BATMAN: KNIGHT OF VENGEANCE
First up on the Flashpoint reading list, and definitely an enticing offering.
The short, snacky three-issue arcs built around each character in these books (but not so much the 1-issues for Reverse-Flash and so on) means that the story has to be punchy and informative, since this is really the only glimpse you get on these different characters outside of the flagship book. Azzarello manages to pull this off quite nicely, giving you a story that features plenty of the Bat characters we know and love as well as a redefinition of Batman’s oldest nemesis that, while I already knew what the twist was, is still probably one of the biggest WHAM moments in Batman history.
Unfortunately, while the story itself is quite engaging and the characters are well-rounded for a three-issue story, the dialogue suffers a little from there being almost none of it. Jim Gordon doesn’t seem that different from his regular universe counterpart, and as such his dialogue comes across as a little two-dimensional in terms of the “virtuous cop” paradigm. Thomas Wayne’s constant murmuring in place of Bruce’s “hh”-ing is also a bit annoying, since whenever I try to hear it in my mind it sounds like the sound one makes when sleepwalking. Personally, that wouldn’t really intimidate me, but at least he makes up for it by slamming a machete into Killer Croc’s skull and snapping a Joker victim’s neck. Those were some pretty intense moments, that definitely set him apart from Bruce’s MO.
As well as the dialogue, the art is also a bit sub-par. The covers to the issues are very well done and richly detailed, but the artwork of the story itself feels a bit plain and single-layered. While this is in no means a trick unused in good comics before (The Black Mirror and Batman: Year One spring to mind) it’s none done in the gritty, slightly retro way that it’s utilised as in contemporary works. Batman’s costume mostly looks like a large grey blob with a bit of red on it, far from Andy Kubert and Sandra Hope’s great illustrations in the main title, and Jim Gordon looks like he’s wearing a clump of steel wool instead of hair. Plus the Joker looks uncannily like a character from The Raggy Dolls.
DEADMAN AND THE FLYING GRAYSONS
I love Deadman, I really do. I got into him in a big way with his appearances in Blackest Night, and his fate in Brightest Day – especially in light of his relationship with Dove – left me a bit misty-eyed.
Having said that, I’m so glad his Flashpoint version isn’t around constantly because if he was he would warrant a harpoon to the ear with every sentence that comes out of his mouth.
Yes, “jerk” must be Boston Brand’s middle name in this tie-in, because he speaks and acts like Naomi Campbell minus the phone attack. He does provide a good contrast against Dick and his Grayson family, but every line of dialogue he had – until the last few pages of the third issue – made me want to flamethrower his head off.
There’s a good sense of escalation with this story; the protagonists start out in an almost-idyllic lifestyle as part of a traveling circus – with the “almost” part being because, you know, there’s a way going on between the Ama-Scones and the Longpanteans – and by the end those who are left standing are embroiled in a fierce street battle for Doctor Fate’s helmet. The progression feels natural, and like with the Batman story the characters are quite engaging and interesting. Plus Kent Nelson, despite only having about five lines of dialogue, absolutely steals the show here. His line right before an Amazon gets wasted by Shark was particularly noteworthy.
With all that above praise, however, the story doesn’t feel particularly groundbreaking or new in terms of separating from the main universe’s timeline. Dick’s family still dies, Deadman kicks the bucket and becomes a ghostly apparition who resorts to body hijacking. While the specifics of the events are a bit different, the overall impact is still the same – apart from Dick’s decision to become the new Doctor Fate, which I would’ve liked to see explored a little further either in Flashpoint or the DCU proper.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, it’s just a bit plain. It feels like a slightly different rehash of the original characters’ origin stories with a big war plonked in the middle. The dialogue has a few good moments, like the Shark moment above, but aside from that it’s pretty basic. The story loses a few points because of a truly cringeworthy flashback involving Dick and his father trying to make a jump, though.
The artwork, on the other hand, is the most salient feature for me. The vintage-look covers for each issue strongly evoke a classic approach that is contrasted neatly with the contemporary darkness of the story, and the illustrations in the actual story is richly layered and textured. The bright colours feel a little dulled compared to the main title, but I choose to interpret it as being the fancy vibrancy of a happy mood (in this case, Dick being with his family at a circus) being filtered through a dark cloud of the upcoming tragedies that befall the protagonists.
I think I’ve been studying Critical Discourse Theory a bit too long.
DEATHSTROKE AND THE CURSE OF THE RAVAGER
Despite what some contemporary critics may think (I’m looking at you, Mr Croshaw), pirates are cool. Despite what a few Batman and Robin readers may think, Deathstroke is cool. So putting the two cool elements together should result in a nice cocktail of cool, right?
See what I did there? You totally thought I’d say wrong, didn’t you? Shows what you know.
While my previous experience with Jimmy Palmiotti’s writing (Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe) is akin to reading the Ingredients panel on a packet of biscuits with half the words replaced by onomatopoeia and bone-breaking sounds, I found this offering to be really, really interesting by comparison. Deathstroke is presented not as an assassin for hire but as a scurvy pirate lad in control of the titular Ravager, a vast and powerful pirate ship that spends half its time raiding other ships and the other half of its time getting attacked by Aquaman. The crew is comprised of a ragtag bunch of misfit villains who pillage and plunder like they’re taking orders from Long John Silver’s cousin.
