T-MINUS: "Countdown" #44

Sat, June 30th, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
CBR News Team, Editor

By Justin Eger and Brian K. Eason

"Come with me and I will show you the path to greater glory."- Monarch

Previously in the DCU
Donna and Jason fought (and then escaped) Forerunner with the help of a Monitor. Monarch was watching. Jimmy is stalked, and so is Holly Robinson.

"Countdown" #44
T-Minus 44
First on scene during the week is Mary Marvel, who has been called before the new Shazam, Billy Batson. Billy explains where he and Freddie have been all this time, but there is a greater concern on his mind: Mary's transformation. Mary, herself, is unconcerned, as she has only been doing what she always does, fighting evil, though Billy is worried that she was not meant to have any power, either his or Adam's. Mary, in her defense, tells Billy where he can shove his concerns and goes off to find a new mentor.

Up Next, Forerunner has her whole mindset challenged by the villain Monarch. Monarch, in turn, recruits Forerunner to his cause, earning himself a most powerful weapon, at least for the time being.

Jimmy Olsen takes a trip to Suicide Slum to try and kickstart his on again/off again powers, placing himself in great danger with a gang of hoodlums. The first punch doesn't do Jimmy any good, but the threat of the second kicks something inside on, and a number of porcupine quills erupt from his body, slashing up the bad guys and sending them running.

Elsewhere in the Slums, Holly Robinson meets up with a mysterious Amazon, who offers her shelter. A confused Holly expects a trap, only to arrive in a serene home filled with peace and light - as well as plenty of other Amazons.

Finally, Trickster and the Pied Piper, following the murder of Bart Allen, go on the run, hiding not only from the law but from the other Rogues, as well. Piper suggests turning themselves in, but Trickster refuses, not willing to become mindwiped or murdered by the JLA in retaliation. Instead, the two decide to stick together, though mysterious forces begin following them from afar, seeking the rest of the Rogues.

FYI
The cover this week says it all: Monarch! But, who is this guy? Monarch first appeared in "Armageddon 2001" #2 (October 1991) as the principal villain of the piece. Monarch was an evil dictator from a dystopian future of the DCU. Monarch picked Matthew Ryder to take place in a time travel experiment. Matthew, during his trip, became Waverider and, arriving in 1991, attempted to prevent Monarch's rise to power. Waverider attempted to find out who Monarch was and at first it appeared to be Captain Atom. Later, in one of the most anti-climactic swerves in comics history, it turned out to be Hank "Hawk" Hall of Hawk and Dove. Yes, we were all underwhelmed. The Hank Hall version of Monrach returned during "Zero Hour" in 1994, changing his look and name to Extant who was killed facing Atom Smasher. In the Justice League series, "Extreme Justice," Monarch reappeared with the identity of Nathaniel Adam an identity shared with the superhero Captain Atom. He revealed, in a painful piece of retcon, that Captain Atom was merely a side-effect of Monarch's creation and that Monarch was the true Nathaniel Adam.

Post "Infinite Crisis," however, all bets are off. As Captain Atom returned from the Wildstorm universe, the journey left Atom's metallic skin damaged and his radiation levels rising. The modern day Atomic Knights and their leader Grayle Gardner sought to contain those energies when Atom was found in a SHADE laboratory in Bludhaven. At the end of this encounter we saw Captain Atom being fitted with the Monarch armor and escaping the lab. He used his powers to absorb the life energies of Major Force. After the city is evacuated, Atom (or perhaps now Monarch) triggers an explosion that vaporizes the city. Monarch's most recent appearance was in the "Ion" miniseries where he encounters Kyle Rayner in the Bleed, where Monarch seeks to avoid the Monitors and learn more about the new Multiverse.

Elsewhere in the DCU this week, check out (as Justin mentioned above) the return of Eclipso in "Blue Beetle" #16 and the shocking newest members of the Sinestro Corps in the must read "Sinestro Corps Special." Finally this week, if suspensions of civil liberties and interment camps turn you on, you should pick up "Teen Titans" #48, "Amazons Attack" #3 and "Wonder Woman" #10 as forces align in this battle of (literally) mythic proportions.

Comments
BE: The cover says it all: Monarch! But is it who we think it is?

JE: Sounds right for Captain Atom, though how he's gone over the edge is beyond me. Perhaps it was his time spent in the Wildstorm U, which leads us to wonder just how far back the multiple earths had been planned? After all, now it makes much more sense for Lobo to have visited the Authority than we'd originally considered.

BE: I can imagine that the idea of bringing back the Multiverse goes back to at least the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely "Earth-2" story from a few years ago. It's too good of an idea to let die. You will also note a consistent use of the term "The Bleed" used in the DCU now. The Bleed being an idea defined by Warren Ellis in "Stormwatch" Vol. 2 #7 (May 1998) as the space between parallel universes.

JE: I fondly remember The Bleed. It just surprises me that the DCU as a whole is embracing it so suddenly.

BE: It fits beautifully with the imagery of the source walls separating each reality.

