“My name is Kal. Today, I must be a Superman.”
With these words closes the first – and at this point, only – Superman story I’ve ever really liked.
For those who know me, I’ll let that sink in for a minute.
For those of you new to this blog or me in general, my opinion of Superman is analogous to the feeling that right-thinking people have about reality television – boring, overhyped and profoundly uninteresting. Granted, I did enjoy Christopher Reeve’s take on the character in the old movies, but comic-wise Superman has been the complete anti-me in terms of what I’m into as a reader. Batman has ambiguous morals at times and is a genuinely flawed character. Iron Man deals with interpersonal problems and a very bad drinking habit. Hell, even good old embodiment-of-patriotism Captain America has shit he had to handle when his sidekick comes back as a Russian sleeper agent (it’s better than it sounds).
Superman, by comparison, is the most lawful good paragon of virtue you’re likely to meet, is nigh-invincible apart from his infamous Achilles heel kryptonite, and has generally, in my mind, featured in lackluster stories that are generally something in the theme of “big baddie threatens Metropolis, Superman saves the day”. Actually, that’s not strictly true – New Krypton was “big Kryptonian baddies threaten Metropolis, Superman saves the day”. I think. I never actually read that one.
So far every Superman comic I’ve read has left me wanting a lot more than what I got, and the very strange bits where Mon-El takes over after Final Crisis felt equally bland. But Project Superman, the Flashpoint tie-in written by Batman genius Scott Snyder, is really, genuinely, good.
For the most part the story doesn’t even feature Superman at all, and while normally I’d scoff that this is by no means a bad thing it actually works well for the story. As with the Deadman tie-in there’s a very good sense of progression and escalation, with the action focusing mainly on superhuman-gone-wrong Subject Zero – who by the end of it is so chock-full of powers and anime hair I was pretty sure he was channeling Seymour from Final Fantasy X – from his humble beginnings as a test volunteer to the climactic finish where he murders Lois Lane and gets his ass royally handed to him by a slightly anorexic Supes. Snyder paints Zero as a sympathetic and psychotic protagonist, whose gradual descent into madness does not leave you with the feeling that he’s a straight-out villain – indeed, were it not for the neglect of General Lane, it’s quite probably Zero and Superman could’ve gone into crimefighting together, if they’d maybe found a way to curb Zero’s growing psychosis early on. Now that’s a comic I’d read.
As for the the big S himself, he’s projected here not as a towering figure of jingoistic patriotism and invulnerable valour, but rather as a skinny pre-teen alien kid who’s genuinely frightened and confused at all the military and scientific shenanigans that Lane and his ilk are putting him through. There are tiny scenes peppered throughout that made me interally go “Awww,” in sympathy, like when he steals General Lane’s baseball, or when Krypto gets machine-gunned, or when he heat-visions a picture of Lois onto his cell wall…to say Snyder made him a sympathetic character is a gross, immense understatement.
And that’s what surprised me about this story – the level of sympathy each character gets, with the definite exception of Lionel Luthor (seriously, I would not leave your kids with him if I were you. They’ll get sacrificed faster than a Kuriboh in a YuGiOh duel). For a three-issue arc the story is tight and punchy, the main characters are all reasonably fleshed out and given genuinely tragic motivations – Subject Zero most of all – and there is a definite crescendo towards the final battle between Zero and Supes.
The artwork, by and large, is quite well-drawn and coloured, and the dialogue doesn’t appear two-dimensional or vestigial. Superman not saying a word until issue 3 just gives him more of a sense of childlike vulnerability, until he finds his voice and verbally – as well as physically – beats down Zero with his own pseudo-philosophical trappings. The dialogue doesn’t quite hit the stride that The Black Mirror does, but it still fits with the characters it’s written for. All of these elements roll together into one great tie-in that really contributes well to the Flashpoint universe.
So yes, I liked this Superman story. However, on the whole, this story is not a proper Superman story.
There’s a distinction, for me, between liking a character in Flashpoint and liking them in any other tie-in. A prime example for me would be Wonder Woman; I kinda liked her a bit in her Blackest Night tie-in, and that might’ve led to me reading some more of her stuff if I was into the direction she took afterwards (I’ve heard mixed reviews about the Odyssey arc, which I may or may not read one day). If I end up liking her in Flashpoint, however, my liking would be contained to that one arc. There’s nothing else along that line with her in it, just like there’s nothing else featuring Deathstroke as a pirate or Deadman as a smarmy prick. If I like one of those stories, I can’t explore the mythos further because that’s all there is, no matter how enjoyable the arc was or how much I want to read more.
