Overview

Countdown: Arena #1

Review

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Countdown: Arena #1

Credits

  • Words: Keith Champagne
  • Art: Scott McDaniel
  • Inks: Andy Owens
  • Colors: Guy Major
  • Story Title: The Blood-Soaked Sands
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Price: $3.99
  • Release Date: Dec 5, 2007

As mentioned in William Gavatkes’ Guiding Lines , the entire concept behind Countdown: Arena is one that, logically, is hard to swallow.  It’s a gimmick, perhaps “for the fans” as DC’s Dan DiDio has claimed, but certainly it isn’t anything that organically unfolded out of the Countdown to Final Crisis series itself.  Why would Monarch choose a smattering of different heroes to fight each other, only three out of 52, all of which are, and I quote from this issue, “replaceable” because there are so many others and therefore he’s not even choosing any three in particular?  Why would Monarch need an army, period, if he has indeed “become more than all the Supermen in the Multiverse combined”?  Why the specific heroes he chooses, such as Nightshade?  What’s the significance?  For that matter, why the hell is Captain Atom behaving so much the irresolute villain as he is, even though he’s never behaved so in the past?

Countdown: Arena #1 addresses none of these, likely because to answer any would be futile, if not entirely beside the point.  Writer Keith Champagne sticks to character logic alone, keeping the many players of the mini playing off the other, moving them as their personalities dictate, realizing, ultimately, that the actual premise is too ludicrous to pay any attention to.  Instead, readers get pulpy, hokey, but entertaining scenes of a Vampire Batman responding to a Nazi Batman responding to a Victorian Era Batman.  A Russian Superman responding to an older and slow-to-action Superman responding to a bald and Krypton-obsessed Superman.  It’s entertaining, and it’s fun, a lot of fun, in fact, and to run four issues in four weeks means it’ll be fast and furious as well.

Champagne is known as a burgeoning writer, having once been a premiere mainstream inker but slowly, over the years, he’s turned out a number of solid, well-done fill-in scripts for numerous DC comics (a highly notable run being directly after the Abnett and Lanning Legion era).  Here, he proves yet again that he can deliver a brilliantly paced, well-scripted yarn, even when handling a concept well out of believable waters.  Halfway through, it hardly matters that the whole set-up is ludicrous, it’s quite the diversion, almost an intellectual exercise on the existence of so many universes, and nothing smacks the reader out of the ride to make it less so.  Monarch begins to dirty his hands up big time with his treatment of the heroes and their respective homeworlds, becoming, in all honesty, for the very first time like a true-blue villain.  Which is baffling, but at least, as everyone was already treating him like Darth Vader cometh (even though he hadn’t bloody done anything), it validates all the suspicion.  Sort of.  Sigh….

Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens provide glorious art, nearly defining the word “dynamic” like a sample diagram in a dictionary.  The battle sequences are as liquid as McDaniel’s lines, the every posturing stance as preeminent as anything by Kirby, Owens complements McDaniel’s loose yet presentational style in a way no other inker ever has, and the end result is a book that looks to go down as a visually fast, vibrant, engaging, effortless read.

There’s a lot to criticize DC for when it comes to the current state of Countdown, and especially how it relates to Arena.  Monarch, as a villain, is being handled with less logic than Black Adam in 52.  Monarch’s strategy wouldn’t make sense to a six-year-old with ADD.  A lot of the ideas and the marketing possibilities are obviously being made up as DC goes along, the odd series and tie-in churned out with little care and less control.  The story is well beyond the salvageable stage, and in a way, that makes it easier to just drift along.  Countdown: Arena should be a memorable, enjoyable diversion, if completely worthless as an actual comic of impact.  A lot of times, saying a comic is “fun” means that it’s simply “okay.”  But nothing to do with Countdown even makes it to “okay.”  In this case, when I say “it’s fun,” I mean just that, and nothing more.

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