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Reviews and commentary by Tony Isabella
"America's Most Beloved Comic-Book Writer & Columnist"

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for Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Countdown 51

Yea, verily, thus it was written and sometimes over-written. Identity Crisis begat Infinite Crisis which, in turn, begat 52, which begat Countdown, which will soon be known as Countdown to Final Crisis because the numbers have been soft. I'm guessing we won't have the DC super-heroes to kick around anymore after Final Crisis...unless someone rewrites the dictionary between now and then. On the plus side, the garage sales at the Batcave and Fortress of Solitude should be absolutely incredible.

TONY'S ONLINE TIPS has been on another brief hiatus while I've been working my "day job" and Justin has been at conventions in San Diego and Chicago. We'll discuss this a bit more further down the column. In any case, I figured I'd jump right back into the fray by discussing/reviewing Countdown #51-42 [$2.99 each], the first ten issues of DC's current weekly series.

Identity Crisis was well-written if you could overlook the many heroes and villains who acted wildly out of character in its seven issues. Some fans could, others couldn't; for the most part, I fell into the undecided camp.

Infinite Crisis was occasionally well-done, but what I remember most is its brutality and unsatisfying ending. Which is to say that it didn't really end. It was continued in a number of equally unsatisfying mini-series.

I liked 52 much better because it had an actual concept and stories, namely, what happens when Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are gone for a year. I didn't love everything in the series, but there was some real good stuff in there.

Which brings us to Countdown.

Paul Dini is the "show runner" of Countdown, a notion lifted from TV. Dini's a terrific writer and I can appreciate the need for such coordination/supervision when a series is juggling so many elements of the DCU. I also recognize that Hollywood is the model for much of DC does of late, a natural enough evolution given Senior VP-Executive Editor Dan Didio's TV background and DC getting its big-screen ass kicked by Marvel on an alarmingly regular basis. I might wish it was otherwise - I tend to prefer super-hero comics with more individual temperament than those which come out of vast planning sessions - but it's the way of things for the time being and many DC readers enjoy the results. On occasion, I'm even one of them. Just not so much with this series.

I'm not going to review Countdown issue by issue. The writing is pretty much of a cookie-cutter nature. The best writers have done better work elsewhere, the weaker ones show no apparent improvement. The art is perfectly adequate to tell these stories, but none of it has bowled me over.

There seem to be eight "main" stories in Countdown and I'll comment on them in alphabetical order. I can be as anal in my own way as the tightest continuity buff.

Beware, there are spoilers ahead.

Countdown 48


Since Jack Kirby's original series of "Fourth World" titles, my interest in Darkseid and crew has been minimal. It was minimal for the one or two days in 1976 when I was assigned to write The Return of the New Gods during the three weeks between the time Gerry Conway left DC to become the Marvel editor-in-chief and his subsequent return. I had no clue what I would do with all of those great Kirby characters and was glad when Conway expressed interest in resuming work on the title.

My interest has remained minimal. It was kind of cool seeing the Legion of Super-Heroes fight Darkseid in the 30th Century, less so when I realized that meant he outlived all the heroes opposing him in our time. It's been cool seeing the New Gods appear in DC's various animated series. I keep meaning to read the series which John Byrne did several years back. But, by and large, the heroes and villains don't interest me when they're not written and drawn by Jack Kirby.

The one thing about Darkseid's appearance in Countdown that does interest me is wondering how close DC is going to come to something I suggested in 1995:

This wouldn't be the first time a major DC event was based on something of mine. My original plans for Hawkman included elements later used in Millennium and Invasion. When I came up with them, I was told it was impertinent of me to suggest stories that would have far-ranging effects on the DCU. They must have sounded better when others "came up" with them.

Holly Robinson.

I'm undecided on this one, partly because I'm a year behind on Catwoman. But I like Holly and I'm interested in where her path will take her next.

Countdown 49

Jason Todd and Donna Troy.

Neither one of these characters is supposed to be here or, at least, that's what they've been told by a murderous Monitor and an alien killer. I can't say I disagree. Bringing Jason Todd back as a psychotic killer never thrilled me, nor can I understand why the Batman hasn't caught him and thrown him in Arkham. I used to like Donna Troy, but she's been done wrong by every writer who's written her after Marv Wolfman...and even my pal Marv got pretty shaky near the end of his Titans run. Apparently, their mission is to locate Ray Palmer, who holds the key to something or other. So far, it's not an interesting mission.

Jimmy Olsen.

He's one of the greatest comics character of all and the last time he's been consistently well handled was when Jack Kirby wrote and drew him. I like Jimmy a lot. I like goofy Silver Age Jimmy and I like two-fisted "Fourth World" Jimmy and I like Jack Larson as Jimmy. This is a supporting character with considerable range, not to mention ongoing potential. I was looking forward to Jimmy playing a major role in this series, but, alas, I think Didio plans to make his bones by killing off the character. I hope I'm wrong. If I'm not, we might be talking vendetta...and Italian guys like me and Didio knows that can get ugly.

Countdown 45

Karate Kid.

As near as I can figure, some members of some version of the Legion of Super-Heroes came to our century...and some of them have stayed here. Apparently, to understand this plot thread, you must read the recent Justice League/Justice Society crossover. Which I haven't read yet. Not that I think I should have to read another comic book title to understand this one. Old school guy that I am, I think it's the job of the writer and the editor to make sure the reader knows what's going on.

