Welcome to Countdown, or as Michael Goodson puts it - "fifty cents more a week." Technically, it's only forty-nine cents, but it takes a long time for that to add up.
On the heels of the wild rollercoaster ride of 52, Countdown offers further (and believe it or not, more focused) exploration of this thing called the multiverse. The regular DC titles can't do it, as witnessed by the sudden flurry of Annuals explaining all the continuity glitches started by the One Year Later event. Now it actually is one year later, and Paul Dini (all hail) makes it clear this new multiverse has no time to catch its breath.
As some have noted, only minor characters from Jack Kirby's Fourth World have appeared in the last year. Lonar the Hunter teamed up with Blue Beetle on an alien world, while Devilance the Pursuer tormented some cosmic heroes in 52. Despite all the death, not even the Black Racer skiied across DC pages.
So that changes here. Countdown opens on Apokolips' chief torturer Desaad, in what may be the most graphic and disturbing depiction the character has ever had. If you look carefully, you'll see there's a copy of Hostel in his DVD player. Over a game of HeroClix, Darkseid threatens that existence itself shall be recreated for the third time this decade, and he shall be its architect.
For a few conventions now, Dan DiDio has bragged of "the Great Disaster" coming, and of his intent to bring the New Gods back in a powerful way. Since Darkseid's motivation from the beginning has been the so-called Anti-Life Equation, we might figure that there's a lot of residual energy left over from Alexander Luthor's attempts at recreating reality combined with Mr. Mind's digesting pieces of space time at the end of 52. Surely Darkseid can sift through the cosmic wormpoop and come up with something very dangerous.
But the danger already exists. Until 52 #52, very few characters knew the multiverse had returned. Even then, very few readers had likely discovered this, because it snuck into the pages of books like Ion and Firestorm, as well as a badly received run in Nightwing, where a Monitor told Dick Grayson that Dan DiDio wanted him dead.
What gets revealed here is that at least one very very minor character, "..the humblest of souls" according to Darkseid, knows perfectly well she doesn't belong in this reality. Those that read the Countdown preview on Myspace may have been as confused as Lon Lopez when he asked, "the Joker has a daughter?"
Duela Dent has been a continuity headache from the beginning. Weaving in and out of Teen Titans continuity, she first appeared as a character called the Harlequin, dressed like a female Joker. She had a mild crush on Robin (chicks dig the short pants, apparently) and claimed it would just kill her father to have her working with Batman's progeny. Later, she revealed herself to actually be Two-Face's daughter, until years later Dick Grayson pointed out that she was too old to be that, either.
No one ever got around to an explanation, and she vanished until this year becoming one of Deathstroke's Teen Titans East. There she got talked out of being a villain, though clearly that didn't take. In the pages of Countdown, she gleefully kidnaps a popstar for instant ransom, admitting that she isn't from New Earth. Somehow, she got over here from another of the 52 worlds of the multiverse, just like (perhaps) Jason Todd the Red Hood, who takes her down.
Jason, of course, is infamously back from the dead thanks to Superboy-Prime's continuity punches, but in this new multiverse, it could just be he comes from an Earth where the Joker never killed him.
The rest of the issue sets up the mysteries hinted at by house ads for the last month. The Trickster and the Pied Piper will somehow get set against the rest of Flash's Rogues Gallery. Mary Marvel is stuck powerless on this New Earth, waiting to get the Earth-S where Jeff Smith can allow her to be fun again. And Ray Palmer holds the key to it all.
To call this a mystery might be unfair. Instead, Dini
sets up a few lynchpins that the other books in the DC Universe
can play with or not. If we are to believe the hints at
the end of 52, this is the launching of the megaverse.
Its goals are more clearly laid out than the previous series,
making it just as worthy of following.