[Contains spoilers for Countdown to Final Crisis]
In the end, I liked Countdown to Final Crisis well enough. The final story comes down to a rather motley group of second-string heroes, which is hardly enough to hang a series on but sometimes makes for an entertaining read. And the Countdown to Final Crisis plot wasn't all that bad, in and of itself, even gripping at times -- but there's any number of instances where the book could have been better than it was.
Countdown to Final Crisis ends with former Catwoman Holly Robinson in an apartment with Harley Quinn, telling her, "Never change." It's a strange ending for these two characters -- Holly, whom with the end of the Catwoman series we may never see again; and Harley Quinn, whose future appearances likely won't reference the events of this series. Neither one is changed by this series. Their roles were essentially reductive; Harley and Holly were present to expose Granny Goodness, who herself was killed before the end of the story -- a lot of fury signifying nothing.
Indeed, we get the sense a bunch of character's didn't change over the course of this series. Jason Todd as irreverent, unsentimental, and one-sided as when the series started; Jimmy Olsen's changes, interviews have told, will mostly be swept under the rug; and despite the Atom, Kyle Rayner, and Donna Troy banding together, we'll next see them separate in three different series. I haven't minded spending time with these characters, but one likes to imagine it's a shared experience, where the characters change, too; here, not so much.
I can't help but compare this to the end of DC Comics's previous weekly series, 52, which ended with the Question effectively asking the reader "Are you ready?" It's a message of hope, intrigue, excitement; "never change" seems a message of the status quo, likely the exact opposite direction DC Comics wants to suggest it's heading. But Countdown to Final Crisis was in a way a story of the status quo -- sure, a bunch of New Gods died, and sure we got to explore the Multiverse for a while, but ultimately you can't point to Countdown as the defining moment for a character like you can with Renee Montoya, Booster Gold, or others with 52.
Or maybe "never change" is meant ironically; maybe it's meant to indicate that big change is just around the corner. I can't decide, if I were less knowledgeable about comics and simply picked up Countdown to Final Crisis off the stands, would I be more or less satisfied with the ending? This is a countdown to Final Crisis, let's not forget, so the uninitiated should have a reasonable expectation that this story continues into Final Crisis. To that end, some of the dangling plotlines -- the Buddy Blank of Earth-51 becoming OMAC, Pied Piper inspired to become a hero, Mary Marvel's turn for the worse, whether Holly and Harley will spend the rest of their lives in Holly's apartment -- might very well be picked up in Final Crisis. Knowing bits and pieces of what's to come, I doubt that, but to give Countdown to Final Crisis a fair shake, I have to acknowledge that maybe Countdown isn't meant to clean up all the pieces, Final Crisis is.
Volume four does have its moments. Certainly the two issues of the Great Disaster narrated by Buddy Blank, which feature an all-too-real viral outbreak spreading across the world, kept my attention (though volume three, with the war on Earth-51, is still my favorite). I enjoyed seeing Darkseid's plot revealed, and the ultimate roles Desaad and Granny Goodness played. And again, I liked these characters -- some days watching Kyle Rayner, Donna Troy, the Atom, and Jimmy Olsen and a bunch of Hairies run across the Multiverse is all you need in this world.
But I can't get around what I can only chalk up to poor writing in this series. Kyle Rayner, written with so much depth by Geoff Johns and Dave Gibbons, becomes a boorish loudmouth here, bickering constantly with Jason Todd while Donna Troy plays referee. The characters hardly seem like heroes, let alone people you'd want to spend time with. The amount of "gottas" and "wannas" in this volume astounded me -- if we want comics to be treated as literature, that means it has to be written as literature, and Kyle Rayner and Donna Troy don't speak the same as a character in high school might. Plot wasn't the problem in Countdown; the Multiverse war and the Great Disaster were each solid ideas. For my money, it was depth that Countdown lacked.
[Contains full covers, summary of previous volumes]
That said, however, I remain excited about the DC crossovers to come, Batman RIP and Final Crisis, where I imagine the real action is. More reviews coming soon!