip service to monitors (a cheap "cool factor" ploy) and one well-written scene with Darkseid.

As I said, color me disappointed.

3Art - 3: The art is a bit of the problem in figuring out what's going on, with Mary Marvel, etcetera. I also couldn't figure out which Monitor was at the source wall, and had a hard time distinguishing between the two.

It's decent work, but it doesn't shine overly, and it covers the subject well, but it doesn't go an extra mile for me.

5Cover Art - 5: An awesome, classic picture of the DCU. Awesomeness. Black Adam is in there, yeah, but they didn't want to give away 52, no doubt.

I always wonder why they run in all those directions. I mean, geeze, guys, bad formation! It still looks cool, though. Definitely poster fodder.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2007

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