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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Flashpoint

Title: Flashpoint





ISBN: 9781401233389

Price: $16.99

Publisher/Year: DC, 2011

Artist: Andy Kubert

Writer: Geoff Johns

Collects: Flashpoint # 1-5



Rating: 3.5/5



The DC Universe has restarted before, with a bang. With Flashpoint, the DC Universe begins again not with a whimper, but with a whisper. Flashpoint places an astounding focus on interaction rather than action; it is perhaps the most accessible of all the great DC Comics events, one that may disappoint long-time fans even as it has the best chance of standing the test of time for new ones.



By the end of the first issue of writer Geoff Johns's Infinite Crisis, we'd already seen Bizarro beat the Human Bomb to death; the number of deaths and decapitations would only rise before the story ended. The body count rose equally quickly in Johns's Blackest Night. Each of these stories were two-to-three issues longer than Flashpoint, and yet I believe those books had really started by the second issue (the Indio Tribe whisking away Green Lantern in Blackest Night, for instance). In contrast, Flash Barry Allen is powerless until the third issue of Flashpoint and spends most of those three issues in the Batcave talking to Batman -- almost half the miniseries -- and ultimately only engages in one or two action sequences in the entire book.



That's not wrong, necessarily, but to be sure it singles out Flashpoint as something else -- a different kind of event miniseries than Geoff Johns has delivered before.



Flashpoint does present the first appearance of the DC New 52 costumes (and some characters), but the new continuity is not its focus. Whereas in DC's ultimate continuity-shattering tale, Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Golden Age Superman Kal-L famously wakes up in a world that no longer remembers him, Barry Allen never explicitly understands that the "real" world has changed (things are the same, Barry says, with a fourth wall-breaking glance at the camera, "as far as I can tell"). In this way -- and perhaps because Flashpoint's role in the DC New 52 relaunch was decided after the story's original conception -- Flashpoint is not about continuity-cleaning in the way the other events are. Flashpoint has that as its result, but not as its focus.



Instead, Flashpoint examines one of the central conceits of the DC Universe, that the death of a parent might inspire a child, perhaps obsessively, to a lifetime trying to make up for that loss. Batman is the best example of this in DC Comics, of course, and Flashpoint is very much about Batman even if Bruce Wayne only appears in a handful of pages. Superman is another, the consummate orphan even if, depending on your continuity, he never much knew his Kryptonian parents.



And under Geoff Johns's pen specifically, over the past five years or so, we've seen Superman lose his father Jonathan Kent, Green Lantern Hal Jordan's origin revised so his father died in Hal's childhood, and then Flash Barry Allen's origin revised so his father went to jail for the murder of his mother (and this is aside from Johns's creation Stargirl who dealt with her father's abandonment). It got to be repetitive, frankly, and possibly Johns knew it.



Barry Allen takes a Parallax-like turn in Flashpoint, only worse. The shocking revelation in issue five is that the alternate Flashpoint reality stems not from the villainous Reverse Flash, but from Barry himself having ventured to the past to prevent Zoom from murdering his mother, thus mucking up history but good. Barry's depression over his mother's death -- for which he's been so uncharacteristically distraught that the Flash family staged an intervention in Flash: Road to Flashpoint -- has him so unhinged that he broke superhero rule #1 and messed with time. In the context of Flashpoint, at least, Johns offers no excuses or mitigation for Barry's act -- Barry knew what he was doing was wrong, thought he could get away with it, and nearly destroyed reality instead (with consequences he himself can't perceive).



Johns suggests that this is the end of "parent's death as inspiration for heroism" in the DC Universe. Barry's sorrow over his mother's death has reached outlandish heights, culminating in Flashpoint. Hardly, we know, would Barry's parents want him to torture himself to this extent in their memory -- and if Barry's familial reason for heroism dissipates as he realizes the error of his ways, then so too do some of the others start to thin. Childhood trauma has long since stopped being an effective excuse for Bruce Wayne's nocturnal activities, and when Barry delivers a time-tossed letter from Bruce's father, and Bruce cries and thanks Barry, the reader gets a sense of something ending. These are grown men, unknowingly entering a new universe supposedly more "modern" than the one they just left, and Flashpoint brings a sweet, gentle end to childish things.



