Wednesday, June 29, 2016


First draft of the script he was all "SEX! Now that I have your attention ..."

DC Comics is undergoing another line-wide revamp of the relaunch of its most recent reboot, and I think we can all agree it's about time! I think it's been almost six months since the last line-wide revamp of the relaunch of a reboot, and the whole company was starting to grow whiskers. Ideally, in order to keep it all wiggity-wiggity-fresh, they'll relaunch everything again before I finish typing this sentence.

What's so exciting about DC's "Rebirth" event is that it's helmed by exactly the same people who were in charge of all the other most recent company-wide do-over-ing, so there's no doubt that great things can be expected. There are, of course, one or two exciting new names and titles announced alongside all the usual mulligans but, if the past continues to be prologue, then you can expect them to be cancelled early, left unpromoted, nitpicked to apoplexy by editorial and possibly groped on their way past the Superman offices.

The grand panjandrums currently in charge of DC's industrial comic-extruding division have, historically, seemed to have a shaky grasp on the "toybox" metaphor of the shared-character concept which lies at the core of corporate comic book superhero universes. The idea, exercised consistently and largely successfully for the last half-century of superheroes' increasing ascendance in popular culture, is that creators are to remove a toy from the box, play with it, and then carefully place it back in the box for the next set of creators to come along.

Quoted directly from editorial.
Under the current regime of DC Comics, though, the philosophy seems to have been "Wreck your toys, buy new ones, and then wreck them too."

Looking back at the "event" comics which have come out under Dan Didio's lengthy career at DC Comics, it's hard to pick one book which best embodies this idea. Just when you think Identity Crisis or Infinite Crisis or Blackest Night or, really, the New 52 might be its apotheosis, you remember Flashpoint or Convergence or Future's End ... or Countdown: Arena.

Countdown was the infamous followup to the weekly series 52, and was a book which enjoyed none of the critical or commercial success of its predecessor. Despite this, it was celebrated by its publisher, and spun off a multitude of related miniseries -- most of which traded on the currency of new characters killed unceremoniously.

Countdown: Arena, in its scant four issues, managed to simultaneously rack up a body count both of newly created characters and freshly killed characters which made all of the other books -- even the baffling and unnecessary Countdown: Lord Havok and the Extremists -- look like an even more innocuous version of the Teletubbies by comparison.

The premise of the book capitalized on the recently-relaunched DC Multiverse, 52 shiny new universes introduced as a playground for readers and creators alike to explore to their hearts content. The Countdown series became the first playground on which the possibilities of the new multitude of heroes and villains could be explored, but it turned out to be a playground from Shiroiwa Junior High School. That's a Battle Royale joke. I had to look it up, to be honest.

Arena, to be more specific, was the unwelcome wheat thresher advancing on that playground. The plot involved inter-dimensional super-baddie Monarch (actually a bloodthirsty Captain Atom) gathering superheroes and villains from each of the fifty-two dimensions in order to amass an army to battle the seemingly all-powerful Monitors, for some damn reason. This seems like a boilerplate plot but, for some reason, military man Captain Atom is an absolute strategic nitwit and decides not only to assemble a team of only the toughest, mightiest heroes in the multiverse (that makes sense), but to only pick one of each type (that seems limiting) and only after they've proven themselves by killing their other-dimensional duplicates (which seems moronic).

The culling manifests itself as a series of three-person battles between similar characters, leaving two dead and one to advance. There are also random killings along the way -- in fact, that's how Monarch "grabs someone's attention," by just slaughtering dudes left and right.

So, what was the cost of Countdown: Arena? In the pages of four issues, the series introduced and destroyed a Steve Trevor, a pair of Robins, at least one Batgirl and one Ultraa, at least three Teen Titans, four Justice Society members, six characters reminiscent of the late-Eighties/early-Nineties book L.E.G.I.O.N., a Martian Manhunter, an Aquaman, a Ray, an Apollo, a Starman (and a Star-Gorilla), two each of Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Blue Beetle, Flash and Green Lantern, three Nightshades, around fifty incarnations of Captain Atom, and a few other character so hastily drawn into the background of meaningless obliteration that I couldn't make them out clearly.
This seems like a weird time to focus on his crotch.

And to what end? Just as a multiverse of infinite possibilities had been introduced, Countdown: Arena showed up to depopulate it.

It's not impossible to tell a compelling or, at the very least, an interesting story based around mass murder. The Hunger Games became a wildly popular franchise built on the premise of teenagers snuffing it under a dome, Attack on Titan is a phenomenon as a story about humanity's persistence among moments of mortal terror, and even the Saw franchise survives on the ingenuity of its violence and degradation. Also, you might have heard of Game of Thrones.

Arena has none of this, it's like a Play-Doh factory of superhero death; you push out a little model of a Superman and squish him under a book, you roll out a little Wonder Woman and smoosh her back in the can. Explosions replace ingenuity, shouting stands in for meaning, and in the end ...

It's easy to destroy a thing, and almost easier to create a thing -- particularly if it's only been created to be destroyed. The difficult part is nurturing a thing, keeping it around long enough to grow, or gel, or to find its footing. To no small degree, Countdown:Arena is still happening and has been happening in DC Comics almost non-stop for fifteen years, an endless parade of new ideas set up to be knocked down, and only kept around long enough to bleed ... or disappear into another revamp.

I hear these exact words at least once a week.


Count Otto Black said...

You must admit that anybody whose incredible superpower consists of being slightly better at everything than normal people, calls himself "Mister Terrific" in case his colleagues, some of whom are strong enough to push planets into new orbits, can outrun light, or are literally the personification of the wrath of God Almighty, are having trouble remembering why he's on the team, and writes "FAIR PLAY" on his chest as a clever way of reminding psychopaths with actual superpowers not to use them otherwise they'll win, thoroughly deserves to have whatever Monarch did to him at the top of that panel done to him repeatedly until he realizes he's a waste of space and gets a more appropriate job, like TV quizmaster.

By the way, is this the same Monarch who regularly gets his ass kicked by the Venture Brothers? If so, no wonder he's pissed off!

BillyWitchDoctor said...

Terry Sloane was the epitome of White People's Problems--the ultimate human, mentally and physically, by accident of birth, he set out to commit suicide because he was bored with life's lack of challenges. Instead, he foiled another suicide attempt, realized that other people had bigger problems, and spent the rest of his life striving to help others (primarily poor city kids) reach their full potential.

I'ma cut him slack on his choices in apparel.

Also, in the original run of the Justice Society in All-Star Comics, I think he was a member for exactly one adventure. Let's be reasonable: the bulk of the original JSA was made up of a boxer, a Judo chick, an angry short guy, a Green Lantern knockoff with a solar-powered dildo, a dude who brought chemical warfare into group melees but only one gas mask, a guy who strapped huge wings to his torso just for looks, and a fella who could see in the dark. Every one of them could have had their heads punched off by Mr. Terrific if the writer allowed it, and if he stayed out of Hourman's reach for sixty minutes he could finish him off too.

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