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!

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.

Best Comics of the Week – 29th December 2021

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

Blood on Sunset #1(W) Mark D’Anna (A) Arjuna Susini

BLOOD ON SUNSET #1, from Source Point Press, imagines an alternate, mid-Century Los Angeles where gangsters rubbed elbows with celebrities and supernatural monsters.  It’s set post World War 2 and given it’s detective hard boiled noir mixed with Supernatural elements, it’s right up my street.All the tropes you know and love are here.  The hard boiled detective with a case from his past that will always haunt him.  The femme fatale.  The dark alleyways and long shadows.  Except here you throw in the supernatural twist and that adds an extra dimension.Said Detective, in this tale known as Braddock, is in a bar drinking his troubles away when he receives a call from an ex-girlfriend who is now Bugsy Siegel’s side squeeze.  The only problem?  Bugsy has been killed, in a bloody and gruesome manner and she’s at the scene, with no clue what to do next.There are lots of moving parts here, from the supernatural elements, to turf wars from crime families getting ready to make their move, to the noir elements, and it all gels brilliantly.Great art as well, with atmosphere dripping off of every page.  Highly recommended.Task Force Z #3(W) Matthew Rosenberg (A) Eddy Barrows

With issue 3 we jump straight into the aftermath of the big reveal from issue 2, Deadshot is back and he is joining the team.  Only problem is, his first impression is shooting Jason Todd in the chest!So we kick things off with Jason being saved and then having to integrate Deadshot into the team, while attempting to hold no grudges.This was another fantastic issue for the series.  The general concept is excellent, and the execution is even better.  There are horror moments, comedic moments, and tons of great character interactions.  We have a decent amount of people in store with this on their pull lists but I can’t help but feel it deserves an even bigger audience.And Rosenberg is becoming skilled at revelations, as we learn who is really behind putting this team together, and to be honest, you’ll never guess who it is if I gave you 100 chances…Stray Dogs: Dog Days #1(W) Tony M. Fleecs (A) Trish Forstner

A follow up to the surprise horror hit of last year arrives, and it’s not actually a sequel, but a prequel, filling in the blanks of how all the characters introduced in the series ended up at their new home.  So strap in, and get ready for some heartbreak, as we all know the endings for each of these individual tales are going to be bittersweet.I use the term bittersweet because of course there is the tension of knowing where all the pups are going to end up, but you also have the joy of seeing them happy with their original owners.Overall there are six short stories in here, all perfectly drawn by Trish Forstner in that they are cute and colourful one minute, but the move into horror and peril is seamlessly executed.  Sometimes all it takes is one panel to completely turn the story on its head.Issue 2 will cover the rest of the characters, and you just know that’s gonna be another emotional rollercoaster of an issue!Devil’s Reign #2(W) Chip Zdarsky (A) Marco Checchetto

Devil’s Reign #2 continues to build off of the great foundation laid by #1.

It can be hard to shake the feeling that this is uncomfortably close to Civil War, but having read that recently, I have to say this is actually gripping me more.

#2 is a series of small moments as there is a huge cast to check in with here. We see Iron Fist being arrested, even though he is not indulging in any vigilante activities. Reed and Sue are in prison and not immune to attacks from other prisoners. Ben Reilly Spider-Man is arrested. And Elektra pays a visit to Fisk where he reveals he knows a secret of hers.

Fisk is in full confident mood and preparing for his end game. Controlling the Purple Man’s powers, he plans to coerce people to vote for him. Doctor Octopus, under Fisk’s employ, is still in the Baxter building and has access to all of Reed’s experiments and is bringing back the Superior Four.

This series is building nicely and I’m all in for it.  It’s a rare Marvel event where I’ve been reading and enjoying the tie-in issues as well, as I’m sure we’ll discuss over the next few weeks.

PICK OF THE WEEK

Swamp Thing: Green Hell #1(W) Jeff Lemire (A) Doug Mahnke

What a first issue.Humanity has reached it’s extinction point.  What’s left of humanity is not confined to small encampments.  It’s even reached the point where the Rot has nothing left to feed upon.  In their wisdom, the elemental Parliaments have decided that this slow death of humanity should be sped up and they are going to create a new Swamp Thing to finish wiping out humanity completely.The humans that remain are determined to continue their existence.  They have built settlements where they can, and are fortified as much as possible to protect themselves.  But of course, all humanity cannot get along, even when faced with the extinction of the species, with barder systems set up between settlements, and bullies running around threatening people if they don’t pay up.It asks the question is humanity worth saving, when even being faced with their own mortality, they still can’t get along.But can they even save the world when it’s reached this point?  What lengths should they go to, and is it worth letting in the devil to save the world as we know it?  There is a reveal late in this issue that just shows the confidence the creators have in this story, and it is a genuine ‘hell yeah’ moment.The art is phenomenal in this issue.  Doug Mahnke is able to balance the quaint and detailed settlements, with heavy horror imagery and full on bloody action sequences.  These are seriously some of the most brutal sequences we’ve seen in recent DC issues, and the title is more than worthy of it’s Black Label status.  The characters here, especially main character Donald, who is always there to reassure his daughter that everything is going to be okay, feel fully formed already, and this powerhouse creative team is clearly at the top of their game.Jeff Lemire spun one of my favourite ever Animal Man runs during the New 52 era, and there are plenty of links to that run here so long time readers are rewarded here as well.Overall, just an absolutely essential title, and a perfect bedfellow for Ram V and Mike Perkin’s excellent run, given the tonal differences and different set of characters at play.  The two titles will never step on each other’s toes, but are of the same quality.