Saturday, June 18, 2011

Flashpoint EXPRESSions - Week of June 15th

So, as my weekly pull list will attest, I went into my local comic book shop with the aim of only buying two of the four Flashpoint tie-ins that came out this week.  I don't really know what to tell you, but somehow I ended up getting my hands on all four introductory issues -- Deadman and the Flying Graysons, Grodd of WarLegion of Doom, and Wonder Woman and the Furies.  Instead of dwelling on how that ended up happening, despite my best intentions, I thought I would use this "opportunity" to offer my thoughts on all this week's tie-ins.

Let's give 'em a gander, shall we?

Flashpoint - Deadman and the Flying Graysons #1
Written by: J.T. Krul
Art by: Mikel Janin

I had dismissed this comic based entirely on the fact that J.T. Krul was writing it.  This might seem a little closed minded, but I had not enjoyed a single comic of his that I had read.  I know it's a bit harsh, but I couldn't really understand why DC kept giving Krul so many writing assignments.  Especially since he is responsible for writing what many consider one of the worst comics ever produced.  All that said, I'm still not one hundred percent sold on Krul, but after reading Deadman and the Flying Graysons #1, I do have proof that he can write an enjoyable comic book, so there is that.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was originally intending on skipping this book all-together, but I flipped through it and saw that Ragdoll and King Shark of Secret Six fame were putting in appearances in the comic's circus's freak show.  Intrigued, I looked a little closer and noticed that, in the comic, the poster advertising King Shark read "MAN + SHARK = INCREDIBLE".  The fact that Deadman is wearing a sweet skull mask didn't hurt, either.

I don't know about you, but that was enough to convince me to give the book a chance.  I'm glad that I did, because this is one of the most enjoyable Flashpoint tie-ins I've read thus far.

The beginning of the comic is used to establish that Dick Grayson's parents never died in a tragic circus accident in Gotham City, meaning that he and his parents (the Flying Graysons) continue to perform for Haley Circus.  Additionally, the circus has picked up the talented Boston Brand (Deadman) as its main attraction (thus explaining the title in one fell swoop).  This would be all well and good if it weren't for the fact that the circus is trapped in Europe in the middle of the Amazonian-Atlantean war that's been escalating throughout all the Flashpoint books.

Krul does a good job of emphasizing the difference between the cooperative and familial Graysons and the aloof and selfish Brand, which seems to be one of the main focuses of the book.  It nears being a little heavy-handed at times, but is well-done for the most part.  The comic seems content to focus on those dueling character studies for the majority of the issue, and it works pretty well.

Certainly, this effort is greatly helped by the wonderful art provided by Mikel Janin.  Though I have never encountered his work before, I was quite taken by what I saw in this issue.  He has an excellent grasp of panel layout and pacing, using it to great effect in the various sequences throughout the issue.  He also does some quality action sequences, which is a plus for a comic that focuses on trapeze artists.  I eagerly await seeing more of his work in the coming months.

For the balance of the issue, there is no clear conflict to drive the plot forward, but that's okay.  Again, the character-work is good enough to keep me turning the page, and there is a slow build-up to the dangers that are to come that become clear towards the end of the book.

I was pleasantly surprised by this issue.  I'm really glad I picked it up and will definitely be staying around to see how everything turns out.  I'd suggest you do the same.

Flashpoint - Legion of Doom #1
Written by: Adam Glass
Art by: Rodney Buchemi

To be honest, I picked this book up on a whim, partly because Heatwave is one of Flash's Rogues and I couldn't resist and partly to get an early idea of what Adam Glass's Suicide Squad title might be like when it releases in September.  Unfortunately, I was disappointed on both counts.  Heatwave, as he appears in this book, is the flattest of characters, and if Suicide Squad is anything like this, count me out.

The comic opens with an interesting premise, with Heatwave hoping to become a part of the Firestorm matrix as a way to satisfy his pyromanic tendencies.  To accomplish this goal, he kills Jason Rusch, one half of the duo who combine to become the superhero Firestorm.  An interesting idea, but the comic doesn't really do anything with it.  Ronald Raymond, the surviving half of the Firestorm team, tells Heatwave that it doesn't work that way and before Heatwave can retort, Cyborg shows up to save the day.  After a brief fight between the two, Heatwave is subdued and subsequently sent to supervillain prison to be executed through the electric chair.

There's a lot of potential in that paragraph, but Glass doesn't really take advantage of any of it.  Heatwave pretty much spends all his time talking about how much he loves fire and going on about how badass he is.  Unfortunately, there's no real effort beyond that to make Heatwave a sympathetic or interesting character.  The comic tells us - repeatedly - that he is a badass pyromaniac and pretty much leaves it at that.  It makes all his monologuing fall a little flat.

