NewU Reviews: Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1

So, it’s finally over – Flashpoint ends today, and with it, the DC Universe as we know it.  But every ending is just the beginning of something new, so I’m going to briefly discuss – since lebeau has already handled both books already – the beginning of the DCnU as well, including how DC’s same day digital release process treated me.  As always, spoilers ahead…

I have no idea what just happened.  Flashpoint #5 is over, that much is for sure.  But how? Why? That, I can’t really say much about.

You see, at some point in the past, Barry Allen apparently traveled back in time and tried to save his mother’s life.  But Barry is apparently quite bad at time travel, and in doing so, he made Superman’s rocket land way off course (and later); he made Wonder Woman and Aquaman into genocidal maniacs; he shattered the Marvel clan; he changed World War II; and he killed Bruce Wayne.  No wonder Geoff Johns thinks Barry is such an important character: his mother is apparently the most important human being of all time.

The first nine pages feature an extended expositional monologue by Thawne intended to wrap up any lingering plot holes before Thawne, one of the fastest men in the world, gets stabbed in the back by Batman for not paying attention to… well, anything.  It’s lazy plotting – and it’s lazy plotting that doesn’t end there.

The laziness permeates every inch of the issue and, appropriately enough given the story, retroactively makes previous issues and tie-ins seem lazier, too.  We get a war scene, one that brings in all the characters from the other tie-ins (but doesn’t offer them even a single hint of resolution: the entirety of the Wonder Woman/Aquaman storyline that took 10+ issues of tie-ins to tell was resolved in a one-panel fight with Superman before they got erased from history without a word.)  and then promptly erases them all before we have to deal with any icky consequences.

There are precisely two redeeming moments in the issue.  The first is Superman’s return, a brutal moment in which the gothed up hero splatters the wicked witch.  It’s just the sort of surprising, character-based action beat that Johns so excels at, a plot twist I should have seen coming but was delighted not to have predicted at all.  The second, even stronger moment involves a letter from Thomas Wayne that Barry carries into the other world, the closure that Bruce has needed all his life as he gets to say goodbye to a father he never knew as well as he should.  It’s a tense, emotional moment that is pleasantly underplayed.

I confess, I was concerned about Justice League #1.  The preview was uninspiring.  Advance reviews were mediocre.  And Flashpoint #5 was worrisome at best.  But then something happened: I sat down and read it.  And you know what?  It wasn’t bad.  In fact, it was some of Geoff Johns’ strongest writing in some time.

Don’t get me wrong.  Justice League #1 is far from great.  It is not a particularly inspiring debut.  I can’t imagine anyone who has never read a comic, or even lapsed fans, reading Justice League #1 and being so impressed they will have to come back.  This isn’t Swamp Thing‘s “The Anatomy Lesson”, All-Star Superman‘s “… Faster…”, or the recent Marvel debuts of Daredevil or The Punisher.

What this is is a supremely back-to-basics approach, an ultra-simplistic story stretched close to the breaking point and definitely written for the trade.   Johns clearly sets up the villain – Darkseid, an interesting choice, extremely well executed so far – but moves VERY slowly in setting up the story.  Justice League #1 has to pull double duty, after all: not only does it have to set up and tell a coherent, enjoyable Justice League story, but it has to introduce us to the status quo of the DCnU.  In doing so much, it has to make some sacrifices, and it makes a big one.

The Justice League isn’t introduced at all.  In fact, outside of Batman and Green Lantern, you only get a few seconds of any other named character.  No Wonder Woman.  No Aquaman, or Flash.  The bulk of the issue is geared towards familiarizing us with the new DC status quo, and how two of the company’s bigger icons fit into it.

It’s funny: I originally was going to give the issue a ‘C-‘, but as I write about what it set out to do, I’ve talked myself into raising the grade repeatedly.  It isn’t a flashy success, it isn’t a classic issue, but it IS an extraordinarily functional one, succeeding at all its goals and still managing to kick off what looks like a promising action story.  Yeah, it doesn’t introduce the League, but no one said it had to, and what it tries to do, it does successfully.

The ‘combo pack’ issue worked out great for me.  Inside the back cover of the issue was a code.  Taking it to http://redeem-dccomics.com allowed me to enter the code and download the issue directly.  Because I was already logged into Comixology on my iPad, the issue was immediately available on my DC App without having to log in again or jump through any hoops at all.  It downloaded quickly, and then was available through Comixology like all my other iPad comics.

I actually thoroughly enjoyed reading Justice League #1 on my iPad.  Jim Lee’s art, which I normally find bland, really came to life blown up on the bring iPad screen.  Scott Williams’ inks and Alex Sinclair’s colors really pop, too, and small details I missed on my read-through of the print edition came out much stronger on the Comixology panel view.  Though the digital edition isn’t available until 2 PM the day of release, it’s a quick download, and definitely affordable in the combo pack.

