Gob's theme backmasked
First things first: Kool-Aid pickles. Best word in the piece: "recovered." Runner-up: "red," as in "the popular red flavor family." (Lisa notes that a person who sold her a donut once told her the fillings available were "blueberry, lemon, and red.") But how are they otherwise different from, say, the sweet gherkins I devoured by the half-jar as a kid?
Project Omniherbivore continues, in theory, but the closest I came this week was buying a few things (miner's lettuce, pea shoots, something salty and wiry identified only as "sea vegetable") that I hadn't cooked before but have definitely eaten before. The Oxford Companion to Food says that some salad authority or other claims that miner's lettuce is the finest of all winter salad ingredients. I'll take their word for it.
It was, honestly, a bit of a relief to have my first new-comic-day afternoon free in a year (and to have that coincide with the 52 Pickup entry for the final issue getting its 52nd comment). I did pick up the first issue of Countdown, though, and... well... it's really not good. (What follows, I'm afraid, will only make any kind of sense to other people who've read it. Everyone else: see you in a few days!)
There's an argument that goes that this is only the first chapter of another 1000-page story, it's too early to give it a fair appraisal, etc. But Countdown 51 is itself a thing. It's an individual comic book with a $2.99 cover price, and it has the same remit as any other first episode of a serial: to lay out what kind of story is going on, and to cast out irresistible hooks for the rest of the story. And it completely fails at that.
Start with the cover: a big Andy Kubert action shot of a whole bunch of characters running or flying in 180 degrees' worth of directions. It's an action shot, but it offers no clues to the plot or to the themes of Countdown (the way the J.G. Jones cover for the first 52, and his covers for most issues, symbolically represented what was happening in the story); it's just a whole lot of characters, most of whom don't appear on the inside.
Then there's that opening scene of Darkseid and Desaad "playing Heroclix," as my friend Annie put it. (A two-page spread is a lot of space; it ought to have some kind of visual impact. This doesn't.) "Even the humblest of souls touches others" isn't much of a theme--it is one, but not much of one--and in any case there's nothing else here that supports it. Again, the beginning of a long comics story like this one has to do something much more immediate.
Just for comparison's sake, going to my bookshelf: The first page of The Dark Knight Returns establishes the look and tone of the whole thing in the course of a one-page action sequence, and it's got that bit with Bruce Wayne thinking "This would be a good death... but not good enough." Kingdom Come opens with Wesley Dodds quoting Revelation to Norman--an Easter egg if you know who Wesley is (and it's explained a few pages later anyway), but a knockout of a scene either way. The New Frontier begins with the slow, movie-style zoom in on the Pacific Island cave full of weapons in which John Cloud burns a stick, blows out the fire, and starts writing his story on the wall for posterity: it's not huge plot-wise, but it conveys Darwyn Cooke's attention to setting and gesture beautifully. Planetary establishes Elijah Snow and Jakita Wagner and their M.O. by a quarter of the way through page three of the first issue. The first panel of the first issue of Criminal (the collection came out today!) is one of my favorite opening moments in recent memory: Leo peeking around a wall with a worried look on his face, lifting his full-face mask off his face (the situation, as we understand from the next panel, is that he's part of a group committing an armed robbery), captioned "Whenever things begin to fall to pieces, I think of my father." There's no way not to want to know more.
All of this is incredibly important to the reading experience, because the precise length of time a story has to impress someone who doesn't already have a stake in reading it is until they get bored. Admittedly, Countdown comes with its own stake--it's the "spine" of the DCU for the next year--but that's no excuse for an opening this dull. As readers, we understand that a first scene (a first panel, a first issue) is a signal of what's going to follow: the outfit a series is wearing to its job interview.
For the rest of this issue, though, all we get is C-list characters justifying their C-list-ness, soggy expository dialogue like "I may be from a neighboring Earth, but I have to maintain my bad girl cred, too," and a Monitor delivering a pistol-whipping. I know who all of the characters who appeared here are, but not one of them does anything to make me care what they do next. The most dispiriting bit, for me, is the ending: a "cliffhanger" that makes zero sense unless you're already enough of a continuity fetishist to know what the Great Disaster is and who Ray Palmer is, and has near-zero dramatic impact anyway. I mean, there are dozens of ways to handle the tormented-oracle-reveals-cryptic-yet-horrifying-prophecy scene--it's a staple of the quest/prophecy/find-the-object story. (Compare, for instance, another great graphic novel opening scene: the first few pages of Charles Burns's Black Hole, where Keith slits open the frog he's dissecting and has his vision of his future--five pages into the story, and I was terrified, dying to know what happened next, and pretty much fully set up with what the themes and tone of the whole thing were going to be.) This way just doesn't work.
Also, that damn teaser ad. I loved the "WWMMD?" idea when the first round of Countdown teasers went out--just think about the story possibilities of a cult of personality around a superhero who's an impossible goody-goody--but the Evil = Boobs equation this image offers is so played out I can't even appreciate it with imaginary quotation marks around it.
A small note: This site isn't going to become Where Douglas Writes About Countdown, although I'm probably going to have a bit more to say about periodical comics here in the future, among other stuff. Lacunae is the what's-on-my-mind and what-I'm-doing blog, not a comics blog. No, really.