Friday, November 9, 2012

Flashpoint Is A Very Basic Alternate Universe Book! (My 400th Book Review!)

The Good: Decent character growth, Most of the artwork
The Bad: Very cluttered, Does not makes as much sense as one might hope
The Basics: When Barry Allen awakens in a world changed, without a Flash, Geoff Johns makes an ambitious, if not entirely sensible DC Universe crossover event.

Right before the Flashpoint crossover event occurred, I was working in a comic book shop and I was very happy. It was before my Flash Year, so now that my Flash year is coming to a close, it is reasonable that I should get in and review the crossover. While I have already reviewed the World Of Flashpoint Featuring Green Lantern book (here!), I did not want to read and review too many of the ancillary volumes without reading the main Flashpoint book. I have done that now.

It is worth noting that the main reason it has taken me so long to get around to getting into the Flashpoint Saga was that I loathed the advertising campaign. Frankly, the promotional materials surrounding the Flashpoint crossover event were utter b.s. The claim was that Flashpoint was not a dream, not an Elseworld, but a fundamental shift in the DC Universe. While it bridges the known DC Universe following the Brightest Day Saga and the New 52 reboot of the DC Universe, Flashpoint is just another alternate universe, Elseworld-style DC Universe story.

Flashpoint is the main volume of a crossover event, much like Blackest Night (reviewed here!) was the core story of the Blackest Night Saga. It is not the complete story, by any means, but it is the essential kernel of the story. Ironically, after reading the two volumes that lead directly into Flashpoint, The Dastardly Death Of The Rogues (reviewed here!) and The Road To Flashpoint (reviewed here!), I discovered Flashpoint stands so completely on its own that it does not even bother to reference the Flash character elements that preceded this book.

Barry Allen awakens on his mother’s birthday to discover that she is, in fact, still alive. Shocked by this tremendous turn of events, Barry takes her out to lunch and discovers that there are almost no superheroes in the world who are familiar to him. His mother knows of Batman and when Barry tracks him down – having discovered he has no ability to tap into the Speed Force – he finds that Batman in this altered reality is Thomas Wayne, not Bruce. Thomas Wayne has taken on a mythical stature as Batman and he is the lynchpin in Cyborg’s plan to save the world from all-out war (which is coming anyway as the Amazons and Atlanteans have decimated Europe and now menace one another without regard for the humans caught in between.

When Barry implicates Eobard Thawne for the radical alterations to the universe, Wayne is initially skeptical. But, when Barry replicates the accident that made him into the Flash, he has the proof he needs. The Flash and Batman work to find Professor Zoom and force him to undo the changes he made to the universe, while telling Cyborg that they are working to save his planet. But when the truth comes out, Barry must make a choice that he has been running away from all of his life.

One of the biggest issues I have with Flashpoint is the relationship between Barry Allen and Thomas Wayne. I’ve read quite a bit from the Flash library this year and after at least twenty books focused entirely on the Flash’s world and there have been none that illustrate any deep relationship between Batman and Barry Allen. In other words, why Barry has to work with Thomas Wayne seems an esoteric choice and one that does not entirely work for Barry Allen. Moreover, it makes the Booster Gold crossover into Flashpoint make no sense at all, after all, it would seem Barry would seek out and be sought out by the only other unaltered character in the universe!

That said, Flashpoint is a ridiculously small, short, basic story that is cloaked in a giant, epic feel. The tangential aspects of Flashpoint work very hard to make the story feel big and interesting and have a great scope, but they are window dressing. In fact, within the story of Flashpoint, there are basically three pages that feature the actual war between Diana and Arthur Curry and its resolution is so tangential to the actual story being told that Barry Allen departs before it is over to go have a quiet conversation with his mother!

Ultimately, this is another fight between Barry Allen and Eobard Thawne. Flashpoint utilizes what has rapidly become my favorite DC Universe villain, Eobard Thawne and makes him, for most of the book, into a red herring.

To be fair to Geoff Johns, the explanation of Barry Allen’s part in Flashpoint is pretty cool and the reconstruction of the world is an intriguing one that both forces the big, bold superhero/supervillain showdown one expects and a very real moral dilemma for the heroic character. Despite the huge, glaring temporal mechanics issues with Flashpoint, the conflict between Barry and Eobard (and Thawne being a personified paradox in Flashpoint) and Barry Allen’s moral dilemma work.

The artwork in Flashpoint is mostly wonderful. The characters are clear and details like Barry Allen’s skin being burned on his face following his attempt to become the Flash are consistently rendered. The Enchantress is the only problematic character in that several panels include close-ups of her during the conflict with the Amazons and it is not immediately visually clear who is being rendered (Enchantress or Diana). Cyborg, Barry Allen, and Thomas Wayne’s outfits are all clear, distinctive and because they bear most of the thrust of the story of Flashpoint, that is essential.

When I read Blackest Night, I was desperate to pick up and put into order all of the “missing chapters.” Flashpoint, despite being a massive crossover event does not have missing chapters. Flashpoint is a complete story of a brief, somewhat pointless alternate universe. The other volumes in this series just create tangents that play with the characters not contained in the main story of Flashpoint. But, unlike the Blackest Night Saga where those tangential stories to the main arc allowed other characters to explore the book’s overall themes of life and (more importantly) death and how other characters who weren’t Green Lanterns wrestled with death and mortality, the tangential stories of Flashpoint would not seem to have the same thematic resonance. Instead, they are playthings in a sandbox: Flashpoint it the house that stands in front of the yard with that sandbox and it is enough without the additional clutter.

For other major DC Universe crossover events, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Crisis On Infinite Earths
Infinite Crisis
Final Crisis
Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Brightest Day, Volume 1


For other book reviews, check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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