The Comic Cave is a bi-weekly feature where we spin the Wheel of Comics and see what graphic novel story it brings up for us to deep dive into! For our first time out, however, we’ve decided to cover Flashpoint, the Flash event that changed the DC Universe forever.
The Flash is one of the more well-known heroes that DC has. Outside of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, he’s perhaps the next best known hero, due in no small part to the recently ended CW television series that ran for nine seasons. He’s been a figure in shows such as Smallville (though that was technically Impulse, not Flash), has appeared in Batman the Brave and the Bold, and was a key cast member of Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Despite having this long standing recognition, most people would be hard pressed to name a big Flash story; even those who read comics might struggle to name more than a handful of iconic titles.
Whilst you might get recommendations for things like The Flash: The Return of Barry Allen, The Flash: Terminal Velocity, or The Flash: Rogue War (all great books worth reading), one story that always seems to appear on lists and recommendation lists is Flashpoint. It’s easy to see why Flashpoint would be on such a list, despite being a book that encompasses the entire DC universe it is very much a Flash story, in the same way that Blackest Night effected the entire universe but was a Green Lantern tale. However, Flashpoint often also gets overlooked as being a Flash story, due in part to what the event leads into, and how people reacted to the changes that it brought about. Flashpoint was used as the reason for The New 52, a universe wide reboot that upset a large number of fans, and that a lot of people will argue ended up damaging DC for a number of years.
With that in mind, how does Flashpoint stand up as a piece on its own? Is it worth the ire that it’s sometimes associated with, just because of an editorial decision that only comes into play in the last handful of pages of the book?
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Written by Geoff Johns, with art by Andy Kubert, the main Flashpoint title consists of five issues, and focuses on Barry Allen. Barry Allen is the second Flash, and the first to wear the costume that people will picture when they think of The Flash (the whole Jay Garrick thing is complex). Barry was The Flash for a number of years before the comic event Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which he died. From there the mantle of Flash was passed onto his young sidekick, Wally West, who would be The Flash for almost as long as Barry. After being dead for more than twenty years, Barry Allen was returned to life, and spent a few years struggling to find his place in a changed universe. This is the foundation for the character going into Flashpoint, and is kind of a key reason for the story happening.
The book begins with Barry waking up at work one day, having apparently fallen asleep at his computer. At first he doesn’t really pay attention to the subtle differences around him, the odd names that people are saying. It’s not until one of his rogues, Captain Cold, is referred to as a hero named Citizen Cold that Barry realises that something is seriously wrong. Rushing out of the crime lab he goes to change into The Flash, but realises his Flash ring is gone; not only that, but so has his speed. Falling down the stairs, he comes face to face with his mother; who’s been dead for decades.
Barry realises that time must have changed, and starts quizzing his mother for information, learning that most of the heroes he knows don’t exist. One that his mother does know is Batman, and this sets Barry on a course to Gotham City looking for answers. However, what he finds in Gotham is a complete surprise to him. Batman isn’t Bruce Wayne, it’s his father Thomas. In this new timeline it was Bruce Wayne who was shot and killed, and his father became a brutal vigilante in the wake of it; a vigilante who kills. Despite this, Batman is still recognised as one of the best heroes around, and Cyborg, America’s biggest hero, tries to recruit him and a group of other odd heroes to his cause.
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This new world is at war, Aquaman and Wonder Woman are at each other’s throats, and their nations are locked in a vicious conflict that has already seen half of Europe drowned and Britain occupied by the Amazons. Millions are dead already, and many more are at risk as the two global powers continue to clash. Cyborg is trying to put together a team to stop them, but Batman refuses to join. However, when Barry breaks into the cave beneath Wayne Manor and finds Thomas as Batman he manages to convince the vigilante to help him get his speed back and fix the timeline.
The beauty of the main Flashpoint title is that it’s a very simple concept. Something changed time, the world is bad, it needs fixing. And it seems like perhaps the initial concept for Flashpoint was to just be a simple Flash focused time travel story, and then the decision to use it as the launching point for the big reboot was taken later on; which could explain how when the story is expanded upon in its tie-ins it begins to make less and less sense in places. The main title keeps things fairly tight, and moves with a decent pace. This is in part down to the fact that it takes place across only five issues, something that most events don’t do. Big events like Secret Invasion, Final Crisis, and Secret Wars will play out over 8-12 issues, and will try to pack as much in as they can. Flashpoint doesn’t do this.
The main title hints at the bigger world, and gives the reader small teases at what the changes have been. For example, in this timeline Shazam is Captain Thunder, and requires five children to become one hero when they transform. There’s no information on Captain Thunder’s backstory, or how he differs from Shazam; he’s simply there inhabiting the world. Other characters get a bit more time given over to them, such as Thomas Wayne’s version of Batman, and even Superman, who only briefly appears in the story, have more time than you’d expect given over to them. But for the most part it’s left vague, and this works better for the story as it means you don’t have to get bogged down in the details.
