by Greg Cox
Cover Artist: Karl Kerschl
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441017188
Date: 07 July 2009 List Price $15.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
It is a time of chaos and endings--the Universe itself is on the verge of a cosmic rebirth--but the greatest dangers, and challenges, will not be met by Earth's mightiest heroes. This time, the fate of the universe rests in the hands of some very unlikely figures: Jimmy Olsen, Mary Marvel, Donna (Wonder Girl I) Troy, Jason (Robin II) Todd and Ray (the Atom) Palmer.
The New Gods are dying, murdered by an unknown godslayer, as the prophesied end of the Fourth World appears to be coming true. Yet one New God plans how to manipulate events to his own ends... and become supreme.
Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen finds he has superpowers--but only when his life is at risk. What is the source of these powers and why is it that "Jimmy Olsen must die!"?
Mary Marvel, depowered and desperate, seeks out a mortal enemy to make an impossible request.
And the once-dead heroes Donna Troy (the first Wonder Girl) and Jason Todd (the second Robin) are conscripted by an extra-dimensional authority to find Ray Palmer (aka the Atom) in order to avert a Great Disaster.
In Countdown by Greg Cox, based on the year-long DC Comics series, these four storylines weave around each other and come to a fateful collision on the hellworld of Apokolips.
Jimmy Olsen discovers that the New Gods--who come from the paradise world of New Genesis and the nightmarish Apokolips--are being murdered one by one. He is there to see the passing of Lightray, who mutters something Olsen cannot fathom before he dies. Shortly afterward, Jimmy seeks out the Joker in Arkham Asylum, following up on a tip that the Clown Prince of Crime knows something of these events, only to be attacked by the reptilian Killer Croc. He is saved by the uncanny manifestation of a weird stretching power. He seeks out help in understanding what's happening, but even Dr. Serling Roquette (resident genius of STAR Labs) can't figure it out.
Meanwhile, Mary Batson leaves her hospital bed, following a long recovery after a battle against Black Adam. That battle left her powerless; even worse, she doesn't know where her brother Billy (aka Captain Marvel) or comrade Freddy (aka Captain Marvel Jr.) are--or why they seem to have abandoned her. Lost and alone, she is terrified by the loss of her powers, so she sets out to regain them. Ignoring advice to stay away from Gotham City, she finds herself in the power of a dangerous enemy--and the recipient of a very unexpected gift.
Donna Troy and Jason Todd are recruited by Earth's Monitor--one of those who protect the 52 parallel realities called the Multiverse--to find Ray Palmer. This Monitor, named Solomon, declares that the Multiverse will be destroyed unless the Atom can be found. But why? And when Solomon's ruthless nature is exposed, reasons to doubt Solomon's good intentions only multiply.
Elsewhere, Holly Robinson (aka the second Catwoman) and Harleen Quinzel (aka Harley Quinn, the Joker's girlfriend) end up on Paradise Island, where they train to be Amazons. But nothing is as it seems here either, especially after they find Queen Hippolyta and get answers to some troubling questions.
Their quests come to a climax first on Apokolips, then on the doorstep of the Justice League in Washington, DC. Some achieve their goals, some do not, but the Multiverse will stand or fall on the choices they make. And in this case, even the tiniest decisions have fateful consequences.
The comic series "Countdown" included several more plot lines, such as an attempt to make war on the Monitors by a deluded ex-hero, the cross-world release of a sentient and mutagenic virus, and a destructive rampage by the psychotic Superman Prime--but Cox has wisely left these out, instead concentrating on a smaller cast and a tighter story.
Ultimately, the many plot threads share one unifying theme: the search for power. Jimmy wants to understand why he has powers; Mary seeks power for selfish reasons; Donna and Jason hope to find the power to save the Multiverse; and Holly and Harley battle an evildoer who usurps another's power for herself. Each individual story is about the consequences of one's need for and use of power, how that can shape one's destiny and thus the destiny of the universe.
The cast, drawn from the ranks of DC Comics' sidekicks and supporting characters, really doesn't feature any top-name characters. Superman, Batman and the rest of the Justice League make token appearances, but the heavy lifting is done by second- and third-stringers who are probably unknown to many non-comic readers. Jimmy gets a chance to shine as a hapless kid who's gained tremendous but uncontrollable powers, all to serve a fate that he would rather die than assist. He's Superman's pal, sure, but he rarely falls back on needing the help of the Man of Steel; he proves he's resourceful and tough on his own.
Mary Marvel, on the other hand, is depicted as a young woman whose sense of self is defined by her powers and her family. Without those, she lacks the strength to make hard choices; she is basically only a superheroine when that is an easier path to follow. Offered help, her inflated sense of pride and her ego drive her to make reckless and arrogant use of her new powers.
And lastly, Donna Troy and Jason Todd both find themselves at loose ends after returning from the dead. Both are confronted with the need to make sense of their lives--to have the power of purpose--and this quest offers both the opportunity to earn just that.
Cox's narrative does justice to DC Comics' tradition of heroic fiction. Fans of superhero adventure will enjoy this adventure through time, space and myriad realities.