Saturday, September 10, 2011

Comic shop comics (Scroll down for long, mildly irate Flashpoint tangents)

DC Retroactive: Green Lantern—The ‘80s #1 (DC) Despite the neat Joe Staton cover showing three different Earthling GLs, this is a John Stewart story. It seemed like a pretty significant John Stewart story too, so I was little surprised to see it here, given the mandate of these Retro books, although I don’t know if the events herein were a retcon or an expansion of an old story point that occurred in the GL book in the 1980s or what (I was three years old in 1980, and 13 years old in 1989, and my comics reading during that decade was limited to a handful of G.I. Joe and Transformers comics purchased from drug store spinner racks by relatives and given to me to read when I was home sick from school and laid up and bored on the couch all day).

I liked Len Wein’s story, in which John, with hair and a straight, Hal-style Silver Age costume (mask and all), tells his girlfriend at the time, one Tawny Young (who, despite her name, is neither a stripper nor a pornstar, but a television news anchor) his secret identity.

I like how she reacts, quite atypically for a journalist/superhero girlfriend (journalism is a surprisingly popular field for the girlfriends of superheroes to go into, isn’t it?), and how he reacts when the media learn his identity and confront him (I paraphrase, but he’s basically just like, “Aw fuck it, yeah, I’m Green Lantern. No big.”)

It’s not a terribly beefy story, but aside from those bits of Wein’s scripts, I think it’s probably noteworthy for being a sustained story of Stewart as a typical, even generic superhero having a typical, even generic superhero narrative occur around him. Stewart is generally a supporting character and teammember, either as one of the Justice Leaguers or one of the Green Lantern Corps, and other than Kurt Busiek and company’s portions of Trinity featuring John Stewart, I’m hard-pressed to think of another example of John as solo star like this (I’m sure there are other, perhaps from the ‘80s, but I haven’t read any).

The artwork, by Staton, is pretty incredible, and incredibly atypical for a modern superhero story. I fucking loved it. The back-up is by Wein, features Hal Jordan, and is drawn by Dave Gibbons. It has nice art, and is very, very boring. It took me three tries to get through the middle passage, which is full of Hal arguing with the Guardians.

I loved the panel wehre he flies off screaming Carol’s name though:

DC Retroactive: Green Lantern—The ‘90’s #1 (DC) The Retro specials from this decade are among the most quixotic, as the creators are mostly all still around and working fairly regularly (with very few exceptions), and the status quos of the stars were recent enough that a comic store with a decent $1 bin probably has plenty of comics by these creators on this title in it.

So, for example, for $5 you could by this, which features a brand-new story by Ron Marz and Darryl Banks set during Kyle Rayner’s pre-Winick career and a reprint of 1996’s GL #78 by Marz and Banks, or you could probably just by GL #78 and four other Marz/Banks GL joints from back in the day.

There’s not much to there new story, “Hothead,”and it’s probably not even worth tracking down unless you miss Marz writing Kyle’s voice and Banks drawing his body, and you’ve already read all their other comics doing just that.

So in this story, Kyle fights his Sinestro-like enemy Effigy. And, um, that’s it.

The back-up is an all-around stronger piece, seemingly specifically chosen because it offers a nice introduction to who Kyle is, how he differs from the previous Green Lanterns, and has a nice, melodramatic scene featuring a romantic turning point in his relationship with Donna Troy, foreshadowed and built-up throughout the first half of the story (Call me a sap, but I liked the bit with the ring-construct necklace, that will exist as long as he focuses his will on it and thus as long as he believes in their relationship).Also, equal servings of cheesecake and beefcake.

Flashpoint #5 (DC) To call the fifth and final issue of Flashpoint anticlimactic is an understatement. Actually, to say Flashpoint #5 is anticlimactic is an understatement is itself an understatement.

