Thursday, January 17, 2008

Comic Book Review: Countdown to Final Crisis #15

If there is one thing I can always depend on in the world of comic books it is that Countdown to Final Crisis will always be a pathetic read. I’m sure that Countdown to Final Crisis will eschew such passé elements of storytelling like character development, dialogue, chemistry, plot progression and proper pacing in favor of “blowing shit up.” Let’s go ahead and take another sip from this fetid fountain that is Countdown to Final Crisis #15.

Creative Team
Writers
: Paul Dini, Tony Bedard & Keith Giffen
Art: Pete Woods, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher

Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Story Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5.5 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with Mary Marvel talking with Queen Hippolyta about the fake Athena and fake Amazons who have taken over Paradise Island. Hippolyta tasks Mary for her help bringing down the fake Athena.

We cut back to Earth-51 where Kyle and Ray are brawling with Power Ring, an evil Supergirl and an evil Booster Gold. Kyle and Ray emerge victorious.

We shift to Monarch being informed that every government on Earth-51 has fallen. That the world is his. Monarch replies that it isn’t over until they have defeated the Monitors.

We slide to the Multiversal Nexus where Superman-Prime is laying a beat down on Solomon because Solomon won’t tell Prime where Prime’s perfect Earth is located. Suddenly, Forerunner busts into the scene and is shocked that all the Monitors are gone and that Superman-Prime is on the scene.

We cut back to Gotham City on Earth-51. Batman says that Alfred and all the Robins are dead. That it is better that way. That Batman was able to discard his Bruce Wayne identity and no longer had to keep up appearances. That he is the Batman. End of story. That Batman kept the peace after all the other heroes retired.

Batman says that Jason’s DNA is a perfect match. Batman asks if Jason is a clone. Jason explains that he is from an alternate Earth. Batman replies that on Earth-51 that Joker also killed Jason Todd. That Batman responds by shooting the Joker in the head and killing him. The other heroes thought Batman had gone too far. Batman says that it wasn’t revenge. That it was war. Batman shows off his display of all the villains that he has killed. Jason looks stunned. Batman asks what did the Batman of Jason’s Earth do after Jason was killed.

Batman says that his war on the criminals was systematic and planned. That the Bat-Bunker is sealed and fortified against magic, teleporters, x-ray vision and Green Lantern rings. Batman says that they will wait out the first wave of Monarch’s attack here. Then they will pull off a covert counter-strike once Monarch feels he has won.

Jason doesn’t want to sit and wait while his friends are fighting and may be dying. Batman laughs that Jason is an unarmed tough-guy who would stand no chance against a transdimensional army of supermen. Batman tells Jason to go if he wants to. That Jason is dead anyway. Jason responds that they are both dead. That anyone could see that Batman has been dead inside for years. (Ooooh, that is gonna earn Jason a Batman sized beat down.)

We cut back to Donna brawling with the evil version of her. The evil Donna claims that good Donna lacks any identity. That she doesn’t know who she is. Is she Wonder Girl…? Troia…? Darkstar…? That Queen Belthera showed evil Donna what she could become. That she knows who she is. Evil Donna asks good Donna if good Donna knows who she is. Donna then drops evil Donna with one punch and responds “I’m Donna Troy, bitch. Donna. Troy.” (Seriously? Are we sure that a thirteen year old isn’t ghost writing this comic book?)

We shift back to Ray and Kyle noting that the Monitors don’t fight as a unit and are getting beaten. The Monitors have no discipline while Monarch’s forces are very disciplined. Ray tells Kyle that the Earth-51 Ray never became the Atom. That he was just the team scientist for the JLA. That the Earth-51 Ray had a unique genetic anomaly that made him super-immune. Our Ray doesn’t have that trait.

That the JLA then dealt with an ultimate bioweapon that was a host-organism carrying a doomsday germ called Morticoccus. That the JLA secured the host. That the Morticoccus virus had a DNA structure that mirrored Ray’s immunity trait. A little later, the Earth-51 JLA made contact with the JSA from an alternate Earth. Earth-51 Ray then figured that if the Morticoccus virus existed on Earth-51 then it might exist on all the rest of the alternate Earths. Ray decided to create a cure using his immunity gene and then dispense it to the rest of the alternate Earths.

