Flashpoint (Comic Review)

Flashpoint #1 coverToday marks the big turning point for DC Comics. Instead of their usual fifteen to twenty new comics, they only released two: Flashpoint #5 completes the event that ends their current universe and Justice League #1 kicks off the new era. I’m going to review Flashpoint (the entire event) today, and look at the opening to Justice League tomorrow (update: here it is).

(This article avoids any specific spoilers of Flashpoint’s plot, but it does discuss the structure of the DC Universe at the series’ conclusion.)

Map of the Flashpoint World

Not long ago, I mentioned that I wasn’t interested in Flashpoint. Major comic book events tend to be uninteresting to me, especially if they take place in an alternate world that will change back at the end. DC definitely raised the stakes on this one, though, by releasing a dizzying array of tie-in miniseries that explored the new world, and then by revealing that it would lead into the entirely new status quo kicking off in September. What got me interested, though, was this map. The big, crazy, world-changing status quo that it offered seemed like an interesting place to explore, at least for a few months.

I should have known better. Yes, Flashpoint had a lot of cool ideas. It just didn’t know how to use them. Writer Geoff Johns knows how to hit all the fan-pleasing points, but given five issues to address an entirely-changed world of them, he never has time to slow down and build a story. About all we know from the main series is that the world has erupted into war between alternate versions of our heroes, and only a depowered Flash remembers how things should be. He rushes around trying to regain his powers and recruit allies in a quest to change the world back.

The main explanation that we get here is that this alternate world is missing the valiant heroes of the “real” world, and that has thrown everything to a near-apocalyptic state. It is an interesting idea to explore (especially since five issues is about as long as bad heroes can stay fun), but it makes me wonder what comic books Johns has been reading lately. The defining element of post-Identity Crisis DC comics is that they keep getting grimmer and more violent. This era kicked off with the revelation that some of the greatest superheroes had been magically lobotomizing villains and covering it up, and culminated in last year’s Cry For Justice, a ham-handed justification for Green Arrow to start killing people. (This was also when his ward relapsed back into hard drugs.) In my mind, the main reason for a reboot of the DC Universe is how pointlessly “dark” its heroes have become. So while the world of Flashpoint may be in worse shape, it still seems weird for it to hold the recent DC characters up as an ideal to return to.

If Flashpoint never had time to explore the changes that defined its setting, then that would seem to justify the many spinoff titles. Each of them featured different characters or corners of this changed world, and had time to flesh them out. Unfortunately, these mostly failed as well. They started out too eager to cram in as many characters as possible, giving fans a list of what every single one is up to in the Flashpoint world. By the end, though, they’d run out of steam, and it was obvious that the writers saw no reason to try when every plot point was editorially mandated. Most of them had to finish with a non-ending, anyway, telling the reader that they would see the conclusion in Flashpoint #5.

That final issue of Flashpoint, however, did not conclude the stories begun in those other titles. As is the norm for an alternate-reality event, everything comes close to a disastrous climax just when someone learns how to change everything back. We get no real payoff here, just pages of exposition and an “oh, I guess things are normal again” conclusion.

Though it was rarely good, much of Flashpoint did have its high points. Johns’ crazy ideas were interesting, and artist Andy Kubert has a bold, clean style that elevates the scenes as far as the writing will allow. But that final issue is where things really fall apart. It reads more like a checklist for Yet Another Event than as a clever, thought-out story that is going to usher in the next age of DC Comics. The explanation of how history changed is perfunctory and rather unsatisfying, given that it doesn’t justify the consistently evil results. (Also, it relies on conveniently-forgotten details that contrast with the claim that the real versions of the superheroes are forces of good in the world.) The revelation leads to pages of predictable juvenile melodrama, followed by a perfunctory resetting of the status quo.

Strangely enough, it’s strongly hinted that the world we see at the end of the comic is the previous DC Universe, not the new one that Flashpoint was supposed to lead in to! Was the claim that this is vital to the new system all a lie? Not entirely, as there is a 2-page spread showing that Flash’s actions have splintered off three alternate realities, which apparently is the justification for the new titles and the source of a future DC crisis. That explanation fills me with dread. I’m a fan of a multiverse when used correctly, but kicking off a “new-reader-friendly” era with a confusing fragmentation of the universe is definitely the wrong approach. Really, though, that line of thinking sums up all of Flashpoint: The event overflowed with all the melodrama and poorly-developed ideas that define the worst of recent comics. Hopefully this series was wallowing in that to mark an end of that era, not as a sign of things to come.

Grade: D+

A hero is crying, so you KNOW this must be important!

(Update: It’s been pointed out to me that the three universes referred to seem to be the DC, Vertigo, and Wildstorm universes that used to exist, and that they are joined into one after Flashpoint. That doesn’t change my overall opinion of Flashpoint, but it does make me more hopeful about the future. If there used to be multiple realities, that’s not as important for readers of the new books to understand.)

  1. November 22nd, 2011

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