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Countdown 9

Countdown to Final Crisis 9

Scheduled to arrive in stores: February 27, 2008

Cover date: February 27, 2008

"Pay the Piper"

Writer: Paul Dini (head writer) and Keith Giffen (story consultant) with Justin Gray and Jimmi Palmiotti
Penciller: Tom Derenick
Inker: Wayne Faucher
Cover: Stephane Roux with Karine Boccanfuso

Back-Up Story: "The Origin of The Black Manta"
Write: Scott Beatty
Penciller: Mike Norton
Inker: Rodney Ramos

Reviewed by: Jason Larouche

Click to enlarge


As Brother Eye assimilates Apokalips, a distraught Pied Piper is beset by both Desaad, claiming he is the one responsible for all of his recent strife, and the OMAC that was once Una with Karate Kid slung over its shoulder. Desaad's motive for his actions are that Piper has a rare gene that is connected to the antilife equation, and he saw fit to break Piper's spirit and use him as a tool to acquire the equation for himself.

While the OMAC easily dispatches Desaad, Darkseid and Solomon converse over his intergalactic chess board. Solomon is taken aback by Darkseid's level of ruthlessness; he doesn't care if everything is annihilated since it was always his desire to destroy the universe and then rebuild it in his image.

Elsewhere, Red Robin spots the OMAC dragging Piper and Val Armorr past him and decides to investigate. The Challengers, meanwhile, along with Mary Marvel, Holly Robinson and Harley Quinn, reluctantly agree to search for Jason before trying to find a way off-world. The OMACs don't bother with them because they are too preoccupied meeting Brother Eye's goal of ensnaring Apokolips whole. They make their way to the tunnel where the OMAC took Piper and Val, and Desaad decides to use them to lead him back to Piper.

Before Brother Eye, empowered by Firestorm in stasis, Karate Kid is scanned and revealed to be a carrier for the Morticoccus virus, while Pied Piper struggles to hold on to his sanity. Red Robin attempts to free the captives when he's spotted by the OMAC and is attacked. Jason uses the creature's attack to free Firestorm from stasis but is still nailed by a laser blast just as the Challengers catch up. Kyle Rayner ensnares Una/OMAC in a green field. While all this is going on, Atom notices Brother Eye attempts to dissect Val. He intervenes and frees Val. To protect itself, Eye uses boom tube technology to transport the group to another location, minus Piper, surrounded by OMACs.

Back at the core, Desaad forces Piper to play his flute, telling him he can end the devastation with his music. However, Piper surprises Desaad with a tune that overwhelms the villain until his head explodes. Piper calls it retribution for his role in the death of the Trickster. As for Brother Eye, Piper plays another song, one that serves to decimate the corrupted A.I. and half of Apokalips is blown apart, but not before the machine manages to get away from the explosion via a satellite. The OMACs still on Apokalips revert to their original forms, including Una. The Challengers' only hope of getting off-world now is Kyle, but due to the battle still raging, he is unconscious.


Back-Up Story: "The Origin of The Black Manta"
Write: Scott Beatty
Penciller: Mike Norton
Inker: Rodney Ramos

Black Manta was an undersea treasure hunter/pirate whose deep sea excursions immediately thrust him into conflict with Arthur of Atlantis, aka Aquaman, when he planned to sack the undersea kingdom. After years of battles, Manta finally made things personal by killing Aquaman's son via suffocation in an air-filled sphere. In retaliation, Arthur nearly suffocated Manta as poetic justice, but spared the villain when he pleaded for mercy. Manta later made a deal with the demon Neron and was transformed into an undersea creature befitting his namesake in his feud with Aquaman. Again, Arthur took pity on the man and with his watery hand restored his humanity. However, even that failed to humble Manta, as his recent genetic enhancements allowing him to breathe underwater evened the playing field.

5Story - 5: In this issue, it's all very fast paced which works in the sense that Hell has literally broken loose. The Piper's plight takes center stage when FINALLY it's revealed why Desaad is so invested in this seemingly-second-rate villain who only got a boost in depravity via Bart Allen's death. Giving him cosmic relevance and leave readers guessing as to why he'd pay so much attention to these two losers was brilliantly played. Throughout the entire series, Dini has put he and Trickster through trials that have been at times hilarious and other times tragic. But in no way is this tale homophobic in nature; the Amos and Andrew-like pairing of Piper and Trickster was played on the same level as John Candy and Steve Martin in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles."

The fact that he takes retribution on Desaad for his role in Trickster's death then expugates Brother Eye demonstrates a level of redemption has taken root in this rogue. A lesser man would have just let Brother Eye have Apokalips and find a way off.

The love triangle between Kyle, Jason, and Donna was touched on only briefly via GL's argument against looking for Todd.

As for Harley Quinn and Holly Robinson gaining powers from last issue, that's a bitter pill to swallow. I'm one of those people who hopes to see Harley regain some semblance of sanity, but granting her the powers of a god of humor with a Quinn-esque armament is like a step back towards the straightjacket. Then again, it wouldn't be Harley. Holly Robinson's abilities, however, suit her, especially after filling in for Selina as Catwoman. I've probably said this before in other reviews, but I'm intrigued by the evolution of this character and how it's been carried from Frank Miller's Year One storyline that introduced her as a child prostitute with a speech impediment. I'm glad to see Mary Marvel's return from the dark side. As for the climax, if this is truly the end of Apokalips, it'll be interesting to see how the gang gets out of this one. Keep up the good work, guys.

4Art - 4: Derenik's art worked in this book in regards to the backgrounds. Balancing the technological organization of Brother Eye's core with the chaotic environment of Apokalips' surface was no easy task. However, his take on Red Robin was a little off because it looked like between issues Jason put on a few pounds. In fact he looked even older, like in his 40s. However, he didnt go wrong with the ladies; I love his Donna Troy and Mary Marvel. Still, the way he depicted Piper literally trying to hold on to what semblance of sanity was brilliant. The expressions on his face were of a frantic man desperately trying to grasp the reality of the situation and not given a moment's peace to do it. The switch that occurs when he turns on Desaad was brilliantly captured. That was a look in his eye that said "I've had enough of you."

3Back-Up Story - 3: Black Manta's origin is all right, but I feel that they could have touched a little bit on his background before he went Jacques Cousteau. I'm not an Aquaman fan so I don't know if a full bio exists. I liked, however, how he was depicted in the "Justice" miniseries last year. It's a shame that this origin seemed a little too diluted.

3Back-Up Art - 3: The pencil work didn't really do it for me this week. Norton's Perez-like style brought to the table what instead needed a look that was sharper. The layouts depiction of Manta killing Arthur's son and Arthur's retribution should have been redone because it doesn't jar at all. The panels were too small and we really could've gotten a better look at him in his mutated form. Don't get me wrong; Norton's great but I feel his approach wasn't needed in this one.

4Cover Art - 4: Though this scene never took place, you've gotta hand it to Roux. At first I thought that I was looking at an Adam Hughes cover. The composition works in the sense that you get a full shot of all the Challengers, and they all appear in this issue, thus bringing relevance to this cover. Good job!

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

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