Wednesday, April 06, 2005

SPOILER Review: Countdown to Infinite Crisis

Ted Kord, aka Blue Beetle, gets a bullet between the eyes. For real. Worse yet, the trigger was pulled by an old – well, I wouldn’t call him a friend, but he certainly wasn’t waving a gun in Ted’s face anytime recently.

Now that it is there, out in the open, we can dispense with coy maneuvers and spoiler tags and get on with the heady business of reviewing the starter-pistol blast of what promises to be the biggest DC event in years, perhaps the biggest since the first Crisis 20 years ago. COUNTDOWN TO INFINTE CRISIS #1 is an 80 page giant, sold for a buck (though the second printing is going for $2) and designed specifically to hook you and drag you along for the next six months until INFINTE CRISIS finally unfolds. This review is concerned with not only the overall quality of the book, but how well it achieves that particular goal.

The book was written by DC’s current crop of elite writers – Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Judd Winnick. Interestingly, while the artists on the book (there’s a ton of them including Rags Morales, Jim Palmiotti and Phil Jiminez) are given credit for the segments of the story they worked on, the writers are not. We’re to believe, then, that the whole book was written as a collaborative effort between these three superstars. I, for one, totally buy it. There is not a point in the book where the pacing, dialogue or characterization changes in such a way that you can say, “Aha! That’s where Winnick started writing!” Amazingly enough, even the art styles remain largely consistent. Those familiar with the various artists’ styles will no doubt see it easily, but the casual fan will more likely be so engrossed by the story that they wouldn’t even notice. This is a feature, by the way, not a bug. It makes the book look and feel like it was produced by a single team and that, in my mind, gives the book more weight than if it was essentially an anthology title.

The story of COUNTDOWN follows Blue Beetle, best known (both by readers and the other heroes of the DC Universe) as half of the half-witted duo Blue and (Booster) Gold – does this make him a quarter wit? – as he slowly begins to uncover a nefarious plot to ‘protect’ normal humans from meta-humans. As he investigates, he finds that even Batman is wrapped up in what is going on, and the closer he gets to the truth, the more dangerous things become. Not surprisingly, Beetle is joined by Booster Gold for a portion of the adventure. What is surprising is that Booster Gold ends up injured and in a hospital bed – hit by a lightning bolt meant for Beetle – and is too weak to help his old friend out. Life in the JLI was never like this (unless you count that time Doomsday nearly killed them both before taking out Superman himself). At every turn, Beetle is stymied not by the architects of this scheme, but also by other heroes. Beetle has been a joke so long, the book suggests, that even stand up guys like Batman, Superman, and Martian Manhunter can’t be bothered to hear him out or lend a hand. To be fair, the writers did a good job of interjecting other, more immediate crises for the Big Guns that make Beetle’s problem look small. Even those that want to help like Wonder Woman and Oracle have (or believe they have) bigger fish to fry. The only characterization that seems of is Martian Manhunter’s. While he has always been portrayed as having little to no patience for Beetle’s shenanigans, he has also been more recently portrayed as one of the most stalwart members of the JLA. Of course, we don’t know the whole story yet and the writers may well give us a solid justification for this apparent shift in character.

While the story of Blue Beetle getting deeper and deeper in – and simultaneously finding himself more and more marginalized by his fellow heroes – is an interesting one, the real meat of COUNTDOWN is the little teases for four upcoming mini-series that serve to bring us ever closer to INFINITE CRISIS itself. After Booster gets hit by the lightning bolt, Beetle goes looking for Captain Marvel. He finds instead the enigmatic wizard Shazam, one of the big guns of the DCU’s mystical powers, who only says that the Big Red Cheese is busy with a crisis of his own and then sends Beetle packing. After Beetle’s visit with Batman, we discover that the Dark Knight is well aware of what happened to him in the pages of Identity Crisis, and none to happy about it. The aforementioned exchange between Manhunter and Beetle ends abruptly with a message from space adventurer and protector of the planet Rann Adam Strange, revealing that Thanagar – hoemworld of the Hawkman and Hawkgirl characters – has attacked. And finally, we see Lex Luthor’s new “society” of super-villains, many of whom were key players in IDENTITY CRISIS, preparing for what looks like war. An enraged Doctor Light appears in this scene, demanding vengeance for suffering a mind-wipe at the hands of the JLA, and Luthor promises that they are “building it.”

Ultimately, Blue Beetle is successful in his search for answers as he discovers that the government agency known as Checkmate – now headed by Maxwell lord of Beetle’s JLI days – has files on seemingly every costumed hero in the DCU. Lord confronts Beetle and asks him, as a fellow human among superhumans, to join him. Beetle, stalwart like he has never been shown before, refuses. That’s when Max Lord puts of bullet through Beetle’s head. There is no ambiguity, no chance of some sort of trick on Beetle’s part. He is dead, dead, dead.

There is some hope yet for Blue Beetle fans, though. During Beetle’s meeting with Shazam, the blue scarab, which powered the original Blue Beetle, seemed to ‘power up’ and come to life before disappearing. Will this herald a new Blue Beetle with mystical powers as the original possessed? Or will Ted Kord be resurrected by its power? Time will tell.

As a self-contained story, COUNTDOWN TO INFINITE CRISIS is a good read, well paced and beautifully drawn. It’s core plot, that of a marginalized hero working to prove he is not a joke – as much to himself as to his peers – is a classic feeling, tragic story. Some of the characterization of the other heroes seems off though, much as it did in some parts of IDENTITY CRISIS, which may detract from some readers’ enjoyment of the story. As a follow up to Identity Crisis and a lead in to INFINITE CRISIS, it does an admirable job of teasing and exploring the new, more dangerous DCU.

Overall Grade: 8 out of 10

Next up: A look at the previews for the OMAC PROJECT and DAY OF VENGEANCE min-series.


Blogger planetzeist said...

as a non-DC reader, arent't the bigger questions:

do i care?
should i care?
did the Countdown issue suck me in?
was it self-contained?


i'll quote from one of my fave comic folks, Mr. Evan Dorkin

"BTW, I hear DC Comics killed off the Blue Bettle character to kick off another continuity clusterfuck big event series. Yawn. What a bunch of yayhoos. Tail-swallowing, self-congratulating yayhoos. They really seem to get off on this nonsense, that's the creepy part. The depressing part is they go all-out with this fan-fic flummery at the expense of the entire line and none of this hoo-ha brings in new readers, it just squeezes extra dollars from the shrinking fan-pool."

personally, i though the story was "enh", i was a bit lost and i'll give IC a try, but am not sure i'll read the whole thing.

however, at this point, it does not suck as much as Morrison's 7 Soldiers.


9:29 AM  
Blogger Lex said...

"Of course, we don’t know the whole story yet and the writers may well give us a solid justification for this apparent shift in character."

There is no solid justification for J'onn's out of character actions. It was bad writing, plain and simple.

Just like how every other hero besides Booster treated Beetle. Bad writing.

1:16 PM  

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