Friday, April 01, 2005

Countdown to what now?

Since we were at Meltdown last night, I finally got my mitts on a copy of DC's Countdown to Infinite Crisis. Snerk. "Infinite Crisis."

Anyway, Asa posted an intriguing theory that Countdown and its various miniseries are all leading up to a second Crisis that will once again hit the reset button on DC continuity. That, I think, would explain the tone that Identity Crisis and Countdown have set up, a tone that it seems to me would drive away readers who pick DC over Marvel. I'll elaborate a bit, as I review the book.

Countdown focuses on Ted Kord, aka The Blue Beetle, a down-on-his-luck former JLAer who discovers a massive conspiracy within the DC Universe, an organization that has a database of all the superheroes, their secret identities, and their weaknesses. The book goes out of its way to establish how downtrodden Beetle and his best friend Booster Gold have become since their golden days in the JLA (during its comedy years under Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis). Blue Beetle has to undertake his investigation alone since none of the other major superheroes take him seriously. This rang true enough for me, since I have no earthly idea what the Beetles has been up to since his JLA run in the 80's. Superman and Wonder Woman both take Beetle's warnings seriously, but have their own stuff going on and leave him to investigate further on his own, rather than blowing him off, as some people perceive it. The only one who seems out of character is Martian Manhunter, who's downright snotty to Beetle for no apparent reason.

The writing and the artwork are patchy. The art is broken down by chapters, with five artists total, but of those five only Phil Jiminez really rings my bell. None of it is downright bad, but nothing leaps off the page. Even Jiminez doesn't seem to matching his normal standards, but the coloring throughout the book is so murky that it's tough to tell whose fault it is. This is a dimly-lit book, especially considering it features a man in bright blue tights. I know it's supposed to be ominous, but there's a fine line between "ominous" and "muddy." The writing's a bit off, too. The narration often wanders into overblown territory, as Beetle notes that Starfire looks like she's "sculpted out of glowing gold," and his constant fawning over the JLA's big guns gets tedious more or less immediately. The obvious plugs for the related miniseries don't really gel that well, most obviously the ones for "Day of Vengeance" and "Villains United." Beetle winds up talking to the wizard Shazam pretty much out of the blue and for no real reason, and the villains' few pages are basically a "Meanwhile..." in the middle of a story that has nothing to do with them.

Overall, though, the plotting is solid, and the conspiracy idea is a good one. The book does a nice job of showing how down Beetle is, and then manages to build him back up again. The final reveal of the mastermind behind it all is an interesting choice, and certainly one people won't be anticipating. Overall, the comic does just fine as serving as an introduction to what'll be happening in the DC Universe in the next few months. It's perfectly serviceable.

There's another aspect of the story I want to discuss, and that's for what audience are the creators making this book. Countdown requires a working knowledge of the DCU as a whole, and certainly the events of Identity Crisis in particular. Also recommended is a knowledge of the Giffen/DeMatteis run on JLA back in the 80's. While I know who Beetle and Booster Gold are, that's about where my knowledge ends, and the page where the two of them disucss some robot that Booster knew completely lost me. The final pages also require knowledge of the 80's JLA's supporting cast. But at the same time, I can't see how people who know all of that and have been reading that long would enjoy this comic. If you enjoyed the happy-go-lucky days of the JLA in the 80's, what pleasure could you derive from all of it being torn down? Don't get me wrong, I think that kind of stuff is cool, but that's why I mostly read Marvel books. This book seems aimed at people who know enough about the DCU to appreciate the reveal and the focus on second-stringers, but that have no emotional attachment to those ideas or those characters. (Like me, I guess.) That seems like a pretty niche market in an industry that's a niche market unto itself. Are they courting Marvel readers? "Hey guys, it's cool now. We're tottaly taking down the icons!" But again, wouldn't they need to know a lot about DC to appreciate it? On the other hand, Identity Crisis sold like mad, so maybe I'm underestimating the audience for this sort of thing.

I'm completely in favor of a big, universe-wide storyline IF DC is ending everything and hitting the reset button again. That's the kind of big, climactic storytelling that I can really get behind. But again, I can't imagine this book really appealing to hardcore DC fans. Mostly this comic seems like an invitation for those of us who hadn't been paying attention to come over and watch the creators torch the place.


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