Your Guide to Infinite Crisis:

DC Countdown

We’re now in the third month after DC Countdown, and it’s time to review the various top-selling mini-series and other events counting down to Infinite Crisis hopefully helping readers not only appraise the various interconnected mini-series but better understand their interrelation.

DC Countdown #1
Geoff Johns, Greg Rucka, and Judd Winick script; Rags Morales, Ed Benes, Jesus Saiz, Ivan Reis, Phil Jimenez pencils; Michael Bair, Ed Benes, Jim Palmiotti, Marc Campos, Andy Lanning inks; Alex Ross and Jim Lee cover; cover-dated May 2005

This is the 80-page special that started it all. The first printing, priced at a mere $1 for promotional reasons, featured Batman holding the body of a character in shadows. The $2 second printing revealed that character to be Blue Beetle.

Solicited as DC Countdown, this special promised to indicate the direction of the DC Universe in the wake of Identity Crisis and was published three months after the conclusion of that celebrated — and controversial — mini-series. The cover as printed, however, didn’t carry the title DC Countdown but rather Countdown to Infinite Crisis — and it is by this name that the special is now best known.

The story, while broken into five chapters featuring different artistic teams, remained coherent and told the story of Blue Beetle’s investigation of the disappearance of millions from his alter ego Ted Kord’s bank account. Meeting old friends from his Justice League days, Blue Beetle finds that the high-profile super-heroes like Batman won’t give him the time of day. Investigating largely alone, he increasingly uncovers a conspiracy that brings him to the secret headquarters of Checkmate — or, rather, of the secret underbelly of that covert U.S. government organization… an organization that has apparently taken control of a network of spy satellites created and launched by Bruce Wayne, Batman’s alter ego.

In the process, Blue Beetle redeems himself, revealing himself to be an investigator on Batman’s level instead of the comedic character of his tenure in Keith Giffen’s 1980s Justice League run — or, before that, his largely forgotten solo series. The culprit, and leader of the underground portion of Checkmate, turns out to be none other than Maxwell Lord, ringleader of the Justice League during the Giffen era. Having solved the mystery but having been violently captured by overwhelming forces, Blue Beetle defiantly refuses to join Lord — self-consciously playing on the clichéd “join or die” genre moment. In response, Lord simply kills Blue Beetle. This move not only upsetting genre conventions but suddenly and brutally annihilates the character with whom we’ve identified over the entire special — an identification masterfully enhanced by the pathos the script grants the nobly intentioned and capable Blue Beetle, who the Justice League doesn’t even bother to include on its list of reserve members.

Let me get personal for a moment: I didn’t know what to expect from DC Countdown. Information prior to publication was scant, and I worried that it would feature multiple stories — prologues to the new mini-series instead of a single, unified story. Even as a single story, I worried the multitude of writers and artists would result in a fractured style.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The story was not only unified but sophisticated — or at least suitably complex. Each chapter began with a flash-forward to the fifth and final chapter. While the artistic differences were visible, I was impressed with each and every artistic team. Morales and Bair were the artists on Identity Crisis, so their presence provided a nice continuity with that series. Ed Benes I already knew and thought well of. Jesus Saiz was unknown to me, but a pleasant surprise, accompanied by Jimmy Palmiotti on inks. Ivan Reis was another pleasant surprise, accompanied by Marc Campos on inks. Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning rounded out the special with their trademarked — and always enjoyable — precision linework.

It may also be worth mentioning that Hal Jordan appeared as Green Lantern in DC Countdown for the first time outside of Green Lantern: Rebirth #6. While this may have spoiled the conclusion of that mini-series, everyone already knew Rebirth was designed to bring Hal Jordan back as Green Lantern. Still, Hal Jordan’s appearance in DC Countdown not only established that Rebirthoccurred between Identity Crisis and DC Coundown (and thus the following mini-series), and not only made the issue of even more historical importance, but provided readers with yet another surprise.

