Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Flashpoint, New Era or Ill Omen?

DC recently announced that at the conclusion of Flashpoint, every single series in the DCU will be rebooting with a new #1. The line-wide change is going to be bolstered by a lead title written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jim Lee, titled simply "Justice League". Not only is every book coming out in September going to be a new #1, but all issues are going to be released psychically and digitally on the same day. A number of changes are due to hit the DCU, and I am hesitant to go into fanboy-mode and just be upset over the sweeping changes. Instead I'm cautiously waiting and seeing. I've been reading the main Flashpoint series, and while I'm not going full force into the massive amount of tie-in mini-series that have been offered, there are a few series that I'm nonetheless planning to check out.

There's going to be endless fan speculation on what this means for the DCU and mainstream comics in general. On the one hand, I think this could prove to be a bold new move for DC - as they are finally challenging Marvel at their own game, with a big headline attracting change to the status quo. On the other hand, a lot of changes are due in store for various DCU characters. Superman, in particular, appears to be getting a heavily altered appearance and status. A new costume has already been speculated - but even more radical alterations might be in store. Superman might no longer be married to Lois Lane; superman might be much younger - all which are pretty big and shocking things to see happen. Some characters won't necessarily be changed at all, or at least not very much. We'll simply have to wait and see for now.

Yet, what worries me, is the unsure foundation this entire event is being based on. Flashpoint's origins seemed to begin with the launch of the new Barry Allen-lead Flash series. The series was done by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul and went on for 12 issues. The series was received well enough, but suffered greatly from some mis-steps. The Flash Reboot series "Flash: Rebirth", helped to re-establish Barry Allen as the Flash, but didn't have the same impact as the likewise series Green Lantern: Rebirth. It simply wasn't as good - and that lack of enthusiasm certainly traveled over to the main book. Which, really, wouldn't have been that big of a deal -- but the lack of enthusiasm was compounded late issues. Francis Manapul is a great artist - but he's not a quick artist. The series seemed to bounce back a little with fill-in art by Scott Kolins, but the momentum of the series just feel completely flat. And this is suppose to be the foundation for Flashpoint?

The next problem that gives me pause -- we've seen this all before. Something changes history or reality, putting our regular characters into an alternate reality. It's essentially a re-tread of the Age of Apocalypse, House of M, Age of X, ect, ect. DC kept insisting that this would be different, but so far it isn't. Even with line-wide repercussions, this isn't different at all. Not to say that's bad -- but it leaves me a little less excited about it all.

Luckily the first issue did at least deliver in the quality department. Andy Kubert's art is great, and while initially annoying as heck -- seeing all sorts of tie-in mini-series being shoved at us -- the alternate-version characters given to us are compelling and interesting. It's still WAAAYY too many mini-series, but some of it seem pretty interesting and innovative.

Cyborg is being depicted as a top-tier hero of the Flashpoint Universe. He's the one who's at first initially trying to recruit all the other heroes to help him stop the warlord versions of Wonder Woman and Aquaman. This seems like Cyborg's big moment here - as he's already been confirmed to be a part of Johns' and Lee's Justice League series.

The Outsider simply looks cool. I don't know much about the character beyond him possibly being involved in illicit trading - but he's being written by Starman and JLA writer James Robinson. He seems to be one of the original new characters being developed, so we may possibly see him again after Flashpoint is all over.

Just in time for the Green Lantern movie, we're getting a natural and pleasant twist to Green Lantern's altered history, namely that Abin Sur never died and passed the Green ring on to Hal Jordan. As an alien he has no ties to Earth, but he appears to hold a respected presence in the Flashpoint universe. I know it's only because I'm feeling the hype of the movie, but I think I might check this mini-series out. There is another mini-series also worth noting - starring Hal Jordan simply as an ace air force pilot. So we get to see both sides of the classic "What If" scenario.

Captain Marvel has been re-conceived in a fun new way - where a group of children all combine to become Captain Thunder. I just love the inclusion of the huge tiger. For some reason this really feels like something that would have come from the mind of Grant Morrison. That's just speculation on my part, though.

