Countdown to something inane
Put it this way: is it possible for a continuity-wise writer to deliver a story which makes sense to the interested, but uninformed reader?DC comics, with their mammoth-but-not-necessarily wise maxi-series, have put this to the test.
First off, a series of such a length is a statement of intent. If want people to spend $200 or $300 on a story, you'd better make sure it's a good one. Scratch that. Make sure it's a fantastic one. Fail and you're telling your readers in the starkest terms that you're taking them for a ride.
Countdown, sadly and predictably, is bloatware. Nothing much happens for the first twenty issues or so. That's four hundred pages, people. Even Dostoyevsky gets his arse in gear faster than that. We have a number of different plot strands which do, somewhere far down the line, come together. To get there, though, we have a long and uninteresting road to travel.
Here's how it goes: Donna Troy and co turn up in one of DC's new spangly universes. 'I'm detecting Ray Palmer,' says one of them. They get attacked by some local baddies. They despatch them using fists and blinding flashes from Donna's galactic pants. 'Ray was here, but now he's gone,' says one of the bruised locals. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. 52 universes and yet all so samey.
Incidentally, didn't Ray Palmer sing the theme to 'Ghostbusters'? Perhaps that's one of the new universes.
Let's remove these pointless Ray-searches - to add insult to tedium, there were special 'Search for Ray Palmer' one-offs with exactly the same guff - and see what's left.
Mary Marvel. Mary Marvel. Doubtless her behaviour was utterly out of character for the entire series, but I'd never heard of her before, so I'm fine with that. This was a good strand, I thought. Good girl succumbs to temptation, does some naughty things, sees the error of her ways, redeems herself. Sometimes the old 'uns are good 'uns.
Except - and I don't have a clue how a sane editor could allow this to happen - right at the end, after she's redeemed herself and been forgiven and this strand is put to bed, Darkseid turns up, offers our Mary some more evil powers. This is a last temptation, right? She'll turn him down. We've spent the last few months learning about Mary's character. She's seen where succumbing takes her. Only that's not what happens. Clean out of the blue, she turns evil once again. No foreshadowing, no reason to think it might happen. It doesn't make the blindest amount of sense.
DC staff, this is narration 101: don't have your characters make decisions the plot doesn't support. You're in charge of this. You're supposed to know what you're doing. Pathetic.
As I understand it, Darkseid turns out to have been offing various old Jack Kirby characters. Why he's chosen now is never explained, but explaining isn't DC's strong point. He has to store their powers somewhere. Wouldn't in Darkseid be a good idea, maybe? Or just down the corridor from Darkseid's bedroom? No, he stores them in Jimmy Olsen, Superman's friend-sidekick-irritant. Would it be possible to find any place more ridiculous than there? You can never underestimate the stupidity of the powers of evil, I guess.
By the time the series is drawing to a close, we've got multiple factions slugging it out. I never quite figured out who Monarch is, or where he went in the end. I understood the Monitors well enough. OMAC turns up at the party, for some reason. One woman, Una, turned into one and then turned back again. Did I miss something there? One universe gets 'destroyed' twice.
Could someone tell these scientific illiterates that introducing a virus onto one planet is not the same as annihilating the entire universe? Memo to DC: universes are really, really, fucking huge. Just because a virus is one thousand years more advanced than us - no, I don't understand that either, but bear with me - somewhere in a universe of a hundred billion galaxies with a hundred billions stars each there might be a planet with technology more than one thousand years ahead of us. They might find the anti-life virus as deadly as a snuffly nose.
And then the finale: Monarch and the Monitors have fallen by the wayside. Ray Palmer squashes a podule inside Jimmy Olsen (I suspect Olsen is composed of a multitude of podules, but there you go) and a new character pops out. Orion.
This brings me back to my continuity question. You're probably thinking Orion is an old character, right? Not to me. I'd never seen him before. But he turns up in the second-to-last week and kills the bad guy. Not Ray Palmer, not Donna Troy, not - heaven forfend - Jimmy Olsen, but some guy I'd never heard of. Surprised? You bet. Foreshadowed? Not in the slightest. For the uninitiated, this last plot turn made as much sense as the cast of Pride and Prejudice turning up and beating Darkseid to death with parasols. If you're planning to have Orion take care of Darkseid in the end, have the cast search for ways to spring him. Make that their goal. My enthusiasm for the DC universe seeped out of my head like air from a fart cushion.
Lord, I wish I could say something good about this series. Donna's galactic pants are fetching, I have to admit. The annihilation of one of the Earths was well-done. But the rest? Well, I would say bilge but.... No, I will say bilge.