Everybody with an interest in mainstream comics and in the business of the industry are talking about DC’s big announcements this week about a line-wide relaunch for its super-hero books and a much more aggressive and timely digital-distribution plan. Of course, we must also acknowledge that it was a big week for its existing comics. This week saw the release of five, count ’em five, Flashpoint-related comics, and while this doesn’t mark the beginning of the event, it is the first week with a major bombardment of titles bearing the Flashpoint brand.
I bought and read ’em all, and here’s what I thought of them…
by Geoff Johns, Andy Kubert & Sandra Hope
There are two rather disparate approaches to the plotting in this book, and both have their place. On the one hand, Johns continues his efforts at world-building. He takes the reader to different corners of the world of Flashpoint to show us how drastically the characters have changed. The opening scene in which we meet Deathstroke and his pirate crew (all former super-villains in the “real” DC Universe) sums up perfectly the depth and breadth of the changes. Of course, Deathstroke (and his encounter with the bloodthirsty Emperor Aquaman) really doesn’t advance the main plot at all. It serves as color for the backdrop more than anything (and a teaser for next week’s Flashpoint: Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager #1). The other approach to the plot is much more focused and personal. Barry Allen’s initial conflict with Alt-Batman and subsequent team-up is all about (a) convincing someone that Things Are Wrong, and (b) taking the first step to Set Things Right. While I enjoy the larger tableau of the world-building, Johns’ spotlight on just two characters to push the event plotline forward is a smart move, making it more accessible and creating a real sense of advancement of the story.
Kubert’s angular style suits the twisted approach to the reinterpretation of DC’s stable of characters quite well. I enjoyed the tweaked designs for some of the select pirate characters, and the darkness of the Wonder Woman/Steve Trevor scene captured the espionage and violent undercurrent of that moment quite well. I think what I enjoyed most about the visuals, though, was how effectively expressive Barry Allen is during his explosive encounter with a mirror image of a one-time friend. I don’t think Kubert conveys the hulking, intimidating qualities of the Alt-Batman (as is depicted in another Flashpoint comic this week), but he does capture the intensity and anger of the character adeptly.
The cliffhanger ending makes it clear that the goofier of DC’s Silver Age is behind it. Johns treats super-hero science as something untenable, signalling that the loose, oddball rules of the past no longer apply (or at least they don’t apply in the darker world of Flashpoint). The dramatic ending actually could have come off as unfortunately comedic, but it’s such an unforeseen development, it strikes the reader as quite a shock. Just as Barry didn’t expect the most likely outcome, neither does the reader. Thus far, Flashpoint is turning out to be an entertaining and satisfying event book, unlike Marvel’s foray into the genre this summer with Fear Itself. 7/10
Flashpoint: Abin Sur – the Green Lantern #1
by Adam Schlagman & Felipe Massafera
Abin Sur has been, for the most part, a footnote in DC’s super-hero history. He was a means to an end — to get a GL ring in the hands of Hal Jordan — rather than a character. Here, he’s explored as something more than a plot device, and writer Schlagman does so succinctly and effectively. What’s even more interesting is that Sur’s motivation as a hero is linked thematically to a key plot element from the recent Blackest Night and Brightest Day events. When this limited series was first announced, I assumed the premise would be that Abin Sur simply survived his crash landing on Earth, but clearly, there’s much more to this altered continuity than slightly differences or opposite outcomes to key events. Another pleasing aspect about this comic — as well as of the other Flashpoint tie-in titles — is that it holds the promise of being a self-contained story. I love the notion that one can read just these three issues of Abin Sur and can come away having read a satisfying, complete story.
One of the most striking aspects of the artwork was the effort artist Felipe Massafera makes to bring designs in line with upcoming other-media adaptations of the DC’s Green Lantern concepts. The title character and his ally Sinestro’s GL costumes look much more like what we’ve seen in advance promotional material for the Green Lantern movie, as do the designs for the Guardians of the Universe, and the Manhunters that the title hero battles in the opening scene resemble designs that will be seen in the upcoming Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters video game. Furthermore, Abin Sur’s alien flesh looks more like that of the movie incarnation of the character than the less textured look he had in the Silver Age. It’s a logical move to make, given the publisher’s hope the movie and game will draw new readers to the comics. What I really enjoyed about the art was the soft, airy look that Massafera brings to the cosmic action. Rod Reis’ colors add to the effect and bring a lot of texture to the alien figures throughout the comic.
Given the popularity of DC’s Green Lantern properties at the moment, this is no doubt a key title in the Flashpoint line. Given that Schlagman (better known as a DC editor) incorporates elements from the various Rainbow Lantern Corps and the popular Blackest Night event as well as elements from the upcoming GL movie, it seems clear that the creators on this comic are trying to connect with DC’s existing readership as well as newer readers. I can’t help but think that’s part of a larger vision the publisher has for its super-hero line, not only with this Flashpoint event, but its ambitious plans for a line-wide relaunch in the fall. 7/10
Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance #1
by Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso
This is by far the strongest of the Flashpoint comics thus far, but that comes as no surprise, as the entire creative team of 100 Bullets is responsible for it. Azzarello’s premise is essentially that the Batman’s methods make him more of an anti-hero like the Punisher instead of the ethically centered hero we usually see patrolling the streets of Gotham. Again, while the events of the main Flashpoint title are referred to indirectly, there’s a much different story unfolding here. The fun here is discovering, bit by bit, how Gotham’s most noted residents have changed, either slightly or radically, in this world. I love the notion that a much more driven, damaged member of the Wayne family would fund his crusade against killers with a casino. To me, that Thomas Wayne would use sin to fight crime is a fascinating twist. Both the “real” Batman and this version of Thomas Wayne deal with their pain by patrolling the streets of Gotham and hunting down criminals, but one is a philanthropist by day, and the other is willing the well-being of others to further his mission.
