Countdown is one of the worst series in comic book history, and that’s not hyperbole, it’s pure fact. In the future there will be a college class entitled “Worst Comics Ever: Contemporary Approaches to Pop-Culture Literature and God-Awful Crap” and the textbook will be the $200 hardcover edition of Absolute Countdown. It’s so bad. At one point, Darkseid casually reclines on Mary Marvel’s couch and asks her if she wants to be evil and without even thinking about it she says yes. That’s how bad it is.
Meant to duplicate the success of its predecessor, 52, Countdown failed spectacularly in crafting memorable stories, focusing on interesting characters, or making even the slightest bit of goddamned sense. It was supposed to function as a lead-in to Grant Morrison’s overhyped and highly inconsequential miniseries Final Crisis, but possessing only a broad outline of Morrison’s plot meant the writers of Countdown had to improvise, which they did with the skill of a lower-tier porn star. The result was a nonsensical half-canon half-Elseworlds money grab that was simultaneously boring and infuriating.
Something a weekly miniseries rarely does is a one-off, self-contained, monster-of-the-week issue, given how jarring an interruption it would be to multiple continuing storylines, but Countdown did just that with “End Times” in Countdown to Final Crisis #5 (and, really, they had nothing to lose at that point):
You can see from the masthead that the credited writers are Paul Dini, Adam Beechen, and Keith Giffen as “story consultant.” Dini wrote the excellent (and unjustly cancelled) Streets of Gotham, Beechen was responsible for some mildly-pleasing-but-not-terribly-challenging issues of Teen Titans and Robin, and Giffen is one of my favourites, but judging by his credits, you’d be forgiven for thinking he shows up to the DC offices every once in a while, tells someone about a really cool idea he came up with, and then goes home while others do the actual work.
The infamous 5YL Legion of Super-Heroes was Giffen’s idea – he’s credited as “Plot Breakdowns By” throughout, while T&M Bierbaum get props for doing the dialogue – and “End Times” concerns one of that team’s members, Una (Luornu Durgo a.k.a. Duo Damsel a.k.a. Triplicate Girl), as she makes her way through a parallel world overrun by anthropomorphic beasts and zoomorphic humans. Unfortunately for her, this is Earth A.D., and she’s unwittingly tumbled into Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth‘s origin story (his name should give you an idea of how things play out.)
The story is narrated in a series of journal entires by the original OMAC, Buddy Blank, as he and Una search for his daughter and grandson (the grandson being Kamandi):
Things are bleak because a virus released by the dead body of Una’s teammate Karate Kid (who’s always had a bit of a longevity problem) is turning the world’s superheroes into animals:
The above is probably the best example of this issue’s greatest strength and greatest weakness: the anthropomorphic/zoomorphic concept. You either go with it or you don’t. If you go with it, you’ll probably find “End Times” rather compelling. If you find the idea of Wonder Girl being irreversibly transformed into a dog/lion hybrid ridiculous, then you probably won’t enjoy anything you find between this issue’s front and back covers.
I went with it. Apocalypse tales, especially the non-religious kind, are pretty fascinating (see: Walking Dead, Y: The Last Man, and Sweet Tooth for stellar examples.) The dread of impending doom combined with the horror of watching characters we know and love succumbing to tragedy is a pretty engrossing storytelling hook. The family dog developing six-pack abs and expertly wielding a knife is a pretty nightmarish proposal:
…but Blank is right when he mentions the absurdity of the situation. It would be really easy to read this scene as unintentional comedy.
Things keep getting worse, topping out when Una is swarmed, and eventually consumed, by carnivorous vermin:
Keep in mind Una was a character that Legion of Super-Heroes fans had been following since 1961 and now she was getting eaten by rats. It would later be revealed that Una was merely one of Luornu’s many bodies (Luornu having become Duplicate Damsel, able to split into infinite parts) but as far as Countdown readers were concerned, she was the real deal. Watching her get devoured by rodents wasn’t easy to watch.
Buddy and his grandson eventually escape to an abandoned military bunker Command D, where, it can be assumed, Buddy eventually dies and Kamandi averts his post-Crisis on Infinite Earths fate of becoming Tommy Tomorrow:
“End Times” is a rare bright spot in the otherwise-abysmal Countdown, with moments of perverse horror that I can only assume were Giffen’s idea. Your enjoyment of it will be highly dependant on how willing you are to suspend your disbelief, and if anything in the preceding paragraphs came across as being utterly ridiculous, Countdown to Final Crisis #5 likely won’t be your cup of tea.
UPDATE: I didn’t notice this before, but the zoomorphic concept may have some precedent in the DCU. Note this issue of Batman from 1969:
But that sort of backward-looking, obscure-trivia-updated-for-modern-audiences thing is really more of Grant Morrison’s bag, so this is probably just a coincidence.