So, like many of you, I bought the 80-page, $1.00 Countdown to Infinite Crisis today. It's billed as the lead-in to no less than four mini-series, all of which are leading into the NEXT big DCU event, Infinite Crisis, which will supposedly change the DCU forever, just like what happened with the original Crisis On Infinite Earths.
Honestly, this post isn't concerned with that. That's all marketing hype, and I'm more interested in story. Countdown has a story, 80 uninterrupted pages of it. And boy, did I not enjoy that story.
At a simple level, it's damn depressing. Blue Beetle's life is stripped away from him, and then he gets shot in the head by a guy he kinda-sorta trusted. The writers (there are four in total, and I don't recall offhand who wrote the last chapter) try to downplay this by giving him an "I'd rather die than betray my friends" moment, but he still gets shot in the head, and it's still depressing. Especially since earlier in the story, Beetle's partner in goofery, Booster Gold, is badly burned, and we learn that his robot buddy Skeets was unceremoniously disassembled and turned into tracking equipment by the mysterious OMAC project. Skeets, as you may recall, featured prominently in the Justice League Unlimited episode "The Greatest Story Never Told," and was received warmly by the audience. Well, kids, don't go looking for wacky ol' Skeets in any mainstream DCU comics. Stick with the JLU comic, where both he and Beetle are alive and well.
So, I didn't care for the tone. But beyond that, the story just does not work at all. There's a very simple reason for this: The plot requires every single hero in the DCU with the exception of Beetle and Booster to behave like an unmitigated dick. For the entire story, Beetle goes to his fellow heroes for help, and they blow him off. Millions of dollars are embezzled from his company (and funneled through Waynetech, yet), and they blow him off. 100 lbs. of Kryptonite vanishes from a Kord Industries warehouse, and they blow him off. He's attacked by The Madmen, and they blow him off. His friggin' house gets blown up, and they blow him off. (Specifically, Shazam blows him off. Yeah, that's right, the all-powerful wizard who lives in the Rock of Eternity and can do damn near anything doesn't give him so much as a cryptic clue.) And so, when Beetle finds a way to track whoever's behind all this stuff, he does so alone, not even with backup from Oracle. And gets beaten and shot in the head for his efforts.
Seriously, what the hell? Is it something in the water? Dr. Light ties up Green Arrow, and everybody and their brother is ready to storm Philadelphia to kick his ass, but they can't even spare Firestorm or Guy Garnder to help out the Beetle? Whatever happened to "The Justice League takes care of its own?" It goes to ridculous lengths: not only do Beetle's fellow superheroes refuse to lend him aid, but all of them except Wonder Woman don't even believe him. The missing money, the warehouse robbery that leaves no trace whatsoever, his goddamn house being blown up, nobody makes the simple connection that hey, somebody's got a mad-on for the ol' Beetle. Black Canary calls the affair a "waste of time." Guess Roy Harper's lucky she didn't feel that way back in 1969. In 2005, Blue Beetle is crap on their shoes, not worth the bare effort of an investigation. Even Wonder Woman gives no more than a "Let me know how it turns out."
The heroes of the DCU systematically belittle and abandon one of their own. That is not how superheroes should act. I can buy them being so swamped with crises that they can't spare enough time or manpower. I can certainlys buy Batman behaving like an utter dick in dismissing Beetle's concerns. But for them to treat a good man who's put his life on the line just as much as they have with utter disdain, without even the respect necessary to consider his concerns, is deplorable. These are not the actions of heroes; they do not in any way inspire or embody the noble aspects of the human spirit. The only one in the story who does is Ted Kord. He lives up to the ideal, and gets a bullet in the head for his troubles. Beetle sacrifices his life for his fellow heroes; they do not deserve that sacrifice. The reader is left with no choice but to agree with Maxwell Lord, the villain of the piece, when he says that the DC heroes are a threat to humanity. Certainly, if this is how they treat their friends, than six billion strangers shouldn't feel at all safe under their watch.
Beetle's fate is a tragedy, but not n the classic sense. The fault that led to his demise was not his own, but that of his peers, and of his writers.
This comic cost $1.00. I want my money back.