Our Ray then continued Earth-51 Ray’s work. However, Ray got too cute. His inoculation that he created left a mark on the skin like his Atom symbol. That Ray inadvertently left a trail that Bob could follow. That Ray is why all his friends have been killed. (Great. Just pile more misery and guilt on top of Ray.)

We hop over to Bludhaven where Brother Eye continues to grow in power. Brother Eye has immobilized the Atomic Knights. Brother Eye has also captured Firestorm and is using him as a power source. Una, Karate Kid, Buddy and Buddy’s grandson are all still alive inside of Brother Eye. Karate Kid mentions that if Brother Eye has upgraded itself with some of the stolen New Gods technology that Desaad had in Bludhaven then it means that Brother Eye may have a Boom Tube generator. And if that is the case then not even Earth will be big enough for Brother Eye. End of story.

We then get a two page back-up story about the origin of Doomsday. End of issue.

Comments
The Good
: To absolutely no surprise, Countdown to Final Crisis #15 was another lame read. However, I can satisfy The Revolution’s Rule of Positivity. I really enjoyed the scene with Batman and Jason. I love Earth-51’s version of Batman. For me, this is exactly how Batman should be written. Bruce Wayne is merely a secret identity that, once all Batman’s loved ones have been killed, the Batman can easily shed and assume his true identity all of the time. This re-enforces the fact that Batman’s mask is Bruce’s own face.

Also, Batman’s response to his Jason’s death at the hands of the Joker is by far the most realistic response. It makes perfect sense for Batman to approach fighting crime like waging a war. And to go about it in a clinical, rational and planned method. For Batman to react to Jason’s death in any other fashion simply makes zero sense. It is sheer folly for these heroes to continually lock up villains when the villains invariably escape and then kill and injure more innocent people. When dealing with super-criminals, Earth-51 Batman’s approach is really the only one that makes any sense at all.

Woods, Derenick and Faucher combine to deliver more solid artwork in this issue.

The Bad: Countdown to Final Crisis continues to come across like it was written by a group of thirteen year olds who have been sniffing glue. The dialogue is downright atrocious. Honestly, the line from Donna Troy was straight from a low budge Sci Fi Channel original movie. I absolutely cringed as I read that drivel.

The character work on Countdown to Final Crisis #15 was incredibly thin. All of the characters continue to come across as flat as a pancake and with as much substance as a rice cake. Combine the lack of any dialogue that might be confused with what a professional comic book writer might create and the complete paucity of character work and you get a title that lacks any chemistry at all between the various character.

Each character comes across like a robot that is simply going through the motions. At no point during Countdown have the readers sprung to life and given the reader the feeling that they are controlling the flow and direction of the story and not the writer.

The brawl scenes in this issue were rather mindless and uninteresting. It is pretty sad when you can’t even pull of a good fight scene. Part of the problem is that the writers have used violence for the simple sake of violence. Now any fighting just gets filtered out by the reader like white noise.

The Mary Marvel scene was a total joke. This has to be one of the most forced shoehorning of one plotline into another. There is no reason at all why Hippolyta would want or even ask Mary for help. Let’s see, Mary is now a normal female with no super human abilities. Not only that, but Mary has no military background. She has no hand-to-hand combat training.

What use would a person like Mary be to a bunch of Amazons? Seriously, Mary would be nothing but a liability if the joined the Amazons in any type of conflict. It simply lacks any sense why in the world Hippolyta would even ask for Mary’s help and why Mary would even want to get involved with the nonsense going on in Paradise Island.

I continue to care less about Superman-Prime. It is odd, because I really liked the use of Superboy-Prime over on Infinite Crisis and later in the beginning of the Sinestro War. However, ever since he has turned into Superman-Prime I find him to be more and more of an annoying one trick pony. No writer has taken the effort to give Superman-Prime any depth at all.

And the introduction of Forerunner into Superman-Prime’s plotline does nothing for me either. Forerunner is an incredibly boring character. Seriously, if there is a character that should get slaughtered off in Countdown then I nominate Forerunner. Unfortunately, Dan “death count” Didio only slaughters off characters I like rather than lame ones like Forerunner.

