DC has such a (well deserved) reputation for having a fetish for cosmic reboots that viewed from afar, its shared universe now seems to be in an ongoing state of being remodeled with each line wide crossover. The company's upcoming summer event, Flashpoint, seems pretty straightforward as these affairs go. But even here the compulsion to revamp and "darken" their stable of properties shines through. You see, the protagonist for this story is Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. Dying in the mid-eighties, he was bought back to life and his personal history further revised in the 2009-10 mini-series The Flash:Rebirth. The changes involved his mother being murdered when he was a child, and his father being wrongfully convicted for the act. It turned out that one of his arch villains travelled back in time to do the deed. So yeah, one more classic property was given the tragic past that was missing from his character profile. Thank you very much Geoff Johns. With Flashpoint, Barry is now trapped in a world with a markedly different history from the one he knew. So naturally, he sets out to fix it. But really, who's to say DC won't make this the official version given the ongoing trend to encircle everyone within a vast ring of death and violence?
Okay, that was mean. DC still insists on the fundamental decency of its core characters. And Flashpoint represents what happens if that disappeared, which sounds a lot like the premise of an Elseworlds title being injected into mainline continuity. To get the point across, the first five pages present the DC universe as it should be, including an incredibly mawkish scene of Barry as a kid and his mother. Barry looks up adoringly at her as she tries to fix the family car. It then cuts to the adult Barry looking at her case file before being caught in the lab accident that gave him his super speed. The rest of the intro summarizes his life and career as a superhero. Then Barry wakes up, and like George Bailey discovering that Bedford Falls has turned into Pottersville, he's shocked to discover that he's inhabiting an alternate reality. The first thing that gives it away is that he never got his powers, hence the Flash never came into existence. The second thing he notices is that his mother is alive and well. Needless to say this sets up another sentimental encounter, which prefigures an inevitable conflict between Barry's personal happiness and his need to set history straight. It's so obviously manipulative, but the problem is it's difficult to become attached to someone who is basically a bit character, not to mention another in a long line of supporting females whose only purpose is to be a plot device used to spur the male protagonist into action.
|Barry struggles to keep his big head on his shoulders|
The third thing Barry notices is the absence of DC's iconic properties. The most important absence is naturally of Superman himself, which is usually a sign that the world has gone to heck (it's either that or he's decided to rule the world). But aside from Barry and Supes, Green Lantern and Batman are also metaphorically absent. Since Abin Sur's only useful role was to give Hal Jordan the power ring before dying, his presence as an active Green Lantern is a bad sign. And this issue's big reveal is who Batman really is, as he's not Bruce Wayne. This Batman has no moral center, meaning he has no compulsions about killing bad guys. Though only referred to but not shown, the principal geopolitical conflict is an all out war between the Western powers and the kingdoms of Atlantis and Themyscira. Turning royal figures Aquaman and Wonder Woman into genocidal conquerors is pretty cliched, and in the case of Wonder Woman, a horrible misstep. I get that they're meant to be alternate versions, but in addition to being insensitive, really lazy characterization, the portrayal of the Amazons as man-hating, castrating, harpies, feels like a waste of the relatively tiny amount of goodwill Wonder Woman's earned from fans. Did DC conclude that her image hadn't suffered enough damage from the godawful Amazons Attack, and every mishandling of the character since then?
Finally, a number of modified second and third stringers have stepped into these vacated roles. There are a few unintentionally goofy touches, like the new Captain Marvel (using the Captain Thunder alias) transformation. Overall, this motley crew of supervillains, Vertigo castoffs, and a few surprisingly obscure characters are long on nerd appeal and short on popular charisma, and they're who will carry many of the related tie-ins. Thankfully, as quickly as they're introduced, they're summarily dismissed in order to refocus on Barry Allen's quest to return to the status quo. The whole point of the main Flashpoint series does appear to be about chronicling Barry's attempt to get the band back together, so to speak. But first he's got to convince Batman after the final page not to kill him. This first issue presents a clearly told narrative, with an equally clear-cut objective. The basic plot mechanisms to drive the story forward are there. Too bad everything else needed to make the story work has to be supplied by intense fan devotion.
|This is how a geek's inner monologue would sound like if someone listened in|