|Trade paperback, 321 pages|
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2015
Cox's novelization of 52 was not as good as the comic series on which it was based, but his novelization of Countdown is better. Mostly, this is down to the quality of their respective source materials: 52 was a good comic, and one of the things that made it good was its huge span, in terms of both time and characters, which was hard to pare down for a 300-page novel in a way that kept the story effective. One of the many things that made Countdown to Final Crisis bad was its aimlessness, its repetitiveness, its plot-lines that went nowhere, or issues that served only to repeat the content of previous issues. Judicious cutting could only make it better, not worse.
So, tons of the original comic is gone here, to good effect. First off, two whole plot-lines are just removed: there's no Karate Kid and Una search for a cure to the OMAC virus, and there's no Pied Piper and Trickster on the run for the murder of the Bart Allen Flash. These were probably the worst of the various threads of Countdown, so no loss there. This leaves four primary plot-lines: Holly Robinson and Harley Quinn among the Amazons, Mary Marvel trying to tame the power of Black Adam, Donna Troy and Jason Todd searching for Ray Palmer, and Jimmy Olsen investigating the death of the New Gods. These plot-lines still aren't great, but they are better, because Cox deletes a lot of terribleness. There's no tie-ins to wider DC universe events, like Amazons Attack! or the death of Bart Allen. Donna and Jason only visit a couple parallel Earths, and never encounter Monarch. There are no cutaways to the incoherent meetings of the Monitors. Jimmy Olsen doesn't learn ten times over that his powers only activate in situations of danger. OMAC doesn't eat Apokolips. Earth-51 isn't destroyed even once, much less twice.
Cox manages to give everything some focus: instead of being hunted by Donna and Jason because of something something morticoccus virus, Ray is seemingly recruited because he's needed to save Jimmy in the final battle against Darkseid. The whole book becomes about driving to that moment, to stop Darkseid from acquiring all the powers of the Gods and controlling the imminent Fifth World. (I'll be curious to see if Cox's novelization of Final Crisis makes any explicit links to the events of Countdown.)
If this all seems like damning with faint praise, well, it is. There's still no substance here. Mary Marvel still behaves stupidly for no apparent reason. Jimmy Olsen's romance with Forager is still pointless. Jason and Donna still stand around for most of the book. I did kind of like the Holly/Harley plot, but it's not much to write home about, either. How have they changed as people? Have we even learned anything about them? These aren't characters, they're ciphers being pushed around by a pointless plot.
It does read quickly, though.
Proposed Countdown novelization drinking game: drink every time a main character meets someone and thinks to themselves, 'I thought [x] was dead, but I guess I heard wrong/I saw wrong/they got better.'
Next Week: I return to the early days of Batman in Project Gotham!