Monday, July 4, 2011

Flashpoint EXPRESSions - Week of June 29th

So the last week has been a busy one for me, taken up mostly by Canada Day on July 1st and friends visiting from out of town.  Therefore, I've been a tad remiss in my writing duties, but I hope to get back into the swing of things with this another Flashpoint-themed edition of EXPRESSions.  Once again, I picked up all four Flashpoint tie-ins for the week, being Green Arrow Industries #1, Hal Jordan #1, Project Superman #1, and The Canterbury Cricket #1.  And once again, the quality varied from title to title.  Despite the number scheme, only two of the books are three-issue limited series, while the other two books are one-shots.  Check out my thoughts below to see if DC made the right choice as to which titles should get more issues.

Flashpoint - Green Arrow Industries #1
Written by: Pornsak Pichetshote
Art by: Marco Castiello and Ig Guara

This title really surprised me.  To be fair, I came into this book with virtually no expectations, but the creative team did a much better job taking advantage of the fun storytelling opportunities presented by looking at characters through the lens of an alternate reality.  This is perhaps most evident from the opening panel of the book.  The reader sees a panel focusing on the logo for Green Arrow Industries and a caption that reads, "We wanted Green Arrow to be different."  It's a subtle wink to the reader that flirts with the fourth wall, but it is also a strong statement of purpose.  This is Green Arrow is different from the one that the reader knows.  And unlike a number of other Flashpoint titles that have gone too far in the differences between the regular DC Universe and the Flashpoint Universe, or the many more that have not gone nearly far enough, I feel like Green Arrow Industries #1 manages to strike a balance between those two extremes in a way that many other Flashpoint books have failed to do.

Though never explicitly explained, it seems that the main difference for this world's Oliver Queen is that he never received that push to convince him to take up coloured tights to fight against the forces of evil and injustice.  Instead, he has remained a playboy billionaire who spends most of his time figuring out how his company can make more powerful weapons (so a mixture between Oliver Queen and Tony Stark, I suppose).  The comic does a really good job of setting up this status quo in a small amount of time and moving right into the action of the issue, which focuses on a group of unknown assailants attacking Green Arrow Industries' production facility with Oliver Queen in the middle of it.

The attack is handled pretty well and is used to really bring out Oliver Queen's character.  Throughout the issue, as he attempts to defend his company, Oliver insists that Green Arrow Industries does work that benefits the world - or at the very least, work that isn't necessarily a detriment to the world.  While his claims don't seem to have a lot of truth behind them, it does a great job of showing that this world's Oliver still wants to do good, even if he doesn't quite know how to do it.  Even the fact that his weapons company shares the same name as his superhero identity points towards his yearning to do right.  There is a surprising amount of thought that went into the writing of this issue - and that has sometimes seemed absent from other tie-ins - which I really appreciated.

I also really enjoyed the art on this issue.  There was a lot of action throughout and Guara (who drew most of the issue) does a great job on those pages.  The action is fast-paced and frenetic, and Guara really succeeds in getting that feeling across to the reader.  A lot of this comes from some excellent figure drawing and convincing depictions of fighting, but I was also really impressed with the panel layout.  It changes from page to page, keeping the reader on their toes, and there's also a lot of bleeding from one panel to the next.  Images can't stay contained to one panel because too much is going on.  It's a little difficult to describe, but these small details add a lot to the reading experience.

I didn't really know what I was getting into when I picked up this book, but I ended up with a pretty solid story about who Oliver Queen could have become had he never become the Green Arrow.  It wasn't the best comic book I've ever read, but it did make better use of the storytelling opportunities provided by Flashpoint than most other tie-ins have thus far.  Part of me is sad that this is only a one-shot, but another part is glad to have read a compelling and interesting story that managed to say everything it needed to over the course of a single issue, something that is increasingly rare these days.

Flashpoint - Hal Jordan #1
Written by: Adam Schlagman
Art by: Ben Oliver

This is the worst Flashpoint comic I've read thus far.  It has some pretty decent writing and some really nice art, but there are virtually no difference between the Hal Jordan seen in this comic and the one that appears in Green Lantern every month.  Hal is still impulsive, reckless, and an ace pilot.  His father still died in a plane accident when Hal was young.  He's still in love with Carol Ferris and works for her company.  The only difference is that Hal doesn't have a Green Lantern ring.  That's it.  If not for the fact that the book  mentions the Amazonian-Atlantean conflict that has been seen throughout all the Flashpoint titles, this could actually be an issue of Green Lantern that takes place before Hal joins the Corps.

It's really a shame, because apart from that glaring oversight, this is a good comic book.  The dialogue is crisp and knows when it is - and when it isn't - needed.  The actual plot of the comic is kind of interesting and rings true for the character.  Unfortunately, it rings way too true.  Indeed, the issue actually ends with Hal Jordan finding Abin Sur who asks Hal to help him save the universe.  While I imagine that the "big difference" will be revealed that Abin Sur isn't actually dead so Hal won't get a Green Lantern, the fact remains that Hal is doing everything that he normally does in comic books.  The title doesn't offer anything new or different or exciting.

The biggest victim of this lack of creativity on Schlagman's part is the artist, Ben Oliver.  Oliver has a wonderful, almost painterly style, that is completely overshadowed by the pedestrian script that Schlagman offers.  Every panel has a sense of movement to it and is beautifully rendered, but that isn't enough to make up for the fact that this comic fails to really participate in the Flashpoint experience.

