Countdown Breakdown: #51A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: John Hays
Hi there, folks! Yes, I know, you’re used to seeing my weekly review of 52 here, but I am going to be attempting something much more ambitious for the Countdown run. I will devote little to no time arguing the merits of a particular issue’s writing and art, but instead will delve into the characters, environments, and themes of each issue to hopefully provide a unique perspective that you won’t find anywhere else! Think of me as SBC’s own Jimmy Olsen, man on the street! So without further ado, let’s get started!
Wow, lots of directions to go in with just the first page or two. We are presented with two primary members of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World New Gods: Desaad and Darkseid. Classically, Darkseid’s greatest quests were to overthrow New Genesis, Apokolips’s sister planet, and to master the Anti-Life Equation. However, the Anti-Life Equation apparently WAS mastered in the Orion series (Orion being Darkseid’s son who was raised on New Genesis and for a brief period overthrew Darkseid). If stories of the Anti-Life Equation, New Gods, and other DC heroes entice you, check out DC’s Cosmic Odyssey. It was a great story involving the sentient Anti-Life Equation actually visiting multiple planets, including Earth, and setting massive explosives meant to destroy each world. Many of DC’s most popular heroes had to team up with New Gods to stop the explosives. This story also provided a critical moment in the life of Green Lantern John Stewart, but you’ll have to read it to know just how he was affected!
However, I digress. This scene opens with Desaad speaking about the worth of one life. It plays to the butterfly effect, popularly explained in Jurassic Park, whereby literally a butterfly flaps its wings and there ends up being a massive storm on the other side of the world because of the accumulated wind. Another good example is my favorite film, It’s A Wonderful Life. In it, Jimmy Stewart lives what he considers a rather drab life, and at one point runs into a bit of hard luck and wishes he’d never been born, thinking the world would have been a better place without him in it. An angel temporarily grants his wish, and he is allowed to see just how horrible the town would have turned out, proving that his worth as an individual is greater than any sum of money. I believe that Countdown starts with this simple phrase for a reason. It will most likely be the linchpin in the entire series, the idea of how each individual in the series ends up greatly affecting the entire DC Multiverse (Yeah, it’s a multiverse now, where have you been?).
The scene then turns to Darkseid looking at what appears to be a set of small figurines shaped like various DC characters. Darkseid being a god and looking at small figurines of mortals harkens back to Zeus in the film Clash of the Titans. Zeus would move his little figurines, and the mortals would actually end up in the corresponding location. It was a very convenient way of traveling! Moreover, it showed Zeus as the master architect of man, just as Darkseid sees himself here. Of course, I could be reading too much into it, and it could just be a clever advertisement for DC Heroclix!
The next scene opens with Duela Dent, the Joker’s Daughter confronting Jason Todd. Duela is an interesting character. While I haven’t had much personal reading experience with her, I do know that she has some serious identity issues. She’s claimed to be the daughter of every villain from the Joker to Doomsday. In pre-Crisis times she was generally accepted as the daughter of Two-Face, Harvey Dent. However, even this was in question toward the end. Post-Crisis, her identity always remained a complete mystery. In fact, the only thing that was a constant was her desire to be part of a group, generally the Teen Titans, but she would join any group that would have her. This was made readily apparent recently when she was part of a villainous Titans East group, but quickly changed sides when the real Teen Titans accepted her.
The reason this is interesting is that, in this issue, Duela makes a statement regarding making a bid for individuality. This is an unusual statement for Duela to make. She then goes on to say she’s from another Earth, which might explain the strange behavior. Of course, this raises the greater question of which Earth she is from and how she got to New Earth, if this IS New Earth. I have a feeling that we’re going to start needing Earth labels as this series continues! Now Duela apparently dies here, but don’t fret too much. In one of her recent appearances in Teen Titans/Outsiders Secret Files #2 Duela states that she has been resuscitated by the Lazarus Pit, so that could always be a possibility once again. Plus, if she IS from another Earth, the New Earth Duela could still be hanging around somewhere. See? The multiverse is fun already! If your favorite character dies, simply grab their counterpart from another Earth!
As mentioned above, Jason Todd is also in this scene. Where to start with THIS guy? Who DOESN’T remember the classic interactive Batman storyline where readers were asked to phone in on whether or not the Jason Todd Robin would survive? In a time where killing characters was the norm (see the "Dark Phoenix" saga), the fans heartily agreed that Jason should be offed. In a recent bit of ingenuity, Jason Todd’s resurrection was teased with the "Hush" storyline in Batman, written by Jeph Loeb. Heck, I fell for it early on (check Hush standing next to a flashing neon sign that said Robin in either part 1 or part 2 of the storyline), and was really excited by the prospect.
