Wednesday, September 21, 2011
I was re-reading Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter the other day, and it occurred to me that this was a really good era of DC Comics. And then I did a double-take, because in fact, it wasn't a good era of DC Comics by most accounts -- it was smack in the middle of the trainwreck known as Countdown to Final Crisis. Which got me thinking, surely in all that misery there were ten good things about the Countdown to Final Crisis era ...
Countdown to Final Crisis, by the way, is sure proof that what happens by accident is a lot easier than doing the same thing on purpose. To wit, the "countdown" era of DC's Infinite Crisis was DC's first universe-wide initiative in a while, and from the Countdown miniseries to Superman: Sacrifice, Justice League: Crisis of Conscience, all the tie-in issues, and Infinite Crisis itself, the event was a wild success and ushered in a new, more cohesive DC Universe. DC followed this with more success -- the popular "One Year Later" storyline and its first weekly series in some time, the acclaimed 52.
Given all this success, DC tried to do the same thing again, with intention, and it flopped. The Countdown to Final Crisis weekly miniseries, meant to be the "backbone of the DC Universe," was widely panned for dull storytelling, lackluster art, and tenuous or inconsistent ties to the stories in other titles to which it was supposed to relate. Much of what happened to Countdown's main characters has been generally ignored since then, and even Final Crisis itself didn't quite match up with Countdown. Another universe-wide event and another weekly series, but with far different results this time; these were dark days for DC. In Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge, Geoff Johns via Captain Cold called it "one $%@#$@-up year"; DC's next event, Blackest Night, unfolded much differently, without as much universe-wide run-up and largely leaving most titles other than the main series alone.
And yet, despite what's most commonly panned in the Countdown to Final Crisis era (Death of the New Gods, the death of Bart Allen, Countdown itself, Amazons Attack), all was not a total loss during this time:
1) The Death of Bart Allen
Yes, despite the fact that I just listed the death of Bart Allen as one of the main failures with the Countdown era, I actually think the story (collected in Flash: Full Throttle is pretty good. It was not, by any stretch, writer Marc Guggenheim's idea to kill off new Flash Bart Allen, a move seen by many to be overly violent on DC's part (little did we know Bart would be back as of Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds). Guggenheim makes the very best of it, not only transforming Bart into a palatable Flash in the span of just a couple issues, but also steeping Bart's death in Flash continuity and throwing out a couple nods to the historic death of Barry Allen. Bart's death might've been a bad move by DC, but it's a good story.
2) Birds of Prey/Checkmate/Suicide Squad/Salvation Run/Secret Six
The aforementioned Birds of Prey: Dead of Winter is notable because Gail Simone's Birds face off against Simone's Secret Six; it's also notable because Simone resurrects the Justice League International's long-deceased character Ice. Ice next appears in Greg Rucka's Checkmate: Fall of the Wall, reunited with her friend Fire; Scandal Savage also appears here -- after the events of Birds of Prey: Club Kids in which Scandal's girlfriend Knockout is killed in a tie-in to Death of the New Gods -- being dragged by a faction of Checkmate off to the Salvation Run planet. Salvation Run is only a so-so villain-centric miniseries, but Suicide Squad: From the Ashes, which picks up from the end of Fall of the Wall, Countdown to Final Crisis and the beginning of Final Crisis itself. Countdown may not have been great, but there were great things going on around it.
3) Batman by Grant Morrison
If you disagree with everything else on this list, it would still be patently false to say nothing good came out of the Countdown to Final Crisis era, because in retrospect everything that lead up to Grant Morrison's Final Crisis tie-in Batman RIP was essentially part of the Countdown era. Of the books, Batman: The Black Glove is my favorite, but with Morrison and Batman you can't go wrong (Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul notwithstanding).
4) Brad Meltzer's Justice League
This iteration of the League petered out rather spectacularly by the time Final Crisis rolled around, and was in shambles come Blackest Night, with only a quirky shot in the arm from writer James Robinson carrying it over to the DC Relaunch. At its outset, however, the new League -- which included a more chummy Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman; Green Lantern Hal Jordan for the first time since his resurrection; Black Canary, Hawkgirl, Red Arrow (seemed he had so much potential, then), Red Tornado, and perennial favorites Vixen and Black Lightning -- showed a lot of promise. I particularly liked how this League referenced and remembered Silver Age adventures in a way previous Leagues hadn't.