In a story like Project Superman, this is especially true. If there was a book about this on its own, I’d snatch it up way quick and read that shit like it was my last book before execution. The problem I have is that this is all there is besides the main title, and as much as I enjoyed this tie-in I know that the regular ongoing Superman title is vastly different all-around. As great as it was, Project Superman hasn’t made me want to jump head-first into a bunch of Superman comics the way that something like Fear Itself made me want to dive into Daredevil, because I know it’ll be different, and I know what that difference is like.
It’s unfortunate, because I quite enjoy Scott Snyder’s stories, and if he did an ongoing Superman title I’d be almost certain to read it. Hell, I’ll be checking out Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run in August when it comes out in trade, simply because he’s the one writing it. If Snyder had written the Blackest Night Superman tie-in – which I distinctly remember being appallingly awful – then maybe that would have spurred me to check out the series proper. Right now, though, I’ll stick with what I’ve got here, and what I’ve got is a highly enjoyable, emotionally riveting and genuinely inventive story with some very well-written characters and some equally good dialogue.
THE WORLD OF FLASHPOINT
One of the great things the reboot of Battlestar Galactica did really well is to show views from the trenches; it wasn’t just about the A-list characters like Adama and Rosling fighting the evil Cylon menace, it featured the dock workers, the labourers, the random redshirt pilots that were always well-characterised right before they took a Raider to the Viper. Part of what expanded the world of the story and the characters within it was a broader lens in some episodes that highlighted how the world itself – or, in this case, the Fleet itself – was doing in amongst all the chaos.
This is an aspect that World of Flashpoint pulls off quite well. The story follows wicca enthusiast Traci 13, shortly after the war begins and she fails to save her mother and brothers from the Atlantean sinking of Paris, as she travels to globe to try and garner support for a strike against her distressed father and his band of villain cameos before he launches a satellite attack that will most likely crack the planet in two. Along the way she meets several heroes from the real universe that are redone in some very interesting ways, including a hilarious Paul Hogan-esque version of Guy Gardner and a friendly Gotham priest whose identity I won’t spoil, but was definitely another “Aww” moment for me.
From the get-go the story is quick to introduce both its protagonist and premise in a bit of neat exposition from Traci 13, before she starts her whirlwind walk of a war-torn world to gather supporters as the battle rages across all four corners of the globe. As she progresses Traci discovers that she doesn’t need support, that the power was within her all along, and this leads to a final Luke vs. Vader fight for the fate of the world.
The trench-view of the story is its primary strength; the focus is not just on Traci but on the people she meets, and their one or two-page bits that all contribute to a kind of mosaic of the world of the Flashpoint universe. It really gives you a feel for the turmoil, despair and courageous strength of will that some of the second stringers have in this dystopic nightmare, and by the end of it there’s a real sense of engaging with Traci’s motivation and the final realisation of her real power. While said realisation is a little cliche, and the very end a bit predictable and Disney-esque, the narrative is still quite absorbing and different to anything I’ve read of Flashpoint so far. It’s the people, rather than the heroes, that are the focus here.
The artwork is deeply textured and little bit muted; while there’s certainly colour on display it’s not bright and shiny, but it’s not too dim that it’s dark and gritty. It’s nothing too enthralling, but it’s not bad either.
The dialogue shines in this piece; Traci’s internal monologuing is alright, but the parts spoken by the various random inhabitants are all quite varied and interesting, particularly with the Buddhist Guy Gardner who owns a peaceful bar or the tough-as-nails Nat Irons and her struggle against the enemy. As I mentioned previously the characters are quite engaging, and the short bites of dialogue each character delivers helps you both relate to and engage with them really well.
I’m not sure if Traci 13 exists in the regular DCU – I’m pretty sure she does, since there’s a bit where she kinda remembers her old life with her father – but if she does I’d be interested to read some of her stuff. If she’s anything like her Flashpoint counterpart then she’s got a lot of girl balls, and that’s something you don’t see in a lot of female comic characters anymore. One can only hope she didn’t fall victim to the submissive retcons Catwoman and Power Girl received recently.