It ended up seemingly being a swerve caused by Clayface and Batman’s old friend Tommy as the actual Hush, but DC later decided to actually bring Jason back for real, this time with a new nom de plume, the Red Hood. This identity had significant history in the Batman mythos, having been used by a series of gangsters years before, eventually being adopted by an unwitting man who was basically used as the fall guy for the same group of thugs. This man would fall into a vat of chemicals and come back out as…the Joker. At least, that’s ONE origin given in one of the best Batman stories ever, The Killing Joke (a story which incidentally explains the reason behind Barbara Gordon’s unfortunate transformation from Batgirl into Oracle).
Now, many fans bemoaned the return of Jason Todd as a betrayal of their having killed him off years before. However, this can’t be further from the truth. In this new incarnation, Jason was much the villain, bearing a sense of deep betrayal for Batman, not because he didn’t save Jason (who, by the way, apparently came back to life through a Superboy Prime punch to reality…don’t ask), but because Batman didn’t take the opportunity to finally kill the Joker (the man responsible for Jason’s death). Jason felt that it was an insult to his memory. Now, the reason I see this as brilliant is because I find someone who has such intimate history with Batman, knows so much about him, and whose very PRESENCE is a constant reminder of Batman’s greatest failure as a TERRIFIC addition to Batman’s rogues gallery. Hell, even as an anti-hero, which is how Jason has been portrayed lately, donning not only the Red Hood guise but also the Nightwing identity (much to Dick Grayson’s chagrin), he’s STILL a great counterpoint to Batman because he has no compunction against using murder as a means to get the job done.
What’s fascinating in the exchange between Duela and Jason is that she calls him Little Red Robin Hood. Now, in the teaser image for Countdown, you might notice a certain character from Kingdom Come in the background. That’s right, Red Robin. Wait, though…that name was given to the character YEARS before Jason came back as Red Hood! Quite clever, isn’t it? We might be seeing yet another identity change for Jason before the series is over! I mean, the “kill if it helps the cause” Jason is now showing concern for the life of an innocent girl here. That’s already some progress.
Mary Marvel’s up next. To be honest, I’ve never been drawn to this character. From what I’ve read, she’s always seemed like a shadow of Captain Marvel, as has Captain Marvel Jr. However, Freddie Freeman has been revitalized in his current mini The Trials of Shazam, so I have high hopes for Mary in Countdown. Did you know that Mary Marvel actually predates Supergirl by more than a decade? So although Captain Marvel ended up having to bow to Superman in the comics war, Mary had no such difficulties. Also, her god-given powers were originally quite telling of the culture she was created in, particularly "S" for "Selena" for grace and "A" for "Aurora" for beauty. Post-Crisis retconning gave Mary the same powers as Captain Marvel. However, she is now without her powers completely. After all, in the Day of Vengeance mini-series magic was stripped and rearranged by the Spectre (who, at the time was being seduced by a female Eclipso, a character that looks to feature heavily in Mary’s Countdown storylne). I don’t expect her to regain her powers right away since Freddie is spending his time earning the powers from the various gods. I should add that the one storyline I DID manage to pick up was the Formerly Known as the Justice League mini-series, where Mary became a member of the Super Buddies. What can I say? I’m a JLI junkie!
Our next guests are a few of Flash’s classic rogues: Heatwave, Trickster, and Pied Piper. These guys have gone through a LOT in the past few years. At one time, Heatwave was part of a group of rogues who were caught in a deal with Neron and were soulless for a time. The most recent information I have on these guys is that The Top conditioned them all to be good guys, but that was undone in Geoff Johns’ last Flash storyline, so they’re all more or less villainous once more (yes, I say this even though Piper seemed to retain his good nature at the end of that storyline; apparently, he’s recently been associated with the other rogues once again).
The final scenes involve Monitors and the Source Wall. Monitors are quite interesting and, most likely, quite central to Countdown. Originally, there was only the Monitor and the Anti-Monitor. The Monitor seemed to be a power broker, offering weapons to both heroes and villains in pre-Crisis times, but with the advent of the Crisis, his purpose became much greater. He helped the heroes and villains defeat the Anti-Monitor, causing the multiverse to collapse into one single universe. Now that the Infinite Crisis has caused a new multiverse to be created, there are apparently multiple Monitors. The question is: if there are multiple Monitors, can multiple Anti-Monitors be far behind?
The Source Wall is an ideal ending to this issue, because it brings us back to Jack Kirby’s Fourth World (although technically it was created by Walt Simonson and Chris Claremont after Kirby simply referenced a “final barrier” between the universe and The Source). The wall is quite literally a wall between the universe and The Source, a cosmic essence that is the source of all that is. It’s a great place to go for answers to tough questions. It’s also quite dangerous because you can become trapped in the wall seemingly for all time if you’re not careful. Superman actually once encased Darkseid in it, but he had to get him back out due to a deal brokered by an alternate version of Darkseid (hey, it was Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman run…great reading but wasn’t big on making a lot of sense).
Well, that about does it for this week’s installment of Countdown Breakdown. Hopefully, you learned a thing or two, were entertained, and are looking forward to next week’s edition! Funny thing, I look forward to it, too! No telling where we’ll go! See ya then!