Writers: Paul Dini with Sean McKeever; Story Consultant – Keith Giffen
Pencils and Inks: Freddie Williams II
Colors: Pete Pantazis
Published By: DC Comics
The trainwreck that is Countdown to Final Crisis continues screeching off the rails with issue #3, which centers around another attempt to converge the book’s storylines, this time in a climactic confrontation with Darkseid. As of last issue, Mary Marvel has gone evil again, capturing Jimmy Olsen – apparently the repository of the the departed New Gods’ powers – for Darkseid, and this issue focuses on the 11th hour save by Donna Troy and Kyle Rayner. The heroes call in the Justice League, which results in the Darkseid-Superman battle promised by the cover. As battles between the two go, it’s nothing new, but well-done enough to merit a look. The portrayal of Superman, infused with all the confidence and determination one would expect out of the character, is a strong one; his righteous indignation at the murder of the New Gods and Darkseid’s attempt on Jimmy’s life stands out as the most satisfying part of the book, one of the only real fist-pumping moments Countdown has had.
There’s a nicely frantic scene at the issue’s opening as Donna Troy, Kyle Rayner and Forager try to explain the convoluted situation to Red Arrow, which also feels knowing enough to suggest that Dini and McKeever are poking fun at the book. If the issue maintained this nervous energy, it would be stellar, but even the Darkseid-Superman fight doesn’t carry much urgency. The book feels like a by-the-numbers version of a final battle, and the weariness found here is most exemplified by the portrayal of Mary Marvel. Mary is full-on evil again, taunting and preening like a Silver Age villain (or worse, a low-rent Superboy-Prime) – she’s the most grating thing here, and she’s written with none of the complexity that one might hope would exist in someone who’s had to make a decision between morality and power. The character is given no agency, and her current personality is ascribed more to the source of her powers than anything inherent within her, so there’s no drama to be found in her fall. The mitigating factor of this is a scene where she beats Donna Troy with the prone body of Kyle Rayner, a perversely entertaining moment for those of us who’ve sat through the entirety of Countdown.
Freddie Williams’ artwork is not a great match for this issue, as his subtly, cleanly stylized, charming, sometimes cartoonish work seems far more appropriate for a lighthearted, more traditionally heroic series in a Blue Beetle vein, rather than the urgent, climactic tone this book wants to create. Pete Pantazis’s coloring is a nice fit for him, however – characters radiate brightly with otherworldly energy, and the backgrounds are oddly and warmly engaging mixes of deep blues and purples, as well as subdued reds and browns reminiscent of Bill Watterson’s Spaceman Spiff work in Calvin & Hobbes. It’s great artwork for another series, but doesn’t take on the gravity this book needs.
This issue encapsulates the strengths of Countdown and the problems that have plagued it – the series is a monotonous one, and its best moments (aside from the early Piper/Trickster segments) are its out-of-nowhere appearances like the mid-series Jokester and Mxyzptlk spotlights. Red Arrow and Superman both manage to add a sense of energy to a lifeless, humorless book and a cast that’s mostly bereft of charisma or compelling dynamics, but it’s not enough to save the series this late in the game.