Trade Perspectives: 10 Great Things about Countdown to Final Crisis

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?
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12 comments:

  1. Whenever I think of "Full Throttle," I remember that Guggenheim was given two directives: 1. Make Bart Allen into a Flash that readers will like. 2. Kill him.

    And I always wonder: What if he'd only been given the first?

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  2. Did you read Guggenheim's Justice Society? I gave it a pass because the direction didn't interest me and now the whole relaunch, but the fact that Guggenheim was writing it stuck with me -- if I was going to pick it up, it would have been because Guggenheim impressed me so much on Full Throttle.

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  3. Geoff John's Justice Society of America. Specifically the thy kingdom come storyline. various elements from the JSA series led into lightning saga, legion of three worlds etc. Looking back at your review for thy kingdom come v1. You said yourself that thy kingdom come felt more like the spine of the dc universe at the time than countdown did.

    I did enjoy Countdown to Adventure aswell, it acted as a nice sequel to the "space hero story" from 52.

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  4. I agree that DC was still putting out some great books at that time, even if most of them (thankfully) had nothing to do with the nonsensical Monitors/New Gods plot going on in Countdown to Final Crisis.

    But honestly, even the main weekly series had some parts I liked, such as the Ray Palmer flashback (back then, everyone was wondering what he had been doing since Identity Crisis) and that big Darkseid/Orion brawl, drawn with gusto by Scott Kolins.

    By the way, did you check out DC's December solicits? Some long-uncollected stuff like Action Comics #864, the Legion backups from Adventure Comics #1-4 and the Captain Atom co-feature from Action Comics #879-889 will finally be reprinted in the DC Comics Presents format.

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  5. Saw it, but wasn't too happy about it. These DC Comics Presents -- it's as if to say, "You're tired of us sticking juvenile neon candy ads on every third page, so you didn't buy this as a periodical the first time hoping we'd collect it, but we didn't, so we'll capitalize on your disappointment by giving you one more chance to read it along with some other stuff we didn't collect, but still with the candy ads placed at random."

    When DC Comics Presents reprints great Superman stuff from ten years ago that was never collected back when collections weren't so ubiquitous, wonderful. When they reprint "New Krypton" backups and stuff that should have been included in a couple of recent Legion trades in the past year or so, I call bad form. That's just my take on it.

    @Mike, quite right on Justice Society: Thy Kingdom Come -- Geoff Johns's first volume of that was very much a follow-up to Infinite Crisis, and worth a look for Infinite Crisis fans. I don't know that the other books of that storyline quite achieved the same level -- I think that story went on too long, ultimately, for too little payoff -- but the first part was great.

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  6. You mean JSA: The Next Age, correct?. That's the one I fee is Infinite Crisis follow up.

    "We're here to make better heroes". Great stuff!

    I'm so pumped up because we'll finally get Absolute Batman: Dark Victory. I'm surprised no one else is mentioning this.

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  7. Granted JSA: Next Age has post-World War III material in it, etc., but I was referencing specifically Power Girl's flashback in Thy Kingdom Come Book One to the death of Kal-L in Infinite Crisis, and how her grief over Kal-L's death follows into the arrival of the Kingdom Come Superman.

    Why so excited about the Absolute Dark Victory? A fan of the story, of Tim Sale, had trouble finding the collection?

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  8. Anyone notice that a good third of DC's Collected Editions solicitations are repackages of stuff they've collected before?
    I'm not talking about TPBs of HCs, I'm talking about repacks.
    And don't get me started on "DC Presents..."
    Their Collections Department has no vision.

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  9. Huge fan of Long Halloween and Dark Victory. I got Absolute LH a year ago thinking "It'll be cool to have DV on Absolute too", and now I will.

    Next step... Absolute Sinestro Corps War. When I asked Dan Diddio about it he only said "No plans yet, but good idea". Hope it happens.

    @sdcinerama: I did realize. Superman: Secret Identity and other titles. Weird.

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  10. Glad you'll have a matched set on your shelf. In all seriousness, I know that's always nice.

    Year or so ago, I'd have loved an Absolute Sinestro Corps War, but it feels like we're so far past that story, I don't have the interest to spend $75 -- kind of like the Absolute Identity Crisis.

    Also I'd be surprised if they do an Absolute Sinestro given that they just released a combined paperback version -- surely that audience is sated by now (but then again, they just released *another* version of Hush, so what do I know?).

    Add that to another reason I'm not so enthused about the DC Comics Presents -- re-releasing Superman: Secret Identity this way is an excuse not to keep that volume in print.

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  11. (Lots of spoilers in my comments, but this whole article is full of 'em!)

    I remember reading "Death of the New Gods" when it was released (not realizing it was tied into any of that Countdown stuff...I believe I was still in the pre-Infinite Crisis trades at that point) and it actually stands pretty well on its own as a mini-series. I wouldn't say it was great, but I enjoyed it (as a Mister Miracle fan from his JLI days) and was certainly satisfied with the ending of Darkseid being the last one standing, to go onto something bigger and better.

    Then, when I got up to Countdown to Final Crisis in my trade readaing, I read DotNG again, and really didn't enjoy it as much, mostly because it just didn't gel with everything else that was happening at the time. In Countdown it was revealed that Jimmy Olsen was where Darkseid was storing all the power from the deceased New Gods, but there was nothing in DotNG to indicate that or tie into it. Stuff was happening on Apocolypse in both DotNG and Countdown at what seemed to be the same time, yet it wasn't clear how it fit together (didn't Big Brother take over the planet or something? I'm fuzzy on it all now). Anyway, my point being that Countdown kind of ruined Death of the New Gods!

    I will throw this out there again though, as I have a few times: Countdown Presents Lord Havok & the Extremists was surprisingly really good, and again can largely stand on its own. Monarch shows up near the end and takes them away where they're seen in Countdown, and the last few pages explain how they escaped from that big explosion at the end of Countdown Vol 3, but the core of the series explores this alternate world and explains how the Extremists came to be. Anyway, good reading, so that's my "great thing to come out of Countdown."

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  12. Very much had in mind your recommendation of Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists as I was writing that list, and I'm glad you brought it up. Still haven't had a chance to read it myself, but consider it an unofficial #11 for this list.

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