There are no absolutes in comics, of course, and even as I write these lines, I have no expectation that this is the last time we'll ever see Batman kneel before the graves of his parents and swear vengeance for their deaths. I was surprised, however, that Johns even kept Barry's mother's death "in continuity," so to speak; I imagine it might be a while before we see Johns visit that particular well again.



As Blackest Night re-established for modern audiences the friendship between Green Lantern and the Flash, Flashpoint does the same for Flash and Batman. This has so far been a juggling act on Johns's part -- Batman missing the Flash at the end of Justice League: The Lightning Saga is one of my favorite comics moments, but for the majority of the time since Flash Barry Allen has been resurrected, Batman Bruce Wayne has been presumed dead. When Barry tells the Flashpoint Batman that Bruce was one of his closest friends, we believe it to be true but in fact we've yet to see Barry and Bruce have a substantial conversation in any comic since Barry's return.



Flashpoint is essentially proof of its own hypothesis; the six-page conversation that Barry and Bruce have in the end is their first, really, and ties up a hanging thread from Johns's Flash stories. It is not the only thread that needed tying, but it does bring to a satisfactory close one aspect of the pre-Flashpoint Flash storyline.



Johns does not present Cyborg very strongly in Flashpoint -- Johns's Cyborg Victor Stone comports himself well, but he's far from the dynamic breakout star of Flashpoint that Mera was in Blackest Night, and also Cyborg simply disappears with no closing arc at the end of the book -- but I thought Johns's use of Barry Allen here with Vic offered a unique opportunity. Had the Flash in the book been Wally West, his relationship with Vic would be more emotional, like Barry and Bruce; had it been Superman, his relationship with Vic would be more paternal, like hero and sidekick. Barry remarks on Cyborg's increased armor, but otherwise accepts him for who he is; there's no diminutive applied to Cyborg, but rather he's simply a hero.



This is a rare moment for Cyborg -- better, perhaps, than in the New 52, when Cyborg may be a Justice Leaguer but Superman will be back to being Superman. In a rare pointed moment, one of Johns's S.H.A.Z.A.M. kids (the real breakout stars of the book) notes that "perception is reality," and it couldn't be truer here. Cyborg's role with the Justice League may be retroactive continuity, but it's important; more so is seeing Cyborg here, if only for a moment, as the preeminent hero of some DC Universe.



Andy Kubert's art helps Flashpoint's slower moments, to be sure. His crowd scenes are no slouch, but the real power is in his close-ups, whether it's a young Barry Allen on the first pages, the gathered Flashpoint heroes on the Gotham rooftops, or Bruce Wayne with tears in his eyes at the end. It's a rare treat to have a DC Comics mega-event drawn just by one artist throughout; I very much wish DC would leave the covers for the end and let a book like this read like a graphic novel. I'm looking forward to Kubert's guest-stint on Action Comics coming up (though only one issue, sadly); it seems to me that Kubert's art in Flashpoint is slightly stronger in the early issues with inker Sandra Hope than it is later in the book (and the most important reality-warping page, in issue five, looks unfortunately quite hurried), but I'm happy to see him on other titles either way.



At the end of the DC Universe as we know it, a reader expecting Crisis on Infinite Earths will be sorely disappointed. There's not much here, either, for a reader who wants the white-knuckle action of Blackest Night; Flashpoint is closest, in terms of its self-containment, to Final Crisis, but Flashpoint is minuscule next to Final Crisis's scope. Flashpoint is instead exactly what we heard it was from the beginning but perhaps didn't quite believe: a Flash story bigger than some but much smaller than others, which mostly focuses on Flash and Batman. Despite that Flashpoint may not have some of the "wow factor" of any of DC Comic's other event stories, it wins in one crucial area -- accessibility.