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However, if you do want to get bogged down in the details, a number of tie-in stories and mini-series can do that for you, expanding the story from five issues to sixty one. (And yes, I did read every single Flashpoint book to prepare for this article.) Most of these tie-ins are three issue series that pick a character and show how they’re different in this new timeline. Some of them, such as Flashpoint: Batman – Knight of Vengeance and Flashpoint: Deadman and the Flying Graysons are pretty good, and give us wildly different versions of these characters. The Batman book is perhaps the best thing to come out of Flashpoint, even if it doesn’t quite fit into the main title like its supposed to. It ends up being a decent Elseworlds style Batman story that has a few really cool surprises and shocking moments in it, and is definitely worth a read.
Others of the tie-ins are less good, and end up feeling like much more of a slog to get through. The Aquaman and Wonder Woman books give much more insight into the war than the main title, and actually turn the two characters from vicious warmongers into fools who’ve been tricked and manoeuvred into global war by conspirators in their kingdoms. The Green Lantern book is perhaps the most unusual though, not just because it takes the visual designs from the then upcoming film for all of its characters (a terrible choice considering the reception that film had), but because it also shows that the changes to the timeline have impacted the wider universe beyond Earth. The Blackest Night is already happening, with Black Lanterns spreading across the universe, the Red Lanterns have been a threat, and Abin Sur is still alive, and is the Earth Green Lantern in the Flashpoint timeline. The most frustrating part of all of these tie-in books is that none of them even touched upon the Canadian zombie wasteland teased in the main series.
The big revelation for Flashpoint (spoiler time) is that the timeline was fractured, leading to ripple effects that changed multiple things, when Barry travelled back in time to save his mother’s life. Whilst this one change wasn’t enough to plunge the world into ruins, Barry understanding how to manipulate time caused the issues. And in order to put things right he needs to allow his mother to die. The story ends with Barry heading back in time a second time to stop his younger self from saving his mother. This is where things then get complex, and the book earns its criticism. Whilst travelling through time a mysterious hooded figure (later revealed to be Pandora) talks about how the timeline was fractured into three, and how she needs to repair it.
Some real world background now. DC were looking for a way to incorporate the Wildstorm and Vertigo imprint into their main universe, bringing more characters into the DC Universe. Wildstorm was originally founded as an independent comic company by Jim Lee in the 90s during the comic boom and the popularity of ‘edgier’ books. Wildstorm created characters such as Stormwatch, The Authority, and Gen 13, but was ultimately bought out by DC a year before Flashpoint. Flashpoint actually used a Wildstorm character, Grifter, in the event. Vertigo, on the other hand, was always a part of DC, though its stories existed outside of the main continuity and featured characters like Swamp Thing, Constantine, and The Sandman universe which had crossed over with the main universe briefly in the past. At the end of Flashpoint Pandora merged these three universes/timelines into one new universe, giving birth to The New 52.
The New 52 is something that has provoked varying reactions in people. For some people it was a perfect jumping on point to start reading comics (DC’s big reason for doing it in the first place) as all of its books started at number one again, and it promised to give a fresh, easy to understand take on DC. In reality, it was kind of a disaster. There appeared to be no plan for The New 52, and some of the events from the previous timelines still happened, but they wouldn’t say which, and when it did come up which events happened they didn’t explain how they could have happened in these new timelines that actively contradicted the events of those books. The timeline was condensed down to just five years, making a lot of stuff they say happened impossible, and many of the characters were changed on a fundamental level, with new hero identities, costumes, and origins. A lot of long-time DC readers would end up jumping ship thanks to The New 52 (myself included), and it was only through later fixing of the timeline that they were able to correct a lot of this.
Should The New 52 being terrible affect the quality of Flashpoint? No, but for a lot it will. It’s hard to read this book and not think about the lasting damage it caused, and how for many it wrecked DC. It’s also sad that the first few pages of the book are the last time a number of beloved characters are ever seen until they get fixed through subsequent events such as DC Rebirth, Infinite Frontier, and Dawn of DC. That being said, taken on its own Flashpoint is an okay story; a throwaway alternate timeline tale that doesn’t really mean much. Which makes people’s insistence that it’s one of the best and most important Flash stories all the more baffling.
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Perhaps because of the universe-wide impact it had, and maybe because it’s a modern story, Flashpoint feels like it’s been over-hyped, to the point where it’s now being adapted for the third time already. Yes, the upcoming Flash movie is the reason why our first instalment is covering Flashpoint, because The Flash is a very stripped down version of the story. Instead of the Thomas Wayne Batman we’re getting Michael Keaton back as an older Bruce Wayne; the locked up experimented upon Superman who gets saved by the heroes is Supergirl; and instead of the Atlantis/Amazon war it’s the invasion of General Zod from Man of Steel. But this will not be the first time that the story has been adapted like this, with The Flash series having very briefly used the concept for the start of their third season, and the animated movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox having been made in 2013.
Flashpoint might appear on a lot of lists, but it’s pretty far from being a good Flash story. There are much better books about the character out there, with better alternate timeline adventures on offer too. But thanks to the larger impact the book had, and for giving us the Flashpoint Batman (who would later enter the main universe) Flashpoint is going to be a book that sticks around. Though perhaps my dislike comes about because it wiped away the version of DC I loved, and wrecked my enjoyment of comics for several years; so don’t necessarily take my opinion as fact and go give it a try for yourself.
Flashpoint was published May – August 2011 by DC Comics.