Monday, December 03, 2007

Compared to Countdown, 52 is a failure

I didn't mean to let so much time to past between posts, but that's the way things sometimes go, unfortunately. I've been working on this post on and off, so I thought I'd post the first part, the second part to follow soon.

From its fifty-first issue, I've heard more complaints about Countdown then I think the series deserves. Many appear to favor 52 as the better series for any number of reasons and with this I disagree. I think, there was more excitement over 52's release because of: (1) the gathering of DC talent, apparently in harmony, to write the comic; and (2) people waiting for the book to stumble and miss a week. Soon, it became apparent that the book wouldn't miss a week, so more people enjoyed the comic for its own sake. Still, despite some enjoyable stories, especially Booster Gold's story, 52 left me cold, never fulfilled its pre-publication promises. For me, 52, no matter how good the stories were, was ultimately a failure because what was offered for sale was different from what was initially promised. However, I am enjoying Countdown much more than I did 52, if for no other reason then that week in and week out, Countdown is exactly the comic book promised.

I think many complaints about Countdown derive from the fact that it isn't 52, which isn't fair to either book. The two are different titles, created with two different purposes aforethought. To complain about Countdown for what it isn't is like being told a red object on display is an apple, buying it after being told it is an apple, and then complaining after taking a bite that it isn't an orange. Countdown is the apple, 52 is the orange.

When we first heard of 52, we were told that it would be a weekly comic published for one year, set in the post-Infinite Crisis DCU and where we would see how the DCU functions without Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Additionally, 52 had at least one ongoing hook, "What is 52?", though some, like me, could include the "few months later" questions, such as how did Hawkgirl become a giant and then return to normal size, as another set of mysteries in the book. In the wake of 52's success, DC announced Countdown as its next year-long, weekly comic. The raison d'etre of Countdown, we were told, was that it would serve as the backbone of the DCU as the DCU marched toward "something," which we since have learned is Final Crisis. Additionally, it was said, that if a person read just Countdown, that person could still follow the threads of story therein and when the book ended, have all the information needed in order to follow and enjoy Final Crisis.

Looking first at 52, I suggest that by the time the first issue was printed, DC promised readers they would see three things by its end: 1) Readers would honestly see the DCU without Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman; (2) The presentation and the solution of the "mystery of 52," in which I will expand to include the mysteries within 52, like the "few months later" explanations and who is Supernova; and (3) To present comic-book stories in real-time. For me, by its end, 52 only came through on (3). As for the first two points, the story driving the "mystery of 52" started strong, but that was swept aside early in the run as the writers changed the direction of the book, telling more personal stories of the portagonist(s), thereby isolating the stories more from the DCU than I think was originally intended.

Does anyone really think that the World War III one-shots were part of the 52 publication plan, especially since they weren't written by the 52 writers? I know that in light of the many Countdown-related titles currently in release, it seems absurd that the WWIII one-shots weren't planned out, but wasn't part of 52's conceit the statement that the entire story would take place within its pages. Yet, it appears to me that WWIII wasn't a planned event because within those four books were all the little bits of business necessary to show a DCU without the Big 3 and to get characters and titles to the places they were found when at the beginning of the "One Year Later" stories. People cry constantly that they are forced to buy comics other then Countdown to follow the story, an opinion with which disagree; as part of the Countdown side of this post, I may explain the difference between "necessary to follow the story" and "obsessive need to make sure some scrap of story isn't encountered first hand"; but if you are going to complain about and not the other, then you are blind to the faults of 52.

And, personally, that is the reason that 52 failed with regard to making due with the pre-publication promises. Because of the focus on five core stories--Booster, Question, Heroes in Space, Luthor gives out super powers, and Island of the Mad Scientists--the greater sweep of the DCU was forgotten. By series end, I never had a feeling for the DCU would be like without Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman because there was really nothing inherent in the stories in 52 that made them any different had they been printed as individual mini-series. The year without the Big 3 didn't feel any different reading a random story featuring a random hero.

For example, months can go by in Flash or Birds of Prey with nary a mention or appearance of the Big 3, let alone other DCU characters. You might counter this by saying Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman are at least available to lend a hand in those books, but the reality is that, unless it is crossover season, the central character(s) rarely ask for outside help. That's the feeling I developed reading 52: these were five individual stories presented in the traditional DCU and the absence of the Big 3 from those stories was felt no differently by the protagonists therein then if they were going about their lives on any random Wednesday without Batman, Superman, and/or Wonder Woman showing up.

When the time came to reveal the solution of the mystery of 52, the trend of the book, save for the Booster Gold story, had moved so far from having the mystery being central that the solution felt more like an afterthought. That the mystery of 52 had become secondary to many readers was apparent from the reaction of "What mystery?" to the final house ad for the series that asked the reader, "Have you solved the mystery?" If possible, forget that Dan Didio spilled the secret in a DC Nation column months before the series was complete, and just think about 52; do you remember thinking about the mystery of 52 as any of the various stories, other then Booster's, were coming to an end?

In the end, all 52 was was just an anthology title sold to a readership that, so we are told, do not like or want anthologies. It was not pre-sold that way, but that is what it became. All the flaws of 52 are ignored while a majority (or maybe a more vocal minority, afterall, this discussion is happening primarily on the Internet) fixate on the many problems with Countdown, the main problem being that it isn't 52. Next time, why Countdown isn't as awful as people think it is.