Posted by: Brian Hibbs on August 31, 2011
Sorry I’ve been so reviewless lately — just stupid swamped between various store bits (CEO and order form being the same week always hits me hard, and we’ve been negotiating to rerack the store, as well as doing our first advertising in a long long time, since DC is making with the 75% co-op on Facebook and Google ads for The New 52), and home stuff (school starting, various PTA duties from the beginning of the year, repainting our downstairs, so we have some rooms that look like a minimalist’s wet dream, while others are a Hoader’s nightmare, boxes and pile of crap teetering everywhere) and then all of my extra-curricular stuff like writing Tilting and crusading various fronts of nuWar (agitating seems like it takes more and more CPU cycles every year that I’m past 40!)… I’m doing too many things at once, agh!
I’ve decided, personally, that I want to hold off on writing any kind of a review of JL #1 until I have the week #2 books in my hand, because there’s such a crushing weight of expectation upon that one book, that I want to have a little context before I say anything in public — so I’d say, expect a full slate of 14 comics tackled by Thursday of next week.
So, instead, maybe let’s talk about the End of (my) DC Universe, after the cut…. (first warning” spoilers below):
I was really always a DC kid, and I think a lot of that is because of those 100 page giant comics that had new modern stories, paired with like classic Golden Age reprints. Not only did the IDEA of a JSA kinda blow my child-mind, seeing examples of the original comics was even more amazing to me. I knew that I didn’t know everything about all of these past adventures or characters, and, in fact, I would probably NEVER know all about them (it’s not like I thought I’d own a comics shop when I was 8), but just the existence of a decades-back history hinted at some crazy-ass world to me, that I way wanted to know more about.
(And then, when I encountered the LSH, and found out that it also extended a thousand years into the future, I probably cried a little, in joy!)
Flash-forward to ’85 and Crisis, and the First Wave of Reboots (Man of Steel and the Perez Wonder Woman, especially), and I’m all of, what, 18 then, and it’s ’89 when I opened my store, so, yeah, this specific iteration of the DCU, it’s pretty much mine and my peers.
I remember how cool it was for Alan Moore to properly “end” the old Superman, and so now that “My” DC is ending, I was really really hoping that we’d get great final issues of books. There were a few — I loved the end of Secret Six, and Batgirl, and of Roberson’s Superman, and maybe especially James Robinson’s final JLA (Having never warmed to his run before that!) — but for everyone one of those, there were probably five that felt more or less like fill-in issues, or just sudden-stops-because-we-were-told-to, and that kind of hurt.
What hurt maybe even more is there weren’t any individual goodbyes. I mean, we’ve got the damn lettercols back — could they not have had a final text-based send-off? But I guess no one at DC wanted to attend the funeral when they’re already planning the bris, right?
Which brings me to FLASHPOINT #5.
Flashpoint #5 also has a lot of the weight of expectations on it, I guess, as it’s supposed to explain the why and the how of the nuWorld order (though that part of the hand off is arguably less important than The New 52 and what they’re about (the circumstances of the birth WILL NOT MATTER if the baby has 10 toes, and all of it’s parts where they belong, and it can gurgle and coo), but it’s really the end of my personal DCU, and I’m going to judge it like that.
There will be spoilers onwards from here, so I’d urge you not to read this before reading the book.
I’m warning you!
Well, OK, then, you can’t say I didn’t warn you….
What ultimately gets me the most is just how sloppy the overall execution of this has been. First off, the book begins with the revelation that it is actually BARRY who changed the timeline, and not Thawne. That’s borderline clever, in a let’s-invert-expectations kind of way, but I think that waiting for the final issue to reveal that little sting is hitting it far too late. More importantly, it doesn’t actually change Barry’s motivations an iota — he still wants the EXACT same thing he wanted before: to set right what once went wrong, hoping this time will be the leap….home…. er, wait, wrong show.
But, anyway, all this nugget of information does is make Barry feel like a dick, but his wants and desires stay the same. Just with a dickish overtone.
But I really do have a problem with Saint Barry, the one remaining Silver Age idol who had not been retroactively made clayfooted (though, oddly, I think I’d argue he was the FIRST one to be unceremoniously dicked with in an attempt to goose sales in “The Trial Of The Flash”, ultimately presaging “Death of Superman” and “Knightfall” and “Emerald Twilight”), the one in fact who went out Saving Us All in COIE, as essentially being the Big Bad of the Last Crisis. That’s kind of in poor taste.
I don’t even GET why Barry was brought back in the first place. Surely the plan wasn’t truly to bring him back just to do this? And, presuming that, then morphing the plan so that it’s Saint Barry who what duz the deed…. I mean, maybe that’s the perfect distillation of “Superhero Decadence” right there? It’s kinda messed up, and not in a “but wow that’s really clever!” way like, dunno, Miracleman, maybe? It’s… well, it is a bit too in reference and on the nose, isn’t it?
Equally icky for me was Flash’s inaction in the story. Not only does Barry not actually do anything to help the world he is in, but when his greatest enemy is at his highest moment of triumph Barry does nothing to resolve the situation, and it falls to dadBats to (naturally) murder Thawne from behind.
Because Saint Barry? The REAL one? Well, Carmine woulda had Barry not only avert the war between the Amazons and the Atlanteans, while returning Superman to the world, and then setting right the timeline, he also would out-Science (even if it was Bad Science) Thawne at the last minute, on top of that. And he at least would have yelled “Murderer!” at Thomas Wayne.