We finally get more back-story on what Earth-51’s Ray was doing and why Ray is so important to this story. Ray’s big role in this story is that he has been spreading an inoculation against the Morticoccus virus. The Morticoccus virus is from Kamandi #9 and #10. That must have been around 1972. I wonder how many of The Revolution’s followers were even alive when that issue was published?

This revelation ties several of the plotlines neatly together. Buddy Blank’s grandson is a nod to Kamandi. Karate Kid is probably dying from the Morticoccus virus. Brother Eye is probably going to use the Morticoccus virus to kill everyone off. The Morticoccus virus is probably the Great Disaster that the Monitors keep babbling about. Ray is the key to inoculating the various worlds from the threat of the Morticoccus virus. If Ray is eliminated then the Morticoccus virus can be used to destroy the Multiverse.

I guess many people will find this revelation highly entertaining. I’m not one of them. I can’t say that this big revelation does much to get me excited at all. And it appears that DC is relying on readers who are over 40 who are going to pick up on all the obscure Kamandi references. I don’t know if that is such a wise approach.

The ending with Brother Eye possibly assuming control over a Boom Tube generator doesn’t do much for me. Maybe the writers can craft this into something that it is interesting, but at this point I can’t say that I’m hooked.

One of the biggest reasons for the various revelations in Countdown to Final Crisis #15 failed to hook me is the terrible plotting and pacing of this title. The various plotlines have wandered around with little focus or purpose. And when the plotlines are combined they are done so in a clunky and forced fashion. The pacing has been mind numbingly slow. At some point, the reader simply stops caring because the writer has wasted so much time getting to the pay-off moment.

And some plotlines have been completely ignored. What happened to the Piper and Trickster plotline? What the hell was even the purpose of that plotline? Jimmy Olsen’s plotline has gotten almost no treatment as of late. The Amazon plotline has been stuck in neutral for quite some time. I just don’t understand how the same company that gave us such a wonderfully plotted and paced title in 52 has managed to follow it up with an absolute horrendously plotted and paced title in Countdown.

Overall: Countdown to Final Crisis #15 is a fine example of too little, too late. The writers are now quickly running out of time as we only have fourteen issues left on this title. So now plotlines that have laid dormant are suddenly smashed into other plotlines as the writers scramble to give us some plot development in order to create a dramatic finale for the much hyped Final Crisis.

Since Morrison has made it clear that his Final Crisis won’t be dependent on Countdown to Final Crisis, I see no reason to recommend that anyone waste their time and money getting Countdown to Final Crisis. Go buy an issue of Captain America instead.

11 comments:

Rokk Krinn said...

An anonymous poster posted a comment that failed to meet The Revolution’s standard to get published. Basically, the standard that is you can’t write a post like you are inbred and still in pre-school. The post has to make a comment that is well articulated, educated and formulates a cogent point and backs it up with plenty of support. The statement failed to even come close to that standard. It was more one of those that follow the format of how they love the issue and that if you disagree you are an idiot and then they toss on a few more ad hominem attacks to round off the already completely unintelligent post. But, at least the post made me laugh hilariously since I got called a Marvel Zombie. Yeah, the blog with all the Legion stuff posted all over it.

However, the post did make me wonder if I am being too harsh on this issue of Countdown due to the fact that it has been such a wretched read up to this point. That basically, since this entire title has been such a disappointment that no matter what ending we get that I probably won’t be satisfied with it.

IslandLiberal said...

Nice cover design for this issue.

I understand that Juggernaut has filed suit against Donna for the theft of his catchphrase.

Marvel Zombie DiDio said...

Another brilliant issue, if I do say so myself!

Some comments

1. I actually really dislike the Batman of Earth-51, as he shows what could potentially be an interesting twist (killer, survivalist Batman), but takes it a bit too far for my taste (unless he didn't actually kill all the villains, it's a bit unclear). After all, 'our' Batman DID try to kill Joker after jason's death

2. Mary joining up with Hipployta is okay I guess. I still don't see why Mary's "turn to evil" was necessary at all, though, and actually liked her innocent/naive character as a foil for the gritty/darker DC universe

3. Still hate Monarch. Still hate Forerunner. Still hate Emoboy Prime. Still hate the Monitors. Still not impressed by the huge war for the multiverse.

4. The Donna Troy line didn't work for me, at all.

Rokk Krinn said...

