Monday, July 29, 2013

Counting Down From The Second String, Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One Is A Lackluster Start!

The Good: Moments of character, Artwork
The Bad: Largely secondary characters who do not captivate one’s full attention, Huge gaps in the storytelling.
The Basics: With Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One, the DC Universe begins its transition from 52 to Final Crisis in a pretty blasé way.

When it comes to the major DC Comics crossover events, I often find myself at odds with popular opinion. I find myself in the awkward position of actually reading the book in front of me, as opposed to reacting to the hype of a crossover event. The difference, sadly, is all the difference, especially when it comes to the major crossovers. The transition events, however, are not immune to the problems of presenting incomplete stories to the reader. This comes up for me at the outset of Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One because there are exceptional gaps in the story. Had I not previously read Amazons Attack! (reviewed here!) as part of my Wonder Woman Year and The Flash: Fastest Man Alive – Full Throttle (reviewed here!) as part of my Flash Year, I would have been completely lost. I am sure there are Catwoman, The Atom, and Shazam stories that filled in other gaps in this story.

The point is that Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One is not a single, complete story. In fact, Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One is not a single, cohesive narrative but more than that, the story elements that are included in this book are lacking in background information and key parts of the story, some of which are not alluded to in a strong enough way to truly resonate with the reader.

Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One follows up on 52(Volume 4 is reviewed here!) and takes the first steps into leading to Final Crisis (reviewed here!) . Fundamentally, one of the problems with Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One is that (having read Final Crisis) only two of these plotlines – a series of vaguely-related scenes that focus on Darkseid and another focusing on the Monitors – are actually directly related to the oncoming crisis. Final Crisis might be a universe-encompassing event, but it focuses on the big three and their role in the event.

Obviously, Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One does not get to even the heart of the oncoming crisis, though it does have a smattering of scenes that illustrate that Darkseid is building a massive army that he might use to attack Earth (and possibly Earths across the multiverse).

Like 52, Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One begins to tell a story that focuses on the supporting heroes in the DC Universe. Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One has multiple threads, none of which are fully developed. Some, like the inclusion of the members of the 31rst Century Legion Of The Super Heroes , are woefully under-developed and when they pop to the forefront of the story, they are at a completely different place (often with additional characters) than they were when they were last seen.

The meat of Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One is in three main plotlines. Marty Marvel awakens from her coma. Shocked and bereft of her powers, Mary does the exact opposite of what a fortune teller advises and she makes a journey to Gotham City. There, in the ruins of an old building, she is met by Black Adam. After many threats of death, Black Adam slowly comes to believe that Mary arrived there by random chance and she is truly devoid of all her super powers. Black Adam transfers his powers to Mary, creating a darker, more edgy version of Mary Marvel. She spends the rest of the book trying to figure out her place and the extent of her powers.

The Mary Marvel in Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One is unlike Mary Marvel in any other book I have read that features her, even as a peripheral character. Instead of being naïve and inexperienced – even in her powerless mundane form – Mary is worldweary and just a young woman who is lost. In her new super-power form, she wears a shorter, flared out, black version of her usual garb and it is designed to look anything but innocent. In fact, it wavers at the bottom in a way that is entirely intended to titillate the readers. This is a leggy Marvel Woman (she’s no girl!) who is busty and butt-kicking.

As Mary tries to figure out who she is now, so too does Jimmy Olsen. Olsen is investigating the death of Deula Dent, the Joker’s daughter. In the process, he is attacked in Arkham Asylum, but comes to no harm because he exhibits all the properties of Elastic Man. Confused, Olden brushes it off as a dream or fatigue until he experiences two more instances where he manifests super powers. Taking his cue from Superman, Jimmy Olsen creates the super hero Mr. Action and begins cleaning up the streets of Metropolis.

A far more compelling a-plot in Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One has the Pied Piper and The Trickster running for their lives. Having been a part of the posse that killed the Flash, both men – who has previously gone legitimate – flee from the superhero community in hopes of finding a place where no one would look for them. Taking refuge with the Penguin, they find themselves in more peril than even they initially predicted!

Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One also includes a plotline with the Amazons, which overlaps with their attack on Washington, D.C. There is a storyline that focuses on Donna Troy and Jason Todd as they begin a search for Ray Palmer (the Atom) in an attempt to get an ace-in-the-hole for the upcoming crisis. As one might predict given how many plotlines there are in the limited space of the first book, this does not create a wealth of opportunity for the characters to truly develop and change. Jimmy Olsen and Mary Marvel spent the most time pontificating on character and how they are changing, but the rest of the book is exceptionally plot-focused.

For all its problems on the story front, Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One has consistently good artwork. The characters look good and – outside the fact that several are b or c string characters seen in these pages out of costume/make-up – are generally recognizable. Some of the new characters, like Forerunner, look good and continue the quality level for modern character designs.

Ultimately, Countdown To Final Crisis – Volume One is a beginning and were it not for my already being invested in the direction of this massive crossover, there would not be enough in the book to recommend it.

For other major DC Universe crossover events, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Crisis On Infinite Earths
Idenity Crisis
The OMAC Project
Infinite Crisis
Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Brightest Day, Volume 1


For other book reviews, check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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