Rejuvenation Trade Post: Eternals & Flash Rebirth

I was looking through unpublished blog posts and realized I had a nearly complete review of Neil Gaiman’s Eternals book and Geoff Johns’ Flash: Rebirth. I cleaned some things up and updated a few references, but otherwise this review from January 2012 was in pretty good shape.

Eternals (Marvel)
Written by Neil Gaiman, drawn by John Romita Jr.
Collects Eternals #1-7

Man, expectations can be a real bummer. If you had handed me this Eternals book and not told me who wrote it, I think I might have maybe walked away liking it a bit more than I did, but knowing that one of my all time, all around favorite writers wrote this story leaves me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. On the other hand, the artist, John Romita Jr. is not one that I tend to like and yet I thought he killed it in these issues.

Okay, to get into a little more detail, these seven issues tell the story of a group of god-like beings called the Eternals who were planted on Earth by even more godlike beings the Celestials to make sure Earth was still cool when they come back later. They’re basically super powered house sitters, but ones that were originally created by Jack Kirby  five years after his New Gods books had been cancelled by DC, hence the HUGE similarities). Anyway, for some reason, the Eternals don’t remember they’re Eternals and are just living regular human lives. And…that’s about it. Yes, there’s also some stuff about trying to stop a sleeping Celestial from waking up, but the majority of these issues involves the speedster of the group, Mercury, living life as–I shit you not–Mark Curry. I guess that’s not as bad as Ike Harris, better known as Ikaris. Yeah, that happened.

The problem with this story is that I just don’t care about anyone in it. Am I supposed to care about Curry? If so, why? Because he’s a med student? Yeah, that sucks I guess, but do I need to watch him bumble around with his identity for five out of seven issues? No, not really. It’s funny, I just read somewhere that this series was originally planned as six issues, but was bumped up to seven to fit the action. I do not see that in the finished product. It seems to me like things could have been sped up to make them more interesting. Part of the reason I wound up not being invested is because I knew that these people living normal lives really were big time super powered beings. There’s nothing to lose. You’re going to regain your memories and go live your awesome life where you don’t really have to worry about anything and get to fight monsters or whatever. That’s WAY better than slaving away in a hospital or BSing your way through a party planning business you don’t really know anything about, right?

But, like I said, this is my favorite JRJR art. That boxy, Frank Miller-esque style he seems to like so much just doesn’t work for me. I remember pages of World War Hulk with Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor where it looked like his armor was made out of one of those ugly metal desks. I also couldn’t get into the boxy Iron Man he drew in his issue of Captain America: Fallen Son. But, for whatever reason, his Iron Man looks rad to me in this book as do the rest of the characters. Maybe the fact that these guys were created by the king of boxy characters–and the King of comics all around, really–put me in a different mindset, or maybe he was doing something else with his character design and placement at the time, but I really liked what he was laying down on the pages. I just wish I cared more about what was going on.

Flash Rebirth (DC Comics)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Ethan Van Sciver
Collects Flash Rebirth #1-6

This was another reading experience where my expectations came into play heavily but from a different angle. I had read most or all of Flash: Rebirth in single issue form, but that was over a pretty large expanse of time either because of my lackadaisical reading patterns or the book’s lateness (I’m fairly certain these six issues didn’t all come out consecutively, but honestly don’t remember for sure). I remembered a few plot points from the first reading but was left with memories of confusion for the most part. Though a lot of that got cleared up this time around, it does feel like the life of Barry Allen was made a lot more confusing than it needed to be.

