Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance #1

(W) Brian Azzarello (A) Eduardo Risso

I’ve spoken before that I was more of a trade guy for a number of years, but it was the DC event Flashpoint that cleared the decks (for better or worse depending on your point of view) and made it accessible for new readers to jump in feet first. Flashpoint was centred around the idea of Barry Allen going back in time to save him mother. However, the butterfly effect of that one action led to massive changes in the DC Universe. Suddenly it was Bruce Wayne who was shot and killed by Joe Chill, and his father Thomas Wayne became Batman and his mother, Martha, was driven mad with grief over losing her son and became The Joker.

That is where this titles comes in. It was originally published as a three issue tie-in miniseries to the main Flashpoint title, but has been collected into one edition here, as we prepare for the return of the Flashpoint Universe in Geoff John’s Flashpoint Beyond. It’s great to see that we’re returning to that world as it’s such a rich and epic re-interpretation of the Batman mythos.

In this oversized issue we take a look back at that origin story of Thomas Wayne’s alternate universe Batman in time for Flashpoint Beyond. In a different twist in the story to what we are usually told we follow a weathered Jim Gordon and Thomas Wayne as they take the battle to Gotham’s underworld.

The story takes a dark twist as the Joker kidnaps the District Attorney’ twin children so begins a race against time for the cowled hero, but it’s not the hero we know behind the cowl and that’s where it’s possibly even more tragic than the original Batman origin. It takes the pain of losing a child to extremes, and shows how that grief can manifest in different ways, whether it be anger and rage, or sorrow and madness. The DC universe (especially when dealing with Batman and Gotham) can often be accused to being dark. Well, this tale takes it up to 11.

The writing of Brian Azzarello is phenomenal, once you open the book you are taken on that dark journey and events from the book stick with you (especially from the third issue involving Gordon) and there’s tons of world building that you keep going over. His version of Batman is exceptional, and multi-layered.

Many of the traditional Batman trappings are completely absent from this story. When we visit Thomas’ “Batcave”, it’s almost empty, uncomfortably so. This is the complete opposite of the notion of ‘All of those wonderful toys.’ There’s no Batmobiles, no trophies from past cases, no hint of nostalgia. There’s just a giant computer. There is the silhouette of the iconic giant dinosaur, but it’s presence here is not a playful one I would venture. Probably just a symbol that is actually representative of Thomas Wayne as Batman – a lumbering old beast, that shouldn’t exist in this world. undoubtedly of more mundane origins than the one in Bruce’s possession.

It’s only in a stripped back story like this that we come to realise how many toys our traditional Bruce Wayne Batman really has. There is a wonderful confrontation with Killer Croc in this book. Perfect opportunity to use stealth or agility, mixed in with some Bat-a-rangs, knock out gas or his grappling hook to move around Croc right? Not this Batman I’m afraid. He likes to get up close and personal, so stabs a blade into Croc’s head instead.

On another occasion, when he comes across a victim of the Joker’s toxin, Thomas doesn’t attempt to cure him or take samples to better understand what has happened. He simply snaps the victims neck, and brushes it off as mercy. This version of Batman has much more in common with Miller’s take in the Dark Knight Returns as opposed to any traditional canon Batman.

Again, this has been re-released and presented as an origin story so it can remind you of the groundwork already laid for that upcoming miniseries, so I can’t wait to see what the creators build in this world.

The artwork is astonishing. I’ve always been a fan of Risso, particularly when it is in tandem with Azzarello, as in their crime epic 100 Bullets. His work is all long, terrifying shadows, vibrant, almost sleazy colours (the book is coloured by his long time colourist Patricia Mulvihill, who really does bring the best out of his work) and this of course suits this version of Gotham, which is all casinos, streetwalkers, bars and nightclubs. His characters are expressive and alluring, and his work is so rich and detailed.

As a three issue miniseries (as it was originally), this more than stands on its own. It achieves a heck of a lot in those three issues, in terms of characterisation and world building, and even manages to tell a three act story with a definitive ending. But it has always seemed a shame to leave it there. It may have taken over a decade but I am so looking forward to diving into this world again. Bring on Flashpoint Beyond!

Dark Ages #6 Review

(W) Tom Taylor (A) Iban Coello

This was a seriously tough week to narrow down to one pick of the week. The 30th March saw the return of Something is Killing the Children, the return of Ram V’s Swamp Thing, Issue 2 of Jock’s One Dark Knight, the best issue yet of DC vs Vampires, and the excellent opening chapter of Shadow War Alpha. In other words, a ton of DC goodness, yet it was a Marvel title that just edged it for me, and it was Tom Taylor’s swan song to Marvel.

We’ve spoken about it before, but it is a bit of a shame that Tom Taylor has signed exclusively with DC. Of course, I have a preference for DC, so more titles from him playing in that sandbox are of course welcomed. However, his Marvel work has been nothing short of stellar from All New Wolverine, to his War of the Realms one shots, to Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man and now Dark Ages.

And Dark Ages has so many moving parts that it easily could have been a 12 issue maxi-series. So if there’s one tiny criticism for this issue, it’s that some parts are maybe a little rushed, but you’ll barely notice to be honest because of how many brilliant, genuinely jaw-dropping moments there are in this final issue.

#6 picks up after Peter Parker was able to save Miles Morales from the twin threats of Venom and Carnage (and what a great issue that was as well), Peter Parker and the rest of the heroes learn of Apocalypse’s plans to project his consciousness into the Unmaker, and take over the entire universe. They must also deal with Purple Man (what an adversary he has been in recent Marvel titles by the way), who has exerted his will over their friends! Will the world be saved, or will Darkness prevail?

