Posted by: Graeme McMillan on October 31, 2007
So, now that Countdown has reached its halfway point, with the release of COUNTDOWN TO FINAL CRISIS #26 this week – Hey, new title to remind people that there’s a point to all of this, and that point has Grant Morrison and JG Jones involved! – it’s probably time to look back on the last six months and look at what we’ve learned from the experience so far.
Namely, Countdown? Kind of a mess.
The main thing, I guess, is that DC learned none of the right lessons from 52. Well, that’s probably not true from DC’s point of view, I guess; they learned that weekly books could sell, for one thing. But almost everything else that was right about 52 has been wrong with Countdown, it seems. This is potentially a dangerous point of view – rose-colored glasses and all that – but, as loathe as I am to remember 52 as something better than it was, it was at least more successful, and more interesting in its failings, than Countdown has come close to in the last 26 weeks.
Part of that, I think, comes down to the talent involved in creating the two series.
In the early stages of publication, 52 worked it wasn’t just the novelty of the “weekly book” idea that drew readers in initially, but the fact that it was being written by DC’s four biggest writers working together. Because of the democratic, messy, way that they wrote the book, the work itself managed to keep some of each writer’s voice, and as a result became this oddly quirky, occasionally subversive, take on a corporation’s flagship title. Countdown, on the other hand, has not only gone for a more mid-level writing staff, but a top-down method that’s given no one writer ownership over any particular storyline, and produced slow pacing and dialogue that practically define the term generic; it’s as if the writers are all so nervous about coming off-model that they don’t try to create any model at all. It’s playing so safe – which may be a necessity for a project this size – that it lacks the spontaneity to keep attention, while the weekly round-robin schedule makes sure that as a whole it lacks the continuity of quality (or even the quality in general) to make you sit up and notice a bad job done very well.
And don’t even ask me about the artists on the series until Carlos Magno realizes how big people’s heads are supposed to be in proportion to their bodies.
But back to the book itself: One of the few things besides format that Countdown took from 52 is focusing on minor characters to base the stories around… except that, unlike 52, the stories aren’t about the characters themselves (I’d argue that only the space heroes thread in 52 was plot-based instead of character-driven; your mileage, as they say on the internet, may vary) but about Big Events that the characters just so happen to blunder into (the Piper/Trickster thread in particular being the worst offender – The Flash’s death! Black Canary/Green Arrow wedding! Salvation Run! The one good thing you could say about the Mary Marvel plot is that at least it seems to be its own thing…).
…Which, of course, leads into the unavoidable fact that you have to buy multiple other series in order to understand what Countdown’s all about. It’s not just that things like the death of the Flash, Amazons Attack! or the Black Canary/Green Arrow Wedding Special displace the series’ main plots for large chunks of issues at a time, but that those main plots from the series then end up spinning out into different books – The Death of The New Gods, The Search For Ray Palmer, the back-up strips in Countdown to Adventure and Mystery, Salvation Run and Gotham Underground, to date – that contain chunks of information that really should be in the main series (Well, maybe not the Search for Ray Palmer books). There’s no real there there for Countdown; no arc or theme that you can point to and say that that’s what the series is about, other than “A lot of stuff is happening and most of it is bad.”
(Another problem with this is that Countdown has also managed to ruin a couple of reveals in other books; we saw Black Adam here repowered before the debut of the miniseries that asks whether he’ll ever get his powers back, and we also saw Kyle Rayner-post Sinestro Corps War while the core Green Lantern books were pretending that he’d never be back.)
This brings up one of the biggest problems with the series; if it’s really counting down to another book altogether, then that gives the creators a pretty big headache: How do you wrap up a 52-part series that, by design, has no conclusion? The cheap answer would, I’m sure, be to point out that it’s not that big of a deal considering that the series hasn’t really had a great deal of forward motion so far to pay-off, but I’m wondering if the slow-as-molasses plot development isn’t the result of being unsure where and how the plots are going to end, and trying not to get too involved in something that may end up going nowhere. The alternative to this, of course, is that all of Countdown’s plots are going to resolve in the series, and not really lead into Final Crisis at all, which – while making the title somewhat untrue – may be the more preferable option for the readers.
Overall? It’s been a series where there hasn’t been twenty-six issues of plot, but it’s felt like more than six months to get to where we are so far. Every week, I read the latest issue and hope against hope that it’s going to have gotten better, and every week, I get saddened by the fact that it’s still pretty Crap.