But the issue was a surprise in another way — it didn’t seem to have much to do with Identity Crisis, at least superficially. That mini-series left off with Batman apparently not knowing that his memories had been altered by his teammates, the murderess in jail, and Doctor Light having recovered from his JLA-imposed magical lobotomy, presumably the first of an unknown number of similarly lobotomized DC villains to do so.

True, chapter one revealed that Batman had figured out that his memories had been altered — a major revelation, and one well dramatized through Batman’s anger. But as shocking as this felt, appropriately in the chapter illustrated by the Identity Crisis art team, it wouldn’t affect the main thrust of the narrative.

Where DC Countdown did connect with Identity Crisis was its maturity and sheer guts. Though criticized for it, Identity Crisis made manifest the villain’s threat to the super-hero’s loved ones in a new way. Both share a sense of a hierarchy of heroes within the DC Universe: in Identity Crisis, it’s the JLA’s second stringers who make the real decisions; in DC Countdown, it’s second-stringer Blue Beetle who uncovers the conspiracy, brushed off by the major players.

Both projects were also not afraid to retcon previous storylines, and in both cases it was Giffen’s Justice League that took the hit. Identity Crisis revealed that Doctor Light had raped the Elongated Man’s wife, forever altering our view of those formerly cavalier characters. DC Countdown made Maxwell Lord into a master criminal who had been manipulating Giffen’s Justice League all along. And this doesn’t even mention that Elongated Man’s wife and Blue Beetle died.

And both projects also had permanent effects. Besides the above-mentioned changes, Identity Crisis made the Atom’s wife a murderer, saw the Atom retire, killed Robin’s father, and made villains like the Calculator not only powerful but interesting. Besides the above-mentioned changes to Maxwell Lord and Blue Beetle, DC Countdown revealed a whole new side to both Batman / Bruce Wayne and transformed Checkmate — the former, in particular, being no small feat. In Mark Waid’s brief run on JLA, Batman was revealed to have files on the weaknesses of his teammates, and series from The Dark Knight Returns to Kingdom Come had shown the character’s more fascistic tendencies. But now alter ego Bruce Wayne was brought into Batman’s paranoia, having launched nothing short of a high-tech worldwide spy satellite system called Brother Eye.

If there’s one criticism of DC Countdown, it’s that its strength was also its weakness. While pleasing with a unified narrative, the ties to the various mini-series said to spin off of it would be weaker than they might have been. While The OMAC Project continued directly from DC Coundown, the other mini-series got cameos that didn’t affect the main narrative, much like revealing that Batman had figured out his memory loss. The second chapter briefly saw a new Secret Society of Super-Villains (including Lex Luthor, Black Adam, Deathstroke, Doctor Psycho, and Talia) forming — apparently leading into Villains United. The third chapter briefly saw Blue Beetle, in the course of his investigations, run into the wizard Shazam, who prophesized a big magical confrontation — apparently leading into Day of Vengeance. And the fourth chapter saw the Justice League, while brushing off Blue Beetle, contacted by Adam Strange about Thanagar’s invasion of his planet Rann — tying into The Rann-Thanagar War. While these elements didn’t disrupt the cohesion of the narrative, they could feel a bit awkward.

Those mini-series, among other Infinite Crisis tie-ins, will be the subject of subsequent articles. But DC Countdown is worth particular attention, not only because of its role as their launch pad but also because of its quality.

So, for now, it only remains to say that DC Countdown was thrilling to read, minor concerns withstanding.

It’s not a perfect issue, but it’s close.

Read the Rest

“Your Guide to Infinite Crisis” attempts to spell out and outline the whole of this sprawling, complicated crossover. It has several other installments, organized by the narrative thread under discussion:

The OMAC Project

Day of Vengeance

Villains United

The Rann-Thanagar War

The Return of Donna Troy

Crisis of Conscience

PowerTrip

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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