Eduardo Risso is eminently qualified to illustrate Batman comics (as he demonstrated in Wednesday Comics), especially an incarnation of the property as dark as this one. I love the huge presence he grants Thomas Wayne and how he still manages to convey his age. I suspect he’s taking some cues from Frank Miller’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Returns. The little glimpse we get of his Joker at the end of the issue would suggest he’s inspired in part by the late Heath Ledger’s take on the iconic villain in The Dark Knight.
The real story for this limited series is why the spectre of the Joker looms so large in the world of this Alt-Batman. Thomas Wayne, in his masked alter ego, has killed other members of Gotham’s freak underworld, but Azzarello’s script makes it clear there’s much more to the Joker than those other criminals, and I don’t just mean that he’s the title character’s most dangerous and dogged nemesis. No, there’s something more to the relationship between this Batman and this Joker, and I suspect it’s because unlike the “real” Joker, we will learn exactly who he is. the writer hints strongly that the Joker means something to Thomas Wayne, so I wonder if he might be Bruce Wayne in this world. Have we actually heard anyone in the know say that Bruce was killed all those years ago along with his mother? 8/10
Flashpoint: Secret Seven #1
by Peter Milligan, George Perez, Fernando Blanco & Scott Koblish
I’m a major fan of artist George Perez’s work, so I was quite surprised that of all of the Flashpoint comics to be released thus far, this was the only one that I found to be actually disappointing. Perez only pencils three quarters of the issue, but more importantly, I found the meta commentary in the plot to be off-putting. Writer Peter Milligan’s effort to explore some of DC’s more unusual characters is unfortunately inaccessible. One really needs to be familiar not only with Shade the Changing Man’s odd history as both a DC and Vertigo property but with the somewhat obscure character called the Enchantress. After reading the entire first issue, I really have no sense of what this story is about. While there are references to them, it doesn’t seem to be about Shade’s effort to form a new team of weird heroes to aid in the war against Aquaman and Wonder Woman, and it doesn’t seem to be about how the other six members of the original Secret Seven died.
Perez brings the usual level of detail and expressiveness that he always does to any comic-book project in which he participates, and I remain a fan of his style. However, I question if he was the right choice for this project. For an action-packed super-hero story, you can’t do better than Perez, but this is something a little different. The mood of the book calls for a surreal, weird story, and Perez’s detailed, focused work just isn’t what you’re looking for when something psychedelic is called for. I didn’t care for the jarring shift from Perez’s style to that of breakdown Fernando Blanco’s, whose more generic, flatter approach isn’t all that exciting. Furthermore, the crisp, only slightly askew, lower-case logo on the cover doesn’t seem in keeping with the oddball nature of the supernatural characters.
Peter Milligan was the writer on the Shade the Changing Man series published under DC’s Vertigo imprint in the 1990s, so it’s clear that he has a strong connection with this character. The problem with his script and plot is that the audience seems to need to be familiar not only with the writer’s previous work with the character, but the original weirdness that unfolded in the first Shade series — courtesy of Steve Ditko in the 1970s. I can tell there’s some metatextual commentary in the middle of this comic book, that Shade is a man torn between two worlds (DC and Vertigo). Why I should care… well, that information isn’t really to be found here. 5/10
Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint #1
by Rex Ogle, Eduardo Francisco, Paulo Siqueira & Roland Paris
Unlike most of the other Flashpoint titles, I really had no idea what to expect from this comic book. All I knew was that it featured Traci 13, a character that seemed like a rather unusual choice for such a spotlight. The title would suggest that the point is to give the reader a more detailed look at this altered world and what makes it tick, and it fulfills that promise by delving into the extreme politics of a world divided, at war and filled with superhuman figures. Balancing that larger-than-life aspect of the book is a strong focus on characterization, specifically on Traci 13. Now in order to get the full effect of Rex Ogle’s story, it helps if one is familiar with some rather obscure characters from the DC Universe. Part of the fun is seeing different incarnations of “mainstream” DC characters, but fortunately, that knowledge isn’t necessary in order to actually follow the plot.
Like Secret Seven, the art chores on this comic book are divided, and yes, the transition from Eduardo Francisco’s work to Paulo Siqueira’s isn’t as smooth as it could be. The main problem is that they depict the main heroine too differently. The first artist emblazons the number 13 across Traci’s forehead as though it were a tattoo, but the second makes it look like a scar. The chief protagonist’s appearance should be a thing of consistency, above all other elements in the book. Still, I did enjoy the art. Francisco’s work looks a bit like what might arise if Ryan (Local, New York Five) Kelly illustrated a super-hero book, and Siqueira’s crisp, clean linework in the latter part of the book reminds me of the style of Chris (Booster Gold) Batista.
While I found the metahuman politics in this comic book to be interesting, what really drew me into the story was the relationship between Traci 13 and her father. That conflict and Traci’s desperate need to use her magic to make the world a better place made for some strong characterization. The tragedy that drives her and that damaged her father so much is an immense one, a huge concept that serves as a major part of the backdrop of Flashpoint. But the focus on its effects on Traci and her dad and how it haunts them (in different ways) brings the unimaginable down to a level that one can appreciate the horror on a human level. 7/10
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