New Comics: Countdown… to Extinction?

DC’s new motto: “We’ve got anime girls punching Robin clones!”

This is a review of DC’s “Countdown #46”. It features Mary Marvel, Jimmy Olsen, a bunch of bad guys with no fashion sense, multiple characters who used to be dead, an alien pornographer, and a demon with dead babies stuck all over him.

But to get this to make even a little sense, we must first discuss the backstory.

Once upon a time, there was the “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” back in 1985, where DC got rid of all their hundreds of alternate universes and trimmed them down to just one. This was fine for a while, until DC realized that alternate universes were actually fun. This led to last year’s “Infinite Crisis” in which some of the good guys from the 1985 series came back as bad guys to try to recreate some of the “multiverse.” They failed, so there was still just one universe. This led immediately to “52,” a weekly comic book that recreated the multiverse. In connection with “52,” an old Captain Marvel villain-turned-hero named Black Adam let his sense of vengeance get out of hand and took on every superhero on Earth. In order to stop Black Adam, who had powers very similar to Captain Marvel’s, they had to change his transforming magic word from “Shazam” to… something else which is being kept secret so he can never change back again.

Anyway, all this led to “Countdown,” another weekly comic like “52” except that the issue numbers are counting backwards, from #51 to #0. So far in this series, we’ve followed Mary Marvel, who has lost her powers and is unable to get them back; Jason Todd, who was the second Robin before he got killed and only recently came back to life under unknown circumstances; Jimmy Olsen, who is following some ill-defined story and has suddenly started getting random superpowers; the Trickster and the Piper, two outcast members of the Flash’s “Rogues Gallery;” and the Monitors, a bunch of gaudily-dressed reality cops who have decided to kill off everyone who “doesn’t belong” in the DC universe. Recently, Mary Marvel has run into Black Adam, who has somehow managed to get his powers back again, and then he gave all his powers to Mary, which means she now has a black costume like Black Adam’s. Why? Apparently, Black Adam wanted to make comic book geeks turn red and breathe funny. “Countdown” has really not been a very good series, so far.

ANYWAY: In this issue, Jimmy Olsen meets up with Sleez, a creepy little freak from the alien world of Apokolips who specializes in mind-controlling people and filming them while they, umm, make whoopie. (Yes, I apparently have to say “make whoopie” or the Lubbock mayor will have me arrested.). Sleez has decided to tell Jimmy how he can kill the evil alien despot Darkseid when someone appears in a flash of light and blows a hole in Sleez’s chest. Elsewhere, the Rogues very pointlessly fight with each other, Mary Marvel fights a demon, and a new character named Forerunner (shown on the cover) shows up to beat up Jason Todd and Donna Troy, another character who used to be dead.

So now that all that rigamarole is over, how was it? It wasn’t too bad, especially compared to how thoroughly lousy the first few issues of “Countdown” have been. We’ve finally started seeing a little progress on the plots they’ve been setting up, and the action quotient has started to increase a bit. But it’s still not a very good comic book. They’re still absolutely wasting pages on the story with the Rogues — there hasn’t been any plot development at all, and the characterization for all of them is really, really poor.

We don’t know much about Forerunner yet, but I promise to like her if she’ll just continue beating up Jason Todd and Donna Troy for the rest of the series. Sleez was a mostly useless character, so I don’t really mind that he’s been killed. The Mary Marvel story seems to be picking up, plus it includes the goofiest concept for a demon I’ve ever seen. This is him below…

Child Protective Services just hates this guy.

He calls himself “Pharyngula, the Harvester of Stillborn Souls,” and yes, he’s a demon with a body made of dead babies. I’m really not sure if that’s the best or worst character concept I’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly the thing I remembered the most after I finished the story, so I guess that makes it a good thing.

Verdict: a thumbs-up, but just barely. And if you’re likely to dislike demons with babies velcroed all over them, you should probably skip this one.

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