Review: Time Masters: Vanishing Point trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Dan Jurgens's Time Masters: Vanishing Point, in contrast to the original Time Masters miniseries, offers a rather touching portrayal of Rip Hunter as a young boy whose childhood is built on time travel, and then again as an adult doing his best to preserve the family business. Constant readers know one of my comics soft spots is Dan Jurgens drawing the time-traveling heroes he popularized in Superman and elsewhere, so this is a book I'm predisposed to enjoy even if just for the art.

Aside from the Rip Hunter vignettes, however, Time Masters: Vanishing Point is somewhat thin. Though billed with connections to Return of Bruce Wayne and Flashpoint, it offers significant exploration of neither. There's a good amount of story that, though drawn well and tied to esoteric DC Comics continuity, ultimately doesn't affect much and seems only there to pad out the pages. And while Jurgens has written Booster Gold well in his own series, there's a certain stiffness to some of the other characters that's surprising.

[Contains spoilers]

Vanishing Point is essentially a continuation of Dan Jurgens's Booster Gold run, told from Rip Hunter's point of view; it probably would have made a lovely Time Masters one-shot. Rip, as revealed in Booster Gold, is Booster's son, and the elder Booster still lives and fights his own battles through time even as Rip works to guide his young father to greatness. Each chapter of Vanishing Point opens with scenes of Rip's childhood, how being the son of a time traveler exposed him to wonders of greatness but also left him without a home and often in constant danger.

What comes through is the adult Rip's love of his father and his dedication to his cause of preserving the time stream. Rip is neither Superman nor Batman -- neither a stranger to his own birthright nor acting from a sense of tragedy or guilt; rather Rip likes his parents, makes them proud, and does his job because he was taught it was right. This is refreshing and fascinating, and the times that Jurgens pulls back the curtain to show the emotional sides of Rip that the DC heroes don't get to see are the best parts of this book.

Unfortunately, those Rip Hunter scenes only account for about two pages per issue. Most of the rest of the book offers a convoluted wild goose chase in which Rip, Booster, Skeets, Superman, and Green Lantern Hal Jordan purportedly set out in search of the time-lost Bruce Wayne, but are instead almost immediately side-tracked. The team encounters Claw the Unconquered and DC Comics's "sword and sorcery" Starfire, both late of the 1970s Star Hunters series, and with them fight a pair of wizards up to no good.

This takes up pretty much most of the series, and then ultimately Claw and Starfire have no bearing on the end of the story. Maybe Jurgens intends to use them again later, but for now their only role seems to be to give the heroes something to do before they start off again after Bruce Wayne at the book's end.

Far more interesting -- but ultimately not much more relevant -- is "Time Stealers" Black Beetle, Despero, Per Degaton, and Ultra-Humanite's jaunt through time. It's not entirely clear what the latter villains are doing here -- they last appeared in Geoff Johns's Booster Gold and Justice League stories -- as even Black Beetle, when asked, can't quite explain why he needs them. They make nice window dressing, however, while Black Beetle frees the imprisoned original Linear Men Matt Ryder and Liri Lee, and tricks them into helping him steal the corpse of Armageddon 2001's Waverider.

Again, as a fan of Jurgens's Armageddon, Zero Hour, and Superman, seeing Jurgens draw Ryder and Lee again is pure delight. They too, however, leave just before the book's conclusion, and neither seem to bear on the Bruce Wayne aspect of the book nor the Flashpoint. I don't get the sense looking at what DC's producing going forward that these characters will be popping up anywhere else soon, either, so I have to qualify these appearances as for fans of the characters only, and not for anyone hoping for anything substantial.

The disconnect between this book and the events it's supposed to connect is clearest in the "blink and you'll miss it" appearance by Professor Zoom, who proceeds to soundly beat up our heroes, notes that they "aren't what [he] was looking for anyway," and then leaves. Zoom is on only about four or five pages (two of them splash pages); yet the cover of the fifth issue announces Zoom's presence when he doesn't show up until the last page. I can't fault Jurgens directly for this, though; obviously DC wanted a miniseries to spin off from Return of Bruce Wayne and to tease Flashpoint. This book misses no opportunity touting those connections, at least superficially, but there's nothing here to concretely tie to any of the other events -- as we also saw, frankly, in some of the lead up to Final Crisis and in some of the Blackest Night tie-in books.

