Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer

July 21, 2008

DC, what have you done. This 6-issue series shouldn’t have been the disaster it now is. Its basic idea holds all the potential for a true cult favourite in the making. What could go wrong with an adventure spanning some of the best alternate universes to have been imagined for DC’s line of superheroes? And the grail of this quest is Dr Ray Palmer aka the Atom himself, who, if you recall, went missing at the end of the Identity Crisis saga. Shocked at his on-off ex-wife Jean Loring’s murderous ways, he shrank himself so small that he literally disappeared from the face of the earth.

Now, the DC universe has need of him in order to survive an impending Final Crisis (sure it is), and a hastily assembled team goes in search of an atom (sounds absurd if one puts it this way, doesn’t it?). The so-called Challengers of the Beyond consist of man-child Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, hubba-hubba Donna Troy (whose costume, research says, wouldn’t clinch you a top job), and “we-thought-you-were-dead” ex-Robin Jason Todd. They are accompanied by a panel-shy guide-cum-chaperon called Bob the Monitor (no relation to the Builder). This really isn’t the best team-up ever, but, so long as they can get the job done, who’s going to complain, right?

And there’s the rub. Just about anyone can guess that they won’t find Ray Palmer by the end because that is for the Countdown to Final Crisis storyline. This is more like Meanwhile While Counting Down. So you think that the thrill is in the journey: after all, the worlds being traversed include Earth-50 aka gritty Wildstorm universe; Earth-3, which was pre-Infinite Crisis Earth-2, which was pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Earth-3; Earth-43 or Red Rain universe, the one with a vampire Batman; Earth-19 or Gotham by Gaslight universe, with a Victorian-era London-based Batman (not to be confused with the other gothic Batman); Earth-19 or Red Son universe, starring Communist Superman; and Earth-11, the reverse-gendered world of Supergirl and Batgirl.

That’s a lot of pants-wetting universes — a different pants for each one too! I was looking forward to seeing the kids duke (it out) with The Authority and get beaten for cracking homophobic jokes to the Midnighter. I do miss Doug Moench’s blood-sucking Batsy adventures from the early 1990s and have wondered what else could be done with Mark Millar’s beautifully rounded tale of Superman, Son of Stalin. I have absolutely loved Grant Morrison’s cheeky JLA: Earth-2 (Earth-3? Earth-2?), whose Justice League is completely evil, and did wonder what a good Joker would be like. I’m not so keen about Gotham by Gaslight, but oo-ok, it was the first official Elseworlds story, so I guess that a visit is only polite. And Supergirl and Batgirl should be good for laughs: wait for the female Green Arrow with male Black Canary — and Wonderman (whose big hair isn’t where you think it is)…

 

But what do I get here instead? No suspense or decent adrenaline rush in all 6 adventures, not even 1! This book is as effective as a museum tour since the Hardly-Fantastic 4 are too self-conscious to do anything that might disrupt a universe. They simply tip-toe around looking for clues the Atom has left on the bodies of individuals (shouldn’t someone sue him for that?). If you suppose Bob the Monitor to be the lazy one, then you should check out how every team member fights to out-Bob Bob the watcher. The telepathic dialogues might well read like this: “Don’t mind me, I’m just watching”, “It’s OK, I can watch you watching”, “No no, you watch first”…

Dick Grayson is going to be in trouble charging at Batman Vampire, but does anyone care? “Should we intrude?”, “Le-et’s not”, “Yea, we don’t know whose china we might break”, “Boy had it coming”. So Dick gets sucked and turned into a vampire.  Midnighter slaughters a whole bunch of thugs, one of whom assassinated the Pope, and the Challengers gasp in horror. “Superheroes don’t kill!”, “But it’s their world”, “Yea, let them be”, “Pope-killer had it coming”. So they at least help Earth-19’s Batman fight a new monster, but that’s because one of them — and it has to be Green Lantern — brought the vampire strain over from Red Rain! But why didn’t Kyle do anything after he was bitten by Bat-cula?  “Should I do anything?”, “Probably go away after a nap”, “Don’t know whose china I might break”, “London had it coming”.

These are the Challengers of the Beyond?! What they are challenging sure is beyond me, maybe my idea of where all my money went. I can’t even begin to say how I wish things were different than the way they turned out, but now I’m busy saving all these other worlds in my own head by forgetting as much as possible about this non-adventure. Maybe I’ll keep Wonderman and the haunting image of vampires Batman and Robin. (On 2nd thought, maybe not Wonderman.) This is supposed to be part of Countdown to Final Crisis, not an entire crisis of conscience on its own.

Gweek searches for meaning with 4 cheap magnifying glasses.

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