By Justin Eger and Brian K. Eason
"I have controlled both sides of the board from the beginning." â€" Darkseid
Impersonating a playing piece on the chessboard of Solomon and Darkseid, Ray Palmer learns far more about the events surrounding him than he did before â€" specifically, each player's use of his fellow Chess pieces. On Solomon's side, Monarch was put into play *waaaay* back during the "Battle for Blï¿½dhaven," as Solomon caused the rupture in Captain Atom's containment skin that forced the hero into the Monarch armor. Solomon also put Karate Kid into play with the morticoccus virus to trigger the ultimate plague.
Still, despite Solomon's efforts, Darkseid has won the game, at least in his own mind. As he says, he's controlled all sides since the very start, maneuvering Jimmy Olsen into being a receptacle for the power of the New Gods while Darkseid worked to shatter the Fourth World and remake it into his own Fifth World.
As Ray learns these facts and attempts to make a decision about the fate of Karate Kid, he is pulled away from the subatomic realm by Firestorm, who has joined the team of the Challengers: Harley Quinn, Mary Marvel, Holly Robinson and newcomers Jimmy Olsen, Forager, and Jimmy's hippie friends from Earth. Una and Karate Kid are also on hand, and the Kid's condition worsens more and more with each passing minute; the virus eating him alive.
The newly joined Challengers seems ready to fracture when Jimmy seeks to confront Darkseid for answers, and while Una demands the team return to Earth to save Karate Kid. On the other side of that argument is Ray Palmer, who wonders if saving Karate Kid will, in fact, doom the rest of Earth by spreading the plague. Would it be better to kill him now? Jason Todd thinks so, which furthers the rift between himself and Donna Troy.
Before the group can splinter any further, Solomon leaves Darkseid's throne room and meets with Earth's heroes, explaining Jimmy Olsen's role in the events and Darkseid's plans to reclaim the energies of the New Gods stored within Olsen. Even with this new information, and a stall to Jimmy's plan to confront the Lord of Apokolips, the heroes still debate the fate of Karate Kid, though Solomon ultimately removes the choice from them and transports the entire group back to Earth, where Ray Palmer demands a final decision on Karate Kid before the plague can spread any farther.
And in back (or should that be in front?), we get the delightfully un-secret backwards origin of everyone's #1 villain, Bizarro.
BE: I don't often mention the covers, but this week's cover by Scott Kolins is a fabulous Kirbyesque piece. Nice Stuff.
JE: Yeah, this drove the point home very well: everyone is just pieces on the playing board, even Solomon.
BE: I may be getting too metaphorical here, but isn't that true of Darkseid as well? Hasn't he, by playing the game, become a pawn as well?
JE: It's quite possible. That'd be especially ironic because he can't see it himself.
BE: Carlos Magno and Rodney Ramos join the regular creative team with this issue. Their artwork is very expressive and the layouts are very tight.
JE: I was very happy with the art this week, even if the story served only to drive the plot forward at a breakneck pace.
BE: Ray Palmer goes emo as Solomon and Darkseid finish their chess game while their metaphorical contest goes into high gear.
JE: Pieces on the board, man, pieces on the board.
BE: My Fifth World? Whatchu talkin' 'bout Darkseid?
JE: I could just say "Pieces on the board," again, but I'll just go ahead and move along. We've known Darkseid is angling for control of the Fifth World. That's why he's been using Jimmy and manipulating everyone. Even Solomon's attempts to play the game have just been carefully orchestrated by Darkseid himself.
BE: Yet, knowing what we do of the Source's plan to end the Fourth World, can even Darkseid survive?
JE: I still think he's got a trick up his sleeve. Perhaps, as the architect of the Great Disaster, he's also the architect of the closing of the Fourth World. By focusing the events elsewhere, he no longer has to worry about being a target.
BE: That may likely be the case, though I can't help but think that the Source has a Darkseid-shaped hole in the Second Source Wall.
JE: I wouldn't rule it out. After all, Darkseid may have put events into motion that even he can't control any longer.
BE: Firestorm fulfills our expectations and (apparently) saves the heroes from the impending doom they were worried about at the end of last issue.
