Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Comics Sunday No. 3 -- Flashpoint TPB

 Reviewed by Justin Swartz

"Oh, Barry.  Look what you did."

--Eobard Thawne (The Reverse Flash), Flashpoint

Lame Brain

For years I've felt that Barry Allen, AKA The Flash, is the lamest character in the DC universe.  So he's the fastest man alive.  Big whoop, I thought.  Anybody on meth can do what The Flash does.  As for villains, he's got Gorilla Grogg, Mirror Master, and...yeah, that's pretty much all that comes to mind.  He's part of the Justice League, but I always felt like he was their pinch hitter.  And until yesterday, I still held that same opinion about The Flash.

Yesterday I got a hold of DC Comics' Flashpoint trade paperback, which collects issues #1-5 of last year's pivotal miniseries.  Writer Geoff Johns had just been appointed Chief Creative Officer, and he took the stage with one of the best artists in the business, Andy Kubert.  The "strange attractor" for this miniseries was that, as the title implies, it dealt primarily with The Flash and cast him as the lead hero.

I'm usually not one for the big yearly events because I think it's all a greedy, corporate-driven effort to make readers buy more comics.  I'm also not one for superheroes, because I've simply outgrown all the superhero b.s. that goes on (first they're dead, then they're not dead, then they're in a separate dimension, then someone else takes their place, then they fight that guy to take back their place, etc.).  When I saw that Andy Kubert was drawing Flashpoint, I decided I'd give it a chance, if only to see his take on the DC superheroes...and boy, was I ever surprised.

Brave New World

Flashpoint begins with Barry Allen sleeping on the job.  He's been pulling all-nighters trying to crack a cold case in his day job as a forensic investigator.   When he hears that the Pied Piper and Citizen Cold are duking it out, he rushes out of the office and down the hall, reaching for the ring that holds his costume.  Unfortunately, there is no ring, which means no costume, and that means Barry falls down the stairs...and lands at his mother's feet.

Barry can't believe his eyes.  Somehow, some way, his mother is alive and well...but that also means the course of time has been altered.  Barry's mom should be six feet under, murdered by his father, who died in prison.  According to Mama Allen, Barry's dad died of a heart attack three years ago.  And the worst part?  She's never heard of a Justice League, any hero named Flash, or anyone named Superman. 

As the action shifts to show the various heroes of this radical new timeline (including a Batman who's not afraid to cross the line, a Cyborg who is America's favorite son, and a whole family of kids that combine to form Captain Marvel), Barry comes to the conclusion that he's not trapped in an alternate timeline--this is the real world.  He's just the only one who remembers what the old word was like, and page by page, his old memories are being replaced by ones from this brave new world.  If he doesn't fix everything soon, he won't remember what needed fixing, and the DC Universe will stay like this forever.

Give The Man A Hug

I'll say this up front: I like Geoff Johns.  I think he's a very imaginative writer with a lot of experience to back him up.  With that said, I was wary of picking up Flashpoint because I hated Blackest Night (which was just an excuse to cash in on the zombie craze) and didn't care for Brightest Day (the one where Johns had to clean up the mess he made in Blackest Night).  I wondered how far Johns would go this time with his love for graphic violence and his panache for sensationalism, two things which made me stop reading comics almost ten years ago. 

I was pleasantly surprised to see a very clean, very substantial, and very imaginative tale wrought on the pages of Flashpoint.  Geoff Johns knew that The Flash isn't a graphically violent kind-of guy, so he shoved that aside (thank God) and worked on what mattered--the characters and their relationship to our hero.  The Batman of this universe learns what it means to be a good guy by hanging out with The Flash.  The Shazam Kids agree to stand up for what they believe in and fight alongside Flash, Batman, Cyborg, and the others.   But the most compelling thing about Flashpoint is its portrayal of Aquaman and Wonder Woman as bitter enemies, since in this timeline, the big WW has slain Aquaman's long-time love, Mera, and now wears her battle helmet as a symbol of the victory.  Aquaman isn't the nicest guy on the block either--he's killing anyone who comes near his territory and dressing in the colors of Aqualad, who would have been his son. 

What's probably the coolest thing about Flashpoint is the big reveal of the Flash's archnemesis, Eobard Thawne (AKA The Reverse Flash), as the man who killed Barry's mom and pinned the murder on his father.  It makes you hate him, and you hate him even more when you realize that because of the timeline shift, he doesn't exist in any timeline, making him free to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants--including any of Barry's loved ones in the past, present, or future.  And what makes Flashpoint such a well-written book is that everybody gets what they deserve--especially Thawne--and it makes you want to cry, cheer, and laugh with them.  I can't commend Geoff Johns enough for writing such a powerful and evocative superhero story that will stay with me for a long time.

As for the art, Andy Kubert's pencils are dead on target.  From the first issue cover (with the Flash's costume ripping to shreds as he runs) to the panel where Batman cries (I cried too), his lines were detailed, clean, and made your jaw drop.  Sandra Hope's inks only intensified this effect, bringing all of Kubert's musculature to bold life.  But the person that I feel really made this comic work was colorist Alex Sinclair, who hit a home run on just about every panel.  The Flash never looked flashier, Batman never looked broodier, and the supporting cast never looked better.  This book is full of color and all of it is bright and welcoming, unlike the dark, horror-movie tones adopted by most colorists today.  If I could give Alex Sinclair a hug of appreciation, I would do so.

The Second Time Around

What did I take away from Flashpoint?  That sometimes a superhero story doesn't have to be dark and brooding in order to get its point across.  That sometimes The Flash can be a cool character.  That sometimes...I need to just shut up, buy the comic, and not judge it by its cover or because it's one of the those danged yearly events.  Marvel's Fear Itself may have bombed, but DC's Flashpoint was the one that had the skill, the precision, and the heart to get the job done.  I loved every minute of it, so much so that I went back and re-read the series the second I was finished...and it was even better the second time around.