Review: Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Without question, some readers are going to feel pretty burned by Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer. That is, note that this story is "the search," and not actually the finding; Ray Palmer appears nowhere in this volume, except as a teaser advertisement for Countdown Volume Three. However, if it's the journey you're interested in and not necessarily the destination--especially a journey through DC's new Multiverse--I found a surprising lot to like in this volume.

The Search for Ray Palmer takes the new Challengers of the Beyond on a tour of DC's greatest imprints, Elseworlds, and classic alternate realities. The variety of writers also brings with it a variety of approaches and levels of quality. Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti's "Superwoman/Batwoman" barely involves the Challengers at all, but is big on fun gender-bending duplicates; Peter Johnson's "Red Rain," on the other hand, involves the Challengers directly in the story, is admirably spooky, and even adds something to the Red Rain mythos. Sean McKeever's "Crime Society" story also barely involves the Challengers, but instead fleshes out the interesting (though unfortunately short-lived) Jokester character.

I liked Ron Marz's "Wildstorm" story in that Marz again writes Kyle Rayner, and follows up on the Monarch scene from his Ion miniseries, but his use of the Wildstorm characters left much to be desired. Overall Marz poorly introduces the Wildstorm characters and doesn't raise them much past stereotypes of themselves--Midnighter is violent, the Authority is uncaring, etc. The comic would hardly make me want to read a Wildstorm title if I weren't already familiar with them.

None of the writers, unfortunately, succeed in making the Challengers of the Beyond any less annoying than they start out. Former Robin Jason Todd is the Guy Gardner of the group, cracking mediocre jokes and acting "too cool for school"; Kyle Rayner vacillates between portrayals as stuck-up or a buffoon; and Donna Troy incessantly rolls her eyes and wonders what to do about the two. Uniting the three was likely a premise that sounded good on paper, but having multiple writers offers no room for character growth, and so they just bicker all the way through the tales. Rather than giving these characters a place in the DC Universe, The Search for Ray Palmer unfortunately reinforces why these characters are second-stringers.

The Search for Ray Palmer is a promising tour of the new DC Multiverse; now the question remains as to what DC will do with all these characters. Despite my complaints about this volume, I enjoyed learning about the alternate characters, and many of them would seem to have potential--the female Blue Beetle mourning the loss of Booster Gold, the Manezons rumored to reappear, the loved ones that the Jokester leaves behind--and I wouldn't mind seeing many of them in the DCU proper. That, at least, would give The Search for Ray Palmer greater purpose--not a tour, but a beginning.

[Contains full covers, summary page.]

On now to get dangerous with the Suicide Squad, and then maybe some Outsiders.
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3 comments:

  1. Yeah, I remember a lot of people missed the point of these when they came out. They were all annoyed that they didn't actually find Ray Palmer in these books, and therefore they "didn't matter," instead of looking at them as a travelogue where they use a framing device to explore a different world each issue.

    (On a side note, I want to scream every time someone dismisses a book out of hand because it isn't "important." If the book's interesting, it shouldn't matter whether it's "important." And if it's not interesting, you shouldn't be wasting your time on it even if it is "important." *ahem* Sorry for the digression.)

    Anyway, it's funny -- the issues I read were the same ones you mentioned. Of those, I think the Crime Society was hands down the best one. Superwoman/Batwoman was fun. I actually didn't really like the Red Rain one much, but then it's been a while since I read the originals, and while I loved Red Rain and the second volume (Bloodstorm, was it?), I absolutely hated Crimson Mist.

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  2. I personally think that the whole of Countdown would have been better if the third Challenger had been Matrix/Supergirl rather than Kyle Rayner. In addition to untethering the story from the Green Lantern timeline, that would better set the team up as a sort of also-ran Trinity, which would in turn have made them a better reflection of the various alternates...

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  3. "Untethering" Countdown to Final Crisis all-around would have been a good idea; I'm interested to read the third volume, when this series supposedly went out on its own. Trinity, I think, is entirely untethered, so maybe that will make the difference.

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