"Less talk and more fight, Earth-Bug!" - Forager
As we reach the halfway point in our tale, not only do we have a title change, but we also have a very strong issue that gives us plenty of answers and just as many new questions along the way. This week, the Monitors have gathered to review all that has transpired. Since you've been following along with us each and every week, we won't go into detail. Suffice to say, the fate of the Multiverse hangs in the balance.
The Monitors, it turns out, live in fear of the Great Disaster or, as we'll soon be calling it, the Final Crisis, when the Source Wall between universes collapses and the Multiverse is again made into one sole world once more. During that time, the 52 Monitors were actually just the one being seen so long ago during "Crisis on Infinite Earths," and with the resurrection of the Multiverse, they've each gained their individuality once more, and they're not going to give it up without a fight.
Interesting, then, that the Monitors choose to go to war with the one of their number that has chosen his individuality over the collective. But that's a tale for the next time, as that very same Monitor, Bob, teleports his teammates away from Monarch's battle with Lord Havok while Donna Troy recovers from the stun blast Jason hit her with last issue. She, however, isn't too happy about being the target for Jason's escape plan, and the wedge between the Challengers deepens.
Meanwhile, on earth, firestorm arrives to aid Karate Kid and his cohorts in Bludhaven, while Forager and Jimmy Olsen arrive on Apokalips to seek the source of the New Gods' demise, with Darkseid looming large over all the events depicted. Finally, a quick stop on Earth-15 reveals a new player in our game, a black-suited superman that makes his first appearance by tormenting that world's Lex Luthor.
The DCU was filled with "Countdown" story lines this week as we are a mere six months away from "Final Crisis." Over in "Countdown to Adventure" #3, Monarch's army rolls on as Forerunner visits Earth-33: The Conjurer's World. This Earth is home of mystical versions of our heroes, including Kal-El, Bat-Mage and Lady Flash. We also have an appearance by the Dark Angel.
In "Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists" #1, we get a better look at the background and continuity of the heroes and villains of Earth-8. While the original stories of this world (as discussed 3 weeks ago in T-MINUS: "Countdown" #29) were imitative of the Marvel Universe of the 1970s and 1980s, this world is far more like Marvel's "Ultimate" universe. The story is dark and beautifully drawn by Liam Sharpe and I highly recommend it. The series will definitely live up to the hype as it skewers Marvel's "Civil War" story line as well as the "Ultimates." It's up to you to figure out who the good guys are, if there are any.
"Action Comics" #858 spins out a tale of Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes from this year's "Lightning Saga" as the original Legion appears in a story by Geoff Johns that is drawn by Gary Frank.
Finally, "Death of the New Gods" #2 raises the body count some more as Jack Kirby's Fourth World comes to a close. The story stars Mister Miracle, Orion and (a key player in the Fourth World stories of the 1970s) Superman. Jim Starlin steps it up a notch and delivers a strong story.
BE: Now this is more like it. Rumor had it that DC had heard that fans weren't happy with a perceived lack of cohesion with this book. No idea if that's true, but sitting here at the halfway point we've got the most cohesive story to date.
JE: Fitting, perhaps, simply because this is the halfway point. We finally got some answers thanks to Not-Bob Monitor, and we even got a few new questions to help us along.
BE: And what did you think of Not-Bob's Hitler-like speech making? Is it an election year?
JE: To be honest, I was more engrossed with the story and picking out the highlights than to think about how it was presented. And, please, I work at a newspaper, so don't get me started on elections of any size.
BE: I make no further comment on the democratic process. This bit was indeed a joy to read, the coverage was complete and, to overstate the point, lent continuity to the whole.
Paul Dini, Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti turn in the tightest script to date. You'll note that Keith Giffen is now listed as "Story Consultant" to further cement my assertions that he has had a hand in the tightening of the scripts. Scott Kolins turns in some nice artwork as well.
JE: I like Scott Kolins for the most part. His work at Marvel has always been very solid, if difficult to get used to at first. I think he worked wonders here. All the Monitors felt distinct, not just slightly altered versions of the same, and that's no small feat.
BE: He definitely gave them more personality with his visuals. We even had a three fingered reptile Monitor. For those that came in late, Not-Bob Monitor recaps the series to date and tries to convince he fellow Monitors to join his crusade to save the Multiverse. There are a lot of weird looking Monitors. I am very happy that I am not from an Earth where the Monitor has no nose.
JE: Same here. My glasses would fall off. Seriously, though, the halfway-point recap and the answers we got seriously helped this story out. I now feel like we're actually getting somewhere instead of just being led down a dark alley to an uncertain future.
BE: And you have to wonder if this is in response to declining sales on the title and the vocal response that fans would rather have another "52."
JE: Fans were very vocal about all this, but I have to wonder at what point DC changed their game up, because most of the series was done by the time any real bitching kicked in. They had most of this covered well in advance.
BE: Meanwhile, in Bludhaven, Firestorm joins the time lost Legionnaires and Buddy Blank. Now, if I was going to clean up Bludhaven, I'd send a guy that can convert matter and energy.
JE: Yessir, that'd be my first choice, as well.