LOL! Yeah, Juggy did get his catchphrase ripped off.

Marvel Zombie Didio, good point about Batman. It was a bit unclear if he actually did kill the villains or not. I seemed to get the impression that he decided to dish out the same styled justice that he delivered to Joker.

I agree with you about Mary. Her personality was a great contrast for the current dark and bloody DCU. I'm still not too sure why we had to suffer through that entire evil Mary plotline. I don't see where it accomplished anything.

I'm glad I'm not the only one who hates Monarch, Forerunner, Emoboy Prime and the Monitors! And that I'm not the only one who is unimpressed by this Multiversal war. I was beginning to think I was alone with my feelings. It is nice to see someone else is feeling the same way, too!

The Matrix Has You said...

I must reiterate I am a huge Marvel Family fan and was looking forward to seeing what Countdown did to Mary in the process.

Now I proceed.

There has been zero substance in that plot line. ZERO. There wasn't really a reason to give her Black Adam's powers, there wasn't a reason for her to be "conflicted" with a power that isn't inherently evil, and there isn't a reason she should be dealing with inner turmoil.

Several people on several occasions have written Black Adam in the form of "he's morally ambiguous but that really means his sense of justice has a twist rather than him being evil."

While I want to see how this all turns out, I would have ceased collecting this title weeks ago because of the lack of content. I don't get Countdown in my area, so I've really been saved a hassle of spending money on something that doesn't deserve it.

Rokk Krinn said...

Matrix: You make several good points and I agree with what you say. You actually said it better than I could have.

Cierdwyn2 said...

I have long suspected that Countdown started with a general proposal. Something that consisted of "In 52, we made people like and care for these characters that no one really felt much for before. Let's see if we can breath some life into some others, while we get to a known eventual distant point(Final Crisis)".

There were a number of things I found questionable about 52. Making people love and care for Ralph Dibney and The Question again, only to yank them away. At the time, DC hinted(or, in some cases, outright told us) that those characters were not necessarily done. In the case of the Question, it was heavily intimated that the now legendary runs of the Question up to 52 would see that history incorporated into one of the Multiverse earth's, and he would continue there. We were outright told that just because Ralph and Sue were dead didn't mean their story was over, and we would hear and see more on them soon.

Now, months later, it feels like a way to quiet the masses and string us along. Bait and Switch.

But at the time Countdown came about, we didn't know that. We were waiting to see where they would go, what they would do, how they would draw us in and make characters that many of us old timers remember at least somewhat fondly, meaningful again.

I WANTED to see what would happen when Eclipso set out to corrupt Mary Marvel. I wanted to see the old school 'Jimmy Olsen has some of the most peculiar luck in the multiverse' stories again. I wanted to see the challengers showing us the landscape of the new DC Order(just saying Multiverse here is too simple. There are too many possibilities besides just more worlds).

I suspect, in his heart of hearts, Dini's original proposal promised some of that. DC was certainly in a good place to deliver on a lot of things.

I don't blame Didio for this. Rather, I don't JUST blame Didio for this. At some point or another, it seems like every person even vaguely involved in DC creative has had a hand(or, for lack of space, possibly just a thumb) involved in this.

52 was groundbreaking. Yes, weekly comics had been done before, but not a weekly comic on the scale 52 was, and by such a well-accomplished brain trust. Part of what made 52 work wasn't just the handful of people who kept that comic monolith stemarolling along. It was the fact that it was JUST that handful of people keeping that comic monolith stemarolling along. They were the first to admit that there were problems with doing a weekly comic, and they tried hard to address those. They admitted that from the time they envisioned and proposed 52, to it's completion, the stories therein took sometimes massive changes, sometimes by neccessity, soemtimes by seeing what we all thought, and sometimes just ecause the new ideas seemed cooler. They readily admitted that this sometimes worked, and sometimes blew up in their faces.

The problem with success on 52's scale in anything creative is always the same. Everybody wants to duplicate the process and they want to share the love that success brought the original. I think this is the ultimate problem with Countdown.

Countdown was originally presented as Paul Dini writing, plotting and playing taskmaster to a handful of the best and brightest DC had outside that original thinktank crew of 52. The writers and artists would be paired up into teams and would be given issues, as plotted by Dini, that would allow them to do what they do best. That is, while the story would follow the overall plot, the specific issue would allow them to focus their specific talents to the task. Let this one handle the subtle social interactions, let this one handle the intense fights, etc.