Allow me to explain. This book–much like Green Lantern: Rebirth–is intended to explain the return of a Silver Age Justice Leaguer, this time Barry Allen, the Flash who gave his life to save the lives of everyone in the universe back in Crisis On Infinite Earths. Considering my age — Barry died in the real world when I was two — I have never cared about Barry Allen. Wally West was my Flash and I’ve been around long enough to remember his more hound-dog ways in Justice League Europe and then the awesome runs by Mark Waid and Geoff Johns that really fleshed him and his supporting cast out as characters. So, when Barry came back in Final Crisis, I really didn’t care that much. What’s so special about this character who was only ever interesting when he died? Well, not much, but one of the cool things about this book is that it actually asks that very question through the voice of the villain Professor Zoom. Even with all the continuity tampering that goes on (Zoom killed Barry’s mom when he was a kid which is now part of his childhood) and power explanation (Barry actually creates the Speed Force by running), the real point of the story is for Barry to prove his worth to the reader. Whether that succeeds or fails depends on the reader and whether they can make it through the aforementioned confusion zones (which definitely distracted me from the point the first time I read the story).

I think it does a good job of showing the specific way in which Barry Allen can and should work in the DCU: while Wally is the more freewheeling guy (even as a dad), Barry is the straight-laced cop who spends his non-tights days trying to solve cold cases. Was that actually followed through on with the comics that followed? No idea. Was Wally given equal footing? I don’t believe so. Does any of this matter anymore considering the New 52? No, probably not.

The basic question every time I finish a trade is whether I’ll keep it or put it up for trade on my Sequential Swap page. I’ll be keeping this one, at least for now. I have an idea to get my hands on Geoff Johns’ run of Flash which I only read bits and pieces of and I think this might make for an interesting end cap to that collection if I do decide to keep it. I also love the art. Van Sciver’s level detail is amazing and gets me excited to read comics, even ones with big text blocks or huge dialog balloons explaining things like the Speed Force. Finally, this story reminds me of the ones that I occasionally read and loved from the Waid’s run like Terminal Velocity that brought a bunch of different speedsters together. I always liked the legacy/family aspect of the Flash with Wally, Jay, Impulse, Jesse Quick, Max Mercury and even Barry’s ghost coming together to pitch in when necessary. This story not only did that but also brought Max back from the Speed Force, so I dig it.

Flash Trade Post: Flashpoint & New 52 Volume 1

FlashpointHC Flashpoint (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Andy Kubert
Collects Flashpoint #1-5

When Flashpoint was first announced I was pretty curious. I’m a big fan of alternate reality stories and that’s what this is. Flash (Barry Allen) wakes up in a world where he simply does not exist as a superhero and instead, Captain Cold is Central City’s champion. People like Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Superman and Cyborg still exist in this world, but they’re very different from how Barry and the reader remembers them. The fun of a story like this — especially as a reader who knows the history of the universe pretty well — is finding out why certain heroes are different, why some are the same and why some brand new ones exist. It sounded a lot like Marvel’s Age Of Apocalypse which swept through the X-books back in the mid 90s. And, much like that event, this one wasn’t contained in just one book and spread out into six trades’ worth of minis and one-shots exploring this brand new world.

Of course, when the whole Flashpoint thing was announced, we in the general public had no idea it was going to lead to the complete and utter dissolution of the DC Universe I’ve been reading since I was 9. Like a lot of people I was bummed when I first heard that, but it’s been a few years and I’m a 30 year old father, so who has time to worry about that kind of stuff? With my one-time negative look at Flashpoint and New 52 long gone, I figured it would be fun to actually get back to the book and see how it was. I mean, I dig Johns’ stuff a lot and he’s a longtime Flash fan and writer, so it’s gotta be pretty cool right?

Well, yeah, for the most part. It’s kind of your basic “guy stuck in an alternate universe story” but like I said, that’s the kind of thing I dig. This one is packed with fun takes on the DC characters like breaking Billy Batson into six different kids who combine into Captain Marvel and also a brewing war between Aquaman’s Atlanteans and Wonder Woman’s Amazons. And of course, the whole thing’s a race against time where the one person remembering the old reality is starting to forget it and other characters tell him he needs to succeed, that it doesn’t matter who dies because if Flash succeeds, this world will have never existed.

