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

Monday, April 16, 2012

To read the main Flashpoint miniseries is not to get a good sense of Aquaman and Wonder Woman's conflict. A tragic murder took place, we know, and perhaps there's some unrequited love on both sides, but the "why" of the conflict is less important than the effect it has on the Flashpoint universe and those who try to end the war.

World of Flashpoint Featuring Wonder Woman therefore, is integral if the reader wants to understand what underlies this war -- allegiances and betrayals not even hinted at in Flashpoint. Wonder Woman mitigates the otherwise-severe characters of both regents; the separate stories of Wonder Woman and Aquaman are both entertaining, though complex narrative devices make each hard to navigate.

[Contains spoilers]

The book begins charmingly with the three-issue Wonder Woman and the Furies miniseries; Scott Clark's art looks painted (or maybe computer-generated) at times, giving a fairytale feel to Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's re-tooling of Wonder Woman's origins. Here, a Princess Diana seeking Man's World is saved from an ocean beast by Atlantis's King Arthur, and the two arrange a romantically-charged marriage of convenience for their two people.

The youthful Diana is similar to that in the beginning of the recent Wonder Woman animated movie, a more approachable protagonist than the burdened pre-Flashpoint warrior/diplomat. In the same way, Aquaman is regal and optimistic in a way we haven't seem him lately; the two joke with each other in a way that sells their relationship to the reader. I can't overstate how important the first issue of Wonder Woman is in making the reader care about these new takes on the characters, something that helps buffer the rougher parts of these books.

Wonder Woman loses Clark after that first issue, and both art and story feel flatter in the second and third issues. After the Atlanteans seem to murder Diana's mother, what follows is a series of blows and counter-blows between the two people -- the Atlanteans seem to attack, the Amazons sink their island, the Atlanteans flood Europe, the Amazons destroy Britain creating New Themyscira, and so on. Wonder Woman is heavily interconnected with the Emperor Aquaman miniseries collected second in the book, and oftentimes a scene in Wonder Woman will end suddenly because it continues in Aquaman, but this makes for uneven and often confusing reading when reading Wonder Woman alone.

Emperor Aquaman helps to clarify the Wonder Woman story, but writer Tony Bedard makes it difficult by telling the story through flashback. The story starts between the second and third issues of Wonder Woman, but then moves to "the present," to a time before the beginning of the issue, back to during Wonder Woman, back to the present, and so on. In two periods, Aquaman contemplates using an earth-shattering weapon, making it hard to differentiate between those times; also Aquaman and Wonder Woman almost but not quite line up, with events in one story spanning hours and the same event in the other spanning minutes. To hash it all out requires more study than I imagine most readers want to undertake.

Bedard does present an interesting new origin for Aquaman, torn between two worlds, with art by Vincente Cifyentes -- though it's been so long since I've understood Aquaman's actual origin that I wasn't sure where this one differentiated.

Abnett and Lanning's Lois Lane miniseries is also fun, especially again the first issue where "our" roving reporter falls in with the resistance after Aquaman floods Europe. Nothing wrong with the spotlight on Grifter, either, though again I was curious where his new origin divides from his Wildstorm one. I only wish the writers' Lois and Wonder Woman stories might've intersected more; in both stories Diana learns the traitorous actions of her aunt Penthesilea that underlie the Amazon/Atlantis conflict, but each seems a new revelation with no indication which came first or how they connect.

I had high hopes for James Robinson's Outsider miniseries that finishes the book -- c'mon, James Robinson? Writing in a no-rules universe? What could be better? Unfortunately, Outsider does not amount to much; there are some fun cameos and some unlikely DC characters appear together, but it's hard to see exactly what Outsider contributes. The story reveals some behind-the-scenes workings of Flashpoint, but not to great effect; also I didn't think Robinson really made use of Outsider being set in India. The art reflects Indian dress and locations, but there was little integral use of Indian culture that would have kept Outsider from being otherwise mainly set in Metropolis.

What's most frustrating about Flashpoint: Wonder Woman -- and you'll see this too at least in the Superman book -- is that all the stories end suddenly or uncertainly, in deference to the main Flashpoint book. Wonder Woman hits a screeching halt; I have no idea where in the story the end of Aquaman is supposed to meet; and the end of Outsider is strangely inconclusive. Only Lois ends well -- also on a sudden cliffhanger, but at least that one I already know finishes out in Superman; I rather hope Outsider has its conclusion in another book, too.