5) The Dark Side Club
Another facet of Countdown to Final Crisis that never felt quite fully realized was the "Dark Side Club" storyline. This involved, at the least, Sean McKeever's gory Terror Titans miniseries, Peter Milligan's subversive Infinity, Inc. series, and Birds of Prey: Club Kids, among others, all pitted against one another in the humanoid Darkseid's arena. If DC has branded this better, it could have been a line of "teen" titles a la the DC Relaunch "Young Justice" line. Terror Titans and Infinity, Inc. were each wonderfully weird, from Terror Titans's sociopaths being slowly goaded into killing their parents, and Infinity's gender-bending shape changer and the replicating hero obsessed with himself. It's too bad that when Final Crisis finally came out, the Dark Side Club only consisted of kidnapped infants; it robbed these otherwise-forgotten characters of a deserved day in the sun.
6) Return of the Legion of Super-Heroes
Roundabouts Infinite Crisis, Mark Waid produced an all-new Legion of Super-Heroes that I liked a lot, but that's not what I'm referencing here. Alongside Waid's Legion, Geoff Johns wrote a number of stories that brought back the "original" Legion as they were just before Crisis on Infinite Earths. Appearances include Justice League: The Lightning Saga, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, and ultimately Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, all of which were great (the considerably confusing aspects that emerged in Countdown to Final Crisis were not). Much of this also related to the death and subsequent rebirth of Bart Allen -- again, poor Countdown execution, but good stories in retrospect.
7) Green Lantern: The Sinestro Corps War
Yes, believe it or not, the universally-loved Sinestro Corps War crossover has ties to the much-maligned Countdown to Final Crisis. Again, much of this never quite makes sense or pans out by the time Final Crisis itself rolls around, but part of the Sinestro Corps's motivation for attacking Earth is that Earth was a lynchpin upon which other-dimensional Earths rested, and that destroying one would destroy them all. Said "upside-down triangle" model of Earth was the same Orrey of Worlds that the Monitors protect in Final Crisis; what many readers considered imminently confusing there was no big deal in Sinestro Corps War just a year earlier. Sometimes hard to remember that the same DC that was producing Countdown to Final Crisis was the one at the same time producing Sinestro Corps War.
8) Green Arrow and Black Canary: The Wedding Album
Green Arrow and Black Canary's marriage would be in the dumps just after Blackest Night, with considerably controversy surrounding the end of the Green Arrow/Black Canary series. At the outset, however, The Wedding Album was a fun, charming story reflected both in the Justice League and Countdown to Final Crisis titles, and lead-in to a trade or two of Judd Winick's Green Arrow/Black Canary series with fantastic art by Cliff Chiang. (The first issues of that series, though it was rather muddled, were also tie-ins to Death of the New Gods, Amazons Attack, and Countdown to Final Crisis.) Here again, while the sum total of Countdown to Final Crisis wasn't great, there were pieces well worth reading.
9) Gail Simone's All-New Atom
All-New Atom by Gail Simone, with art by John Byrne, was one of the series included in DC's Brave New World one-shot, which introduced the presence of the Monitors and generally launched the Countdown to Final Crisis era (Brave New World being, like many things in the Countdown era, a poor replica of DC's previously successful Countdown to Infinite Crisis one-shot). Simone's All-New Atom offered a quirky take on the Atom -- the narration peppered with random quotes and Ivy Town filled with mysterious characters -- and her Atom Ryan Choi went on to appear in the Batman: Brave and the Bold cartoon and maybe in the new post-Flashpoint DC Relaunch universe (though he, too, faced a bad end just after Blackest Night). Choi would meet previous Atom Ray Palmer in a Countdown to Final Crisis tie-in.
10) Elseworlds in continuity
This, like a number of aspects of Countdown to Final Crisis, did not materialize completely, but for a short time it seemed that DC would use Countdown/Final Crisis to make all their old Elseworlds stories essentially in continuity. This lead to the one and only Tales of the Multiverse-branded trade paperback, a re-release of Does Moench and Kelley Jones's Batman/Dracula: Red Rain trilogy, along with a number of Countdown specials that returned to such Elseworlds as Red Rain, Superman: Red Son, and the Wildstorm universe. Not directly related, but in the same vein, DC published a sequel to their well-regarded Tangent fifth week event, and some of the Tangent characters also appeared in Countdown to Final Crisis. All of these stories were of varying quality, but the concept was fun.
There you have it -- from the ashes of Countdown to Final Crisis's defeat, ten stories from that era worth checking out. Agree with my picks? Got a favorite -- or a least favorite -- of your own?