I was bagging my comics this morning and of course came up exactly three bags short. So I drove to my favorite comic book and supply store, the place I worked at when I was in graduate school and where I have been a customer for 20 years now. I was startled to find the owner was actually working today, since it is a Sunday, but it turns out there was a Heroclix tournament going on and the other clerks were busy playing. The store owner has a great sense of humor, and even when he is being dry, he gets this gleam in his eye so I can tell when he is not being serious. With that particular glint, he ask, "Have you heard that our long national nightmare is over?"
Rick and I often have political discussions, as well as discussions about books and movies. Without a context, I was unsure what he was talking about. I guess I looked dumbfounded, because he followed up fairly quickly with "...now that the final Countdown has come out?" I grinned, in part at the memory in the same store on Wednesday picking up the week's book and serenading the employees and customers with a decidedly Southern and more off-key version of Europe's 80s rock hit, "The Final Countdown." But before I could respond, the poor customer who was trapped in our verbal volley asked if it was that bad. Rick responded, and I was taken aback: "Well, financially, we still have 97% of the sales from issue 1, so I liked it. But it was a horrible story and DC should be embarrassed." What was so astounding about this was not just that Rick was so honest about an issue of a comic he was still trying to sell, and that in fact this customer had in his hands, but that he was still selling 97% of his initial sales on a weekly basis!
I've been pretty frank about my opinions of recent writing at DC. I think their pinning a years' worth of stories on something that was apparently so poorly planned out was shameful. I've stopped doing comic reviews for a while because otherwise I would end up blogging on a weekly basis about the same crop of books all the time: Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps, and Detective. What is so odd is that as much as I am enjoying Detective, its writer--Paul Dini--was supposed to be the architect of Countdown. And the potential and success of those two series are completely opposite: Detective is exciting and refreshing while Countdown appears to spent a year marching steadily in place.
I recognize that it is incumbent on a critic to explain the reasons why he doesn't like something, probably moreso than why he likes something. And part of my problem is that I can't remember details about Countdown, which simultaneously points out one of its biggest flaws. I've been reading the book for 52 weeks and yet I can barely remember any details from it--was that really DC's goal? The best I can do is catalog the differences in the DC Universe from the beginning of Countdown to its end.
1. Jimmy Olsen had all the powers of the New Gods, then lost them, so that by the end of the series, nothing has changed for him except that he has fond memories.
2. Speaking of which, all the New Gods aer apparently dead, except for the "spirit" of Orion, who helps defeat Darkseid but is voiceless and ghostlike, and a new Forager, a character we have never seen before and doesn't offer a whole lot of promise for the future.
3. There is a new group "Monitoring the monitors" made up of Donna Troy, Kyle Raynor, Ray Palmer and the aforementioned new Forager. Expect most of the work for this group to be performed by Ray and Forager, since Donna and Kyle have their own books to be a part of.
4. Mary Marvel went evil, then good, then evil again. Now she is challenging Black Adam. And all during this yearlong period of angst for her, Billy Batson and Captain Marvel are nowhere to be found.
5. Jean Loring is not Eclipso any longer; the mantle has gone back to Bruce Gordon.
6. And Monarch has put together a pan-universal army that includes the Extremists. Just why we have no idea, but we spent a total of 10 issues of side series getting to that point.
So some things have happened, but a lot of each of these could have been handled in their own mini-series, instead of dragging readers along for 52 weeks. In terms of sweeping changes to the DC Universe, promised changes to the status quo, there is nothing. I can't think of a darned thing that is different, other than the reading has become that much more tedious in almost all the series.
But to go back to Rick's statement, the amazing thing is that he kept the vast majority of his sales over the course of the year. Why didn't anyone give up the series....why didn't I give up the series? For myself, I know I am a completist--once I start a series, it takes a lot to make me stop reading it; I am DC's dream customer. But I have been saying for a while now that I wanted to stop reading, so why didn't I quit the series? And as silly as the answer sounds, it is exactly this: I bought the hype, that something important was going to happen in the course of the 52 weeks. If you had told me before the series started that the New Gods would be wiped out, I would have thought that was a huge event, but there have been no repercussions, and apparently most of the DC Universe doesn't even know it yet. And I am already hearing rumors that Darkseid is going to show up in the next major event, Final Crisis, so it would appear that I did wisely by holding on to my emotional energy. As best I can tell from reading numerous boards, including DC's own, very few people are very happy with Countdown but most of them read the whole dang thing. So, no matter how poorly it was handled, it has to be a success in DC's eyes, and there is no reason for them not to do something like this again.
I've been resistant to the whole idea of waiting for a story arc to come out in graphic novel format, but I now see one huge advantage to it--I would only be buying things that have been reviewed and vetted, and thus saving money both because the graphic novels are cheaper than the per-issue cost and because I would be buying fewer comics altogether. I don't want to think like this, as I enjoy the serial nature of buying comic books on a weekly or monthly basis, but the strains of the Who are drifting in my mind, "I won't be fooled again." I'll give it one last shot, but if I get burned even a little bit, I'm seriously going to reconsider how and why I buy comics.