I have no idea if the allure of Justice League #1 will be strong enough to justify DC’s relaunch decision.  But they executed the same day digital with flare, told their story with confidence, and started a whole new era of DC Comics.  I’d say it was a pretty successful beginning, all things considered.

Grade (Flashpoint #5): D-

Grade (Flashpoint): D+

Grade (Justice League #1):B+

– Cal Cleary

More on the DC Relaunch

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6 thoughts on “NewU Reviews: Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1

  1. Nope – I hadn’t heard of that before, actually. Sounds neat, though. For some reason, I’ve been watching a ton of children’s shows lately – the 70’s Land of the Lost, the Muppet Show (which is still amazing), Fraggle Rock, etc….

    But no, no reference, it’s just that I like rhymes!

    I might actually do this as my way of doing the New 52 reviews each week: let you and Adverb handle most of the single issues, and I’ll do a roundup on Friday.

    By the way, how’d you get your posts up so freakin’ early today?! Really enjoyed the write-ups, but I was surprised by how fast you got them out.

  2. I sort of feel like the reboot was a tacked on mandate to be added to Flashpoint. It just didn’t seem to fit with the story of Barry trying restore things to what they were. That being said, I’ve never been a big fan of this reboot idea so I might be jaded.

    • A JLA Year One sort of event to do a mini series with a rethought meeting of the heroes would have been nice. Not to mention far less confusing.

      I never thought of this before though but this reboot is in a sense all due to Barry’s actions in Flashpoint. So will Barry actually remember the events of Flashpoint and more so the previous history? I never got into Flashpoint and haven’t read much Flash based comics save a couple crossovers and Teen Titans so I’m not sure how this works.

  3. I was totally underwhelmed by Justice League #1. I read through a comic book in-store – and if it is good I will then buy it, and re-read it thoroughly at home, savouring every detail of the art and the plot. However there was NO PLOT in this issue… NO STORY at all! The art was okay… but “okay art” is not enough to warrant a purchase… Therefore I put it back on the shelf… and kept my hard earned money inside my wallet.

    This issue was heralded as an epic new start of a new DC Universe… it wasn’t.

    It told me nothing about what the new DC Universe will be like… and how it differs from the old one… (Unless you’ve read all the promotional crap behind this release, how would an entirely new reader of comic books ever know that there was any difference between this and a DC comic produced a year or two ago? They wouldn’t.)

    I didn’t expect one issue to completely illustrate what this new universe would be like in all it’s entirety… but it gave no impression of the wider context of this supposedly “different” universe… which as a fairly regular reader of Batman comics who rarely reads any of the rest of DC’s output, just seemed like a Batman: Brave and the Bold Team-up – just one where Batman wasn’t already really good friends with Green Lantern… and Batman not getting along with other heroes outside the context of the Brave and the Bold is hardly anything new…

    And… It was set “Five years ago”… how is this supposed to be the start to a new universe?

    If you’re pressing the restart button, then you have to start AT THE BEGINNING – no flashbacks to the past, no glimpses of what has gone before… it just left me saying “So what?” – Do I want to buy more issues of this comic to find out that they will obviously form the Justice League – “NO!”

    There was a conversation between Green Lantern and Batman, that could have been done in a few panels, and told me nothing except that they don’t get on… “So what?” – “Why should they get on anyway?”

    There was some pages of some guy playing American Football and it told me his dad doesn’t show up to watch him play… ahh, what a shame! But again, “So what?”

    Apparently this is a character who will become someone named Cyborg… I know this from reading some reviews of this issue online… as a reader that knows nothing about this Vic Stone/Cyborg, I was left completely bemused as to what this had to do with the conversation between Green Lantern and Batman and the “alien computer” that the alien shape changing technological being left behind when it blew it’s self up… all in all.. it didn’t develop what measly amount of story there was in the issue… so again it left me saying “So what?”

    There wasn’t even a fight between a bad guy and the good guys… isn’t this supposed to be the Justice League? i.e. A group, or league of people, that fights for freedom and justice. So shouldn’t there be some doling out of Justice? Even a small, minuscule, tiny amount? Especially in the first issue of a book which is (supposed to be) heralding in a new kind of comic-book universe?

    Batman and Green Lantern think the computer left by the exploded shape-shifting robot thing, that Batman was chasing at the beginning, has something do with the alien in Metropolis, a.k.a. Superman… “So What?”

