It's not hard to see why Countdown drove so many in the blogosphere so crazy. The second volume of Countdown is an amazing collage of filler material and non sequiturs, punctuated by an occasional flash of brilliance of DC Comics nostalgia.
You would think that, given that Countdown doesn't have to show the natural progression of time in the way that 52 did, the writers would have an easier time balancing the multiple storylines and characters. Instead, what drags down the pace of Countdown are numerous unnecessary scenes that seem intended mainly just to "check in" with the cast members.
Holly Robinson, for instance, takes just about forever to depart for and arrive on Themyscira, while the story continually beats us over the head about the evilness of Athena (really you-know-who). The writers also offer multiple scenes of Mary Marvel's generic evilness toward random bystanders, when I couldn't help but think just one example (or at least an example with more plot relevance) would have sufficed.
The fun side of Countdown, however, is the way in which it's becoming It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Countdown--that is, a cast of thousands. The last volume offered the forgotten New God Sleez; this volume had a bevy of Cadmus characters last seen in Superboy, including Serling Roquette and the Newsboy Legion (though missing, unfortunately, Flip), and also Mr. Orr and Equuis, late of Superman For Tomorrow. These are by no means headliners, but they do show an obscure depth of DC Comics knowledge that's fun for the dedicated fan, even if a new reader might be lost.
Countdown also continues to shout out to longer-established DC Comics fans. In addition to the use of Jack Kirby's Cadmus and the New Gods, Jimmy Olsen's nascent powers match those he had in more than a dozen Silver Age Superman stories. The second volume of Countdown also brings in Kirby's OMAC, Brother Eye (in their Infinite Crisis forms) and Buddy Blank, though as someone not familiar with the Kirby OMAC mythology, I couldn't help but feel like I was missing something through much of the Karate Kid/Buddy Blank scenes.
Indeed, perhaps in its attempt to be the "spine" of the DC Universe, Countdown jumps around a lot, and requires a very patient reader. Karate Kid has apparently contracted a virus, though I completely missed where we were supposed to understand this. Mary Marvel is embroiled in a fight with the Shadowpact which thankfully skips a lot of exposition, but comes on remarkably suddenly. Most notably, Jimmy Olsen learns a major fact about Clark Kent (and come on, what other major fact is there?), a plotline that's barely touched on again, and it's only because I read Superman: 3-2-1 Action that I had any idea what was going on.
The final chapter of Countdown to Final Crisis's second volume serves to summarize the series so far and shed light on the book's overriding conspiracy. While I appreciate Countdown offering a bit more cohesion at the halfway mark (and I did feel something of a thrill at how everything interrelates), I couldn't help but think it had all been done before. Mary Marvel, it seems, serves to harness the power of magic in the DC Universe, while Karate Kid's taking care of the technology ... it's Alexander Luthor's plan from Infinite Crisis, right? Unfortunately, this only underscores how much better Countdown to Infinite Crisis handled the conspiracy plot; here's hoping Countdown to Final Crisis is headed for something different.
[Contains full covers, summary pages.]
On now to some Countdown crossovers, and then we'll see where we end up after that. See you next time!