Flashback Universe

By | Saturday, August 04, 2007 1 comment
I recently got around to looking at what the folks are doing over at Flashback Universe. I had actually heard of them around a year ago, but at the time they didn't really have much pulled together. They've put out a few issues now, though, so I thought I'd take a peek.

The idea, as I understand it, was essentially to create a comic book universe full of new heroes and villains that felt something like it when guys like me were introduced to superheroes back in our youth. There was a sense of wonder and exploration, certainly, but also timelessness and creativity. Everything was all new (as far as I was concerned at the time) and being able to explore the corners of a vast new universe was exciting. There have actually been a few attempts to try that approach -- Valiant and CrossGen, for example -- but I think it was Erik Larsen who noted just last week that it's a very difficult approach to take. What people often forget is that marvel and DC as we know them were not themselves created whole-cloth, but rather evolved over a period of years while the creators focused on individual titles first and foremost. That's not to say that recreating that feel is impossible, just that it can be difficult and the Flashback Universe guys have set a pretty high hurdle for themselves.

I'm actually glad I waited a year or so before I started reading any of their stuff. The earliest issues fall into a trap that many comic creators hit early on -- they try to load up on origins and backstories. They want to, understandably I think, get to the meaty stories they want to tell but are uncomfortable jumping into things without a lot of exposition detailing who the characters are and how they got to that point. It can be done well -- Tolkien's Lord of the Rings starts off this way, in fact -- but it's tricky. I think the premier issue of Flashback Universe falls short, in that it comes across as a series of ads for all the great stories they want to do sometime later. There are some good ideas there, but it gets hung up in explanations. Each issue, however, seems to improve over the last, and the two most recent are quite good in fact.

A definite plus in all of the issues is that they've been designed specifically to be read on a computer monitor. The graphics are substantial enough that small details don't get lost in between pixels, and the horizontal format makes page-to-page reading very smooth. Indeed, there are several instances in multiple issues which take even greater advantage of the digital format by bring new panels on top of the previous ones to provide readers an easy method for distinguishing differences between them. The Fantom Force issue, with its time travel elements, makes repeated use of that process to good effect.

Another positive, of course, is the price. The books are all downloadable for free, and the authors only ask that if you like them to provide a small donation. Effectively, it's the same business model many webcomics use. Whether or not that's sustainable in the downloadable arena has yet to be really tested.

There's definitely some interesting and creative ideas here. I'll be keeping my eye on them to see if they can't get some more momentum going. There's a spark there, and I think that with a little more work, they can fan it into a decent flame.
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Jim Shelley said...

Sean, just wanted to say thank you for the very well written and insightful review of our Flashback Universe comics! :)

I've found a lot of people tend to focus much on our format that they dismiss the style and story elements we are putting forth. I think you did a excellent job in reviewing both.

I think you are right about the first issue, and to be honest, that was such a maiden voyage for Pierre and me, that it was hard to see past it to what the next issue might be like. I think now we are more relaxed.

My biggest concern is that we are using this *drop the reader in a mock continuity warzone* and then letting them sink or swim. I think readers from the 70's and 80's were much more open to that type of idea. I'm not sure this new generation of readers is able to do that.