Written by Joel T. Lewis
I’m rapidly discovering that the Button storyline woven between the Flash and Batman titles is more about the ramifications of the Flashpoint event and giving Thomas Wayne Batman closure than it is about the discovery of the Comedian’s Button in the Batcave. At least in the 3 issues that have been published, we have chased the mysterious button through space and time via the Cosmic Treadmill and reentered the world of Flashpoint, but have yet to encounter any other elements of the Watchmen Universe. Though this is a bit of a disappointment given the title of the arc, I would not trade the closure we get from Thomas Wayne in these issues for anything in the world.
For those of you who may not know, in the Flashpoint Universe that Barry Allen created by going back in time to save his mother, Thomas and Martha Wayne are not murdered in a dark alley in Gotham City that cold night many years ago, Bruce is. As a result of this bizarre twist, Bruce’s father becomes an embittered alcoholic and vicious vigilante, terrorizing the criminal underground of Gotham as a pistol-toting Dark Knight. Martha Wayne, unable to cope with the horror of having witnessing her child murdered in cold blood, becomes the Flashpoint Universe Joker. Though the Flashpoint event is pretty contentious among comic book fans (but to be honest, what isn’t?) the inverted Batman is fascinating, and in this issue we get to see Bruce and Thomas Wayne meet.
The two Batmen don’t have much time to reconnect as the arrival of Bruce and Barry is quickly followed by soldiers of Atlantis and New Themyscira sent to kill Thomas Wayne. As Barry rushes to reassemble the shattered Cosmic Treadmill, Bruce and his father prepare for battle, but before Thomas can unload a clip from his signature Bat-Pistols Bruce Batarangs the gun out of his hand. I love this panel so much. It’s a great testament to the power of Bruce’s conviction but also to Thomas’ immediate respect for his son’s non-lethal philosophy. It’s a small moment in a big issue but it conveys how well Joshua Williamson and Tom King understand both Batmen.
As the Batmen duke it out with Aquaman and Wonder Woman’s soldiers and Barry rebuilds the Cosmic Treadmill, the fabric of the Flashpoint reality unravels in the background. The silhouetted panels depicting Thomas and Bruce Wayne are especially well executed by artist Jason Fabok. The ambiguity you feel seeing just the outline of a Batman shows father and son to be two of a kind as they dispatch the attackers. Finishing the reconstruction of the Cosmic Treadmill as Bruce lands the final punch, Flash tells the Batmen to hurry as the treadmill seems to be about to leave without Barry powering it. Thomas and his son have just enough time for one of the sweetest heart-to-hearts in Bat-history. ‘Father...your letter...it was the greatest gift anyone’s ever given to me. After I read it...I knew I’d never get a chance to respond, but if I did, there was one thing I wanted to tell you above anything else...You’re a grandfather. I have a son.’ Bruce pleads with his Father to come with them but Thomas pushes his son into the flashing light of the rapidly departing treadmill deciding to stay in his own reality. As Flash and Bruce fade into the stream of time and space Thomas tells Bruce, ‘You’re the greatest gift this life has ever given me. And there is more I should have shared in that letter, so listen to me. Don’t be Batman. Find happiness. Please. You don’t have to do this. Don’t do it for me. Don’t do it for your mother. Be a father to your son in a way I never could be for you. Let the Batman die with me.’ Bruce calls out to his father as he and the Flash wink out of the Flashpoint, ‘We can save you!’
Bruce and Barry hurtle to a destination unknown and Reverse Flash appears behind them in the wake of the Cosmic Treadmill. As he passes them by, the two heroes realize that these are the moments just before Reverse Flash met his end and was sent back to the Batcave. Reverse Flash still has the button and Batman and Flash rush to follow him towards the god that destroyed him. Now if there are dry eyes among any of my fellow bat-fans following the heartfelt speech Thomas Wayne gives to his son as he hurtles away through space and time I’m not sure even Victor Fries’ has a heart as cold as yours. Though I began reading the Batman Rebirth title series just for this four-issue storyline, I’m not sure I can live without following Bruce’s contemplation of his father’s final words. In a way Bruce has been released from a lifetime’s worth of guilt-fueled rage and his obsession with vengeance. How Batman will continue after this catharsis will be very interesting to discover. Also the finale of the Button storyline is rapidly approaching and I can’t wait to read that either! Until next time, Geek On!
