The Comic Book Club: Flashpoint and Chew

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This is what happens when Techland goes to the comic book store: we end up discussing what we picked up. This week, Douglas Wolk, Evan Narcisse and Graeme McMillan talk about Flashpoint #1 and Chew #27.

DOUGLAS: I have to admit I wasn’t expecting a lot from Flashpoint #1. I liked Geoff Johns’ initial run on The Flash a lot, and his Rogues’ Revenge miniseries made me really curious to see what his second stab at it would be like, but the past year’s worth–the Brightest Day-era incarnation–hasn’t seemed to have the same sort of fire and momentum behind it. Still, one thing that impresses me about Johns is the way he plans stuff out far in advance: Flashpoint was named in a two-page teaser in Flash #1 a year ago. So I was curious about whether this would be some kind of grand bombastic superhero story like The Sinestro Corps War, or if it might turn out to be something different or surprising.

And now that I’ve read it a couple of times, it’s better than I’d feared, but still too thoroughly riddled with obviousness and hot air for me to be able to get into it. The biggest problem is that this premise–superhero finds himself in an alternate historical path and is the only person who remembers how things were supposed to be–has been done before, rather a lot. It’s been a big crossover with lots of spinoffs, House of M; it’s been a few individual stories (this wouldn’t be the first time Johns has paid homage to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ “For the Man Who Has Everything”). And there’s nothing particularly original about the way Flashpoint approaches it. (In fact, there was already a Flash-alternate-history story called Flashpoint a decade ago.) I also suspect I’d enjoy it more if it didn’t seem to be executed in “DC event house style”: the same basic look, the same lettering tricks, the same color palette. Civil War and Siege and Fear Itself don’t look anywhere near as similar to one another as Blackest Night and Brightest Day and Flashpoint do.

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As for the story: That’s a very strange narrative trick Johns is pulling here. The assumption is usually that the character who’s the focus of the story is the narrator, and Johns messes with that–we quickly find out that the narrator is somebody else. But the person who turns out to be the narrator has no way of knowing the stuff in the early captions. And the final-page reveal is both sort of an inside-baseball thing and the shocking return of a character who made his shocking (if fake) return in another series less than a year ago. (Also, at what point did Britain and Europe get destroyed? Recently enough that the characters can still make Harry Potter references, a panel after they make Star Wars references.)

Weirdly, although I’m not sure I care much yet where Flashpoint proper is going, I’m pretty excited about a few of the spinoffs–the Azzarello/Risso Batman thing, and the Peter Milligan/George Perez “Secret Seven” with what appears to be a rather Ditkovian version of Shade the Changing Man in it. You?

EVAN: Flashpoint #1 offers a particular sort of brilliance, in that you immediately want to read the interconnected series after you read this bookend. It’s the kind of story that won Johns his acclaim in the first place: fresh angles on the long, tangled continuities of DC Universe characters. But where he used to invest as much heart as cleverness into his work, it lately seems that he just ramps up the bombast in lieu of giving the various superheroes believable emotional moments. The emotional stuff is still there–Barry Allen’s frustration at being stuck in traffic, Batman’s survivor’s guilt–but now it tends to feel plugged in, rather than organically occuring.

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Mind you, Flashpoint‘s better than his most recent efforts, including the monthly Flash series this spins out of. Johns understands what makes superhero stories work, and that’s actually the problem with his writing nowadays. Barry Allen, formerly a character where parental trauma wasn’t a key motivator, is now haunted by the unsolved murder of his mother. Likewise, Hal Jordan’s cockiness is in reaction to having a drunk for a father. Pa Kent died during Johns’ stint on Superman. Yeah, these developments all echo real-world psychology, but the approach has calcified into a template. When Johns was starting out, not much attention was paid to the interior lives of superheroes. Now, it seems like that’s all that’s happening.

I don’t want to make it seem like I didn’t enjoy Flashpoint. The mystery of it all engaged me, despite the familiarity of the structure. I kept expecting clues to be seeded in this first issue, but Johns plays it deliciously stingy, choosing instead to let the reader stew in the alterna-shock of the same-yet-different milieu. I’ve always been a fan of the What If?/Elseworlds concept in DC and Marvel’s publishing lines, and the strain of that running through Flashpoint will probably hook me more than other event comics of late.

GRAEME: Wow, I completely had the opposite reaction to the two of you. There is nothing in this first issue – which I like quite a bit, definitely more than I expected – that makes me even remotely interested in any of the related mini-series. In fact, the whole “Aquaman and Wonder Woman are at war and have destroyed Europe in the process” thread is of almost no interest to me at all, and feels completely unnecessary, even though I’m sure it’ll loop back into the Barry Allen plot sooner rather than later. (“Arthur! Diana!” Barry will shout, desperately. “You two shouldn’t be at war – Where I come from, you’re friends – ALLIES!” Issue 4 at the latest, I’m sure). There’s nothing in this issue beyond fan service to attract me to learn anything more about any of these characters, and knowing that most of the exploration I’d want to see will be handled in one of 20 different spin-off books just feels pre-emptively exhausting.

But, like I said, I liked this issue more than I’d thought I would. It really is just DC’s House of M, it’s true, but as a Flash storyline (familiar hero wakes up in unfamiliar surroundings), it works for me, at least as a “what is happening here, how did everything change and can it change back” opener. I am confused at why Barry doesn’t just assume that he’s on a parallel Earth, though. As one of the old-school Justice Leaguers, shouldn’t he be really familiar with Earth-1, Earth-2, etc? Especially following Final Crisis, which explicitly revealed the Multiverse to the world at large?

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