Once he arrives in said supervillain prison, Heatwave spends the rest of the comic asserting his place in the prison's hierarchy through unnecessarily violent and ultimately unconvincing prison fights.  All the while, he insists that he is going to break out, even though no one has ever broken out of the super secure prison.  Again, the ideas aren't necessarily bad, but the execution leaves something to be desired.  I also must admit to being underwhelmed by the prison idea when I've already seen it done in a more interesting way in DC's Elseworld book Kingdom Come (which is one of the best DC comics I've ever read).

Of course, Heatwave has a trick up his sleeve as to how he will manage to the prison break, which is saved for the cliffhanger reveal at the end of the issue.  That reveal is also kind of interesting, but everything that came before killed any interest I had in following this series.

On the art side of things, the comic does a lot better.  It certainly seems as if DC is trying to give some of their newer talents the chance to show their stuff on these books.  While Glass didn't manage to wow me, Rodney Buchemi did.  His style fits right into what's generally happening in sueprhero books.  It doesn't necessarily stand out, but Buchemi manages to give a relatively weak script a lot more life than I would have expected.

Not exactly a glowing recommendation, but this wasn't exactly the best comic I've ever read.

Flashpoint - Wonder Woman and the Furies #1
Written by: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Art by: Scott Clark

I've been a fan of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning since reading through their excellent run on Guardians of the Galaxy.  I'm not usually a big fan of cosmic books, but the team dynamics and the fantastic plots they whipped up for Guardians won me over hook, line, and sinker.  Consequently, I've been picking up a lot of their work since that time and was looking forward to their Wonder Woman Flashpoint tie-in.  It was a pretty good first issue, but a combination of a rushed plot and varying art quality took away from the reading experience.

The book opens on a flashback sequence, showing this world's Diana Prince and Arthur Curry meeting for the first time, which also represents the first meeting between the Amazon and Atlantean peoples.  I really enjoyed this portion of the book, as the time spent focusing on Arthur and Diana's interaction was well done and made for some quality character work.  It even made for some good hinting towards the arranged marriage between the two that was revealed as being a failed endeavour in issue 1 of Flashpoint.

From this flashback, the issue jumps to the near past, spending the rest of its pages looking at what exactly happened during the day of the marriage that resulted in the Amazonian - Atlantean war that has been tearing the world apart.  At this point, things start to move really fast.  The pages are covered with word balloons as characters provide some exposition of what's happened in the time in-between to get the reader up to speed. It comes off as kind of awkward and rushed.  I really get the feeling that the series would have benefited from having a few more pages (2 perhaps?) or possibly from an extra issue.  It just seems like Abnett and Lanning are jamming everything into the first issue in an attempt to have more breathing space in the issues to come.

There's some good things going on in those pages, to be certain.  Some interesting political maneuvering and some genuinely cool double and triple crossing that will surely be built upon in the issues to come, but there's so much going on that the exciting parts of the comic get a little overshadowed by everything else.  I feel like the issue managed to make the Amazonian - Atlantean war more interesting, which is a good thing, since it has simply been presented as the status quo up until this point by DC, but I still feel like the issue could have been a lot better.

The other major issue is that the art from Scott Clark is inconsistent.  Generally his character work is fine and serviceable, if a little generic from one character to the next.  My main concern is in regards to his backgrounds, which don't seem to match at all.  I can't tell if they are coloured over pictures or CG images shoved in in Photoshop, but they don't fit the rest of the book.  I figure it's supposed to make the background more imposing and more striking, but it simply comes off as distracting.  Not something I'd want to see regularly in a comic book.

I was a little underwhelmed, but I think I might have come into this with my expectations a little too high.  It wasn't a bad comic, per se, it simply wasn't Guardians of the Galaxy, which isn't a fair comparison.  If I want to read Guardians, I'll read it.  Not hope to find it in other comic books written by the same team.  I believe I'll be back for issue 2, though that might depend on what next week's Flashpoint titles are like.  We shall see.

Also, it's worth noting that, though I said I read all four Flashpoint books, I only offered my thoughts on three of them here.  That's because my thoughts on Grodd of War #1 didn't quite fit in with a post concerned mostly with reviewing comic books.  At least it didn't fit in my mind.  I'm going to spend a bit more time pondering that book and I'll have a full post on it tomorrow.  It will be partly a review, but it will also deal with issues a little more serious than what I've spoken of thus far.  I hope you'll come back to give it a look.

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