04.23.2008

Countdown to Adventure

Countdown to AdventureI’m writing this particular blog to discuss, the DC comic “Countdown to Adventure”.  However, I feel it necessary to give you my perspective on the main title “Countdown to Final Crisis” first.  So please bear with me…

Countdown to Final Crisis
I recently put myself through “Countdown” hell.  It was an excruciating process, but one I felt necessary in order to get caught up in my comic book reading.  I’ve been buying DC’s “Countdown to Final Crisis” since it started.  It’s a weekly comic being published for one year, which is supposed to ultimately lead to DC’s next big crossover “Final Crisis“.  I stayed on top of “Countdown” on a weekly basis for a while, but consistently felt disappointed by it.  I’m obviously not alone, as it’s become one of the most maligned comics in recent history.  Eventually, I just gave up reading it (but continued to buy it), promising myself I would sit down and read them all prior to “Final Crisis”.  Well, here we sit just a few weeks away from “Final Crisis”.  I decided it’s time to get caught up on “Countdown”.
Over the course of a week, I read 36 “Countdown”-related comics:

The primary “Countdown to Final Crisis” has been disappointing.  Coming on the tails of the fantastic weekly comic 52, this one is a let down.  Also, considering the amount of money it takes to collect a year-long weekly series, I would hope for more return on my investment.  You can read my thoughts on the first half of “Countdown to Final Crisis” over on THE UNIQUE GEEK listserv, which I posted back in October.  There has certainly been a few shining moments in this comic, but taken as a whole it hasn’t been worth the financial drain and time spent.  If you have some burning desire to throw away money, you can order from your local comic book shop the “Countdown to Final Crisis” trade paperbacks that cover issues #51-26 –  volume 1 & volume 2

The “Search for Ray Palmer” specials were also fairly disappointing.  Basically they were just trying to capitalize on the popularity of some of their previously-published Elseworlds comics.  It really didn’t add much to those old storylines, and in some ways sullied them.  Other than the Jokester and the Victorian-era Blue Beetle, I really can’t remember anything redeeming about these specials.  Just my opinion.  In hindsight, I’ve read all of these and I’m still not sure why finding Ray Palmer was important.  If you are a glutton for punishment, you can order the “Search for Ray Palmer” trade paperback from your local comic book shop.

Countdown Arena” was actually better than I expected.  This was the comic I was dreading the most, so I guess my expectations were already low.  It was basically “Fight Club” for the Multiverse set.  There were some neat moments: the tantric Superman, the Blue Beetle fight, the Nightshade fight, the Captain Atom brigade, and stuff like that.  In the end, I’m glad I read this one.  Also, Scott McDaniel’s art is really good (but then again, he almost always is great).  You can order the “Countdown Arena” trade paperback from your local comic shop.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that I did not read (and have no plans to read) “Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists”.  No matter how big of a Justice League Europe fan I am, I’m still not going to read this crap.  Lastly, I have been buying the “Countdown to Mystery” mini-series, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.  Hopefully it will be worth it.

Countdown to Adventure 
Adam StrangeThis brings us to “Countdown to Adventure”. This was an eight-issue mini-series focusing on what DC calls their “spacefaring heroes”.  Those heroes include: Adam Strange, Starfire, Animal Man, and Forerunner.  Each issue featured a 21-page lead story written by Adam Beechen featuring Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire; with a 17-page back-up story written by Justin Gray featuring Forerunner.  Personally, I would have preferred more pages for Adam Strange and Animal Man (less for Forerunner), but I still enjoyed the comic.

Now each issue of this comic cost $3.99.  On the surface, that seems expensive.  However, if you break that up by page cost, that’s a pretty good deal for 38 pages at 10 cents a page, whereas the typical 22 page comic for $2.99 is 13 cents a page.  Truthfully, the trade paperback is the best deal at 9 cents a page, but I wasn’t going to wait for the trade.

Lead Story
Animal ManOne of the most appealing factors of this series to me is the oddball characters thrown together.  The three lead characters are completely different and have no logical connection.  However, ever since “52” these characters have worked together really well.  Adam Strange is your classic Flash Gordon-like action hero.  As a huge JLA fan, I’ve been negligent about giving two shits about Adam Strange. I always found him incredibly boring; I just didn’t “get it”.  However, once I read the Adam Strange Planet Heist mini-series in 2004 where they revamped him, it clicked.  He’s a really cool character!  That mini-series is available in trade paperback also.  Starfire is the naive yet incredibly sexy alien princess.  I’ve never been a huge fan of hers, but then most writers don’t handle her very well.  Animal Man is the somewhat regular guy, married with kids, getting caught up in these nutso adventures.  His secret identity is Buddy Baker, and most people end up calling him Buddy, rather than Animal Man.  I’m not sure what writer thought Animal Man (a guy whose powers are based on Earth animals) was the perfect character for space adventures, but I’m glad they were thinking outside of the box. It’s been fun to have him along.  He’s been one of my favorite DC characters for over 15 years.  I would highly recommend the old Grant Morrison Animal Man series to anyone (trade paperbacks volume 1, volume 2, and volume 3).

