Saturday, September 3, 2011

Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews for 08/31/11

Welcome one and all to this week's Weekly Crisis Comic Book Reviews!  It's admittedly a little Flashpoint-centric this time around, as I'll spend the majority of this post talking about the event's conclusion, but you'll also find some Quick Shots where I'll talk about my thoughts on Journey Into Mystery #626.1 and Secret Avengers #16!  Hit the jump to see how the books all stacked up!

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Andy Kubert & Sandra Hope

I don't know what is the deal with this series. It opened with a stellar first issue that featured everything you could hope for in an event.  There was the mystery of finding ourselves, along with Barry Allen, in an alternate world with no idea how we'd arrived.  There was the excitement of meeting this new world's doppelgangers of the heroes we know and love so well.  There was the sense that something big was going to go down.  And then nothing happened.  The series dragged its feet for three issues.  While characters kept showing up and everyone kept talking about all the things they needed to do, it all came off as kind of boring and meaningless.  It was all rather disappointing, really.

I guess Flashpoint #5 didn't get the memo, because unlike those previous issues, this book was good.  I might go so far as to say it was great.  Things really kick into high gear, and over the course of 32 pages, this finale gives a nice little twist, makes everything that's come before relevant, ties up a number of loose ends, and gives a satisfying and, dare I say, emotionally poignant ending.  If I hadn't read it, I wouldn't believe it.

The story opens on the confrontation between Barry and the Reverse-Flash as the two fight each other in super-speed, while the rest of the cast fight each other in the background.  It makes for a number of full and rather chaotic panels, which works well to represent to how confused and overwhelmed Barry is by everything is going on.  A nice touch by Johns and Kubert.

With the Reverse-Flash having the upper-hand, he drops the bombshell that Barry is the one responsible for everything that's happened.  Indeed, in a fit of yearning, Barry traveled back in time and stopped Eobard from killing his mother.  It's perhaps not an earth shattering twist, and it doesn't perfectly explain how reality was so greatly altered (why did things that happened before that event change, for example), but that's okay.  Although this reveal is perhaps a little rushed, it doesn't feel cheap.  There is a sense of dramatic justice that comes with Barry realizing that it's all his fault, which is greatly supported by the accompanying two-page splash.  Kubert really nails it on this one, as Barry's frustration and rage is literalized through his connection to the speed force, creating a maelstrom that pushes everyone and everything away from him.  There's a lot of little details like that throughout the issue that show why Kubert is one of the best in the biz.  From a storytelling perspective, this revelation also helps to explain why it took so long for the Reverse-Flash to show up and casts a new light on Barry's earlier assertions that Thawne must be responsible for all the changes, which is nice.

That's going to leave a mark.
Things only get more intense as the Reverse-Flash reveals that another consequence of all this is that he is no longer affected by the time stream, so he can do whatever he wants.  He rattles off the many ways that he can now kill Barry, since he no longer requires him to live to guarantee his own future-existence.  Again, this series is perhaps playing a little fast and loose with the rules of time travel, but it works.  Everything that's happening might not make complete sense if you stop and think it through logically, but it's all there to make for a better read, so whatever oversights can be forgiven.

This is especially true when this revelation is followed by the sudden slaying of the Reverse-Flash.  As you've already seen in the Moments of the Week, Thomas Wayne swoops in and stabs the Reverse-Flash while he's gloating about his new found freedom.  It's an incredibly sudden, and perhaps mildly gruesome, moment in the story, but like everything before it, it just works.  Although the Reverse-Flash wasn't responsible for the central problem of Flashpoint, he was going to use it to his villainous advantage, and so he gets the comeuppance that he so richly deserves.  Also, Batman gets to do something badass, so there is that.

This moment does point to one of the major problems with this final issue: after three issues of nothing, Flashpoint #5 has a lot of ground to make up.  Consequently, this issues moves really fast, fitting in all the story moments that Johns didn't bother putting in any of the previous entries.  This means that the big final battle between the Atlanteans, Amazons, and heroes that the series appeared to be building towards gets the short end of the stick.  After the Reverse-Flash dies, there is a whirlwind of character cameos, as Grifter (and the Resistance, as we've been reminded every time he's shown up), Enchantress, Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and many more get a handful of panels to fight before the story moves on.  If that list seems a little overwhelming, it reads in much the same manner.  From a storytelling perspective, it makes sense to give so little time to the battle, since it ultimately isn't that important, but it is frustrating that every issue before this one gave the impression that it would be far more relevant than it actually was.

Regardless, the issue quickly returns to being all about the Flash and Batman, which is far from a bad thing.  Thomas tells Barry to run away and fix everything, so Barry does so, running away as fast as he can.  He finds himself at his mother's house and emotionally explains what he's done and what he'll have to do to fix it.  This conversation lasts for all of three pages, but it says everything it needs to.  Barry's struggle to deal with the fact that to save the world he has to let his mother die and his mother's acceptance of this fact and insistence that he do it anyways feels incredibly real.  It is an emotional scene, and you really feel for Barry as he stops his past self from saving his mother's life for the greater good.  It's a wonderful few pages that demonstrate some of the things that can only exist in superhero stories of this nature.

From there, we get the two-page spread that has been all over the internet that explains that Barry has brought the three timelines together (Vertigo, Wildstorm, and DC) and that there will be some great challenge that will be coming.  And with that, we're officially in the DCnU.  Suffice it to say, it's a pretty underwhelming explanation for how everything in the DC Universe has changed, in that it isn't really an explanation at all.  On top of that, although Barry remembers the world of Flashpoint, he doesn't seem to realize that the reality he has returned to isn't the one he left.  It's a little odd.