The way they were pitching it made me think of what Marvel has done with Messiah Complex. each team had a plot that was their specialty, and wile we would see a little of all the stories each issue, that teams specialty would get the big love that week.

Honestly, that would have been cool. Let the fertile minds of Grey and Palmiotti show s the wonders of the Multiverse. Let Paul Dini show us what it's like to be a Rogue on the run. Let shawn McKeever show us the downfall and hopeful redemption of Mary Marvel, Etc.

I think it could have worked. I wish it would have worked.

Another part of why 52 worked is because no one was allowed to do anything with the period of time 52 covered. It belonged to the Brain Trust. They decided, and then told the other creators what they were allowed to say, when and how they could incorporate it into their storylines. Countdown appears to largely be the opposite of that. In an effort to outdo 52, COuntdown was set to show not only that everything was connected, it was set to show HOW and WHEN. But that also meant that every creator doing anything currently in the DCU HAD to have a hand in what was going on. It also meant that countdown had to react to what those creators were doing. To make soemthing seem important, in the DCU, you had to show how the ripples spread out. Countdown is(or was, I think they've given up on it, though I also don't think they ever tried very hard) the tide pool to watch those ripples.

Which means, of course, not only do you have to tell your story, that you've plotted out over 52 weeks, now you have to show everybody else's story.

I often imagine a meeting for the Countdown staff, at least early on, went something along the lines of Dini calling his groups together to go over, let's say, a month. He lays out the month's worth of plot, breaks it down into the 4 weeks and turns to his teams. Before he can go any further, an editor shows up to say that Because of the Amazon War parts of the country are inaccessible and it should be made to seem siginifigant. A little replotting to include something that wasn't even going to be there and the teams start to split up the work when another editor turns up to say they've just killed Bart Allen and since everyone will be at the funeral, it should probably be in countdown, instead of just mentioned and then actually put in Titans or Flash. Some more reworking, throwing out bits for space,e tc, and the teams turn to the board aain when a third editor shows up...

You can see where this goes. I know that a couple of these Countdown spinoff books are stories that were excised whole from COuntdown itself to free up more room. I also rememebr hearing at one point that while Forerunner was meant to be introduced from the get go, the entire Monarch storyline came up after Countdown had gotten rolling along and was put in Countdown because of what Countdown WAS.

I suppose my point to all this is...I can't help but be sad when I think of what could have been. If they had just left Dini and his people alone to do thier thing and be mad geniuses off to the side.

It may have still sucked. there may be things that look badly grafted on that weren't and WERE part of the plan. I don't know, but a lot of these creators in this thing are so much better than this. There has to be some excuse for the travesty this has become, and while I think there is blame to be laid at Didio's feet, I can't believe it all goes there. I can only imagine at this point that whole crew look dazed and shellshocked and are just tryong to get down and scurry ut of the line of fire before someone else decides they either have another brilliant idea, or they want to start tossing blame around.

Rokk Krinn said...

Cierdwyn2: Awesome post. Well said. Very well said. I agree with pretty much everything you say.

seth said...

I liked your critique, but that thing you did where you kept starting sentences with "That" over, and over, was pretty grating.

Rokk Krinn said...

That is annoying. That is something I'll have to keep a watch for. That is defiantely an area that I can improve upon.

No seriously, in the Commentary section, which is the bulk of the review, only one sentance began with "That."

What you are talking about usually occurs in my Synopsis section of the review. I try to crank out a detailed enough synopsis of the story as quick as possible. For some reason that lends me to starting a lot of sentances with "That" as I try to describe what happened in the issue.

But, hey, at least you liked my critique!

Alicia said...

I think another thing that was awesome about 52 that DC editorial missed in Countdown: 52 was awesome because it was a closed arc. You could just read 52 for one year and feel like you got several complete stories that stood, for the most part, on their own. In Countdown, nothing stood on its own. Early issues felt like they were hawking other books in the DC line, and the issues in the middle felt like padding. Even worse was when basically any book could be labeled a Countdown tie-in for any reason-- seriously, Captain Carrot and the Final Ark?