“Look to the Skies”
Writer: Paul Dini
Pencils: Jesus Saiz
Inks: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colors: Tom Chu
Letters: Travis Lanham
Cover artists: Andy Kubert & Tim Townsend
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN
I’m not all that surprised that DC’s 2006-2007 weekly series, 52, proved to be a sales success. It was so unlike what we’ve seen in North American super-hero comics before that it was bound to attract the attention of fans of the genre. The series’s strong sales are a testament to the novel approach to comics storytelling, but it remains to be seen if the weekly format is a viable. DC and Marvel have demonstrated time and time again that when they happen upon successful formats or concepts, each flogs that horse until it’s good and dead. So Countdown will serve as the true gauge of whether or not there’s life in the weekly format. Fortunately, DC has lined up some solid talent to spearhead the new book, and while it shares some common traits with 52, there are some clear differences as well. As was the case when 52 launched, it’s difficult to tell what to expect from Countdown in the long run, but this first taste offers solid art, a diverse array of players, strong characterization and entertaining action.
Darkseid is back as ruler of the other-dimensional world of corruption and violence known as Apokalips, and he has once again set his sights on conquering Earth and its legion of colorful champions. Meanwhile, Duela Dent, the so-called Joker’s Daughter, is up to no good in Gotham City’s night-life scene, as she kidnaps a pop star with the hopes of netting a tidy ransom. Interfering with her plan is the Red Hood, who has cast aside his usual role as a foil to the Dark Knight to play the role of the hero again. Meanwhile, Mary Batson discovers that she’s not only lost her Shazam! powers but her family as well, while elsewhere, the Flash’s Rogues Gallery meets to discuss the future. And a Monitor appears on Earth, determined to keep elements from parallel realities from infiltrating into others.
I’ve enjoyed Jesus Saiz’s work in the past; he’s been a solid, reliable performer for DC before, so it’s not surprising to find him “promoted” to a higher-profile book. His past work, such as on Manhunter and The OMAC Project, has boasted a darker edge, but he adopts a more conventional approach here. That fits, given the brighter super-hero characters and the more cosmic elements that turn up in the plot. Saiz’s work here reminds me a bit of the styles of Amanda (JSA Classified) Conner and Peter (Helmet of Fate: Zauriel) Snejbjerg. I was particularly impressed with Saiz’s depiction of Mary Batson. Her sexual attributes aren’t what the artist emphasizes. Instead, he focuses on Mary’s expressions. That scene, as she stands in the rain and realizes she’s alone and powerless… it’s a visually powerful moment, more effective than any double-page splash or action sequence.
The gatefold cover is a great marketing image, depicting just about every major player in the DC Universe. That expansive cast isn’t to be found inside this issue, but the cover promises a story of sweeping proportions. For fans of these characters and of DC’s history, it’s a promise and premise that titillates. I also can’t help but wonder if new readers will be drawn in by the wide ranging cast and diverse nature of the characters just like I was as a kid when I discovered new characters in every comic book I got my hands on. Still, the cover tends to indicate a much larger event and cast in this first episode, so I suspect a few readers will feel disappointed.
The Monitors’ appearance in the latter part of the issue hints at what the main plot or one of the main plotlines is going to be. It seems Paul Dini and his team of writers will venture into the territory of the revived multiverse that we saw in the final issue of 52. One might say including the Monitors and references to the multiverse in this debut issue would make for an inaccessible read, but Dini’s script contains just enough information to clue new readers in. Dini could have told the readers more about the Red Hood and his significance, but the other characters are given sufficient introduction.
What I enjoyed the most about this issue was Dini’s emphasis on characterization over the cosmic elements. The Darkseid and Monitor scenes open and close this issue, respectively, but the real meat of the issue is to be found in character interaction and introspection. The Rogues plotline is one that’s really got my attention, and the Mary Marvel scene is a powerful one to which many can relate. I thought Dini did a great job with the Joker’s Daughter. It’s a rather different take than the one we saw in Teen Titans recently, but I liked her. She plays the role of villain in this story, but there’s a playful quality to the character that makes her attractive, even something of an anti-hero. Dini gets the audience to care about her, and that’s an important element to drive home the tragic qualities of the cosmic plotline in which the Monitors are involved.
There’s something else about this issue that stood out for me. This opening issue boasted a greater degree of design, of direction than we saw early on in 52. Sure, the quartet of writers behind Countdown’s predecessor had a plan from the start, but there just seems to be a more focused quality at play here that sets it apart from 52. Perhaps certain lessons that were learned in the crafting of 52 are being applied here to arrive at a stronger product, or perhaps it’s just wishful thinking on my part. In any case, I remain interested and look forward to the episodes to be released in the coming weeks. 7/10