However, the book doesn't end there, as there is still a six page sequence where Barry goes to the Batcave to talk about everything that happened with Bruce Wayne, who is once again Batman.  For everything that came before, this is by far the best part of the book.  Bruce is the perfect character to hear what Barry did, because he knows the pain of losing one's parents.  Drawing attention to the parallels between the two characters also makes Barry's admission that he has a letter from the Flashpiont universe's Thomas Wayne all the more meaningful.  The last three pages are almost without dialogue and they are excellent.  Kubert really sells the emotion of Bruce suddenly finding himself with a letter filled with words of encouragement and love from his father, and it is the perfect way to end the book.

Verdict - Buy It.  The finale to DC's big summer event moves a little too quickly and doesn't completely answer all of the questions it raised, but it's a good read in spite of these oversights.  There's far more good than bad in this issue, and the final scene between Bruce and Barry is worth the price of admission alone.  It's frustrating that Flashpoint waited until the last possible moment to turn things on, but I can't deny that it was ultimately a great read.

Quick Shot Reviews

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #626.1 - I'm still not one hundred percent sold on Marvel's Point One Initiative, but I figured I might as well give it a shot to see if it could act as a way for me to jump onto Journey Into Mystery a little late.  As has so often been the case, the issue is a bit lacking as a proper introduction.  I was brought up to speed of what Loki has been getting up to  more by the summary page than the actual comic.  I was also helpfully informed that the entire issue takes place between panels 4 and 5 of Journey Into Mystery #622, which is also totally meaningless for a new reader.

And yet, even though the issue fails to really introduce the reader to what the series is about, it does manage to provide a very clear idea of who Loki is and what he has been going through of late.  The issue revolves around Loki summoning a Teller to tell him what everything around Asgard really thinks of him, which is a clever idea by Rob Rodi to get a lot of perspectives in a short space of time.  As he suspects, they aren't very big fans of him or his return, but it was a very effective way to introduce all of the characters and their feelings towards our protagonist.  It's also used to great effect when Loki asks to not know what Thor truly thinks about him.  Since Thor seems to be the only Asgardian who actually likes Loki, it's an interesting character moment when Loki decides he'd rather not know how genuine Thor's support truly is.  I also really enjoyed the art by Pasqual Ferry.  It had a fantastic quality that fit in extremely well with a story about Norse gods.

Verdict - Check It.  This was a pretty darn fine issue that made me interested in looking into the main title.  My main qualm is that it wasn't the title's actual creative team, so I don't really know how reflective this is of the series month to month.  However, I liked it enough that I'll give the main title a chance, so I guess the Point One initiative did its job this time.

SECRET AVENGERS #16 - I was rather excited at the prospect of having more Warren Ellis in my life, and with the first issue of Secret Avengers done, he has not disappointed.  The story starts in medias res, having our intrepid heroes (Steve Rogers, Beast, Black Widow, and Moon Knight) entering into an underground city that has been emitting Von Doom radiation, meaning it has time travel capabilities.  The story is slowly revealed over the course of the issue through witty dialogue and well-timed flashbacks.  It's a fun style that makes for an exciting book as the reader discovers the true dangers at the same time as the heroes.

The character work is also top-notch, as Ellis gives each member of the team very distinct personalities and traits.  Beast natters on incessantly, Steve Rogers is the man with the plan, Black Widow is ready for anything, and Moon Knight is nuts.  It's maybe a little simple for a single issue, but it works really well.  Jamie McKelvie also does his fair share of helping in the character department, giving each and every character who appears a distinct and expressive look.  He does much the same thing for the city proper, creating a futuristic metropolis that feels very real.  The two seem to work well together, and nowhere is this more obvious than at the conclusion of the story.  Some tough decisions have to 
be made, and the consequences will be difficult to deal with, something that is made clear through the dialogue and the art.

Verdict - Buy It. I really enjoyed this book. It explained everything the reader needed to know over the course of its narrative, had a lot of lighthearted moments, but also sold the serious moments without difficulty. Perhaps the best thing, in my opinion, is that this was a done-in-one comic.  I got to read a complete story with beginning, middle, and end in the confines of a single issue, which I'm always happy to do.  There isn't enough of this happening in comics right now, and if Secret Avengers keeps it up, I'll be there every month for more.

And so we find ourselves at the end of this week's round of reviews.  "But wait," you might be thinking, "where's the review for Justice League?"  You'll have to wait one more day for that, as 52 Pick Up will continue with our thoughts on DC's newest book.  Check back tomorrow to see what we thought about that.

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Mike said...

I know this a nitpicky, fanboy problem with Flashpoint, but in the original continuity, Flash's mother wasn't dead was she? That was a recent event from Flash: Rebirth where Eobard travels back in time to kill her. So... why does setting the time stream RIGHT cause a maelstrom of changes in the DCU?

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I haven't read Flashpoint yet [sorry, TPB waiting so I get it for cheaper] and long-time DC reader but:

- so Flash goes back to Bruce and Bruce knows who he is ...
- ... while Bruce doesn't know who Superman is and who the rest of the heroes are in Justice League #1?

Interesting, count me as teased by this new direction DC is taking and the stories that will be told to explain all that!

- Frederic -

Matt Duarte said...

@Anon: Justice League takes place "5 years ago" while the end of Flashpoint takes place in the "now". This is presumably why Bruce and Barry know each other.

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