JE: I don't think that was impending doom last week. I think that was Jimmy Olsen and his hippie friends that Donna was worried about. Which, I admit, is another kind of impending doom, but you get my point.
BE: Hippies equal impending doom. Got it. Everyone is deeply concerned about Karate Kid, but for mixed reasons. Some are worried about the Kid and others are worried about the threat he poses to the Multiverse. Except Jason Todd, who thinks the Kid should just go ahead and die.
JE: I have to ask, what side, if you were in that position, would you fall on?
BE: Yeah, I'm soulless. Put Karate Kid in a body bag and end the threat.
JE: Me, too. Not that I want to kill off the Kid, but really, it's in the best interests of everyone else.
BE: Jimmy Olsen is the receptacle for the powers of the New Gods, particularly Darkseid. Who was it that suggested this early on? Oh, that would be you.
JE: Well, I'm not one to brag or anything.
BE: That's what you have me for.
JE: You have, indeed, earned your place at my side.
BE: And Solomon sends the whole crew back to Earth -- and a diseased Karate Kid to carry the Morticoccus with them.
JE: Solomon's own endgame? Hardly. As I've already stated, every move is carefully constructed by Darkseid. By unleashing death upon the Earth and helping to initiate the Great Disaster, Darkseid has effectively given the only people who could have stopped him, Earth's heroes, another very big problem to focus their attentions on.
BE: And with seven weeks left, the Great Disaster is about to begin in spades. The best part is, I have no idea how big this will get or how far they are willing to go.
JE: I think you'll probably agree that there's a logical part of us that is going "Nah, they won't do..." whatever it might be, but then we start talking about Grant Morrison.
BE: Bizarro origin for the win. This was flawless, from Beatty's spot on writing to Doug Mahnke's gorgeous artwork. The backward storytelling was inspired.
JE: It almost makes a kind of sense if you read it forwards, as well, which is pretty disturbing. There's a poetry form that works in a similar fashion. Kudos to Beatty for making this such an excellent contribution to the list of great origins.
BE: When I was a wee slip of a boy, "Secret Origins" was a monthly title from DC (and was mainly reprints of origins). It had two origins per issue. I would pay cash money to see Beatty do a new "Secret Origins" series with two stories an issue.
JE: "Secret Origins" was awesome, especially considering that the pairings hardly ever made any sense. That would be a cool series to kick off once again following the "Final Crisis." What better way to revamp the universe than to give us a guided tour?
BE: This week in "Countdown to Adventure" #7, Forerunner, her love slave Golden Eagle and the crew of her pirate ship reach the Source Wall and visit Earth-51. The book finally catches up with "Countdown to Final Crisis" #13 and we get to see the full battle between Forerunner and Solomon that I complained was too short. It's still short, but Forerunner makes a better go of things in her own book than she did in "Countdown to Final Crisis."
JE: We thought we might see the results here, and we finally did. Though, to be honest, how Forerunner didn't win with both a killing attitude and a lightsaber is beyond me.
BE: Since Monitor-51 survived the blast that wiped out all of Earth-51, I'd say she was playing out of her league.
JE: I'll concede that point. Still, for being such a big new character, Forerunner sure has had her ass handed to her these last few months. I'd hardly call anything she's done a solid win of late.
BE: And surprising since she's been solidly in the hands of her creators. I'm hoping for a comeback in "Final Crisis."
JE: I would hope so. I've grown fond of the character.
BE: In a similar vein, "Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists" #5 dropped this week and we get a good look and Doctor Diehard (the Extremists' answer to Magneto) and a rebellion within Lord Havok's ranks. Meanwhile, Monarch waits for the inevitable answer to his demand to join his multiversal army, which we know to be "yes."
JE: Which will be swiftly followed by utter destruction on Earth-51. Tell me, is it better to know the ending before you read, I ask philosophically?
BE: With this series, it's had little impact. I've enjoyed watching the series get inside the heads of these complex villains. Sadly, I'm afraid this is the last we'll see of them.
JE: I agree. I enjoyed the look at the world of Lord Havok, though the art hurt my consideration of the book at some points. Still, Frank Tieri had a good grip on the world (as well he should, after all his good work at Marvel Comics, around which Lord Havok's world was based).
Panel of the Week
A little clichï¿½d, but the gang's all here.