This being a Tom Taylor, outside of canon book, the great thing is you know that no-one is safe. Heroes will be sacrificed and lost along the way, stakes will be raised, and the heroes may not necessarily win in the end.

As well as weaving an entertaining and tense narrative though, there are also interesting themes at work here. At its core Dark Ages goes against the grain of the usual “dark future” trope that often populates alternate-universe comics. And that has remained true through the series; it’s very interesting that the ultimate goal is for the heroes of the Marvel Universe to make a better world despite the loss of technology. “Who says a post-apocalyptic world has to be a bad thing?” Parker says in one of the series’ most emotive moments.

Taylor also is able to display the perfect balance between the grimness of the situation and injecting humour into the tale. He even achieved the impossible throughout this book in my eyes, as he was able to make Deadpoool both hilarious and an integral part of the heroes plan. Too bad we’ll never see a Tom Taylor scripted solo Deadpool anytime soon, as I would have been all over that!

The writing is of course on point, but the book succeeds just as much because of the wonderful art, and issue 6 is Coello’s best work in the series. He delivers some jaw-dropping action sequences. There’s a brilliant sequence involving Wolverine going up against a mind-controlled Cyclops (though he is still cognitive and knows what he is doing. He tries to keep his eyes closed for as long as possible), with the X-Men leader’s optic blasts shredding his teammates’ flesh and bone off in a series of horrific panels (this book is not one for Wolverine fans who don’t want to see their hero bettered. This was one of those jaw-dropping moments I mentioned before).

There is an absolutely amazing two-page spread which depicts the Purple Man’s mind-controlled heroes against their counterparts; Colossus and She-Hulk wrestle, Doctor Doom engages in battle with Dracula, and Spider-Man darts around Captain America. It’s pure wish fulfilment from when you were a kid and you wanted to see these heroes do battle to find out who is the toughest and best. We even get a great moment involving Blade, which is few and far between in modern Marvel titles (side note, can we please get a Rodney Barnes scripted, Jason Shawn Alexander drawn Blade book sometime soon…)

This was a brilliant series and when it hits trade I cannot recommend it enough. It delivers a fitting swan song to Tom Taylor’s time at Marvel and Coello’s art was a more than worthy companion to this bittersweet, goodbye tale.

Rogues #1 Review

(W) Joshua Williamson (A) Leomacs

An Oversized Black Label series focusing on the villains from The Flash. It’s not the easiest sell for a book. After all, the Premium Plus Black Label books have a divisive size and format, are more expensive than regular comics, and for once Batman/Joker are nowhere to be seen! But then you factor in Joshua Williamson, a man who knows the Flash Universe inside and out, after a legendary Rebirth run. And then you have Leomacs on art, an Italian artist I greatly liked on Basketful of Heads, and has a style all of his own, and you have the ingredients for a great book.

And this is a brilliant book.

Rogues #1 opens up with a flashback, setting the scene. We have a bar fight involving loads of villains and anti-heroes who feel hard done by. They didn’t make enough money, didn’t cause enough chaos, didn’t get credit when they actually did something good because they were seen as villains, never heroes. It’s a fun way to open the book, is visually fantastic and a great way of incorporating loads of characters who have maybe been overlooked over the years.

Flash forward ten years and Captain Cold (Leonard Snart, our main character for the series) and his cohorts are well past their prime. Snart is now working a soul crushing factory job in his twilight years and he even keeps up with his parole officer. He seems reformed, for better or worse, and has left that life of crime before, his exploits confined to the annals of time and sharing stories over a drink about the ‘good ol’ days’. Some people do still recognize him as the villain and previous mastermind but to most people he’s just plain and non-description. You wouldn’t even give a second look to old Leonard Snart.

But does any criminal every truly reform? Do they ever leave that life behind? After all, they were able to plan and execute some of the most daring and dangerous heists in the history of Central City. Maybe they have life in the old legs yet? Maybe it’s time for one final score and then the ride off into the sunset. But Snart cannot pull off such a thing on his own, he’s going to need to get the band back together. However, they are all at very different places in their lives, and not sure they want to get mixed up with Snart again.

Snart is collecting his colleagues from all walks of life and from different parts of his colourful past. Lisa Snart, also known as the Golden Glider, is now a social worker, and her life is devoid of any excitement or joy. James Jesse, better known as the Trickster, is now a self-parodying showman under the purple and red lights of a run down, second rate casino showroom. And let’s not forget Mick Rory, Heat Wave, who hasn’t fully given up his arsonist past and remains committed to the role of super villain. Clearly some of them are going to be easier to convince than others.

The writing and set up is fantastic as you would expect, but for me, Leomacs steals the show with his expressive, detailed and versatile art. He does an absolutely fantastic job working each character’s complicated past into their look. Each of the Rogues are world weary and victims of aging. There are bags under the eyes, scars that have not healed, and they are no longer fit and able 20 somethings able to cause havoc at a moments notice, but because of the brilliant character design, they are all instantly recognisable. Similarly, Central City is both familiar and unrecognisable, certainly to Snart. It has the look and feel of a place leaving these old timers behind, and they really don’t want to change to keep up with the times.

This is like Ocean’s 11 mixed with the Flash Universe. Even though these characters are by all definition, villains, there is a likability to a lot of them, and you find yourself rooting for Snart. Well, you will for most of the book anyway. The first issue does end on a dark note, and does remind you just how vicious and violent these villains can be when pushed. They reach a point of no return, and Snart is definitely not going back to his day to day work at the factory.

This title was a joyful surprise, and I knew it would be pick of the week as soon as I read it. Cannot recommend enough, and even if you;’re put off the size of Premium Black Label titles for single issues, make sure to pick up the collected edition when it comes around.