As soon as the premise was announced—a Flash story involving a radically altered DCU—both what happened and how it will be fixed was made pretty clear (the Bad Flash whose power is to change time probably changed time, the Good Flash will probably fix it in the end), and only got clearer once June rolled around and DC announced their “New 52” linewide reboot and relaunch plans. The relaunch would entail plenty of continuity screwing around with, and it would be accomplished through Flashpoint (i.e. through Flashes messing around with the timestream), which is essentially the exact same thing that happens every time DC reboots parts of their continuity—the universe and/or timeline are severely imperiled, are either radically damaged or destroyed, the heroes repair or even recreate the universe and/or timeline, with some minor changes resulting in another layer of confusion in Hawkman’s origin, or the number of super-pets Superman had, or whether or not Wonder Woman was at the first Justice League meeting.

This time around that reboot was even more anticlimactic than it would have been simply because once DC started talking about the crazy things they had planned, it was hard to even care about what the two Flashes will say to each other while de-creating and recreating the DCU, or how many alternate versions of characters will be dismembered before th conclusion.

Geoff Johns finishes off his miniseries with a “twist” regarding how the DC Universe became the Flashpoint-iverse, but not much of one. In fact, by simply pointing out that their is a twist, you can probably already guess which of the two Flashes actually is to blame, and how they fix it (Running, obviously).

The reversal isn’t all that clever, even if it is slightly less obvious than the most obvious explanation, and Johns doesn’t really bother to explain what happened anyway. There’s mention of those close to Flash Barry Allen being affected the most by his actions, but that doesn’t really explain why Bruce Wayne gets shot instead of his father and mother, and why the former turns into Batman and the latter The Joker, for example, or how Aquaman and Wonder Woman could turn into genocidal maniacs.

The gag is that time travel is so unpredictable that the tiniest change can radically alter the whole world moving forward, the whole butterfly’s wings things, but Johns picks a rather random event to be changed (in terms of its impact on the universe, not on the Flash), and doesn’t explain how knocking over that domino would send the whole world to hell in a handbasket years later.

One could extrapolate that it would lead to a word without a (second) Flash, but, um, so what? There were good and noble heroes before The Flash Barry Allen, there were good and noble heroes at the same time as him, and if you took Barry Allen out of the DCU, it’s not quite the same as if you took George Bailey out of Bedford Falls.

That’s just me casting about for an explanation Johns doesn’t bother with, though; he and his story aren’t really that concerned with the changes so much as suggesting a mess of changes for a mess of editors to spin miniseries out of, and now that the event is over, most of those miniseries seemed extremely pointless.

Barry Allen doesn’t even try to track down and talk sense to Wonder Woman and Aquaman for example, two characters who are supposedly providing the big conflict that shapes the setting of this story, but whom hardly even appear in the series (Their conflict remains unresolved, too).

Flashpoint is big and dumb like a lot of Johns’ comics, but it’s not big enough, and it’s either too dumb or, maybe, not dumb enough. I don’t know; Johns has a rather uncanny ability to strike a balance between really dumb and amusingly insane plot points, this razor thin line where I can’t tell if what he’s doing is Silver Age fun or just braindead dumb that I read into the deadpan delivery and see what I want, but this time his callibration’s off.

That, or I’m not as receptive as I’ve been in the past.

It’s probably a little of both.

I know the fact that this was the lead-in to the reboot had me ratcheting up my expectations quite a bit, as it was the biggest reboot DC’s done since Crisis On Infinite Earths, and thus should have been their best destroy-and-rebuild-the-DCU story since COIE, but, I don’t know, Zero Hour was better than this, as was Final Crisis and, hell, I’m not even sure if this was as good as Johns’ own Infinite Crisis…I guess it was more consistent visually and more tightly focused. (The art, by the way, is okay, but it’s weaker than the earlier issues, as deadline pressure must have started to take its effect. Still, props for having a single artist draw a whole story, DC! When was the last time that happened for a big, heavily-promoted story like this?).

Can we talk about the “New 52” tie-in a bit? It’s just two pages, a two-page spread that seemed written and drawn after the rest of the book and stuck in the climax, leading to a denoument in which Barry Allen visits Batman Bruce Wayne in the “new” continuity, although all that’s changed is that their costumes look worse (And there’s no in-story acknowledgement that anything has changed, either).

Here’s the spread:It reminded me of the two-page spread in the last issue of Infinite Crisis where the Trinity talk about taking a year off and saying the world will be in good hands, and there’s a big, hastily-drawn image of the other characters of the DCU, most of them with new, awful costumes suggesting their new, ill-considered new status quos (none of which lasted until Final Crisis, let alone to now).

