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Countdown: Arena #1 Review

As noted awhile back, Keith Champagne thinks that everyone should give Countdown: Arena a shot, and if they did not like it, he’ll buy the book back from them. So I think it only fair to give Arena its own review here.

If you parse Champagne’s position down a bit, his stance is basically accurate. Says Champagne, “I don’t think Arena is going to reinvent the entire form of comics but it’s so much more than fan wankery.” He’s definitely right, there. And honestly, if this is the kind of comic you are already predisposed to like (a lot of fight scenes), I think you would probably enjoy Countdown: Arena #1. Also, I can see where Champagne might feel that this is the best writing he has ever done, in the sense that the premise (Monarch kidnaps three versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Blue Beetle, Nightshade, Starman, and the Ray, then makes them fight each other to the death, with the winners – the first four of which are chosen by fan vote – becoming part of his super-special Multiverse army) is so bad that to get anything out of it takes a LOT of good writing. Ultimately, though, the best that I can say about this comic is that it is a good deal better than most of Marvel vs. DC was.

Spoiler warning!!!

First off, Monarch as a character is just bizarre. What is the point of having him be Captain Atom if he basically does not contain a shred of Captain Atom’s characterization? Also, his power levels are strangely high – which makes this whole exercise seemingly kinda silly, doesn’t it? I mean, whoever “wins” this thing – if they go along with Monarch, aren’t they’re basically just going to be cannon fodder later on, no?

Secondly, the whole concept of Arena is just so darned noxious. “We have finally brought back the multiverse!! Now let’s kill them all for sport!!” Think about it – we JUST had a one-shot comic where they visit the “Gotham by Gaslight” Earth, and in Arena #1 – what happens? They kill off the star of Gotham by Gaslight!!!

With such an odious central idea to work with, writer Keith Champagne and artist Scott McDaniel were in a big hole before they even began, and it is a testament to each man’s abilities that the comic is pretty decent.

Champagne makes a clear effort to delve into the psyches of the various characters as much as he can in the space provided (which, for the most part, is not enough to get anything REAL done), and it is greatly appreciated, especially the nobility of the two non-vampire Batmans, but at the end of the day, it’s “you guys fight.” “Okay, now you guys fight.”

One of the oddest moments in the book is when three alternate reality Nightshades fight each other. It’s weird enough that there is a battle between three Nightshades, but we’re not even told where each of the Nightshades are from – mostly because, well, who cares, since we’ve never seen their worlds before, so their deaths really don’t MEAN much, do they? Although, admittedly, Champagne does a nice job of making us care for one of the Nightshades.

McDaniel’s art works well for action scenes, so he’s perfect for this book.

The one fly in the ointment is the Superman from Dark Knight Returns (yes, the Superman from Dark Knight Returns is a character in this comic book), who Champagne has fun with, as his simple-minded nobility runs counter to Monarch’s objectives.

Anyhow, Champagne does a good job making the comic flow pretty well (it flows a lot better than either Marvel vs. DC or either of the Contest of the Champions did), but all in all, it’s almost entirely a bunch of fight scenes made up of alternate reality characters who will most likely later serve to be cannon fodder in a series months from now (unless they revolt against Monarch, at which point they’ll serve to be cannon fodder on the GOOD GUYS side of the fight).

Still, it was a fun enough read, but not enough that I think it was a good comic.

So, not recommended.

20 Comments

Countdown, Countdown or the neverending sound of a train wreck…

Just so we’re clear, you won’t be asking Champagne for his money back, but you don’t want the rest of us to bankrupt him? That’s honest enough.

By killing off so many alternate worlds they are making those worlds a mess. Because of that I’m having a hard time believing that they aren’t going to undo some of these deaths because unless they do that those worlds will be basically hero-less.

On another topic, when I looked at the double page spread of the all the heroes from all the Earths I was struck by the sad fact that even though there are 52 Earths, it seems like they all have heroes that are almost exclusively white. Kind of sad that they didn’t think that they should recreate an Earth-D or something.

Isn’t it fairly obvious by this point that if there are any alternate worlds around on the other side of Final Crisis, they won’t have any particular relationship to the 52 alternate worlds of the second intracrisis period? Given that the things clearly have a one-year shelf life, why not burn through them with as much speed as possible?

One would hope that there has been some broad plan and all of the desensitizing deaths and are all building up to a peroid of renewal and a status quo that is full of reconstruction instead of deconstruction.

Unfortunately, a whole chunk of the fanbase is getting alienated in the process.

Of course Morrison/JG Jones is the sort of pairing that can bring people back in droves.

I just read it, and this is the first time i’ve actually considered not reading an entire companies’ work, and i’m probably one of the biggest green lantern fans ever (just got showcase 22 at a con few months back). This was awful. Whats the point of having a multiverse, if all the characters are dead? i like the idea of an earth-2 robin, an earth 31 green lantern, etc. I’ll stick around until final crisis, see what they do, but if they reduce it (again) to one, single earth, i can pretty much say i’ll be putting down any DC collecting.

See, this is why DC Comics shouldn’t be allowed to make comics anymore. They should become DC Pens and Pencils or something less likely to make me raise my hands in the air and pray that when they come back down they’re holding rocket launchers.