StarfireWhen they came up with the concept for this comic, they were trying to harken back to the anthology science fiction comics of the Silver Age.  To some degree they succeeded.  This was a fun space romp with lots of action and character development.  As always, I really enjoyed the Animal Man and Adam Strange parts.  I was surprised that I enjoyed the Starfire parts, as I usually don’t like her as a character.  These characters were first thrown together after “Infinite Crisis” in the pages of “52“.  They spent a year together lost in space trying to find a way home.  Their adventures in 52 were interesting and the characters meshed surprisingly well.  Due to their popularity, DC crafted this Countdown to Adventure mini-series to bring them back together.  Obviously this mini-series sold well, because they are bringing the gang back together again for the Rann/Thanagar Holy War eight-issue mini-series starting in May.  Even though I love these characters together, it’s a very delicate balance to make their stories work together.  Therefore, I’m fearful we are one bad story away from wrecking the reader’s enjoyment of this group.  The new mini-series obviously picks up the threads of the previous Rann/Thanagar War mini-series, which honestly wasn’t that enjoyable.  It was cool to see all the space characters together, but the story itself was weak.  I hope this new mini-series is strong because I like these spacefaring heroes together.  If the next mini-series is terrible, we might not get to see another story featuring these spacefaring heroes together again.

First question you may be asking yourself, do I have to read “Countdown to Final Crisis” to understand the lead story in “Countdown to Adventure”?  The answer is absolutely not.  This lead story with Adam Strange, Animal Man, and Starfire has nothing to do with “Countdown to Final Crisis”.  It’s also not necessary for you to read “52”, however, you might get a little more out of the story if you did.  With that said, the “Countdown to Adventure” story was a good follow up to 52.  In 52 the characters were trapped together, without their families on alien worlds.  The story in Countdown to Adventure really focused on these characters families and hometowns, so it was a nice counterpoint to 52.  Even though Starfire doesn’t have a family or hometown (as her planet was destroyed), they still dealt with this for her character by linking her with Animal Man’s family. 

I’ve read some of Adam Beechen’s work before, some of which I enjoyed, some of which I didn’t.  This was definitely one I did.  He did a great job establishing Adam Strange and Animal Man’s regular lives.  Then showed how they were disrupted by the events of this story.  While the families of the main stars were great supporting characters, there was also an interesting antagonist introduced named Steven “Champ” Hazard.  The story blasted back and forth between Earth and Rann, and had a good cosmic adventure feel. The art in this story was also very good; very contemporary and exciting. 

Overall, the lead story was a great read and I’d recommend it.

Back-up story
ForerunnerThe Forerunner character first appeared in “Countdown to Final Crisis” and was pretty unimpressive as a character.  Then in “Countdown to Adventure” her blah-ness continued.  But somewhere along issue #5, her back-up story began to become interesting.  She became surrounded by interesting characters, had a defined purpose, and began some interesting adventures.  While not as good as the lead story, by the end of the series I found myself liking the Forerunner character and looking forward to further adventures.  This story does tie into “Countdown to Final Crisis”, so you might benefit from reading that.  However, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.  I’d also like to compliment Justin Gray for his storytelling in this book.  Each installment was only 17 pages yet each installment was action-packed, told a lot of story, and kept moving forward.  In an era where it typically takes six 22-page issues just to tell a simple story, I was impressed with the pace of this one.  Good job, Justin!

Costumes
Adam Strange's old costumeBeing a complete comic dork, I did want to comment on Animal Man and Adam Strange’s costumes.  In regard to Animal Man, Countdown to Adventure featured an older style Animal Man costume; one that featured a simple giant “A” across his chest.  I personally prefer the 1990’s version with the stylized “A” that looks like a heart beat monitor (see the image further up this page).  I know I’m a dork, but if you are still reading this far into this blog entry, you probably are too.  :)

Adam Strange got a total revamp in 2004 and they updated his costume to look totally bad ass (again, see image further up the page).  Midway through Countdown to Adventure, they reverted him to his old costume (see right).  And the promotional art for Rann/Thanagar Holy War looks like he’s still in the old costume.  That really bums me out.  He looks like a dork.  They need to bring back the cool 2004 armor.

Okay, enough rambling.  Go out and read “Countdown to Adventure” already! Go pick up the issues now, or be lazy and wait until July for the trade paperback.

As always, thanks for reading!

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2 Responses to “Countdown to Adventure”

  1. Sghoul Says:

    I too dug CtA. I think this shows that writing is what can make any character or group interesting. And this is why i am becoming a bigger proponent of small stories as opposed to ongoing series.

  2. Shag Says:

    I think anthologies have potential, but you’ve got to have at least one good story every time. Otherwise, people will give up collecting it. Examples include the 1990’s “Showcase” and “Legends of the DC Universe”.

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