Much as I liked this story, though, I’m hesitant to go after the other five trades. The problem with these big events is that you can’t ever tell which tie-ins are worth reading. The reality of the situation is that a ton of them are put out as a cash grab to make more dough off of the main story. When it came to something like Blackest Night, the main stories were great, but the tie-in stuff was dicey-at-best and mostly unnecessary. The problem is that, the way these things are put together, even if a really cool idea is developed in one of the off-shoot books, it won’t really matter in the larger scheme of things because the main writer is already doing his or her thing and probably has the story all the way plotted out. I remember there being some pretty creative uses of light powers in a few of those tie-ins, but they wound up not playing any kind of larger part in the story because, at the end of the day, they’re basically afterthoughts. So, what I’m saying is, “Are any of the other Flashpoint books worth checking out?” I’m probably not going to pay much money for them, but if I get a few recommendations, I’ll keep an eye out while on Sequential Swap or whathaveyou.

flash new 52 vol 1 move forwardThe Flash Volume 1: Move Forward (DC)
Written by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato, drawn by Manapul
Collects Flash #1-8

After finishing Flashpoint, it seemed only natural to move into the New 52 book starring the same character. I’ve said before that Barry Allen isn’t exactly the most interesting character in the world to me, though I did start taking a shine to him with Flash: Rebirth. I think it’s because there’s such an uphill battle there for me as a reader my age. See, for my generation of DC readers, the Flash was always Wally West. Barry was a guy who — as my pal Ben Morse has said a number of times — was at his most interesting when he died. Aside from that he was this Silver Age goober who wore a bow tie and was always late meeting his girlfriend. I didn’t really know about his deeper cuts (on trial for murder and whatnot), but that was the impression I had. The nice thing about the New 52 is that it’s given me the mental break I needed to look at Barry as an all new, fresh character, not someone being dusted off by a creator with a love of those older stories.

One of my favorite things when it comes to reading stories about these heroes that have been around forever is when a writer can take that character’s powers and explain them in a new way or do something new with them. Flash and his fellow speedsters are kind of the poster children for this idea. They started out simply running fast, but then they could vibrate through things, tap into the Speed Force and much more. Super speed is also an interesting power because it’s easy to understand on one hand — dude’s fast — but has additional layers to it. I actually remember two instances of hyper speed powers behing shown that have taken up residence in my brain. One was a moment in someone else’s comic (I believe) where everyone in the DCU is watching TV and Wally goes out and gets his girlfriend/wife Linda’s dry cleaning between words of s sentence. Another was the way the real world must slow down for you when you’re super-fast, to the point where most normal people seem like statues. That actually came form an episode of Batman: The Animated Series starring Clock King called “Time Out Of Joint.” Both of those instances gave me a much better idea of what it much be like foFlash to function in the real world.

Anyway, one of the neat things that writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato do in this book is explain Barry’s powers with a slight twist (at least as far as I’m concerned as an every-now-and-then Flash reader) and that is by showing that Barry can practically see the future because he can think through every scenario so quickly that he’s already imagined all the outcomes well before they actually happen (like how Midnighter is with fighting, but with everything). It makes perfect sense and yet I’d never thought of it before. Moments like that are really fun to me as a reader.

So you’ve got a cool exploration of powers while also reintroducing some of Flash’s Rogues in fun and creative ways (the new Top!), plus I can actually buy Barry as a CSI guy now because, well, why not? I know there’s all kinds of explanations that could be given on how he caught up on modern police techniques in the previous DCU, but him going back to that job after returning in Rebirth just didn’t wash with me. Anyway, I also really dig how Manapul handles the artwork on this comic. His style is a little bit loose, on the cartoony side, but it’s also incredibly fluid, which fits the concept perfectly. I’m becoming less and less a fan of huge numbers of panels on a page, but Manapul and Buccellato use that concept to great effect in this book, often to point out every little thing Flash notices. As far as I’m concerned, this book succeeds at everything New 52 was supposed to do: updating old, dusty characters in modern ways that can be appreciated by brand new readers and longtime ones alike. It kind of reminds me of what a lot of animation folks do when adapting comics to TV: cherrypicking the best ideas and making them their own.