Written by Joel T. Lewis
It is immensely difficult for me to engage with superhero team comics. The Justice League, Avengers, X-Men, and Suicide Squad all struck me as either too massive or too established to engage as fully as I would need to in order to get up to speed. Too many character histories with too many idiosyncrasies and continuity shake-ups would overwhelm my completionist brain as I felt the pressure of those back catalogues. That’s not to say I refuse to engage in those larger group narratives across the board, I just skirt the edges of those series in order to keep myself sane and socially engaged. That being the case, there is one superhero team in particular that I have had next to no interest in until very recently: The Inhumans. This moon-based kingdom of Kree manipulated humanoids and their bizarre history of royal family politics and Terrigen mist disasters seemed to be the most inaccessible corner of comic lore. The similar themes of species distinction and prejudice that the Inhumans shared with the X-Men also contributed to my lack of interest. I got along pretty well avoiding that section of the Marvel Universe as their impact seemed to be pretty well contained in their own title series and their interactions with other teams like the Avengers or the X-Men. But recently, I was fascinated by, you guessed it, some pretty spectacular cover art of a character I had never heard of: The Inhumans’ own Karnak. I devoured the 5-issue mini-series focused on the revamped characterization of Karnak and suddenly the Inhumans began to fascinate me.
Lucky for me, with the recent conclusion of the Inhumans vs. X-Men event the Inhumans were slated for a new series entitled Royals and for the first time ever a solo series centered on the leader of the Inhumans, Black Bolt. The King of the Inhumans, Black Bolt is an interesting typically stoic figure who seldom speaks because his voice is powerful enough to bring a city crumbling down to its foundations. He’s got a pretty wicked black suit with lightning bolt accents and a tuning fork antenna on his head which allows him to focus his powers to increase his strength and speed. In the brief glimpses I had seen of the Inhumans before I had expressed any interest in the team, Black Bolt always stood out visually and his power set fascinated me. So naturally I leapt at the opportunity to read a Black Bolt solo title.
Following the events of Inhumans vs. X-Men it is discovered that the brother of Black Bolt, Maximus the Mad has been impersonating the King while his brother languishes in a prison meant for him. We catch up with Black Bolt in this bizarre space prison in issue 1. While this may seem to be a bit of a strange midpoint to jump into the Inhumans world, issue one was low impact and self-contained enough that it was a great jumping on point. The King of the Inhumans doesn’t know where he is, who he is, or what he’s been imprisoned for and as we follow him day to day in his incarceration he is tormented by an ear-shattering voice that causes him great pain. As the days pass Black Bolt remembers piece by piece the circumstances of his capture and the Inhuman he has to blame, his brother Maximus. Now, the Inhuman Royal is unable to shout his way out of confinement thanks to probably the coolest looking muzzle of all time. But he slowly tests the strength of his bonds and manages to break free to explore the vast space prison that he finds himself in.
He quickly discovers that he is not alone in this prison and witnesses firsthand the cruelty and depth of his captor’s torture methods. Bolt desperately tries to save a child from a torture device in the bowels of the prison but can only hold her charred corpse when he discovers he is too late. Unable to investigate further, Bolt is interrupted by a de-powered Absorbing Man (Carl “Crusher” Creel) who quickly challenges the silent newcomer to a fight. Although Bolt is more than capable of dispatching the arrogant inmate, the Absorbing Man manages to damage his muzzle with a lucky punch. Bolt quickly finishes with Creel and tracks down the source of the cruel accusing voice that has tormented him throughout his imprisonment. This tormentor is a terrifying aberration who does not balk when Bolt dramatically removes his muzzle to whisper what should have been a deadly word, 'Stop.' Black Bolt quickly discovers that his powers have been stripped from him right before his vocal tormentor burns him to a crisp. Bolt awakens on the final page back in his cell to discover that the child he attempted to save has been reborn as well and we discover that the prison is a bit stranger than we once thought.