Barry says,and a hooded figure with lipstick, glowing eyes and tiger-stripe skin says,Let’s take a moment to consider what a bunch of bullshit that is.

The suggestion is that the three are: 1) The DC Universe, the shared setting of DC’s main superhero line of comics, the WildStorm Universe, 2) The WildStorm Universe, the main shared setting of the WildStorm superheroes, a universe that occasionally crosses over with the DCU and has been rebooted with alarming frequency over the past few years up until DC canceled the imprint a while back, and 3) The Vertigo “Universe”, a theoretical setting in which the former DCU characters and concepts that became part of the company’s 1991-launched mature readers line share.Come on now.

There is no Veritgo Universe.

The Vertigo line, at least the ones starring DC characters, was set the DCU. Foundational books Swamp Thing, The Sandman, Doom Patrol, Shade the Changing Man and Animal Man all launched as normal DC books with big, fat DC bullets on them, and became Vertigo books once they were underway, when the Vertigo imprint began in 1993.

All of those stories featured the most mainstream DC characters as guest stars at one point or another. Swamp Thing guest-starred the Justice League, Batman, Superman, The Demon Etrigan, just about every magical character in the DCU and crossed over with Crisis On Infinite Earths; things that happened in Swamp Thing were canon in the DCU (like Zatana’s dad Zatara’s death).

The very first trade collection of The Sandman conatained stories featured the JLI, Fourth World characters and Dr. Destiny. The Element Woman, members of Infinity Inc, the Golden Age Wesley Dodds version of Sandman and the 1970s Jack Kirby version of The Sandman would play roles big and small in the rest of the series, and then there were all the cameos of the likes of Superman and the Lords of Order and Chaos and so on.

Animal Man’s lead was in Justice League Europe, and the JLI appeared in Doom Patrol (Geoff Johns wrote later stories incoroporating Doom Patrol’s Vertigo continuity back into the DCU).

And it wasn’t exactly a one-way street, either:Those are just covers. Swamp Thing and John Constantine attended Hal Jordan’s funeral, and the former even made a brief appearance in 1993’s New Titans Annual #9 (The “Bloodlines” one!). The Daniel version of Dream appeared in 1999’s JSA #1 and later near the end of that title’s run. Black Orchid joined a Justice League in 2001’s Justice Leagues: Justice League of Amazons #1.

The only wall of separation that exists, as far as I can tell, is that sometime around 2003-2005 or so, Vertigo quite letting DC use the characters in their DCU books, creating a “wall” that you would sometimes hear Dan DiDio mention at conventions when people would ask if Swamp Thing was going to fight Superman any time soon.

The notion of a “Vertigo Universe” seems to exist only in the minds of a few DC editorial types, inspired by some sort of intra-company bureaucratic conflict over various intellectual properties.

It’s an inside joke for a dozen DC editors, I guess.

Separating the WildStorm Universe out seems sort of silly too, since it’s simply one more superhero universe that DC bought up over it’s decades. The DCU, as it’s existed since COIE was, of course, comprised of a bunch of different extra-company superhero lines, including Fawcett (Captain Marvel and company), Charlton (Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom, etc), Quality (Plastic Man, Uncle Sam, The Freedom Fighters, etc), and, most recently, Milestone (Static, a bunch of characters DC doesn’t actually want). And I guess there are universes that have come and gone from the DCU, like the Red Circle characters and licensed characters like Doc Savage and the THUNDER Agents and whoever.

I don’t know. I understand that they want to make Jim Lee happy, but making his single superhero universe that never really caught on equal to DC’s conglomeration of pretty much every superhero publisher from the Golden Age to the Bronze Age who wasn’t Timely/Atlas/Marvel seems…silly.

So too is the mystery head’s statement that the three imprints were always “meant” to be part of a single fictional universe, but they were split up in order to “weaken your world for their impending arrival” (There’s your next crossover, by the way).

It’s an odd way to phrase it because, on a metafitional level, we all already know it’s not true. They weren’t created to be one and separated. They were separate, and now are being made one. I don’t know who the “they” are, obviously, but I’m not sure I understand why Johns couldn’t have had her state the universes were weaker alone, and so now they are being joined to make them stronger to prepare for “their” arrival.

