Tuesday, May 10, 2011

TWT checks out Time Masters: Vanishing Point

I have already written about my general disdain for today’s comic “events”, which is primarily derived from the sense that not many of the ‘changes’ that we are tantalised with in the promotion of these things actually lasts very long or makes much of a difference. That doesn’t mean however, that some of these stories can’t be enjoyed in trade form when read as stand-alone stories. That’s the case, more or less, with the trade I am reviewing tonight, which collects the Time Masters: Vanishing Point mini-series from DC Comics.

Infinite Crisis was a dog’s breakfast of a crossover event in some respects, but it has given us a few lasting things - the beginnings of what became the new Secret Six, a new Shadowpact (the loss of which I still mourn), visual images of Superboy Prime punching a lot of people to death and, out of very sad circumstances, a reinvigorated and re-purposed Booster Gold.

Geoff Johns may have authored the demise of Booster’s best buddy Ted Kord / Blue Beetle II, but he also got Booster’s post-52 solo book off to a great start, and gave the hero from the future a new purpose in the DCU as a policeman of time and protector of important events, and a limitation of never being able to reveal his vital role of keeping the fabric of the universe together, but instead having to maintain the guise of a publicity hound only out for his own gain. He also gave Booster a new nemesis in the form of the Black Beetle, a character shrouded in mystery. Johns  finished up his run on the book with a bang by revealing in his final issue that Booster would in fact become the father of his compatriot Rip Hunter. A cunning twist, and one that works and has added an interesting depth to Booster’s ongoing series.

Older Booster teaches a young Rip about things
an older Rip will teach a young Booster. Really.
The “mission” that Booster and Rip share embroils them in the search for Bruce Wayne and entangles them with Superman and Green Lantern and that is part of the basis for Time Masters. There is a second plot which revolves around Black Beetle and his “Time Stealers”: Per Degaton, Despero and Ultra-Humanite, on a suitably despicable mission. These two stories don’t really relate, and yet it all does manage to work together as a fairly cohesive whole.

While this story is packaged to look like the search for Batman is at the core of the book, in fact the most rewarding elements for this reader are the scenes with an older Booster and his young son Rip that begin each issue of the miniseries. This gives us our first real glimpse of the father / son relationship and fleshes out the reasons behind Rip’s mentoring of the younger version of his father. It also keeps us in the dark about who Booster’s future wife is, while showing us that she’s very much a part of their mission in time.

There is an interesting nugget here for Rip Hunter fans here, and that is a reference back to some of Jurgens’ own work as the creator of Hunter’s one time companions, The Linear Men. It was mentioned very early in the current run of Booster Gold that Hunter had locked the Linear Men away, but the reasons were never clear. In this series, we see the surviving team members - Matthew Ryder and Liri Lee, and learn that Rip fell out with the team due to differences of opinion about how time should or shouldn’t be interfered with. Eventually Rip had felt that he had to stop his former allies from meddling in matters of time, and imprisoned them. Now, Ryder and Lee are manipulated by the Black Beetle and his allies into helping locate the corpse of former teammate Waverider (who was actually an alternate world Matthew Ryder) so that Black Beetle can take Waverider’s remaining essence and use it to enhance his powers.

Black Beetle (yes, the guy in the red) wants Waverider's
corpse - but will the Linear Men let him have it?
While the Black Beetle / Waverider plot is an enjoyable read, the “Search for Bruce Wayne” side of the plotline has a few issues. Part of this is due to the way that Jurgens uses Superman and Green Lantern. Their presence in the book seems to have been more about boosting sales by having them on the cover than making any meaningful contribution to the story. They are present on the adventures throughout the issues, but aren’t well written or given anything terribly meaningful to do. Superman spends way too much time talking about himself (“Anyone who knows me know that I would never...”) and Green Lantern takes a high and mighty attitude towards Booster that is pretty uncharacteristic for Hal Jordan. While Jurgens wants us to understand that these heroes don’t really respect Booster, I think he goes too far in trying to reinforce that point by having them treat him in a way that Superman in particular probably wouldn’t treat anyone. This is particularly odd considering that Jurgens is very experienced at writing Kal-el. The end result is that these two heroes end up being two-dimensional props in a story in which they could have played a more meaningful role. The end result for me personally was that these sections of the story felt more like something I had to wade through to get to the much more interesting Booster / Young Rip and Time Stealers / Linear Men Sequences. One definitely gets the sense that these aspects of the story is where Jurgens’ heart is as well.

The premise of Booster and Rip’s mission allows writers to draw characters or plots from any era of the DCU, and Jurgens makes the most of it here, There is a great deal packed in to this book, including enjoyable sequences with Claw the Unconquered, the original female Starfire, Supernova and the Reverse Flash. Claw and Starfire are both well written and well drawn, and it’s great to see them in the DCU again. Zoom’s role in the story isn’t huge, but he’s also used and characterised effectively.

Gee, Hal. Sanctimonious much??
In the end, this is undoubtedly a Booster Gold / Rip Hunter tale, and this miniseries actually adds a great deal to their story. I am a big fan of Dan Jurgens’ art, and having him on art duties brings a familiarity and consistency to the book for Booster Gold readers.
While this story certainly adds some depth and texture to The Return of Bruce Wayne, it’s by no means required reading for Batman fans. For Booster Gold fans I’d say this is pretty much a must. It adds to the Booster / Rip story, to the development of Black Beetle, and the way in which the Waverider aspect of the story is resolved seems likely to have repercussions back in Booster’s solo book. I’d also recommend it for people wanting a taste of what makes Booster’s solo series work. If you don’t like time travel / continuity / time paradox stories, stay right away. This is not for you!

Next review I’ll be straying away from the Big Two and heading over to Dynamite Entertainment Territory by reviewing Volume 8 of The Boys: Highland Laddie. Should be fun!

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Happy reading!

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