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Countdown: Arena #1
writer: Keith Champagne
penciller: Scott McDaniel

As the Multiverse heads towards collapse so soon after its rebirth, one man, a character spawned from an alternate reality in the first place, gathers champions to form an army. Logically, he must scour all reality for the best and the brightest, then make them fight each other to determine the strongest.

So begins Countdown: Arena, a spin-off title from DC's, well, current continuity. Written by Keith Champagne, drawn by Scott McDaniel and really engendered by forces beyond the both of them, the book proves a mixed bag.

To be fair, most of the flaws have been handed down to the creative team. Any problems you might have with Captain Atom's current identity as Monarch have nothing to do with Champagne and McDaniel. Fated to be a genocidal maniac by a long-lost crossover and bounced back and forth in the last year, Atom/Monarch's slide into armored a-hole was established before this series.

So, too, was my biggest frustration. Alternate versions of characters show up, look interesting and then simply get wiped out. Yet give some credit to Champagne that he makes three different versions of Eve Eden, Nightshade, seem worth some delving. People barely care about the one in Shadowpact, but the glimpses of heroines (and a villain) here have to make you wonder.

Crisis On Infinite Earths did the same thing, but not nearly to the degree that Countdown has. Anybody remember Lady Quark? Her family died in a Crisis wave within two pages, and she went on to become an integral part of that landmark crossover. At least Champagne promises that some of these minor characters will go on, and it's a credit to his characterization skills that we want to see more.

It's not like the Jokester, or the Zod Superman, though apparently the third Superman in Arena may be his son. Frustratingly, a whole lot more appear and disappear almost immediately - including Teen Titans that may be from Captain Carrot's Earth, and alternate versions of Captain Atom. Does Monarch plan to fight himself?

Actually, there might be something to that. His villainous turn, though telegraphed for over a decade, still came about rather suddenly. Especially on the heels of his time in the Wildstorm universe, where no character measured up to his definition of a real hero. Sure, things have gotten desperate with those Monitors running around, but it's possible that Champagne is working very hard to avoid another Emerald Twilight.

That's supposition on my part, but based on reading enough of his work to know that characterization - and with that justification - is one of Champagne's strong suits.

Witness his chance to play with Frank Miller's Superman. The character reads somewhere in between The Dark Knight Returns and …Strikes Again, aided by subtle work from McDaniel. There's no doubt this Superman was designed by Miller, but the character fits in with everyone else. It's not stunt-drawing, but it displays clever craftsmanship.

On its own, Countdown: Arena works as fanboy wish fulfillment, especially with that online voting thing. As a story, it sets up enough that should continue bringing us back for a few weeks. Don't let crossover fatigue color your appreciation, and give it a shot.

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think!

Derek McCaw


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