Plus, there’s a really hot purple-haired chick who can make explosions appear randomly. Coz, you know, that’s the most salient element right there.
I’ve not read an awful lot of Deathstroke compared to others of Batman’s rogues gallery, but what I have read paints him as a morally questionable gun-for-hire with a badass eyepatch and an even more badass sword that was the only viable weapon – besides batarangs – in MKvDCU. Seeing him redone as a pirate against the canvas of the Atlantean-Amazon war gave him a dimension that makes a lot of sense to me, which is further aided by a somewhat sympathetic storyline involving his quest to find his missing daughter who – in defiance of a million other villainous fathers – he actually cares about. Aww, so he really does have a heart. In this timeline at least.
I actually figured the ending would be something of a foregone conclusion, since Deathstroke seems to be killed by Ocean Master halfway through the main title, but when this bit turned up at the end of the first issue of this tie-in and followed him after it happens, showing that he did not actually die from that trident strike, it gave the rest of the story a very interesting remainder, where the foregone conclusion was thrown under a bus. I quite like it when a prequel or tie-in manages to pull of something like that believably, especially in a story like this where a character’s death can be quite final given that it’s effectively a parallel universe. Tell you what, though, he’s got a mighty ungrateful crew when he revives later in the second issue – makes me wonder if the policy he uses to recruit crewmates out of prisons is one that he’s unilaterally taken for everyone on the Ravager. God help us if he hits Arkham Asylum.
The artwork kicks a lot of ass, and as always I found Aquaman’s militaristic crimson getup to be one of the visual highlights for me. The grizzled sea-captain-from-Simpsons look suits Deathstroke to a tee, and the menagerie of freaks and malcontents he calls his crew adds a visual variety to the standard array of redshirts one would usually find in such a story. Complementing this is some very good dialogue for Deathstroke himself, although it seems as if every other villain in the story, with the exception of Aquaman, is ripped straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Warlord in particular has a bad case of the “You will never succeed! Mwahahaha!” mindset that I’d hoped serious comic book villains had distanced themselves from, but I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much because in spite of that I still very much enjoyed the title.
I suppose this could act as a natural evolution for the real Deathstroke – because, you know, there’s not much else you can do after a failed attempt to body-jack Robin – and I know I wouldn’t mind seeing an ongoing series relating to superhuman pirates. I suppose, though, that’d end up being a little too much like a villain-centric group book, like a polar opposite to the Justice League on the open sea.
But you know, I’d still read it anyway.
I tried reading Secret Six once. It was during the Batman RIP storyline, where they had a very brief tie-in. It seemed like an interesting concept; at a time before I was aware of things like Dark Avengers or the Thunderbolts, a villain team-up sounded kinda interesting. Reading the actual story, however, I was underwhelmed. The dialogue felt almost identical to the villains in the Deathstroke story above, and nothing really happened that contributed to the overall RIP arc at all.
Plus there was a guy on the cover who looked like Batman in a mustard outfit, which just looked hideous. Surely Gotham City has fashion police?
Reading the first issue I had a lot of problems. For one thing, I had absolutely no clue what was going on, other than the fact that Secret Seven were heroes and apparently they committed suicide, but some guy who can change his body might’ve been responsible, but he just saw a woman who died two years ago, and then he gets captured by aliens, and they all look like they were drawn with a box of crayolas…
The story only gets more convoluted as it progresses, and there’s very little in the way of actual plot. It seems like a quest by the main character – a slightly unbalanced “changing man” named Shade – to reunite the Secret Seven, only that falls by the wayside when he starts banging some blonde Jekyll-and-Hyde character named June Moone, then it turns out he killed some people, then biker-chick Zatanna turns up, then Shade gets thrown into a madness dimension…
I really couldn’t find the story here. At all. Well, there were snatches here and there, but it came and went far too fast to catch onto anything. The alien plot at the start doesn’t do much to establish who Shade is and what the overall premise of his endeavour is, and the eleventh hour appearance of fellow Seveners Zatanna, Mindwarp and Raven only added more convolution to a plot that was already chock-full of it. Plus the ending very much had a feeling of “rocks fall, everybody dies” about it. Or, in Shade’s case, “rocks fall, end up in a strange meta dimension that doesn’t explain shit”.
The artwork is mediocre at best, and the first issue in particular has a real problem with too much retro-style artwork that doesn’t mesh well with what little story there is, particularly during Shade’s brief visit to the alien spaceship. The later art got a bit better – probably because different artists were involved – but it was still generally lackluster and overloaded with unnecessary colouring. Plus, the part where Enchantress uses her orange magics to find Shade looks uncannily like she’s about to give a giant magical penis a handjob.
Plus the dialogue’s sucky; apart from not knowing what the hell is going on, it’s kind of two-dimensional and doesn’t flesh out the characters much. The lines each character delivers gives them one, and only one, big defining character trait – Shade is crazy, Enchantress is a lunatic, Amethyst is a child in the body of a hot teenager.
I wonder if the story of Shade will be followed in the real DCU later on, since the story seems to deliberately leave him in limbo and ends with an ominous question mark that maybe he’ll emerge later. Personally, I’d be a bit intrigued to follow his story, but I won’t be queuing up to get it autographed.