I'm not sure what it is, either. The whole conversation between Barry and Batman plays out with the same paint-by-numbers problem I had with the first issue. The "choose between this world, where things suck, and a world where I'm dead" heroic sacrifice is part of, what, every alternate universe story? "Yesterday's Enterprise," "Father's Day," "Turn Left," "Days of Future Past," "Sorcerer Kings," and that's just off the top of my head. Nothing about it feels new or surprising here, and maybe that's just because I was the one person, apparently, who saw the Thomas Wayne shocker coming. The only surprising thing about that scene was how unnecessarily violent it was, but given that it's Geoff Johns writing a big crossover book, I suppose I should be happy that arms just got twisted, not torn off.
The only things that really struck me about this issue were the idea of Deathstroke and Warlord as rival pirates. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we'll get to see Warlord's ship, and I'm not entirely sure how Deathstroke's going to star in a miniseries with a trident in his throat.
As a related aside, I bought the cover with the man being electrocuted instead of the cover where a woman has been bloodlessly decapitated. Comics, everybody! "Everything will change in a flash--except the gratuitous violence and death!" On one hand, I guess one of the points of an alternate universe story is that you get to kill off people in ways you never could with the "real" universe (see also: Every "What If...?" ever), but on the other hand, I'm tired of Geoff Johns being this one-note joke. Maybe he needs some time away from writing, so he can learn a new trick--or re-learn some old ones. "Severed body parts" has become for him what "AIDS" was for Judd Winick.
Maybe the reason that Mera's severed head isn't dripping any blood is because she vomited it all out in Johns' last big crossover. Did Mera even appear in this issue? Was her death even referenced?
Barry's climactic plan seems pretty stupid on several counts. I suppose it's the poorly-considered act of a desperate man, but "I can't be a hero unless I have my superpowers" seems like a total repudiation of the basic tropes of the superhero genre. Isn't Barry supposed to be a genius scientist and forensic detective? Why is he trying to outrun Zoom rather than outsmart him? I did like that Barry comes across as a raving lunatic in this issue; it shows the depths of how different things are in this universe. So many alt-universe "let's put things right" stories have the heroes just accepting that the universe is supposed to be different and that everything will be better if they just trust this one unknown person who claims to be from another world. So does this one, but I like that it took a little while to get there. It would have been nice to see that twist carried over: Barry Allen, the one man who knows that this world is wrong, and everyone just thinks he's totally nuts. It would have isolated our hero from the crazy happenings of our alternate universe, which I suppose would have taken away some of the excitement, and it would have hearkened back to the origin of Triumph a little, but it would have been an interesting twist on a standard trope. Kind of like "DC Two Thousand," where the standard "we must avert this terrible future" story is about the heroes of the past trying to avert our present.
It would also make this stupid stunt Barry pulls make a little more sense. Trapped in a world he knows is wrong, with his memories slowly being rewritten, where everyone thinks he's crazy and none of his friends exist, with his mother watching him madly trying to re-create a world where she's dead, with an unseen villain pulling his strings and taunting him, Barry finally sets up the experiment as a last-ditch effort, figuring that if it works, he'll be vindicated, and if it doesn't, then at least he won't have to live in this world anymore.
Instead, it just looks like Barry Allen, who knows he's being manipulated and taunted by someone who moves so fast that he might be right there but invisible, doesn't consider that the same invisible villain might be able to swap out some of the chemicals without him knowing, or change the voltage on the electric chair, or sabotage this plan in any of a million other ways, making it far too dangerous to attempt. But instead, Barry Allen joins the burn ward.
Although it would be interesting if Barry died here, and the last three issues were all about Batman trying to bring about a universe that he's never seen.
I did pick up two tie-ins. Abin Sur is one of those characters like Jor-El, who's not so much a character as a plot device. I don't have a whole lot of interest in reading about him, so I didn't bother with "Abin Sur: Green Lantern." "World of Flashpoint" sounds like one of those books that's a Sourcebook/Secret Files in narrative form, and I've read enough of those (Like "Tales of Blackest Night" or whatever) to know that I'd rather not read those. But "Batman: Knight of Vengeance" promised Azzarello/Risso Batman, and I liked "Broken City" enough to check that out. It's a decent enough book, with a lethal Batman and a guest appearance by the late Heath Ledger, and I'm interested in seeing what further twists await in the story. The idea of Batman controlling crime through its funding is the sort of thing I would expect as the difference between businessman Thomas Wayne and our more familiar vigilante. I do hope that we see some of Thomas's medical expertise show up in this storyline.
Peter Milligan, plus the eventual prospect of Amethyst, made "Secret Seven" the tie-in I was most excited about (apart from "Lois Lane & The Resistance" and "Project Superman"). And hoo boy, was my excitement misplaced. I'll admit to having never read a Shade comic, though what I've read about the character is intriguing. This, however, was a mess. Confusing, plodding, and almost wholly uncharismatic, plus another fine example of DC Editors (Eddie Berganza and Chris Conroy this time) doing the most basic part of their job:
Good thing this isn't some kind of high profile release tying into a major crossover or anything. I'm sure no one will notice.
Looks like next week I'll get the Frankenstein issue, and maybe Deathstroke. But it's looking like a long summer.