That, at least, would ring true, and could have meant the same thing if phrased differently.

Oh well, that's the end of the DCU. At least for another 2-5 years, when they go back to the old continuity, using the backdoors built into the conclusion of this series.


Hyle Russell said...

What's even more ridiculous about the Vertigo "universe" is that John Constatine and Swamp Thing were already reintroduced into the DCU right before Flashpoint started, in an event engineered by Geoff Johns himself.

I guess the allure of a metatextual in-joke was too much for common story logic to win out (see also: Superboy-Prime).

Jacob T. Levy said...

I'd be curious what you think of GL: Mosaic if you ever get a chance to read it. It was smart and experimental and innovative, and gave me a lingering reason to think John Stewart is interesting despite every other comic book's attempt to persuade me otherwise. But I'll bet it hasn't aged particularly well.

The DC-Vertigo wall was a little stronger than you suggest, but, yeah, it had been substantially undone in the wake of Infinite Crisis and then the last few bricks had been taken down in/after Brightest Day.

SallyP said...

I have to say that I enjoyed the heck out of all the "Retro" books that I read. Sad really, because they were so much better than the endings given to all the regular books, in a lot of instances.

But it was nice to have John Stewart have a story for a change.

John Foley said...

We never got any explanation for why Kal-El's rocket crashed in Metropolis instead of Kansas, either. I don't see why Barry Allen's mother being alive would affect that one bit.
And the idea that a 60-year old Thomas Wayne can be any kind of effective crimefighter --even if he is willing to kill his opponents-- without any of his son's scientific genius or vast wealth or kick-ass Batcave, is just plain ridiculous.

Ray "!!" Tomczak said...

Zero Hour was better than Flashpoint?
Now I'm really glad I didn't bother to read FP, because Zero Hour was one of the worst comics I've ever read.

John Foley said...

At least Zero Hour gave us the Jack Knight version of Starman.

rjt said...

In his recent Rolling Stone article, Grant Morrison says "Kids understand that real crabs don't sing like the ones in The Little Mermaid. But you give an adult fiction, and the adult starts asking really dumb questions like 'How does Superman fly? How do those eyebeams work? Who pumps the Batmobile's tires?'"

I'll agree that the double page spread in Flashpoint was clunky, but to devote this much animus to it seems silly. 'Is there really a Vertigo universe?' is a really dumb question because it presupposes there is a real DC Universe. DC bought up Captain Marvel, and the Question and Blue Beetle and Captain Atom. Hell, Green Lantern wasn't originally published by the same company that published Superman and Batman. If being bought by DC makes something less a part of the DCU than something created there how is the Flash or Wonder Woman any more a part of the DCU than Grifter or Voodoo at this point, aside from the fact that you grew up with the former as DC characters and not the latter?
I don't means this to come across as overly snarky or to be a DC apologist (like I said, I certainly think that sequence in FP 5 was clunky and ill-considered) but the truth is the things you are complaining about are things that DC has been doing regularly since nearly its inception 75 + years ago. And frankly, it the same type of complaint that comic fans have been making for decades as well--it's just the type of complaint that makes people think comics readers are all like Comic Book Guy. It's like complaining that it doesn't make sense that the crab in the Little Mermaid can sing.

LiamKav said...

Since, as has been pointed out, DC had just reintrocued Swamp Thing and Constantine to the main DC universe like, a week ago, then the situation isn't ithe same thing as claiming that crabs can't sing. It's more like having the crab singing for the beginning 30 minutes of The Little Mermaid, to Arial, and then for no reason when he sings 10 minutes later have her exlaim "crabs can't sing! Why have you suddenly just this second started singing, when you have never sung before?"

Caleb said...

What's even more ridiculous about the Vertigo "universe" is that John Constatine and Swamp Thing were already reintroduced into the DCU right before Flashpoint started, in an event engineered by Geoff Johns himself.

I've found the entire Brightest Day/"New 52" thing really strange, and a strong suggestion that DC just woke up one morning and decided to reboot the line. They did a LOT of work over the course of that year re-introducing characters and concepts into the DCU was it was, only to scrap everything and start over.

