The Graveyard

The Lair Of Gary James

Flashpoint Read-Through, Part Five

Posted by BigWords on May 17, 2013

There’s a few things which this series has reminded me I need to address. Small details which have been horrendously overused in comics over the last decade or so, to the point that the mere use of such hooks instantly makes me hate the story. The most aggravating storytelling device, and one which has outlived its’ usefulness through misuse, is the habit of certain writers hanging the end of a sentence onto the first panel of the page following the dialogue. There’s a perfect example of the sloppy dialogue overlap here, but you can pick up any Superman comic from the late 90s – where this seemed to occur every second page – to see just how pointless and hopeless a stylistic tic it is. I stopped reading a whole bunch of titles around the same time when I continued reading panels which had dialogue continued from the previous page.

Now wait a second – I’m not saying never to do it. That ain’t a “hard and fast” for me. I’m not going to get pissed off and throw a comic across the room through the use of that device, but when it happens all the way through the issue it does make me think twice about picking up the following issue. There are ways to use it properly, such as for dramatic irony, a plot-relevant point, or for an insight into what a character is thinking. Most of the uses I have read have, unfortunately, been of the annoying and stupid variety. My spotty knowledge of recent (well… post-2006) DC Comics history is down to these kind of irritants. When I can almost feel my IQ take a dive while I am reading, then I know it is time to walk away.

As this is the final issue, I can also get another irritant out of the way. Multiple covers. Seriously? People are still stupid enough to go out and buy more than one copy of a comic just because there is a variant cover? What is this – 1993 or something? That kind of crap was one of the reasons people stopped buying comics en masse, leading to a restricted base of readers. It is one of the gimmicks, along with holograms (Spider-Man), die-cut covers (Reign Of The Supermen), comics shot through with bullets, or lasers or whatever (The Protectors), and sundry other moronic decisions (grim and gritty revamps galore) that enabled reporters to laugh at comics with articles with “Biff. Pow. Blamm.” articles. I don’t blame them.

This really is going somewhere. Bear with me.

When I talk of things needing to evolve to meet the demands of an increasingly sophisticated readership, I am specifically thinking of these things holding the form back. These are relics of an entirely pointless, and often desperate, era, and the fact that I have to point this out – in 2013 – is something that appalls me. This should be obvious. People should see cheap and tacky tactics for what they are. Bonding these blatant shows of desperation to DC’s major “event” makes the entire endeavor look like something that is not there so much for the story but for attention. It is difficult to see just how the multiple covers are meant to make this look more attractive to readers given the history of the marketing tool.

Man, I really miss the days when Marvel went bankrupt. At least they had the excuse of being run by a complete idiot to excuse the awful comics.

But I am slipping from the agenda. This is about Flashpoint.

Flashpoint 5: Ad Finem Diei

When I opened this issue the first time I thought that I had accidentally picked up the wrong comic. More than half of the story is filled with Zoom gloating, fighting the Flash, then discovering just how dangerous a war zone is for such antics. But… At no point did I ever get the feeling that they were in the middle of a war zone. The layout is too close on the protagonist and villain, and the random violence surrounding them is diluted to the point of the ongoing (and allegedly escalating) war being irrelevant. I’ve sat through enough footage taken during battles to know that there is no safe place to be when two groups want each other dead. Here, especially towards the sequence where Thomas Wayne shows his usefulness, there is no sense of epic, unholy death and destruction.

Even the return of Kal-El to the battle feels like a cheap way to end the fighting so the story can continue rather than being an organic outcome of earlier events. Back when I mentioned that both Barry and Thomas were really smart people, I may not have made my thoughts on their characterization clear enough, so I’ll add something else here – at no point, EVER, did I believe that they were acting as real people. It is not only a war zone filled with superpowered people having pretty much the worst day in the history of this AU, but there would be all kinds of secondary threats. Red hot pieces of shrapnel flying around, rocks and bricks whizzing past their heads, explosions… The actions of neither man seem to indicate any concern to their safety.

I want this to be over with already. My brain can’t take much more abuse.

When I thought about covering this series in detail, it was to prepare the way for something else, but as an examination (or indictment) of storytelling in the medium it serves its own valuable role. This is not the kind of comic I particularly have an interest in, and the only reason I read it was because it was thrown in free alongside a pile of other comics. There’s something rather sad about that. Has the importance of these crossovers dimmed away to a dull ember? Are the stars aligned just so now, that done-in-one storytelling can make a comeback? It is hard for me, being outside the main readership of DC, to see the point of something drags on endlessly. I like finite stories. I grew up reading comics which didn’t bleed characters dry through overuse.

So, the Cosmic Treadmill. Um. It… Ah. Fuck it. I have tried to word this politely an absurd number of times, and I can’t. It is impossible to take seriously. If you remember how stupid Black Racer looked on his skis, then seeing The Flash on the oversized piece of gym equipment is even more ridiculous. What next? Using a Stannah Stairlift to travel across space? I’m half expecting to turn the page and see a screencap from Monty Python with the word balloon reading “And now for something completely different.” Yes, it is that bad. Worse. It is the “fix” for the problems which Barry has been dealing with since the first issue, though the tension is so diluted by this point as to make anything and everything which follows less than epic.

These types of stories need to be EPIC.

Looking through the Flashpoint page on TV Tropes gives you some indication of just how much the creative team had to play with, and for it all to come down to a guy getting on a treadmill and burning off the coffee and doughnut diet is less than the optimum ending. It is made all the more mystifying by the massive deus ex machina to squeeze three *cough* continuities into one. Which I will relentlessly mock in a moment, but first there is the matter of the magic note to deal with. Restoring time completely obliterates the Flashpoint reality, causing the events to never have happened. But Barry, not being in the least scientifically minded, whips out the note from Bruce’s father as a gift.

It is a little problem, which could have been fixed in dialogue. Though probably more sensitively handled than “Hey Brucie-baby – I met your dead dad, and he sends his regards.” And not only is the mere existence of the note a problem, but… That fourth panel – Bruce, asking “What is it?” *sigh* It is a letter, you idiot. Have you spent that much time in the Batcave that you no longer recognize these small remnants of civilization? The baffling panels are peppered throughout the series, almost as if Geoff Johns was playing a game with his audience to create memes from the panels. The Batman Doesn’t Know What A Letter Is one never really caught on, I guess.

The plot point about the three universes is something that is gonna take a bit of explaining for those who have better things to do than pore over the minutia of comic-book history. It isn’t really three universes. There is a whole bunch of characters from Fawcett, some from Charlton, a handful from Quality and other publishers, folded into the DC chronology at various points. By simplifying to this degree, it would seem that DC is taking credit for the creation of such timeless characters as Captain Marvel, when they shamelessly hounded Fawcett out of business for producing a superior product. Are the Milestone characters still in there somewhere? And the awful !mpact ones? I gave up on both lines of comics.

So that was that.

The DC universe of old ends not with a bang but with a whimper. A pitiful, mewing, “please put me out of my misery” refrain to anyone who can hear.

Flashpoint – the perfect jumping-off point for those who want to spend less money on a Wednesday.

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