Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer

By various (DC Comics)
ISBN13: 978-1-84576-868-3

This review feels more like a shopping list than an inducement to share my experiences but if you persevere – with both my burblings and especially this slim tome published as a sidebar to the mega-crossover Countdown to Final Crisis – there’s fun to be had for the dedicated fan.

One of the major plot threads of the main event is that missing physicist/shrinking superhero Ray Palmer holds the answer to an unspecified Great Disaster looming in the future of the DC Universe. A select group of heroes led by a renegade Monitor (a kind of super-watchman assigned to invigilate one of the 52 universe of the multiverse) must search all the realities in hope of finding him before its too late…

A number of Countdown Presents: the Search for Ray Palmer one-shots were released during the weekly, year-long run of the parent series, set on the various 52 Earths (many in fact previously seen alternates or Elseworlds concepts, handily assimilated into the DCU for the occasion).

The first collected here is ‘Running Wild!’ by Ron Marz, Angel Unzueta and inkers Oliver Nome, Richard Friend, Saleem Crawford and Trevor Scott from CPtSFRP: WildStorm #1 wherein Donna Troy, Kyle (Green Lantern) Rayner, Jason (I used to be Robin, and dead) Todd and Bob the Monitor encounter various heroes and villains of the WildStorm Universe in an annoying series of disconnected vignettes that only make sense when read in conjunction with the relevant instalments of the weekly series.

Much more palatable is ‘The Jokester’s Last Laugh’ by Sean McKeever, Jamal Igle and Rob Hunter (from CPtSFRP: Crime Society #1) as the searchers – calling themselves the Challengers of the Unknown – arrive on the world where good is evil and the superheroes are villains. This chapter at least boasts a complete story that can be followed as does the next sinister stopover on an Earth where Batman became a vampire (as seen in Batman: Vampire – Tales of the Multiverse ISBN13: 978-1-84576-645-0).

‘Red Rain: Blood Lust’ by Peter Johnson, Matt Cherniss and Kelley Jones is a brief interlude that originally appeared in DC Infinite Halloween Special #1 and leads directly into CPtSFRP: Red Rain #1 which presented ‘Red Robin’ by Johnson, Jones, Eric Battle, Angel Unzueta, Derek Fridolfs, Vicente Cifuentes and Jonathan Glapion; a gory undead horror from which our protagonists barely escape.

Their next stop is the far more dignified but no less deadly world of Gotham by Gaslight (from the CPtSFRP one-shot of the same name). ‘Night of the Bat’ by Brian Augustyn, Greg Tocchini, Jesse Delperdang, Derek Fridolfs and Paul Neary, a good old-fashioned romp followed by the equally impressive ‘Red Son’ set on a world where that rocket from Krypton landed in the Soviet Union not Kansas. Alan Burnett, Travis Foreman and Lorenzo Ruggiero produced this high-octane cold war incident for CPtSFRP: Red Son #1.

The book, if not the story, ends with ‘Superwoman/Batwoman’ from the eponymous one-shot, a charming and rather peculiar tale from an Earth where the genders of everybody we’re familiar with are reversed. The strangeness comes courtesy of Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Kalman Andrasofszky, Jeremy Haun, David Hahn, David Baldeón, Norm Rapmund, Álvaro López, Rick Ketcham and Steve Bird.

On the last page you’ll find that the challengers don’t succeed and that you’ll need Countdown to Final Crisis volume 3 to find out what happens next. As with all the tales here you’ll be reminded that the real story is going on elsewhere and that the confusions you’ve been experiencing were largely unnecessary. The transition from periodical publishing events to book collections is still a young science and every so often the formats simply don’t work together.

This time it would have been best to stick these exceedingly good one-shots into the appropriate places in regular compilations rather than have them stand as the bewildering mess they are here.

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