I'd be curious what you think of GL: Mosaic if you ever get a chance to read it.

Me too! I've been hoping for DCCP reprints, but I guess if they didn't reprint it during the lead-time to the GL movie, maybe they never will...

The DC-Vertigo wall was a little stronger than you suggest, but, yeah, it had been substantially undone in the wake of Infinite Crisis and then the last few bricks had been taken down in/after Brightest Day.

Well, I think it was more of an in-house DC editorial construction than a fictional shared setting. That is, many of the Vertigo characters were set in the DC universe, but they couldn't appear in DC-branded, non-Vertigo comics.

And yeah, again, the conclusion of Brightest Day sure seems pointless now, doesn't it? A 26-issue, year-long series devoted to introducing Swamp Thing as a player into the DCU, followed by a five-issue miniseries devoted to introducing Swamp Thing and the WildStorm guys into the DCU...?

And the idea that a 60-year old Thomas Wayne can be any kind of effective crimefighter --even if he is willing to kill his opponents-- without any of his son's scientific genius or vast wealth or kick-ass Batcave, is just plain ridiculous.

Oh man, I never even thought of that. Did Thomas Wayne travel the world getting ninja training and suchlike for years like his son did, or did he just go home after the shooting and become Batman? Because that is kinda weird.

Zero Hour was better than Flashpoint? Now I'm really glad I didn't bother to read FP, because Zero Hour was one of the worst comics I've ever read.

I think so! I was speaking specifically to the time anamoly aspect though. Like, in ZH the idea was simply that the bad time-guys were destroying the timeline, resulting in all sorts of random time-travel from the stress, like dinosaurs appearing in modern times and Barbara Gordon still being Batgirl. FP offers a very specific, single change to the time stream, which somehow lead to a very specific sort of dark, fallen world, with no explanation. The former may be pretty comic-book-y, but the latter stands out for not making sense and for trying not to be too comic-book-y.

Caleb said...


I think you misread some of what I wrote, or I did a pretty poor job of communicating it clearly, or maybe somewhere in-between.

I should note that there IS a real DC Universe. Not so much as a place that you and I can visit via Cosmic Treadmill (no matter what Grant Morrison might say), but as a real, extant fictional setting.

There isn't, or wasn't until that panel, an extant Vertigo Universe, as an established shared setting. While there was occasional interaction between the stars of Vertigo-imprinted comics, those comics all began their narratives in the DCU, and occasionally interacted.

Swamp Thing, Sandman, Animal Man and so on were on the Vertigo imprint, but in terms of a fictional shared setting, they occurred in the DC Universe. The "wall" wasn't an in-story vibrational border of the sort Gardner Fox would construct between Earths -1 and -2, it was Karen Berger telling Dan DiDio she didn't want Swamp Thing getting raped on the Justice League meeting table by Dr. Light (I'm guessing).

(And as a few folks pointed out, the non-existence of a separate Vertigo "Universe" was further undermined by the recent return of those off-limits characters to DC's shared setting).

Regarding the extra-publisher characters, I meant to communicate that it rang false that Flashpoint promoted the WildStorm Universe to something co-equal with the DCU, which is actually DC + Fawcett + Quality + Charlton + Milestone...

I don't think Blue Beetle or Plastic Man are less a part of the DCU than Green Lantern or Flash necessarily, but I think it's strange to assume the WildStorm characters are of greater value than them.

Let me put it this way. That page suggests that there are ONLY three timelines, that were always meant to be together.

One of those timelines (the Vertigo one) didn't exist, and another of them (the DC Universe) is already made up of a dozen or so timelines, so it was strange that the WildStorm one was singled out and presented as its own timeline.

It would have made more sense to say that there are eight or nine or whatever timelines, and they all belong together to form a single one.

Instead, Johns tried to assign standalone universes to three of DC's imprints, which doesn't work metafictionally and doesn't work within the framework of DCU cosmology either.

Diabolu Frank said...

Len Wein and Steve Englehart wrote runs of John Stewart in the '80s. I haven't read much of the former, but the latter was great and drawn by Joe Staton. Specifically, the issues around the "Countdown" story arc that tied into Crisis and reintroduced Guy Gardner.