Don't get me started on how much I hate Black Lightning acting like Batman's subservient sidekick in this sequence. Where's Mike W. Barr when you need him?

Digression. I really didn't intend to be this snarky when I started writing this column.

Countdown is making me do it.

End of digression.

Countdown 47

Mary Marvel.

This is my favorite Countdown storyline, which says a lot when you consider how much I loathe Judd Winick's mishandling of the Marvel Family. But here's sweet Mary Marvel, who got really screwed over by her brother and whatever Freddy Freeman is to her in current continuity, getting mixed up with Black Adam, who is, at once, one of the scariest and tragic characters in the DCU. She's a good girl going a bit bad and her journey is an intriguing one. I also dug the appearance of the Riddler. Yeah, this sequence is working for me.

The Monitors.

There are cosmic guardians who rub me the wrong way. Almost all of them actually. I'd happily give swirlies to the blue dwarfs of Oa. If the Watchers of the Marvel Universe wear underwear, I'd give them wedgies. But, the Monitors, while annoying, are semi-interesting. I like that some of them have their own agendas and are not to be trusted...and that I'm not entirely sure which ones those are. I want to see where this goes.

Pied Piper and Trickster. I guess you had to have read The Flash to get the full story on them, but Countdown made it clear that, much to the two villain' consternation, the other Rogues actually managed to kill Bart Allen. These two guys wanted to be bad guys again, but not *that* bad. Their lives have gotten very complicated and scary.

I like these characters and I suspect Countdown might be setting them up for some sort of redemption arc, which, knowing DC, will probably play out in some limited series that won't really end but will continue in another limited series.

I know. I'm being snarky again. Let's just say this sequence also has my attention and interest.

Let's be honest. An awful lot of comics reviews come down to the reviewer's own tastes. I'm sure there are DC readers who read every DCU title and truly relish how those titles interconnect with each other, readers who enjoy the vastness of it all. Me, I like the smaller stages, the places where you can tell human stories of superhuman folks. To its credit, Countdown has some of that. Just not enough to win me over.

Countdown #51-42 get a disappointing two Tonys. I hope things pick up when I next review the title.

Tony Tony



Most every week, there are new Tony Polls questions for your entertainment and edification. I'm way behind in giving you the results of past polls, but I'll try to catch up over the next few weeks. Here are the results of a couple of questions you were asked back in May...

Eisner Awards

Which of these awards do you believe best represents the comics art form and industry?

Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.....66.67%
Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Awards.....23.19%
Harvey Kurtzman Awards.....5.80%
Wizard Fan Awards.....2.90%
Eagle Awards.....1.45%

For yours truly, "Best" was the key word in both this and the follow-up question. I voted for the Eisners, but I think all these awards exhibit some bias. The Eisner nomination process is often skewed by out-of-the-industry judges. The CBG Awards reflect the bias of the magazine's readership towards DC Comics. The Harveys favor alternatives. The Wizard Awards are geared toward teenage boys of all ages. Only the Brit-centric Eagle Awards makes their bias obvious from the start.

CBG 1633

Which of the awards do you believe best reflects your own favorites in the comics art form and industry?

Comics Buyer's Guide Fan Awards.....48.44%
Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards.....35.94%
Harvey Kurtzman Awards.....7.81%
Eagle Awards.....4.69%
Wizard Fan Awards.....3.12%

I voted for the Eisners on this one as well. They are flawed, but, to me, they most often represent the finest our industry has to offer.

When next I bring you Tony Polls results, we'll see how you voted on this year's CBG Awards and compare the results to the actual CBG Awards balloting. I'll be astonished if I agreed with a third of the winners.

In the meantime, we continue our TOT tradition of asking you to vote on TV's Emmy Awards. There are 15 categories left for you to weigh in on and the questions will remain active until sometime after midnight on Monday, August 20.

You can cast your votes by going to:



Tony Teaser

I don't mean to be a tease, but I can't tell you much about my "day job" that takes priority over writing TOT. That might change to some degree sometime next year. However, for now, all I'm able to tell you is this:

I'm writing comics. My name won't appear on what I'm writing. I'm working with a creator I admire greatly and with characters I love. I'm being paid better than Marvel, DC, or almost every other comics company has ever paid me. I'm being treated with far more respect than I was ever treated by DC and as good - if not better - than I've been treated by any other comics company. I'm in a good place doing work I'm proud of.

I still love writing TOT, but it takes a back seat to this and other work that actually bring me paychecks. Save for a handful of generous readers, the "Tip The Tipster" link has pretty much been a joke since we first put it on this page. And, while TOT's hits are high, the feedback I get on these columns through e-mail or on my message board is slight. As my dear friend who I've never once communicated with Stephen Colbert might say, "The marketplace has spoken." My readers are obviously poor and shy.

I still love you all madly, though, and I'll keep writing TOT as often as I am able. Just understand that, when there is no TOT on any given Monday through Friday, it's not because I've turned my back on you. It's because I can only squeeze so much life and work into any given day.

Thanks for spending a part of your day with me. I'll be back as soon as possible with more stuff.

Tony Isabella

<< 07/23/2007 | 08/14/2007 | 08/15/2007 >>

Discuss this column with me at my Message Board. Also, read Heroes and Villains: Real and Imagined and view my Amazon Wish List.

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Zero Tonys
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.

ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.

TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?

THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.

FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?

FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.

Please send material you would like me to review to:

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