Flashpoint is perhaps the most accessible event story DC has ever produced, the one I'm most sure I could give to a new reader and they'd understand it. For a long-time reader, it may feel somewhat unsatisfactory in the end -- what, no red skies? -- but at the dawn of a new DC Universe, maybe this very simple book is exactly what we need to start off a new day.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Dilemma





I have been collecting comic books for over 30 years now. I have a sizable collection that I cherish, but I just don't feel the same about getting new books as I have in years past.



I don't typically read individual issues of a comic any more, preferring to instead read a trade paperback and get a better read. Collecting individual issues has become more of a rote than a passion. Years ago, I would be thrilled to be adding issues to my collection. Now, I find the task laborious and tedious.



When I go to comic cons, I still enjoy being able to go to writers and artists to get my books signed. Do I really need to continue collecting the latest issues of titles that I'm interested in, but will never take time to actually read? There are only a handful of titles that I really would like to keep current on, for whatever reason that I can't explain. Thinking of them specifically, it may be a sense of nostalgia because they take me back to my childhood. Series like G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Star Wars still have my interest and call to me, whereas my passion for collecting Lady Death has seriously diminished.


















I can remember when my love of Lady Death began to wain. When LD started taking-off under Avatar Press/Boundless Comics, for every regular issue, there would be 3 variant covers. As a completionist, a some may call my collecting habits a bit manic, I had to get as many of them as humanly possible. For every # in the different series, I would be purchasing 4 different covers from my LCS on my subscription. There would be times where additional variant covers would be published, and I would buy them as well. These additional covers were limited and so carried a higher price tag.



At the time, it really didn't matter that much to me because I felt like I need to have them to keep my collection in tact. When I couldn't get the variants at my LCS, I would have to turn to online sources to get them. There were so many it felt like I was living through the 90's again with all the various special covers that were published. Examples such as:
















When they finally stopped publishing Lady Death for a time, there was a part of me that was relieved. I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I could again breath easy. But now, every time a new title comes-out, it seems like publishers flood collectors with a series of variant covers again. On Comic Collector Live, there are 121 individual entries for Star Wars #1 from Marvel Comics! That's insanity!



I admit that money also plays a role in this dilemma, as if I purchase less comic books for my ever-growing collection, I will be able to use that money for other purposes such as paying bills, expanding/continuing my fundraising activities with Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, growing my collection of Funko Pops, etc.



I don't even know every title that I have on my subscription list. I just pick-up the comics as I can, enter them into my database and add them to the collection. I know that at least 1 of the titles that I get is being published twice a month! ACK!



As I mentioned before, there are some titles that I think I will continue to collect for pure nostalgia of it. I feel like I need to let go of several titles from my list. I don't want to give-up comics altogether, and I will NEVER stop collecting, reading and reviewing trades and graphic novels, but I know I need to step back and take an introspective look at what's on my list versus what I actually want to continue receiving.



I'm not going to say that this is the biggest decision of my life, but it does feel like a huge change for me.



Thank you for taking the time to read this. Writing this post has been quite cathartic and it feels like a lot of what has been weighing me down recently is now lifted.







On that note, I think I will also provide those of you who actually read my blog through to the end a little update as to what my continued plans are for this blog.



I know that I have been remiss of my duties of producing a regular series of reviews, and for that I apologize. I haven't been reading as much as I would like, and I actually don't have a large stack of trades that need reviewed as I normally have had in the past. I will be devoting some time this week to writing, as I have decided to take some time to myself from work. I hope to have some reviews scheduled for at least the next month or 2 by the end of the coming week.



As those of you who also follow my non-profit, Comic Book Covers 4 Cancer, I have been actively working to get attending artists for this years Rose City Comic Con to donate a cover at the event. I'm proud to say that we have already lined-up 4 new artists who will be contributing to our cause: Katie Cook, Chip Zdarsky, Jim Mahfood and Valentine De Landro. I have reached-out to many others, and will continue to provide updates on our Facebook page.



I'm also proud to announce that we will again be receiving a generous donation of 10 grading services from CBCS at RCCC. The last time we joined forces, the bids for the covers were incredible. I can't wait to see what will come from this years donations. Here's what we received last time:
















































So excited for September!

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