    The cover shows seven heroes bursting into action… there was none of this inside the comic book…

    THE COVER OF A COMIC BOOK IS SUPPOSED TO GIVE A SNAPSHOT GLIMPSE OF WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN THE STORY CONTAINED WITHIN.

    Therefore to be truthful and honest about it’s contents the cover should have shown only Batman and Green Lantern… otherwise the cover is just one big lie, one big dose of misrepresentation… surely if one bought it (without being able to look at it’s contents) then one could sue DC for fraud?

    It seems that most comic books these days are just one big teaser designed to make you want to buy the next issue…

    And the next issue will just be another teaser designed to make you want to buy the issue after that…

    Both Marvel and DC suffer very badly from this “disease”… most of their writers (except Grant Morrison it seems, e.g. Batman, Incorporated #8) are totally incapable of being able to tell a story in one issue…

    Because one cannot buy a comic book without having to then buy loads and loads more editions, once a month for the following few years, before finding out, eventually, what happens, is the main reason why sales are continuing to fall… Why bother to wait so bloody long for something which is ultimately pointless and inconsequential and unsatisfying?

    The only point behind Justice League #1, and all the rest of the 52 #1s that are coming out this month, is to raise sales figures on the Warner Brothers’ spreadsheets… which is never a good reason to tell a story.

    Yes, of course, they need to make sales… but they have to realise that a story that will sell, is not one fundamentally governed by its profitability… a good story needs a point to it’s existence other than this… or else it will end up being shallow and transparent, just like Justice League #1 is.

    A good story needs a beginning, middle and end… it needs integrity and value… and this is true whether it is aimed at the pre-teen market, at teenagers, or at adults…

    I don’t see how any one of any age group would read Justice League #1 and not say “So what?” at the end of it…

    Hopefully this will not be the case for many of the other 52 #1s… as I really hope that they get the vast majority of them right, and give each issue a point for existence, other than just one big teaser for what will happen in the following edition… if they don’t get it right, then the Flashpoint series, and this control+alt+delete then “restarting”, will be a complete own-goal, and they will see sales, after an initial rise due to readers’ curiosity, slump very, very quickly, probably to below sales figures previous to Flashpoint…

    Of the other 52 #1s that are coming out, I’m looking forward to the new series of Batwoman… (especially the artwork of J.H. Williams III)… which should have been with us long, long ago… we were promised this new series after the release of Batwoman #0 around this time last year… at last it is coming out!

    I’m also intrigued by what Grant Morrison will do with Action Comics… as he is one of the few comic book writers that does actually make me want to come back for more… by giving each edition of his comics a contained story, which also ties-in with a longer running story arc…

    I want DC to get it right… as I like to support them with some of my cash… as its a company that I’d hate to see go under… however they need to stop fucking about with continuity based massive overarching summer “events”, which generally turn out to be complete “non-events”, and re-focus on each issue they sell having a plot and a reason for it’s existence.

    • okay let me explained what they did man you know cyborg will look at his powers he used to have to have to power to become anything he wanted even space. ships an air that shape change is for him batman in green lantern talking about super man means they both gonna meet up. with super man aquaman is telepath like like martian an probably will replace that part cyborg getting shape. change will also replace that they will have someone who can turn into a ship no more trying to call it or bring sence he part machine. he be immune or resistant to telepathy they want a team wear not one member is all powerful all something tell me super man lantern an bats will fight but get interupted an something will happen to victor that will change him
      i think he will be attack

    • Thanks for reading!

      I do agree with a lot of what you said, and I think that comes out in the review. Justice League #1 was competently created – enjoyable, even – but it was not a ‘new start’. It was more of the same. It was better than those creators have done in years, but it was still exactly what you’d expect… and, ultimately, there’s nothing really wrong with that.

      No, it wasn’t “The Anatomy Lesson”. It won’t bring about a comics-renaissance, the kind the industry really needs. But it isn’t bad. Ultimately, I can’t hate on a comic too much because it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Bad writing, sloppy art, poor design – these are things I can critique confidently. But I try very hard not to say, “Well, yes, this is the issue that was published, but just imagine if THIS had been the issue that was published” too often.

      (though I will say it now: Tony Daniel should have been kicked off of Detective Comics for the relaunch and replaced with Jeff Smith)

      I firmly believe that DC shot themselves in the foot with this issue, that did every horrible thing comics have done in the last twenty years to drive audiences away. But just because it didn’t live up to expectations doesn’t make it bad, and looked at objectively, it’s some of the best work Johns or Lee has done in years.

      Ultimately, nothing we did or said was going to make Johns begin writing short stories. Nothing we pronounce on the Internet is going to make artistry a more palpable concern than profitability. The only way the industry is going to change that much is if capable new creators start contributing and don’t fall into the ‘trade-bait’ trap.

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