JE: Which leads us to…

BE: … Jimmy demonstrating powers we've seen in the silver age. In "Jimmy Olsen" #65 (1962) Jimmy became the "Human porcupine." I am now convinced the Jimmy is developing his silver age abilities, including super-speed. After our last conversation, I went and read through my Jimmy Olsen collection and in 1956 (a month before Barry Allen appeared as the Flash) Jimmy drank a potion and gained super-speed. Next up? Wolfman, Radioactivity, Fire Breathing or, yes, Giant Turtle-Boy.

JE: Hmmm, I'm going to bet on Fire Breathing.

BE: I am now torn between believing that Jimmy is channeling parallel Jimmies and believing that all of Jimmy's Silver Age experiences are being somehow tied to the Source.

JE: I'd go with the second option. That seems most likely. Stealing powers from people confined to the Wall.

BE: Good thought. Our first shot of Mary in her mini-skirt is, um, moving along. Mary is standing in shadows and Billy is in the light. I wonder what the message is here?

JE: Not exactly subtle, is it?

BE: Mary is now the inheritor of Black Adam, Shazam's biggest failure, and Billy is the inheritor of Shazam himself. It's very mythic.

JE: Sticking with this, were the "enemies of man" the same as the old seven deadlies? I don't think they were.

BE: I'm glad you asked. When I looked at this, I had to go get my Captain Marvel reprints out and compare them with the DC Comics version. In "Whiz Comics" #2 (February 1940), the first appearance of Captain Marvel, the Seven Deadly Sins appeared as the The Seven Deadly Enemies of Man: Pride, Envy, Greed, Hatred, Selfishness, Laziness and Injustice. This was a case of editorial censorship as the word "sins" was removed and lust was replaced with injustice in keeping with the standards of the 1940s in America.

In 1987, in the "Shazam! The New Beginning" miniseries, the enemies of man became the Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Ire (Wrath), Envy, Sloth, Avarice (Greed), Gluttony and Lechery (Lust). It wasn't until "JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice" (2003) that the sins appeared as we traditionally know them from Christopher Marlowe's "The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus" (1604): Pride, Greed, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth and Lust. It's too late to make a long story short, but the Enemies of Man, as they appear here, are as they appeared in their first appearance.

JE: That explains my conflicting memories, then.

BE: You were dead on last week with Holly and her stranger, if I could guess (and I can) I'd say that this is Athena (or is closely related to her imagery) due to the appearance of the owl in the women's shelter.

JE: Yeah, I'd say you're on the right track, assuming that Athena, as the Goddess of Wisdom, understands the foolishness of war with man's world and, instead, placed her efforts elsewhere.

BE: This definitely makes sense, but as we see from this month's "Teen Titans," "Wonder Woman" and "Amazons Attack," it doesn't pay to be friendly with Amazons, or anyone related to them. And now we know why the Trickster and the Piper go on the run.

JE: Not hard to have seen that coming, at all. Still, I had hoped for something a little better. After all, how much can you stretch the realm of believability when two (pardon the classification) second-rate villains are on the run from the whole of the DCU? In all actuality, they should be caught fairly quickly.

BE: Unless no one is looking specifically for them. This whole idea is steeped with American mythology: the road trip, innocent fugitive on the run and two disparate figures bound together by common circumstances (and sometime physically bound together). This is straight from the Stanley Kramer directorial playbook.

JE: That's a fair assessment, and please, don't get me wrong, I love "innocent men on the run" stories, hell even guilty men on the run stories. Hell, it's probably my favorite genre. It's totally at the heart of American culture, albeit a darker side of that innocent "road trip" experience. I still just have to question how long it will last.

BE: With Wally back, I can hope that in the end it leads back to the Flash and justice for everyone, the guilty and the innocent.

JE: But who is talking them? Curiouser and curiouser.

BE: We close with Mary acting rather, well, bratty. Have we established anywhere that Black Adam's powers were corrupt in any way? I thought it was always Theo Adam that was suspect.

JE: And who is to say that Mary isn't suspect? After all, she was essentially left for dead by Billy and Freddie. That'd be enough to piss me off.

BE: And rightly so, but I keep coming back to what Adam said to her about being sorry for giving her his power. On the other hand, if Mary is the weak link here, then her own fall and redemption will be that much more meaningful. And we should be seeing Eclipso any minute now.

JE: She was over in "Blue Beetle" this week, so she can't be far off. Though how'd she get back from the sun?

BE: Never underestimate the power of those Black Diamonds! Finally, we see the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" in our backup feature. Without giving away any spoilers, I would highly suggest that you run, don't walk, to the local comic shop and buy a copy of the "Sinestro Corps Special." I have a strong feeling that it will be very relevant to upcoming issues of "Countdown."

JE: Sounds like a fair recommendation. Surprised me, no doubt.

Panel of the Week

Home, they say, is where the heart is. Holly's? Who knows.

Previously
Week 45
Week 46
Week 47
Week 48
Week 49
Week 50
Week 51

 
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