Thursday, September 18, 2008

Countdown Presents: Lord Havok and the Extremists (2008)

Justice League International was a big hit in 1987, serving as funny counter-programming to all the mean-spirited book then on the stands. Cashing in was on DC's mind, and eventually they spun off "Justice League Europe." That title always struggled to find a rhythm, as the humor and chemistry always seemed forced. Right around the same time, about 1990, someone decided both "JLI" and "JLE" needed to do big, black stories with body counts. "JLI" revamped Despero, while "JLE" created a greatest hits collection of Marvel super-villain analogues. Proxy Dr. Doom, Dr. Octopus, Dormammu, Magneto and Sabretooth had gone nuts and slain a world full of people, as well as tying into an old 70's story involving the deaths of a group of Avengers surrogates. If that whole description doesn't fairly scream "disposable," I don't know what does. Unfortunately, in a time when fans were hungry for "serious" villains to fight the Justice League, they ate that shit up. Never mind the whole crew turned out to be glorified animatronics that had slipped loose of their creator, a Stan Lee/Walt Disney hybrid, and served as a critical commentary of the sad state of the '90s "House of Ideas."

In a glorious example of missing the point entirely, the Enchanted Tiki Room of Evil players kept popping up and getting trashed, only to be replaced by others group who only used the name. "Dreamslayer" turned out to really be an evil sorcerer, and then JLI organizer turned bad Max Lord had his mind planted in Lord Havok's body. The Extremists were a bad idea, but one fans and creators refused to turn loose of. Cue "Countdown," and the return of the DC Multiverse. Another incarnation of Extremists had arrived, with another world to themselves, and this time they were all real! Somewhere, an infernal choir sings in praise at our damnation.

"Lord Havok" is "Countdown's" bitch, as elements from that weekly abomination weave their way into the trade paperback with little explanation. The purpose of Frank Tieri's script is to establish a permanent rip-off of Marvel's "Ultimate" line, with emphasis on sampled Mark Millar snark and fascism. Their Iron Man was president of the United States of Angor, until Havok assassinated him, so now an adulterous boozehound Captain Americommando has assumed the role. The States have their own super-hero registration and 50-State Initiative, meaning DC now has a second generation copy of a Patriot Act parody, and are too thick-headed to realize how sad a spectacle that is. Havok also conquers his own Latveria, leading to a confrontation with U.S. forces, as though that assassination thing weren't motivation enough.


Once the basic plot is established, it coasts as the focus shifts to origin stories for the new Extremists. Again, Tieri just regurgitates bleak variations on the Marvel characters, highlighting the pointlessness of the whole exercise. Gorgon is the Dr. Octopus of the Sam Raimi movie, except he's an MPD who murders his girlfriend in a jealous rage over her attentions from another of his personalities and the secretly gay Thor riff Wandjina. Tracer isn't so much Sabretooth as Wolverine, down to a painful good ol' boy drawl. He was a deserter in the Iranian War, so he was packed off to be experimented on by Project X. Oh, and he killed a little girl while under mental control. Dr. Diehard isn't a WWII era German Jew who's radicalized when Nazis kill his family. He's instead a peaceful U.S. dissident leader (a.k.a. Professor X) radicalized when troops kill his family in a detainment camp. At least, I think his wife died there-- he has another die later in the story. This guy has worse luck with women than Matt Murdock. Dreamslayer has one of the biggest twists, since hardly anyone knows Dormammu's origin to swipe it, though there's some need for further explanation left untended. Lord Havok is born deformed, rather than made so by his own arrogance, but he's otherwise Dr. Doom with elements of one of the Post-Crisis General Zods. The only surprise was that one of these guys doesn't see the end of the mini-series, though really, should any of them?


The events of one Earth out of fifty-two don't amount to much in the grand scheme of things, but even under those terms, this is a sound and fury affair. New versions of characters that had been killed off are themselves snuffed out. Monarch struts around with his multiversal army. Whoops are de-dooed.

Most of the art is by Liam Sharp, who despite my better judgment I've liked since his "Death's Head II" days. He's never been consistent, but if you dig him, then Sharp is one of the only reasons to pick this book up. To give additional benefit of doubt, he does have six fucking inkers on this thing, as well. Mark Robinson fills in on pencils for about an issue and a half of the six, and he pretty much sucks. I sincerely hope this was a rush job-- like two weeks to produce thirty-some pages, or else there's no excuse for it. Come to think of it, Tieri might want to try floating the same explanation, or leave this one off his resume entirely.

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