Author Saladin Ahmed makes a triumphant debut into the world of comics with this issue and artist Christian Ward is no slouch either. Mysterious, compelling, and visually breathtaking the combination of Ward and Ahmed has got its hooks in me for as many issues as this title runs. The techno-surreal setting of a space prison is brought to colorful life by Ward’s wonderful play with scale and unique panel design and Black Bolt has never looked cooler. In fact, seeing the page where Bolt breaks free from his chains is what sold me on the comic in the first place. I cannot wait for next month’s issue of Black Bolt! Until next time, Geek On!
Written by Joel T. Lewis
Issue 21 is the very first Flash comic I’ve ever read, and while it’s choked with exposition and flashbacks to the more important components of the Flashpoint and Rebirth events that have led to the mystery of the Button, the charm of pairing up Flash and Batman shines through. When brought together for cosmic level capers that warrant the might of the Justice League, Flash and Batman are often paired off so that the plucky optimism of the former can bounce off the stern seriousness of the latter, but the pairing often feels forced. Flash 21 reminds us that though the ranks of the Justice League are populated by Amazons, Martians, and Kryptonians of supreme power, there are only two true investigators on that team. As Barry’s internal monologue takes us through his analysis of Batman and Reverse Flash’s brawl, he ruminates over the comradery that he and Batman share when it comes to the deconstruction of crime scenes. Though his internal commentary is heartwarming, Barry is troubled by the implications of Reverse Flash’s appearance and takes little solace in the death of his mother’s murderer. The strange topsy-turvy world of Flashpoint looms so large in his mind that it’s possible resurgence overshadows his arch nemesis’ demise.
As Barry comes to the end of his lightning fast investigation he turns to a particularly battered Dark Knight for further insight into the reappearance of Reverse Flash. Batman reveals that his father, the Flashpoint Batman, appeared just before Reverse Flash as a result of the mysterious button’s reaction with Psycho-Pirate’s mask. Bruce’s frustration with their lack of progress unravelling the mystery of the button causes him to second-guess Barry’s thoroughness in the lab. This leads to a rare moment of Bat-humility as Bruce apologizes, indicating his respect for the Flash’s instincts as an analyst. This tense moment is actually quite sweet as Bruce reminds himself that Allen is no rank amateur. Barry runs off the continue his investigation leaving Batman to recover and rest.
Barry makes his way to the Justice League Watchtower in pursuit of the infamous Cosmic Treadmill which allows those who can run fast enough the ability to travel through time and space. A decidedly silly contraption, much maligned by comic book fans, the Cosmic Treadmill was a pleasant splash of levity (at least to me) in an issue that had been mostly grim until this point. As Barry prepares to travel back to the Flashpoint reality, he is surprised by the appearance of a still-recovering Batman who insists on coming along. The unlikely duo’s journey through space and time is where Howard Porter’s artwork truly shines, depicting classical representations of the Justice League from continuities past while colorist Hi-Fi sends our heroes tumbling through a technicolor thunderstorm of vibrant blues and yellows. The two heroes arrive in an eerie echo of the Batcave and issue 21 of the Flash ends when Thomas Wayne Batman and Bruce Wayne Batman finally meet.
Author Joshua Williamson and his creative team do a masterful job of picking up the Button storyline from Tom King and company and portray a well-crafted and compelling Barry Allen. I was nervous being so new to the Flash coming into issue 21, but Williamson does a great job of filling in the details of Flashpoint and Rebirth so that you quickly understand the horrors Allen has seen and the responsibility he feels as the cause of the Flashpoint deviation. In many ways the Rebirth event felt like DC hard-resetting after the chaos of Flashpoint, but it is very important for the character of Barry Allen, as the critical participant in both events, to bear the weight of that terrible alternate reality. The maturity that comes from navigating that cataclysmic shift in reality is quite refreshing to see in a relatively light-hearted (as light-hearted as DC gets) hero.