Jurgens portrays Rip and Booster's loneliness as time travelers well. Throughout the book, Superman and Green Lantern ask all the difficult questions -- Superman wonders at Rip's origins, how he came to be a time traveler and where he got his equipment, while Green Lantern insults Booster relentlessly over Booster's apparent fame-seeking. I felt the characters came off a little stiff here; Superman and Green Lantern argue with Rip about saving a disease-stricken man in the past (not even someone being specifically attacked) in a way that seemed naive for two experienced heroes. Often the characters act as sounding boards to narrate what's going on in the scene, and Superman and Green Lantern serve mainly to ask Rip questions so he can explain the time travel pseudo-science. I haven't felt that Jurgens's recent Booster Gold stories suffered from the same problems, so my hope is that this is isolated to this series and not something we'll also see in Jurgens's DC Relaunch Justice League International.

[Contains original and variant covers]

If you like time travel in the DC Universe, and you like Dan Jurgens, Time Masters: Vanishing Point is an enjoyable, attractive book. Certainly fans of the current iteration of Rip Hunter will recognize the main character here far more readily than in his original post-Crisis on Infinite Earths portrayal. But Vanishing Point is also an example of the kind of thing I wish DC just wouldn't do any more -- a miniseries without any real purpose or point to make, published mainly for the purpose of capitalizing on better books and adding some money to the coffers. This kind of thing, I continue to believe, only serves to foster mis-trust between DC and fans, and makes fans less likely to take a chance on new series, and that's not good for anyone. I'd like to believe that with the DC Relaunch, editorial's attitude toward this kind of thing will change, though I admit I'm not greatly optimistic.

... But hey, dig Jurgens drawing the Linear Men again!
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6 comments:

  1. The series confused me as it was released (I haven't read it); first it was a tie-in to Return of Bruce Wayne, yet it was one of those things where you KNOW they're not going to be the ones to find him, and then Bruce came back but this series wasn't over yet? And then suddenly the last issue has some sort of tie to Flashpoint?

    I was originally planning on getting this, even knowing that it seemed kind of directionless, but considering the DC relaunch and your lukewarm review (which, admittedly, I mostly skimmed through so as to avoid spoilers), I don't see any reason to invest my money into it.

    Unless it goes on sale for $0.99 each at Comixology. I'm such a sucker for that price. Got the 1978 5-issue Firestorm series for $0.99 each last week!

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  2. Your instincts on this one are correct. Like some of the looser ties to Final Crisis (issues where a New God died off camera, or such), most certainly you don't need this to understand Flashpoint. There is a Flashpoint lead-in moment on the last page which likely had fans in a tizzy when the individual came out, but what it reveals is well and truly spoiled by the most basic Flashpoint news by now, and to be sure you could get the exact same information from reading Flashpoint as you could from picking up this book.

    Were the Firestorm issues released the same ones that came out in the new hardcover. Certainly $0.99 is a good deal!

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  3. Judging by that clunky bit at the end when they rebuild Vanishing Point just so the events of Return of Bruce Wayne can still happen, it seems there was very little coordination between Jurgens and Morrison. The fact that the last two issues of RoBW were terribly late (which, in turn, led to delays for the last two issues of this mini series) probably didn't help.

    Now that Jurgens' Booster Gold run is about to come to and end, I wonder if we'll ever find out who Black Beetle is supposed to be. Hopefully, some of these loose threads will carry over to the new Justice League International series.

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  4. I was satisfied when Black Beetle was *spoilers* a certain revenge-crazed former Blue Beetle supporting cast member, but last I recall I believe Black Beetle's identity was supposed to be always-changing, like the Time Trapper, due to the ravages of time travel. Ooh, maybe Black Beetle is the Time Trapper! Of course, "he's anyone" is kind of a cop out, but with the relaunch, I don't think it matters. Ia m less optimistic than you that Jurgens will bring Booster Gold/time travel threads over into JLI.

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  5. Time travel presents all kinds of conundrums, but you might want to go back and edit paragraph 3, sentence 2.

    This story may be a bit light on content, but the artwork is outstanding (completely biased, I'll buy anything Jurgens draws, soon to be tested on that though). I like this as Jurgens doing Booster's adventures while Giffen was on the Booster Gold comic (I much prefer Jurgens to Giffen in this regard) so it was a much easier sell to me.

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  6. It is interesting that DC split Jurgens's writing and drawing in the relaunch; I'll be curious to see how either holds up without the other.

    Think I got that typo now ...

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