BE: Not-Bob points out something I hadn't considered: that Jimmy Olsen's survival and his powers are the result of someone looking out for him. If I'd have to guess, I'd say Highfather or what remains of him.
JE: I'm betting on Darkseid as the grand manipulator.
BE: And those are indeed the two extremes. What does Darkseid know about Jimmy Olsen that we don't?
JE: Perhaps its something we sort of already know: that Jimmy is connected to the Source Wall. If you're going to bring down the wall and institute Final Crisis, you need that crack to do it, and that's Jimmy.
BE: If you've read "Death of the New Gods" #2, then you know there is something up with the Source Wall. I'll leave it at that. Not-Bob has a vocal supporter among the ranks of the Monitors and she (correct me if I'm wrong) appears to be dressed as a Kryptonian.
JE: Dude, you're never wrong. I thought the same thing, and started considering that she might be the Monitor of "Superman: The Man of Steel Annual" #3 world, where hundreds of surviving Kryptionians populated and dominated Earth, and Batman was the freedom fighter that convinced Kal-El to rebel.
BE: Isn't it amazing how great minds think alike? Ours too, apparently. I would lay money on it. As we speculated last week, Jason's attack on Donna was all a ruse.
JE: Yeah, though I was hoping for something a touch more dramatic than the quick gloss-over and the "re-Todd" comment.
BE: Yes. While it is in keeping with Emo-Lantern to make those kinds of comments, I really didn't expect Donna to turn into a 5th grader.
JE: Since we've brought it up previously, I have to wonder is this is a response to the general fan backlash regarding Jason and Donna ever since the hints were dropped during the first promo poster campaign for "Countdown." Everyone loved Jason as Red Robin, but it seemed like only we liked the idea of them as a couple.
BE: I certainly prefer the pairing to the Donna/Kyle relationship. And on Earth-15, Lex Luthor finds himself at the mercy of a man in black. Is it me or is that the black and silver Superman from the second Countdown teaser poster?
JE: Give the man a cigar, because yes, that is our mystery Superman from the poster. Except for one thing: If you check our handy-dandy multiverse map of the 52 worlds (what, you haven't made one yet?), you'll see that Earth-15 is also the home of Zod-Superman and Jason Todd-Batman that we visited just a few weeks ago. Was there ever a Kal-El on this world? Is he evil? Is it even Kal-El at all? The mystery deepens.
BE: Yes, and that's a bit of confusion. We saw Earth-15 in "Countdown" #30 and it was a pretty nice world and Zod was Superman. Over on the DC Comics site we have the voting for the upcoming "Countdown: Arena" series. On the site, Earth-15 is described as, "The heroes of Earth-15 have evolved to become nearly perfect beings. The Superman of this Earth is making his first appearance in the pages of 'Countdown: Arena.'"
JE: Miscalculation seems likely, though why is 15 everyone's favorite number?
BE: Is it? I thought it was 52.
JE: It's certainly mine.
BE: All that being said, it appears that Lex Luthor turned out to be a pretty normal guy and now we have a Superman in a suit very similar to his post "Death of Superman" resurrection suit. The confusion grows a bit when you bring in the (now canon) detail that the Superman logo is the symbol of the house of El. So, why is Zod wearing the symbol? This begs a lot more questions than it answers.
JE: Actually, according to Mark Waid's "Superman: Birthright" and the liner notes that accompanied the hardcover, he envisioned the "S" shield, not as a symbol of the house of El, but as a symbol for all of Krypton. Not that I'm questioning your canon, because you read more Superman than I do, but, as you say, there are a lot more questions than answers here. I imagine that most of our answers will come, but I'll be surprised if we get an answer on the shield.
BE: That's likely the case. As to the house of El, it seems that Richard Donner's version of Superman (and the events on the "Smallville" Television series) appear to be the new continuity as put forward (principally) by Geoff Jones and (previously) by Jeff Loeb.
JE: Not to knock that, but I really loved "Birthright," and it's a shame to lose that story.
BE: We close with Darkseid and his chess pieces. How does all of this tie into the twilight of the New Gods?
JE: See above. I say Darkseid is the man behind the curtain. I don't know how yet, but it's my bet that he's angling to become the supreme being of the Fifth World.
BE: Not surprising, but essentially a hopeless plan if we assume that the prior ages were born with the death of the prior set of Gods.
JE: Not to jump company, but Galactus survived his universe? Who's to say Darkseid couldn't? He might be killing the New Gods to capture their souls, and then use that power to shield himself during the fall.
BE: Actually, I was thinking the same thing, but we are pretty sure that the mystery assassin and soul stealer is not the great Darkseid. Next issues cover shows Firestorm against the Atomic Knights.
JE: About time we saw them again. Battle for Bludhaven was a while ago.
BE: And you have to wonder why they are still there.
JE: So we can have yet another cool reference to Command D, or Kamandi, who, by the way, we may have already seen.
Buddy Blank's grandson.
BE: It could happen, a dystopian apocalypse could indeed be called Final Crisis.
Panel of the Week
A big picture for a big issue. Who stands to gain, indeed?