[Includes original covers]

My guess is that most readers will feel they learned enough about these characters in Flashpoint and don't need the extra information of World of Flashpoint Featuring Wonder Woman; I understand that completely. Wonder Woman or Aquaman fans, however -- especially ones who might feel either character seemed too militant in Flashpoint -- might want to give this a look. There are many forces preying on Wonder Woman and Aquaman in Flashpoint, bringing them to war -- some they don't even understand themselves -- and Flashpoint: Wonder Woman is the book for understanding what's really going on.

Next up -- the end of Lois Lane and the Resistance leads right in to World of Flashpoint Featuring Superman, so that's where we're headed.  And in two weeks -- the Collected Editions review of the first DC New 52 collection, Justice League: Origin!
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10 comments:

  1. What order do you recommend for the reading of the tie in trades and the main series?

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  2. I'm a softcover wait for trader, so I'm a bit more behind than some. The Flashpoint softcover was just released and I ordered it despite some lukewarm reviews, but I was waiting on CE to review the tie ins before I made a decision on them, so these reviews are perfect timing. I was leaning towards not getting any of them since the reviews when they came out originally were poor and not really necessary for the main story to be understood. Now the new 52 has made them pretty obsolete anyways so all they have going for them would be their quality. Seems like this collection is a pass.

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  3. At the moment I recommend you read World Flashpoint Featuring Wonder Woman first after the main minseries, but I'm still giving all the books a final look, Anon. Stay tuned during our Flashpoint coverage -- your question will be answered.

    Agreed, Nikos, there's nothing ground-breaking in this volume. If you like Aquaman or Wonder Woman, or would like some confirmation that they're not as bloodthirsty as their main Flashpoint volume's depictions make them seem, then this is the book for you. But chances are most of this volume will pass quietly into limbo.

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  4. I bought all of these in floppies (yes, all of them, and I feel like a fool), and the ones in the WW trade were mostly hit or miss for me. I agree that the Outsider should have been better (although maybe he'll show up in Earth Two?), but for me the biggest problem with all the tie-ins was how rapidly the creative teams changed. The artwork was so inconsistent that I had a hard time remembering I was reading miniseries and not one-shots.

    The best one was (spoiler warning/no surprise) the Batman one.

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  5. I recently read all the Flashpoint issues in order (based on an internet forum suggestion I can't now seem to find). It was my second time through and I enjoyed the sense of immersion and appreciated the creation of an whole new world from (almost) scratch a lot more.

    Pity they weren't collected that way.

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  6. Except for The Outsider, the tie-ins collected in this book are among the ones that add the most to Flashpoint's worldbuilding.

    However, it's a shame that most Flashpoint tie-ins lost their original artists because they were assigned some of the new 52 titles (or an issue of Batman Incorporated, in Scott Clark's case). Maybe the artist changes would be easier to get used to if the issues were arranged in publishing order, Seven Soldiers-style.

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  7. Amused by your assessment. Will be getting this solely BECAUSE of The Outsider story.

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  8. I think Hix was talking about my comment, CE. In my opinion, The Outsider was a decent read, but didn't really add a lot to Flashpoint, other than showing what happened to Martian Manhunter, Black Adam and Mr. Terrific.

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  9. I agree that The Outsider didn't add a lot to the main Flashpoint story. I did like the narrative device that Robinson used, showing The Outsider POV on his holo-meetings with Cyborg. I also enjoyed how he was very much a bad guy who seemed to best all the good guys who went up against him.

    For me, this book was by far the most essential tie-in to the main Flashpoint series. The Wonder Woman and Aquaman minis totally change the way you look at those characters in this alternate reality; they are closer to misguided versions of their true selves as opposed to being totally different as portrayed in the main series. I really really enjoyed the backstory that was offered. As for the story flow, I was flipping back and forth a lot (thanks to multiple bookmarks!), even in the middle of the third issues of both Wonder Woman and Aquaman, reading the geo-pulse scene almost simultaneously. Both of those series seem to end with Aquaman and Wonder Woman heading out to meet in their final battle that we see in Flashpoint #4.

    Regarding what you suggest are conflicting revelations about Penthesilea, I disagree. In Lois Lane #3, Wonder Woman discovers that Penthesilea has been committing many terrible atrocities in her name. In Wonder Woman #3, she has returned and even says "I wanted to have a word with my aunt", presumably about what she had just discovered, when she walks in on Penthesilea and Ocean Master, realizing that the treachery with her aunt went far beyond what she had originally thought.

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