What happens when the Dark Knight meets the twisted foil his father became in an alternate reality? Will the Batmen and the Flash be able to uncover the mystery of the button? What did Reverse Flash encounter that burned him down to the bone? All I can say is that I’ll be reading Batman 22 'The Button Part 3' desperate to find out. Until next time, Geek On!
Written by Joel T. Lewis
Unfortunately, the most accurate description I can give of Cullen Bunn’s third issue of Darth Maul is that it was a disappointing filler issue. The tension from the final panels of issue 2 where Maul and the kidnapped Jedi Padawan meet face to face is promptly deflated by an issue that does little more than set up the main set-piece for the next issue. Maul is discovered snooping around the captive Padawan’s detention cell but is immediately let off the hook by the criminal auction host, Xev Xrexus. Discovering that they will be unable to compete with the high-end bidders at the Padawan auction, Maul and his bounty hunter band plan to ambush the highest bidder, Jee Kra following the auction. This is anticipated by Xrexus who in turn rigs Jee’s ship to explode. As she watches Maul and company drop out of the sky, Xrexus reveals that it was always her plan to stage a free-for-all hunt for the Padawan on the surface of the nearby moon.
The little bit of character work that is done in this issue with regards to the title character is a bit grating. Though he casts a shadow of mystery over the whole of the film, Darth Maul only has 2 lines in The Phantom Menace, one of which is pure exposition. The second line, 'At last we will reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we will have revenge.' seems to be the guiding inspiration for most author’s interpretation of the character, at least since the Expanded Universe was wiped out. Now with Darth Maul that’s not a bad starting point, but when those two motivations, revenge and revelation, inform every interaction and thought the character has there’s no room for the character to grow.
By boxing him in this way, Maul serves little purpose and has little desire to do anything but avenge a borrowed trauma (which we only just learned about in the previous, newly-canon issue) and come out from the shadows of exile. The effect this has, at least in the context of Bunn’s 3rd issue, is that Maul thinks and acts like a petulant child who’s baffled by the galaxy’s general indifference to the Sith and, by extension, himself. At one point the Moogan Jee Kra gives voice to the general confusion that Maul’s presumptuous dialogue inspires, 'Who are you? Am I supposed to know…' Perhaps it’s asking too much to have a character named Maul employ some subtlety and express some larger awareness of his place in the universe, but Maul can as blunt as his name implies without throwing tantrums.
The point is that with the Star Wars Canon shakeup a lot of solid characterization of Darth Maul was binned, and Bunn began his series by restoring a lot of the same elements that made the Sith Lord stand out in the old Expanded Universe. But as we roll into issue 3 of the series, the elements of the previous 2 issues that compelled us to keep reading have fallen away. After a refresher first issue, a retread/Star Wars greatest hits second issue, both with incredible art, issue three falls completely flat with the side cast of colorful bounty hunters adding very little to the story other than comic relief. Issue 3 even suffers visually, with none of the sweeping splash pages of massive brawls or colorful aliens that made the first two issues so much fun to read. Also, there is a particularly silly action sequence where Darth Maul uses the force to make his cloak strangle Jee Kra. The result is a bizarre set of panels that reminds me more of Aladdin’s comedic flying carpet than a sinister method of strangulation.
Though I have in classic Star Wars fan form thoroughly criticized this issue of Darth Maul, am I excited by the prospect of a 'Most Dangerous Game' style issue where a Padawan and Darth Maul must work together to avoid being murdered by a legion of space criminals? Absolutely I am. There are only two issues left in Cullen Bunn’s Darth Maul miniseries, let’s hope they make up for this one. Until next time, Geek On!