The question I ask myself at the end of every trade-reading experience is whether I’m going to keep that particular book, pass it on to someone else or put it up on Sequential Swap. This has been an interesting question to answer with the New 52 books. A few — like Scott Snyder’s Batman — have been instant “Keeps,” while others that I won’t mention have been total slogs I never even got all the way through, so they get tossed on the “Dump” pile. But, a lot of the ones, like Flash, Superboy, Supergirl and Teen Titans wind up in a weird kind of limbo. I liked what went down in the first volume, but if there isn’t a solid storytelling arc that comes to a decent conclusion or blows me away in some other manner, they get to keep their spot in my collection. But if there’s a ton of creator changes, an abrupt cancellation or things just fizzle out in general, there’s no point in keeping them on board. For now, though, the first Flash volume and others like it get a pass for now.

Trade Post: Final Crisis Rogues’ Revenge

FINAL CRISIS: ROGUES’ REVENGE (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Scott Kolins
Collects Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge #1-3, Flash #182, 197

To say that Final Crisis was a confusing event would probably be putting it lightly. I was still reading comics on a weekly basis as it rolled on and I had very little clue what was happening. However, after reading all of the Morrison-written stuff together in the FC collection, I actually really enjoyed the story. I don’t think I understand it 100%, but I had a great experience reading it and want to revisit it and hopefully gain a little more insight. I think one of the stumbling blocks for DC was taking a Grant Morrison story–which tend to be weird and wild–and turning it into an event. It probably should have just been it’s own thing, but considering how huge of a story it was, it would have been strange for it to not be referenced anywhere else. Adding the “Final Crisis” tag to books like Rage Of The Red Lanterns which had little-to-nothing to do with it didn’t help.

Anyway, Rogues’ Revenge is kind of one of those books as well, but it does feature Libra one of the big bads in FC, so I guess it makes sense. Johns and Kolins return to the characters they made awesome during their run of Flash and do a pretty damn good job which is saying a lot considering the Rogues just got done murdering a grown-up Bart Allen in Flash: The Fastest Man Alive, a book I didn’t even read for free. There’s also some vague references to Countdown that aren’t that important. But, I think Rogues’ Revenge works really well on its own, but you do need to know a few things. Inertia tricked the Rogues into killing Bart Allen, Libra has killed Martian Manhunter and turned most of the villains of the DCU into an army, but the Rogues want nothing to do with him, which makes him angry. Also, Pied Piper was tied to the original Trickster for a while after the death of Bart Allen, which seems to have messed Piper up. They were both trying to infiltrate the Rogues when Bart got killed. Most of these details are included in the story as it progresses, but I figured I’d throw it out there because the book doesn’t have an intro (which it really should).

Anyway, this book, while it might have a few continuity questions for folks, acts as this awesome revenge action story. Think something like Payback or Crank but with supervillains instead of Mel Gibson or Jason Statham. The Rogues are looking to get out of the villain game because they broke one of their own rules by killing the Flash, but they want to pull one last job: kill Inertia. Captain Cold takes the lead for the most part, but Mirror Master, Heat Wave, Weather Wizard and the kid Trickster all have cool moments as they tear through imposters (originally seen in Batman: Gotham Underground which I thought I reviewed, but apparently not) and deal with an Inertia trained by Zoom as well as Libra himself. These are very bad men doing very bad things very well.

With all the violence, death and rain, the book takes on a kind of noire feel to it, but Kolins’ artwork is as bright and vibrant as ever. The rain is really serious in the book and Kolins makes them look soaked without getting sloppy. It really is a great collaboration between two creators who have great chemistry together. Giving the Rogues the spotlight was a cool move that could have been done at any time and not tied in to Final Crisis, but the elements of that story that are included make sense and actually make them look even more badass. Telling Libra to kiss off more than once is pretty epic, but would have been more so if I could remember what the deal with that character was. Anyone remember?

If you like revenge movies, the Rogues or high quality stories that give villains the spotlight, the this book is definitely up your alley. By not dealing with heroes (Flash only appears in flashbacks and at the very end) the Rogues get to show how dangerous they really are and it’s a wild ride to keep up with.