Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Flashpoint: Citizen Cold"

It seems like I've been reading a lot of comics lately so I'm afraid it's another comic review. If you come here to read me complaining about Doctor Who or lamenting the vacuousness of modern culture you might want to go back to surfing TV Tropes or whatever.
Anyway, if you're tuned into the comic book world you're probably aware that DC Comics are currently running what they call a "crossover event" where a bunch of comic book storylines get mashed together in a cack-handed and dramatically inept fashion so that the company can squeeze more money out of overpayed people like me desperate for imaginative stimulation. I believe Marvel are doing one as well called "Fear Itself" but as I'm only dipping my toes into the ravenous waters of Marvel comics at the moment I don't have a damn clue what it's about. DC's crossover, on the other hand, is called "Flashpoint" and as you may be able to guess it takes its cues from The Flash, who in my mind jostles Batman for top place among my comic book heroes of choice.
Basically The Flash's enemy the Reverse-Flash aka Professor Zoom has mucked around with the timeline and everything's different. This gives DC the opportunity to release a bucketload of limited series', each focusing around the lives of different characters in this crossover parallel universe. The Flash is busy hanging around with Batman not achieving much in terms of saving the world or indeed entertaining the reader and the only Flashpoint series of which I've now read all the issues is the three-part "Citizen Cold" line so here we are.
If you're not a humungous comic book nerd like me you may need to be informed about Captain Cold, or Citizen Cold as he is called in the world of Flashpoint. To get to brass tacks, the Flash is the super speedy guy in the DC Universe and his main enemies, apart from the aforementioned Reverse-Flash, are the Rogues, a coalition of bad guys with various abilities who almost universally work together to take down the Flash and cause crime and mischief rather than try to take him on one at a time the way most villains do. It's one of the more unique elements of the Flash storyline which I find interesting. Since time immemorial these Rogues have been led by Captain Cold, a dastardly criminal with a peculiar sort of ethical code.
I realise from his name he sounds like a kind of Poor Man's Mister Freeze but he has radically different motivations. Unlike Freeze, driven to crime and desperation by his wife's terminal illness and a botched cryogenics experiment which rendered him in a permanent sub-zero state, Captain Cold is a relatively straight-laced and stable crook who had an abusive upbringing and turned to crime as a way to rebel against the cruelty of his father. His cold gun was made specifically to slow down the Flash; the ice is just a side effect. In addition, he doesn't have any weird mutations or powers or anything. He's just a guy who dresses in snow gear including a parka and anti-flash specs and has a cold gun. He's the undisputed leader of the Rogues but also one of the better ones, for a crook. He doesn't engage in drug dealing and discourages murder without good reason. He's mostly out these days for profit but has a strong sense of loyalty. As I say, he's a complex character.
In the world of Flashpoint, writer and artist Scott Kolins reimagines Cold as Citizen Cold, the "Hero of Central City". In a world without the Flash, it's Cold who hunts down the villains and gets the public affection. He's the one who's after Iris West, the Flash's wife in the normal timeline. The Rogues are his enemies. Yet he's murderous and vengeful, and he has the same crooked past as his Captain equivalent. While it's interesting to have Cold as the replacement for the Flash in this world and to see how much he profits from the adoration of a chanting crowd who cheers him on with cries of "Cold Snap! Cold Snap!" as he murders villains, I think there was also potential here for Cold to have a good past and for that to be explored. Nonetheless it's a rather hearty condemnation of that brutal style of heroism which fluctuates in and out of vogue these days and the strange fascination he holds for Iris West conveys a similar level of intrigue. She finds him compelling despite his abhorrent nature, and I suppose that's part of the nature of super-heroes, and also super-villains. Here we have one who is effectively both and it creates an uneasy tension which I think is portrayed effectively.
The other Rogues aren't changed much. One thing I found tedious was the portrayal of Mirror Master. He's trapped in his mirrors in a "near death state" which prevents him from leaving. I've always found Mirror Master's powers to be kind of ludicruous because they seem to let him get away with a ridiculous amount of stuff with virtually no explanation apart from, perhaps, that he can connect reflexive surfaces to some kind of alternate dimension. The idea that his near-death has "tainted the mirror-verse", however, is pretty stupid. Weather Wizard wants revenge, not much change there. Trickster II is a dull caricature as ever. The Rogue I enjoyed seeing the most was Fallout. Fallout is a tragic character who I've always found engaging because rather than malevolent or criminally-minded he's just unfortunate and desperate to find peace and I enjoyed the revelation at the end that he was in a pact with Mister Freeze to find a cure. Personally I would have enjoyed seeing this interaction which could have been developed a lot more, especially since Mister Freeze is another DC villain I find compelling. I would have ideally liked the notions surrounding the friendship between Fallout and Mister Freeze, two men driven away from society and the law by immense personal tragedy and disfigurement, depicted as developing a strong relationship or bond of some kind, although I guess in the end what we were given was at least a satisfying teaser considering the space limitations and the need to tell the story of Citizen Cold.
I would have liked to have seen some more Flashpoint Wally West as well, who was killed in the first issue, and some more exploration of his friendship with the Pied Piper, but again clearly space limitations were an issue. That being said, Citizen Cold constructs a more effectively self-contained and certainly more narratively structured story tham some of the Flashpoint tie-ins I've been reading and its questioning of the traditional role of heroes and public support was, I believe, a strong one. It would even have been impressive if Snart and Iris had ended up running off to Dubai together but nonetheless it did its job. My one quibble would be that the fight with the Rogues in issue 2 and the fight with them in issue 3 at times felt very similar but I realise that's a more or less inevitable consequence of the genre. Nonetheless it's the Flashpoint series which has impressed me the most, perhaps matched only by "Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance" of which I am still missing the middle issue, and while Scott Kolins' writing is occasionally perhaps a little unspectacular it gets the job done and his art is understated while still being engrossing to examine. I think it's if anything impressive that he both wrote and drew this series and managed to maintain what I consider to be a respectably high level of quality for a crossover tie-in, so many of which have been continuity-riddled penny-dreadful ideas relying on twists and shock value. If you're sceptical about Flashpoint I can at least recommend "Citizen Cold" and suggest that if more comic series were written with this kind of structure and pacing the genre might be taken a little more seriously.

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