Posted by Don MacPherson on June 18th, 2011
Flashpoint: Deadman and the Flying Graysons #1
“The Show Must Go On”
Writer: J.T. Krul
Artist: Mikel Janin
Colors: Ulises Arreola
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Cover artist: Cliff Chiang & Jared Fletcher
Editor: Pat McCallum
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
There may no other writer in mainstream super-hero comics today who’s more maligned than J.T. Krul. The main reason: the awful (yet somehow award-winning) way he’s written former Green Arrow sidekick Arsenal as a one-armed, cybernetic, cat-twirling, junkie, lunatic super-hero. To be honest, I feel kind of bad for the guy (Krul, not Arsenal). The reality is that his take on the character was likely one directed by DC Editorial (or at the very least, approved and supported by DC Editorial). Krul landed assignments with DC’s lineup of 52 new titles in the fall, and many critics, (myself included), lamented this development. But to be fair, Krul seems like a reliable resource for DC, and it seems like that reliability is being rewarded with his participation in the publisher’s new direction. Krul’s critics couldn’t see why that was, but with the release of Flashpoint: Deadman and the Flying Graysons #1, I can see what DC sees in his work. While some of the fun here stems from seeing new and radically different interpretations of DC lore, the real strength here lies in the characterization. This is by far the best thing to come out of Flashpoint thus far, and my only beef with it is that we’ll only get three issues of it. Krul has definitely redeemed himself in my eyes with this script.
With the war between the Atlanteans and the Amazons turning most of Europe into a battleground, the performers of the U.S.-based Haley’s Circus find themselves stuck in a potential war zone, unable to return home. In order to survive, they do what they do best: they perform, making their way around Europe looking for safe, small towns where they can ply their trade, entertain the masses and earn a living. The stars of the show are the ever-isolated acrobat Boston Brand, known as Deadman under the big top, and the family of trapeze artists known as the Flying Graysons. Little do they know that something in the possession of one of the sideshow performers has attracted the attention of the bloodthirsty Amazons, making the circus’s effort to avoid trouble all the more challenging.
While the strength of Krul’s script was a surprise and a delight, the same can be said of the interior artwork. Mikel Janin’s work in this issue reminded me a great deal of the style of Frazer (Xombi, Batman & Robin) Irving, especially in the earlier part of the book. Janin captures the broad scope of a traditional circus not to mention the energy of the spectacle and the hard work that goes on when the crowd has gone home. The artist also does an excellent job of conveying the contrast between Boston Brand and Dick Grayson. The dialogue tells us of the differences between the two acrobats, but the visuals reflect them as well. Janin appropriately depicts Deadman as cold, angry and distant, while Dick also seems enveloped in contentment, in satisfaction. There are also moments when Janin’s art here reminds me of the style of cover artist Cliff Chiang, and that’s a high compliment. I’m now much more interested and anxious to see what Janin has in store for us in September as the regular artist on Justice League Dark.
Speaking of Chiang’s contribution to this comic book, it was his cover alone that drew me to this comic book. The circus poster riff is a lot of fun, and I’m pleased that he’ll be continuing as the cover artist for this limited series. Of course, letterer Jared K. Fletcher is also acknowledged as one of the cover artists, and his design work is a major factor in the success of the poster motif. The logo for the book is fantastic, and the rest of the typography represents a number of great and colorful choices.
There’s something about this circus, this group of co-workers who are more like members of a family, being stuck behind “enemy lines” in a metahuman war that put me in mind of the Second World War. It was easy to think of these American entertainers being caught in unenviable circumstances and making the best of it as taking place during the early 1940s. I’m sure it’s an intentional parallel on the storytellers’ part. After all, the story is set in Poland, and the old-school entertainment of a traditional circus has a certain timelessness to it. Furthermore, we really don’t see much in the way of modern technology here save for the state of the circus’ fleet of vehicles.
I love the riff on a living Boston Brand as purposefully isolating himself from the warmth around him; he essentially turns himself into a ghost among the living. But most interesting of all is how Deadman and Dick Grayson serve as both mirror reflections of one another and opposites at the same time. In this reality, both have been spared from the tragedies that would define them, but one suffers as a result of his survival, and the other is fulfilled and happy as a result of being spared a devastating loss. Boston places self above all else, while Dick reaps the benefits of being part of a family. Clearly, the story will be about Deadman’s effort to redeem himself in the wake of tragedy. I eagerly anticipate the next two issues. 8/10
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