Review: Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, April 23, 2012

World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman distinguishes itself among the Flashpoint tie-in books I've covered so far in that it's the first to tell stories truly removed from the events of the main Flashpoint storyline. Superman and Wonder Woman (and with that, Emperor Aquaman) weaved in and out of the front lines of the Atlantis/Amazon conflict, as did Lois Lane, Traci's 13's World of Flashpoint and others, whereas the Batman book often demonstrates the "average citizen's" point of view.

Notable also in the book is Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's much lauded Batman: Knight of Vengeance story, significant not solely for the surprises it offers but also for what it has to say about the legacy of the Batman.

[Contains spoilers]

Azzarello's three-issue Knight of Vengeance, collected first here, tells us early on that the world is a bad place, and let's not mistake this as a commentary on the Flashpoint universe alone. The Flashpoint Batman succeeds where "our" Batman has failed, bringing a small semblance of sanity to the Joker, but what sparks the Joker's insanity again is this knowledge: that in at least two universes and likely more, the murder of Wayne family members drives the survivor to become the Batman. When Thomas dies, Bruce becomes Batman; when Bruce dies, Thomas becomes Batman; the family is locked in a vicious cycle with the so-called Knight of Vengeance. This fact is so horrific, Azzarello suggests, as to completely fracture the Joker's hard-won sanity.

This is not the first time we've seen the elder Waynes regret their son's superheroic choices (see Greg Rucka's Batman: Death of the Maidens) and Azzarello and Risso offer an equally dark take on Batman's origins in Batman: Broken City. Knight of Vengeance stands out against the backdrop of Flashpoint, however, at least in part because it suggests an alternate view of events -- in the main series, Thomas Wayne seems to praise Bruce's choices in the letter he sends across dimensions, but Azzarello's is perhaps the more realistic view, presenting the role of Batman as a gruesome job, destructive and unenviable. That this is the fate of the Wayne family seems almost worse than death by the hands of Joe Chill; none of the Waynes, in essence, survive.

The big reveal in Knight of Vengeance had already been spoiled for me, but I still found some surprise in the startling violence of the story. Azzarello uses the violence to great effect -- it is necessary, far from gratuitous -- but bolder than what one normally expects from often-milquetoast crossover tie-in issues. Azzarello pulls no punches, so to speak, and the story is better for it.

None of the rest of the stories in this book come near to Azzarello's, but J.T. Krul's Deadman and the Flying Graysons is enjoyable in its own right. Krul has the characters of idealistic Dick Grayson and self-centered Deadman Boston Brand right enough that one might very well believe this could be the fate of these characters were circumstances otherwise. The story's also filled with a bunch of unusual cameos, if that's your thing -- Ragdoll and King Shark, otherwise unlikely to appear with Deadman and Dr. Fate. The difficulty, as with many Flashpoint miniseries, is that we lose the first-issue artist for the second and third issues; I appreciated that the editors kept the Deadman story un-inked all the way through, but the support artists don't match Mikel Janin's work at the start.

Deadman has little to do with Flashpoint's main action, and even though Aquaman appears in the next story Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager, Deathstroke is even farther removed. Jimmy Palmiotti and one of my favorite artists, Joe Bennett, tell a pirate tale that's engaging because they hew to the (imagined) rules of piracy -- honor, loyalty, rivalry between boats, and so on. Palmiotti's story is like a "pirate procedural," if there is such a thing; the plot is good, though the story is marred by some wooden dialogue and the art here, too, falls to pieces after Bennett departs.

Peter Milligan's Secret Seven story that ends the book may be the best or worst of the lot, depending on your point of view. The story starts right in the middle of things, purposefully confusing, and Milligan's Shade, the Changing Man could as easily be his old DC Universe iteration as the one of the Flashpoint universe (the story suggests Shade spans multiple realities). Secret Seven serves as kind of a lead-in to Milligan's Justice League Dark series, in tone and in the characters who appear if not in the story events themselves.  Whether Shade himself passes to the DC New 52 is left nicely ambiguous.

On one hand this is a supernatural horror story, but on the other hand it's set against the backdrop of small town America, previously unexplored in the Flashpoint universe. (Deadman, too, deals with "normal" people and not superheroes.)  This made Secret Seven, here in the third Flashpoint tie-in book, seem like more than the same old thing -- that, plus Shade ripping out his own skeleton, and the fact that DC got George Perez to draw the opening pages, at least, of the Secret Seven's first issues.

World of Flashpoint Featuring Batman also stands out against the Superman and Wonder Woman Flashpoint books because each of these stories, finally, have actual conclusions. By virtue of these stories being more separate from the main Flashpoint, we avoid the "sudden explosion and 'Continued in Flashpoint' ending in favor of an actual wrap-up for Deathstroke and cogent thematic conclusions for Batman, Deadman, and Secret Seven. In all, that makes the stories in this Flashpoint tie-in volume more satisfying, not to mention the Azzarello/Risso story that stands as a classic on its own.

[Includes original covers, Flashpoint text page]

We have also reviewed the Flashpoint Superman and Wonder Woman books. Coming up next, Flashpoint: Green Lantern -- and don't forget, it's all leading up to the Collected Editions review of the first DC New 52 collection -- Justice League: Origin. Stay tuned!
Collected Editions 2014 Comic Book Gift Guide
Get the Collected Editions scoop before anyone else -- on Facebook!

3 comments:

  1. Color me intrigued!
    This Batman-Flashpoint tie-in book's been easily the most intriguing of all these, from the looks of it!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Any Flashpoint mini would look bad next to an instant classic like Batman: Knight of Vengeance, but Deadman and the Flying Graysons is a pretty solid story, even if it's very peripheral to the main plot.

    Secret Seven, on the other hand, turns out to be quite important by revealing the reason behind Enchantress's betrayal of the heroes, which seems to come out of nowhere in the main mini. As for Deathstroke and the Curse of the Ravager, Palmiotti's writing always leaves me cold, whether he's joined by Justin Gray or not, and I've come to accept I'll never enjoy anything he writes.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Knight of Vengeance was almost better than the main Flashpoint event, I thought. Like it could've worked as a standalone just as well as it did as part of a crossover arc.

    Deadman and the Flying Graysons looked wonderful, but I actually had problems telling some of the characters apart. Sort of suffered from same-face artwork. Was that just me?

    ReplyDelete