The alternate version of the Batman, while very cool to see an ultra violent casino-owning Batman, is probably the most boring and least surprising reveal of Flashpoint #1. It's not actually Bruce Wayne under the cowl - it's his father, Thomas Wayne. This isn't the first time an alternate dimensional counter-part to Batman has actually been Thomas Wayne, so it just feels unoriginal. At least he turned Gotham into the Las Vegas of the Flashpoint universe; that's pretty cool in-of-it's self.

The alteration of reality has all been engineered by the Flash's biggest foe, Professor Zoom, aka the Reverse-Flash. In the regular Flash series we saw how Thawne was able to alter his own time-line, in various attempts to make it better. It's simply impossible to have a perfect life, despite being able to correct you're ever failing and mistake. Thawne's hatred for Barry Allen has lead him to do the reverse to him - altering Barry Allen's history is horrible ways. Before Barry Allen was ever the Flash, the Reverse-Flash managed to kill his mother and frame the father for the murder. Now that reality has been completely changed -- Barry actually has his mother back, alive and well -- but no powers - and seemingly the only one who knows the truth that everything is wrong.

What Flashpoint is doing right is effectively creating it's own world - where all the characters have real motivations, inspired or flipped from their regular continuities, often in surprising and fun ways. It's essentially the kind of unique story-telling we got from a series like the Age of Apocalypse, where the altered versions of our beloved characters where so popular, that it was eventually revisited; on numerous occasions. Weather these re-imagined DCU heroes will gain the same reception -- who knows?

Still, I gotta worry about how this is going to change everything when it's all done and over with. It's going to be pretty striking to see nothing but issue ones coming out in one month, and then nothing but issue twos coming out the next month, ect, ect. The only chance those numbers will begin to drift apart is when issues ship twice a month, or issues begin to fall behind and are late.

Another thing to point out about the numbering is that (and this just kills me) - we're going to see Action Comics reboot to #1. We had just reach issue #900 a month ago, and it seems like such a shame - being less than 10 years away from reaching a legitimate #1000. Of course, at a later date, DC can do what Marvel's has been doing for years - simply add the issue count from the rebooted series to the older issues - and voila: a sneaky cheat back to issue #1000.

I guess Action Comics, being the best example, is why I'm both nervous and excited about this entire venture. This could prove to be a wild success - something DC has been desperately seeking after years and years of falling behind Marvel. But is using perceived "stunt events" really the answer? And is flooding the market place, with so many books (52 new #1 in September), really a long-term solution? Marvel seems to think so - they seem to have been flooding the market with great success. Yet when you over-load fans with so many books -- you might scare off a lot of very dedicated fans.

Also, this really seems like a crushing blow for brick and mortar retailers. It's hard enough running a comic shop in this economy - but now shops have to combat against readers simply buying issues through the devices like the iPad. Yes, there apparently have been moves made to keep retailers in the loop, like them selling said digital subscriptions to their fans. But that only seems like a stop-gap measure. The only real advantage retailers had were that psychical issues where usually being shipped out first, with digital-readers having to wait before being able to buy the issue. Short-term, everything is probably going to be fine - there are still a lot of people who prefer physical copies compared to downloaded ones -- but long-term, this is going to eventually squeeze local comic shops out of the equation. And heaven forbid the day, because of the reduced over-head cost, digital versions of comics become cheaper than buying the regular issues. I just can't see same date shipping/digital sale of issues being good for real comic stores. DC might be spear-heading the charge into the future; but a LOT of very loyal fans are going to get left behind.

Again, I'm taking this all with cautious optimism. There are pros and cons to this entire situation. It's good that DC is taking such sweeping steps to bring the DCU into the modern-age. They are no doubt trying to make many of their characters more appealing to this new generation of readers. That's great and all, but if not done carefully - this could easily become huge and embarrassing disaster for DC. I think the likes of Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are up for the challenge (they have proved their ability to reinvigorate failing series before) - but trying to do that for the entire DCU, and all at the same time, seems daunting for even the best of creators. I hope it turns out well.

1 comment:

  1. Splendid insights man. Again, I mentioned you in my blog. Keep up the good work Erik.