BOOSTER GOLD – TURBULENCE
While I’ve never read a full-on Booster Gold story, I did experience a bit of him during Return of Bruce Wayne when he assisted Hal Jordan, Superman and Rip Hunter in the timeline search for Batman. He seemed kind of ok; bright gold and blue, assisted by the probot from the Descent games, courageous and handsome and kind of what Han Solo might’ve been if he was a superhero.
Checking out his Flashpoint crossover – being the only character, besides Barry Allen, who is not affected by the timeline change – it soon became apparent that the Han Solo comparison was quite apt. If they’d ever made a movie of this guy, it should’ve starred Harrison Ford during his Indiana Jones days. That’s a movie I’d watch.
The plot follows Booster dealing with the universal retcons as best he can while also contending with Doomsday, former Superman killer and raging ball of bone-breaking. Along the way he meets a young lass named Alex who can steal people’s powers by accident – kinda like Peter Petrelli with bigger boobs – and they both go off to stop rampant General Adam, never having taken the mantle of Captain Atom and instead controlling Doomsday via a helmet, from using the giant abomination of science to wipe out the entire world.
Having someone else from the old DCU continuity involved was an interesting idea, but I don’t think it was utilised as well as it could’ve been. The focus seems to be more on the battle with Doomsday rather than Booster’s displacement in time, which is something the Flash explored in the first couple of issues of the main title, and the eleventh hour degradation of memory right before Alex bites the dust came a bit too late. Plus, I’m still not quite sure how he ended up at Vanishing Point while Barry re-ran the timeline. Presumably that’d be explained during the new run.
What is most awesome, however, is the way Alex – for all intents and purposes a noob to the superhero game – spectacularly forces Doomsday to basically rip his own guts out using the control helmet. It was grueling, felt slow – in a good way – and was the main highlight for me in this story. It’s a pity she dies before Booster can take her to his universe, but she went out like a champ. The resolution involving her and the chalkboard at the end was also a nice little touch.
The artwork is bright and shiny, the complete opposite to World of Flashpoint’s above, and the best illustration for me came from the brief appearance of the Flash near the end. The rest of the time it was good, but still nothing special. Doomsday was well drawn, though. Looks like what Baraka from Mortal Kombat might resemble if he took up steroids.
The dialogue is what reminds me most of Han Solo, with Booster letting off verbal quips somewhere between Hal Jordan and Deadpool. His real fear when Doomsday first re-emerges is believable, and his early bits of banter with Rip Hunter and the other chick were kinda funny. Mostly, though, his interactions with Alex work well, almost as if he were a scoundrel courting a Princess Leia that can also fly and shoot lasers.
Pretty solid effort, but a little action-y in places.
THE CANTERBURY CRICKET – THE SCOUNDREL’S TALE
To be honest, I’m not sure why this one exists. It’s a one-shot that feels unnecessary, adds almost nothing to the overall universe except a Kafka ripoff, and is more of a recounting than an actual story in itself. That being said, the idea of a man-sized cricket talking in a British accent is kind of entertaining, in a YuGiOh Abridged Bakura kind of way.
Some dudes rescue a dude who’s a big bug, the big bug has a story about himself, other big bugs and how he once killed the love of his life to get away from a maniac Amazon guy, and then a green lady gets burnt to a crisp. Oh, and there’s a rhyming demon involved too.
It’s not quite on Secret Seven’s level in terms of incomprehensibility, but it’s there in terms of adding little to the world. The story is over way too fast to become invested in anyone’s character, especially when none of them besides Etrigan are the least bit familiar to me, and the main character of the Cricket – who has virtually been extracted unaltered from The Metamorphosis – doesn’t strike me as a likable character even after his change into the virtuous crickety cricket. Not that I have a problem reading a story where the main character is a bad guy or an asshole, but this guy is just annoying. And far too brief.
The artwork’s kinda murky, and flits absently between dark and gritty shades against bright and happy bits inside the Cricket’s flashbacks. Nothing special.
The dialogue is well done in parts, and Etrigan’s rhymes – while being a bit out of place in this backdrop of war – keep with the theme of the original character and are kind of funny. Green lady Jinny has some good bits too, but her abrupt death kinda diminishes her character a little.
It’s definitely not the best I’ve read from Flashpoint, but not the worst either. Probably second-worst.