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.