Bravo, Geoff Johns. Bravo. (Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1 Reviewed!)

(Note: crossposted from my Tumblr.)

I’ve blasted Geoff Johns in the past
, but what can I say? He deserves nothing but the highest praise for Flashpoint and the first issue of the new Justice League comic. They’ve made me giddy for the monthlies again.

Last night wasn’t quite like the good ol’ days, when I was some 40 pounds heavier, a couple of inches shorter, eight years younger, walking to Graham Crackers Comics on Clark Street. But when the clock struck 11:50, man, I was damn ready to head out to buy some comic books. (Also, I’d had some of this, some of that — excitement was in the air!)

So I practically ran downstairs and across two streets to St. Mark’s Comics, where owner Mitch Cutler was quietly placing Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1 on the shelves.

“Are these ready to come down?” I asked.

“In 30 seconds,” he said.

It was like God damn nerd Christmas.

So after 30 seconds I snatched them down, checked out, and hightailed it back home. My girlfriend was waiting, asked to see Flashpoint, went to the last couple of pages, shot the “this is huge” face and sent me on my way.

Obviously I plopped down, tore through it, and was completely overcome with emotion.

For those not in the know, Flashpoint is DC’s summer “event” book, a five-issue miniseries that takes place in an alternate timeline that Barry Allen, The Flash, has inadvertently tumbled into. Everything’s essentially a dystopic mess in the Flashpoint universe: Wonder Woman and Aquaman are locked in a bitter war that’s left much of Europe in complete ruin, Superman’s a pallid, lanky government experiment, and a young Bruce Wayne was gunned down, leading father Thomas Wayne towards a life of emotional atrophy as a decidedly angrier Dark Knight and mother Martha a startlingly demented Joker.

There’s one bright spot, however: Barry Allen’s beloved mother, savagely murdered by the nefarious Reverse-Flash in the normal DC Universe, lives on in Flashpoint. This is the stuff of pitch-perfect cosmic soap opera, a wonderful setup for a story that, if not quite on the bleeding edge of originality, manages to establish an impressive scope with high stakes.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve becomes invested in what I suppose could be called the “literary” aspects of [even superhero] comic books, the intellectual musings that drive vital works like Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics, and, more recently, Grant Morrison’s Supergods. It’s undeniably true that an appreciation for the medium and interlocking parts of the form itself makes for a more fulfilling reading experience.

Marvin Lin, author of 33 1/3’s “Kid A” book, which I happen to be reading right now, pretty succinctly explains why (in reference to music) in the “Kid Adaptation” chapter (which anticipates a more thorough, probably more illuminating passage about taste that you should check out for yourself):

“… while there’s a lot to be said about who, what, when, and where we are listening, what about for how long are we listening? And how many times? I love knowing that a puzzling album might eventually be pieced together the more I listen to it… I’m not saying all music gets better over time — a lot of music gets worse, in my opinion — but listeners who stick it out for the more challenging hiccups can reap rewards and make connections that they otherwise didn’t know were possible.” (70, 71)

Basically, this is about chewing your food before you swallow, and that goes hand-in-hand with a pointed digestion of works like the above mentioned comic theory books.

But Flashpoint reminded me that, actually, there’s quite a bit of value to be found in a more straightforward but well-crafted mythological story. The TV series Lost, for example, is all high drama but nonetheless impacted viewers (including myself) in a significant way. The movie Mulholland Drive, a favorite of mine, is a stunning labyrinthine work that’s more about the audience’s interaction with the medium itself than a comprehensible “story,” but also leaves a dramatic impression. Though critics may be more likely to intellectualize one over the other, there’s not necessarily a difference in intrinsic value.

And Flashpoint, quite simply, is so excellent an epic story that it soars above the funny pages riffraff, earning a place, to me, as “something more.” Others on the vast desolation of the Internet disagree, but hey, that’s why art consumption is a personal thing.

Part of what makes Flashpoint so excellent cements exactly why DC Comics made a right choice in “rebooting” their entire line following its conclusion. The clever conceit in Flashpoint is that it takes place completely in its own, never-before-seen universe. In the opening pages, Barry Allen falls down a flight of stairs and there he is. As he attempts to return things to normalcy following the story’s climax, he winds up in the new never-before-seen universe. By the time things are underway, the old DCU is already just a memory to the Flash, mirroring exactly the reality of DC’s editorial decision to end its long-running product line for something fresh.

The deft touch to Flashpoint‘s plot is so uncharacteristic of author Geoff Johns (who just last year was penning a frankly grotesque story of superhero space zombies disemboweling the Justice League) that I can’t help but view it as a career-changing, maturing step for him that completely validates his promotion to DC Chief Creative Officer.

And I’ll admit it: the final couple of pages, in which the Flash, here completely realized as our 21st century American Hermes, delivers a note to Bruce Wayne from his dead father misted me right up. To be fair, Flashpoint #5, in an odd bit of synchronicity, arrived five years to the day after my own father died of brain cancer, but opinion-trumpeters online have pretty uniformly praised the sequence as genuinely satisfying.

The best part, of course, is that just as Flashpoint ends in the new DC Universe, Justice League #1 picks up right away. Actually set “five years ago,” in the first bit of comic book timing that’s ever actually meant anything given the ground zero element of the proceedings, Justice League begins the origin story for our familiar-but-new heroes in grand fashion. I’ve not read much in terms of what I’d consider a valid critical response to the issue – many have complained that it’s BS that the entire Justice League roster doesn’t appear in its pages (perhaps most notably, Bleeding Cool published a review right away that’s a bizarre mix of impassioned praise and hamfisted bellyaching as only a dyed-in-the-wool comic geek stereotype could articulate) – but for my money, it’s a wonderful beginning with perfect characterization, a smattering of exciting moments, and a remarkable restraint. Yes, many of the action figures remain in the toy box for now, but I’m anxious for more.

DC Comics wants this new effort to attract more customers to monthly issues. With reports that piracy is already something of a problem (for a God damn $4 publication), I don’t know how certain the future is on the business front. I do know, however, that I’m completely sold on the relaunch’s storytelling ideals. Next Wednesday, simply put, cannot come soon enough.


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