On the plus side, I absolutely adore the work done by Ben Oliver here, so I will definitely pay close attention to what he does next.  Unfortunately, I don't care what might come after this issue, because Hal Jordan #1 is a rehashing of everything that's already been established in Hal Jordan's life.  I don't really understand the motivation behind this, because the people most likely to pick up this comic are readers who are already familiar with Hal.  Leaving him unchanged gives absolutely no reason for a reader to come back and see what happens next.  I know I won't be coming back.

Flashpoint - Project Superman #1
Plotted by: Scott Snyder and Lowell Francis
Written by: Lowell Francis
Art by: Gene Ha

I'm really warming to the habit DC has been getting into of having an established writer plot a comic along with one of their newer  writers and then having that new writer write the actual comic.  Thus far, it has meant that, at the very least, interesting things will happen in the comic books in question, regardless of whether or not they are well written.  Happily, in this case we get the best of both worlds.  The events depicted in this particular comic are really interesting and different, and the writing used to present them is also pretty solid.

The gist of the book is that, shortly after World War 2, the US is trying to create their own metahuman agents to be prepared to fight for them in future conflicts (thus the Superman Project).  Certainly a government created and owned superhero is something that has been done, but this version of that story brings some new elements to the equation.  The comic focuses on the development of Lieutenant Sinclair into the superman he is to become, showing how the process doesn't quite yield the results the government was hoping for and how some of the consequences of their actions are beyond their understanding.  It is a slow buildup, but the pace feels right, taking the time to establish the world and the characters who inhabit it.  The comic spends a lot of time developing Sinclair, letting the reader understand his motivations and the reasons behind his actions.  It's some wonderfully done character work.

A big help to this slow pace is the art by Gene Ha.  With so little action (for the most part of the book), a big part of the storytelling revolves around the characters' emotions and expression, and Ha does a fine job of demonstrating a range of facial and body language.  Of course, he also does a fine job on the action sequences, managing to easily express the power and violence behind Sinclair's actions.  Along with his ability to work in a variety of situations, he also does a great job of keeping the page layouts interesting without making them confusing.  Finally, there were a number of moments where Sinclair was looking onto other scenes with his x-ray vision, and Ha does a great job of creating convincing representations of this.

This is a strong comic.  The story it tells isn't necessarily the most original, but the creative team offers enough difference to make it feel new and exciting.  And that is something that is really important to making a book feel fresh and worth picking up.  After the slow build seen throughout the issue, there is a great reveal towards the end that has grabbed my attention without feeling cheap or clich√©.  I will most certainly be coming back next month to see what comes next.

Flashpoint - The Canterbury Cricket #1
Written by: Mike Carlin
Art by: Rags Morales

This is the other one-shot that came out this week, and I must say that The Canterbury Cricket is a bad comic book.  There is no real sense of direction or focus to be found anywhere in the book.  Instead, there are simply a series of events that happen one after another with little offered in the way of reason or explanation.  This book doesn't know what it's trying to accomplish and it shows.

The comic opens with some of the members of the English resistance that were hinted at in Lois Lane and the Resistance #1 fighting some Amazons.  Just when it looks like the rebels will be quashed by the Amazonian attackers, the Canterbury Cricket appears from nowhere to save the day.  And then, for no reason, he joins the resistance fighters in their retreat.  They end up in the middle of a forest sitting around a fire and the Cricket awkwardly suggests they tell stories to pass the time.  It's awkward in that, like most everything in this book, it is poorly presented.  It's clear that the comic is trying to build on The Canterbury Tales, but the book doesn't take the time to explain why this is worth doing.  Instead there a few caption boxes that quote Chaucer and a character who is also named Canterbury.  It just doesn't add up.

However, regardless of the lack of logic, the issue then becomes what I imagine Canterbury Cricket: Year One would read like, as the Cricket tells the story of his origin and his early adventures to protect England.  Again, there's no effort used to explore the motivations behind the character.  Things just seem to happen, with the "why" of it ignored in favour of more things happening.  It makes for a rather disjointed issue.  Everything that happens makes a certain amount of sense, but the comic spends absolutely no time explaining what that sense might be.  Instead it leaves the reader to figure out what the relation is between different events.  It's pretty frustrating and there's no real reward for that kind of effort on the reader's part.

Even more frustrating is that the comic's belaboured Canterbury Tales metaphor is thrown out the window with the completion of the Cricket's story, because there is no time for anyone else to share a tale.  Instead, the comic ends abruptly with the group being attacked once again.  Nothing in the way of closure is offered.  In place of that, the comic tells the reader to follow the adventures of the resistance in Lois Lane & the Resistance.  Even though no character from this comic have appeared in that series as of yet.

This issue was a mess.  The story was all over the place, spending no time to explain why anything was happening or why any of it mattered.  I feel like the story would have been better served if the events of this issue had been combined with Lois Lane & the Resistance #1, with these characters actually appearing in that first issue.  It would have provided some action and another means of exposition in what was an exposition-heavy comic.  As it stands, The Canterbury Cricket #1 is a comic that has a lot of things going on without anything of meaning every happening.

So there you have it.  Another week, another batch of Flashpoint comics of wildly differing quality.  I'll definitely stick around for Project Superman, and if I could, I would buy more of Green Arrow Industries.  However, Hal Jordan didn't bring anything new to the table and The Canterbury Cricket didn't bring any clear sense of direction.  So although I spent my hard earned money on almost every Flashpoint book that came out this month, I'll be able to show at least a little restraint in the next two.

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