So they killed gotham by gaslight batman? Awesome, I just read the one shot and thought wow, there’s an awesome character I’d like to read more ab – sigh.

52? Well, we’re already down to 51 thanks to EmoBoy Prime blowing up on the Earths. Yes, I know its 52 Universes and not just 52 planet Earths, but remove the Earth from the equation and the only characters left are weird green aliens with fishheads and hooks for arms or whatever. Yawn.

And this is the worst idea ever – collect the most powerful characters ever then have them kill each other then have the worn out and run down survivors run into battle under the command of Captain Variable Power Levels? Sigh. More sighing.

When they kill DKR Superman, the Goddamn Frank Miller should throw the Goddamn Dan DiDio into the Goddamn Batcave and force him to survive on nothing but good comics and the odd ratburger for 7 issues.

lol… Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

Captain Atom as Monarch was a terrifically stupid idea the first time around and it’s proving just as bad the second time around. Note to DC, not all story ideas from before 1995 are worth revisiting again, especially when no one was nostalgiac for the Cap “Monarch” anyway…just give us the regular one, please. IN the DC universe, not the bleed, not Earth-8, not the Wildstorm universe…sigh…

Thought #1) The Batman is an impressive and epic figure. 52 variations on Batman is a little tedious, and reduces his value. Monarch saying “Oh, piffle, there’s 49 more where you came from” really devalues the whole thing. Ditto for Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. We may be preconditioned to accept multiple Flashes and Green Lanterns, but if you have a room full of Batmen, that just seems… less than awe-inspiring, unless done right.

Thought #2)If you have a world where the prime divergence is that Batman appeared during the Victorian Era, then killing him off seems like a waste of a good character and counter to the reason for that world’s existence, regardless of what characters you establish.

Thought #2.5) If you have a whole -group- of characters who are the major heroes of said world (i.e. the Thrillkiller Batgirl and Robins), then killing them off REALLY seems to render their origin world pointless.

Thought #3) If you’re going to introduce a whole bunch of random characters from random worlds (variants on the JSA, Teen Titans, L.E.G.I.O.N.) and kill them off, what’s the point? What a waste.

Observation #1) Monarch uses the same energy signature (pink, with an accompanying CHOOM) for blowing stuff up AND teleporting people. He uses almost the same, with KA-CHOOM, to get his point across. And I, for one, don’t see any bodies lying around afterwards.

Conclusion #1) For my own peace of mind, I’m going to assume that he teleported most of those people home again, rather than outright disintegrating them or whatever. Less waste, less impact on the environment.

Conclusion #2) If there’s not some sort of reboot coming in general, I’ll be surprised. Because DC is being awfully wasteful with their Earths -and- characters… 52 is a finite number, afterall. And it seems like a major shame to kill off the major reasons most of these Earths exist.

Arena is, in my opinion, a major trainwreck. Fascinating, but a trainwreck.

P.S. Poor Steve Trevor.
P.P.S. Those alternate JSA’ers reminded me of the Minutemen.
P.P.P.S. Wouldn’t it have made sense to post that list of Earths in THIS week’s DC Nation, or as part of Arena #1?

I have a question…

If Dark Knight Returns Superman dies in Arena; does that mean that the Dark Knight Strikes Again (DK2)didn’t happen?

The Superman from that world – it’s set after DKSA.

Basically, this is, potentially a dumb fun idea.
Part of the dumb fun comes in seeing various versions of a character fight each other.
Alas, we’ve chosen Scott McDaniel as the artist, whose art is (a) completely charmless, and (b) utterly incapable of emulating Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, Kelley Jones, Darwyn Cooke, or hell… ANY of the artists.
Strike 1.
Secondly, DC is incapable of dumb fun, being as it is, editorially mandated to be all hung up on continuity and shit, thus rendering something that should be whimsically illogical into something half-arsed and absurd.
Strike 2.
Thirdly, of course, a project like this falls flat, because it takes a smart, clever writer to successfully pull of a dumb concept like this so that it actually IS fun.
They need to incorporate complex characterisation, and a genuine talent for dialogue, so that the inherent silliness of the concept isn’t just a hollow shell existing as no more than a high concept pitch.
Alas, we’re not really capable of THAT either.
Strike three, you’re out.

Of course, the idea that superheroes being forced to brutally murder each other is ‘fun’ is pure DC.

Are you sure?

Not that I want to go into “geek mode”, but the riff about the jellybeans seemed to imply that Ronald Reagan was the President (ala Dark Knight). I’m just saying, ’cause if I remember correctly, the DK2 President was some sort hologram at first; but then some strippers won the election. Or was the stripper supposed to be Black Canary?

Oh, who cares!!!!!!!!!! The last decent comic came out in the 90’s and you know it!!!

Hey, I liked DKSA!!!

Mmmm, sure.

If you say so.

Look, just one issue of the Dark Knight Returns (45 pages long) tells a great story with plenty of social commentary. DK2 beats you over the head with social commentary and wastes 120 pages on a mediocre story about how Superman is really an impotent pu$$y and Robin is… hell, Robin doesn’t even make sense in this series.

If you want a real satire, I can’t recommend Garth Ennis/Amanda Conner’s The Pro enough. And the best part, at least they are honest about what you are getting when you buy their product.

I think it was the Liberty Files Batman killed and not the Gotham by Gaslight Batman killed off.

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