(Also: I way did NOT understand how Barry fractured the timeline. I don’t mean the technobabble that Thawne spouted about the mechanic, I followed that — no, I mean the “How does Barry’s interference with the timeline actually impact entirely disparate events like where Superman’s rocket physically lands, or who Joe Chill killed?” There’s certainly no causation, that I can see, and this strikes me as more of the fundamentally lazy “Superboy punched a wall” of an explanation for continuity errors.)
But, OK, whatever, he’s got to put it back together, and that’s where I hit my next problem. Well, or two packages of problems.
Dealing first with the actual process of rebuilding the universe: Johns makes the bizarre choice of introducing a mysterious figure who makes vague pronouncements about a “they” who split the timeline in three (Wait, what?!?! Wasn’t the explicit point of the 52 Worlds idea was to have one specific chronology/cosmology? You can’t just say “no, yeah, but there are also distinct alternate timelines within that world, didn’t we mention that?” and hope to get away with it.)
This is a manyfold mistake, in my mind — first off, I really think there needs to be a complete moratorium on any kind of continuity/cosmology-changing foe/being/society for… like 20 years. Maybe more. We need to be done with that. One day, maybe another generation who has forgotten the lesson of their forefathers will dredge it out again, but nuDC must be a hundred percent free of that kind of comics and storyline, or it is in trouble before it begins.
The second problem here is that, wow, in setting up DC Comics – The New 52, you just built a backdoor into the very structure of it that let’s you undo it if you wanted to. On the bus ride home after work, I thought of at least 2 and a half ways I could reverse this with a snap, and I’m a hack, not a gifted writer. That’s bad, because I think it undermines the foundation of the new iteration. At the basic level: you don’t put a gun in act one, unless someone fires it before the end.
My third problem is more visceral, for the idea from The Mystery Being that there were three split timelines. The art was kind of sketchy about what they ACTUALLY meant, but I took it to be the Vertigo, Wildstorm and “old DCU” Universes. In other words, sort of more or less a meta-comment on the interanl company structure more than anything. Which is, y’know, fine, except for that I don’t see a necessary distinction between Vertigo and the DCU, at least in regards to DC-originated titles. Sandman and Swamp Thing and Doom Patrol and Animal Man all very clearly took place in the DCU. Shade certainly could have. I’m not seeing any massive conflict, or that the continuities of those stories were removed from that particular fictive universe. Kid Eternity, maybe, didn’t happen (but I think it did), and, even if it didn’t, that’s 16 issues we’re worrying about? Dan Didio might have been told by someone that they were, but, yes, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing CLEARLY took place in the DCU, as did pretty much everything until the Tefe book. So why, y’know, point out “well, we’re completely ignoring anything from Tefe onwards, until ‘Brightest Day'” while at the same time insisting that Clark and Lois were never married at all in the first place? There’s not a “universal” demarcation, is what I’m saying. “Bringing Back” Swampy and A-Man, and Shade or whoever isn’t a trick of any kind, because any real DC fan knows that those stories happened there !
Then there’s the third part of that triptych — The Wildstorm universe. And, like, I know that DC really really values Jim Lee, and, I really like Jim personally, and have a tremendous amount of respect for the titles he created, and the work he provided creators space to do, but for any attempt to *handwaves and does the obi-won voice* “The Wildstorm Universe was always meant to be integrated with the DC Universe”, I kinda have to say “Fuck You” to that idea. I don’t have a problem with them actually integrating aspects, because if people don’t like it, those books will rapidly go away, my problem is specifically the notion is was meant to be that way, and I just can’t see that for a deal that wasn’t made official until 1998.
Finally, we get into the “post change” section, where nuBarry talks to nuBruce, and it is the very first conversation of the nuUniverse.
And they talk about the old one.
And even if nuBarry may or may not remember “my” DCU, he DOES remember the FP one, and there’s a physical, tangible artifact of that.
I don’t mean to Monday Quarterback, I really don’t, but I have to say, I really think it would have been smarter to end with that same shot of Barry waking up from a dream, but then instead of rushing off to the Batcave to seemingly have a “today” conversation about the timeline switch, for him to walk back into his lab wall with all of the chemicals with someone saying “Mm, looking like there might be a storm” or whatever, and leading Barry into having his origin all over again (off camera, though). Then you at least are leading to a new fresh relaunch, instead of complicating matters by having at least two people who affirmatively know the world is different, as well as a specific physical object to key upon.
(also, in terms of that letter, am I the only one who looked at the size of the writing, and the dimensions of the page, as presented and thought “there can’t be more than a single sentence we’re not being shown”?)
I *did* get a real emotion moment out of the Batman-stagger when he was handed the note, but the cost of that knowledge, especially to Bruce, of all people… I don’t like the cracks it puts in the foundation from the first day of go.
Maybe I am a crazy fanboy freak. I don’t really know. But it really bothers me that there are multiple significant backdoors built into the end. Suspension of Disbelief: straining.
For that reason, and all of the others above, I thought FLASHPOINT #5 was pretty AWFUL, though that’s kind of a biased read. As an action-adventure story designed to get DC Comics – The New 52 into place it zips along just fine — from that point of view, it is reasonably OK.
The nice thing is, with this written, My DCU is done. I’m ready to approach the new one with a completely open mind. I’m looking forward to being entertained with no especial concern about “what happened before” (Except… where they explicitly rub it in our face)
As always, what did YOU think?