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Sunday Slugfest: Flashpoint #1

Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2011
By: Thom Young

Geoff Johns
Andy Kuber (p), Sandra Hope (i), & Alex Sinclair (colors)
DC Comics
Barry Allen wakes up from a nap and discovers he’s on a parallel Earth in which things are sometimes similar but often different from the Earth he knows.

Matthew Z. Rios:
Rafael Gaitan:
Chris Kiser:
Thom Young:

Matthew Z. Rios:

Summer has officially started. No, I know it’s not June yet, but I always let DC and Marvel’s summer events dictate when I lay out by the pool with a comic and a Slurpee. Fear Itself is already on issue # 2 and Flashpoint #1 just dropped, so I’d say its time . . . even if it is only 60 degrees outside.

Flashpoint #1 tosses us inside a brand new-altered reality, along with a de-powered Barry Allen. Looks like ol’ Professor Zoom used that negative speed force of his to re-shape the DC Universe as we know it. (Please read Flash # 12 before Flashpoint . . . it’ll make more sense). There’s really not much more I can say without giving away plot points; I read some spoiler on the Flashpoint Batman somewhere, and I don’t want to do the same to y’all so I’ll just jump into the review.

If you’re reading some sort of large DC-related series or event, it’s most likely going to have the name Geoff Johns labeled on it--and it’s going to be great. If I could, I’d like to take a few minutes to knock all you haters out of the park. Johns is an amazing writer. Not only has he single handedly revitalized both the Flash and Green Lantern franchises, but he’s just a really good writer at the core of it all.

Drama, space adventure, humor, family life . . . he really does it all. Johns knows what we want and he lets us have it. For example, Flashpoint isn’t one of the 52 multiverse worlds. It also isn’t a dream, or a possible future; it’s the mainstream DC world turned upside down. Of course, we all know that things WILL get back to normal, but some things could stay amended (such as the six-kid Shazam group, Lord willing).

As normal for these altered events, many new characters and altered lives are introduced to us, but few are explained--which is just the way I like it. We’re all smart enough (and nerdy enough) to understand that a Metamorpho-colored girl is a female Metamorpho and if we don’t know who Shade the Changing Man is, we can wikipedia it or rustle through our local comic shop’s dollar room. In fact, many of these things will never be explained-they simply function as geeky Easter Eggs, and I love that. Since we’ll obviously never get to explore this Flashpoint world entirely (despite its 3,000 tie-ins), it’s fun to throw out ideas and never touch on them.

OK, no more ranting. Flashpoint is yet another wonderful Geoff Johns project. I’m a HUGE Flash Fan (Flash fact), and Mr. Allen is my number one Flash, so getting a Barry-centric mini-series is just what I want. Now, despite the fact that he’s been back for two years or so, and DESPITE his ongoing series, there’s a lot we don’t know about his modern-age character. While we HAVE seen Barry tackle his new, changed origin along with universe-sized dilemmas, we haven’t seen him simply be an average human man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Just as in Johns’s previous works, the dialogue and characters are spot on--and the new, changed heroes and villains are fun, fresh, make sense, and just super oober cool.

In addition to this modern writing marvel, we’re also treated to stellar art by Andy Kubert, whose work we haven’t seen since . . . the first few Morrison Batman issues? I can’t remember--but I’ve missed Andy Kubert’s work. The art detail is high for both faces and costumes, as well as backgrounds and buildings.

“Kubert” is a classic name in comics that’s thrown around a lot, and for good reason. Andy is a master of his art and even though you don’t see him too frequently, it’s always just as good as the last time. It’s sorta like seeing a best friend over the summer each year--not only are you excited for it, but you feel pleasant and satisfied.

Flashpoint is just great. It’s interesting, fun, and not connected to any ulterior motives. This book isn’t a metaphor for modern society or an allegory to some sort of political nonsense; it’s just a good old-fashioned crossover that looks great and reads smoothly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a Thor souvenir cup with an icy beverage and a beach chair with my name on them.

Rafael Gaitan:

Lately, the only time I've been excited for a crossover has been the NBA playoffs. I usually find these comic book events to be moderately exciting, but mostly they’re an excuse to rile up “collectors” and create a boiler-room scenario that threatens to “comics in the 90s” us all. Yet I read them--we all do. Among Raf Gaitan's many, many likes is The Flash, so DC had my money when they introduced the Barry Allen-centric summer crossover, Flashpoint.

Billed as a distorted timeline (instead of an alternative one), we see a powerless Barry Allen trying to make sense of a world where his mother is alive, he's not the Flash, and the Justice League is non-existent. Credit writer Geoff Johns (real life's Barry Allen) for having the chutzpah to make a timeline-revising story the central part of a major publisher's creative push. However, after showing a spark of juice with his Flash relaunch, the major storyline of Flashpoint is at best interesting; at worst, it’s convoluted.

Johns is a capable and inspired writer, and some of his ideas here really smash it (the Secret Seven and the Captain Thunder Kids among them,) but the plotting feels a touch off. Originally solicited as six issues (now down to five,) there's the worry that Johns will be forced to cram too much into the final four issues of Flashpoint.

This first issue is brimming with great concepts and introductions--like a city completely owned by Wayne Enterprises. Essentially, Johns has created Batman to the Future II with Batman as Biff--which is as awesome as it sounds. The requisite end-of-issue twist is also handled deftly; it's genuinely shocking, and it sets up for revelations of equal or greater dopeness to come.

As intriguing and noteworthy as Flashpoint is, it does have its slights. Andy Kubert's art is solid, but the artist doesn't capture the promise that the heavily detailed cover suggests. Some of his poses (particularly for flying characters) feel a bit distorted and unnatural, yet his pencils do capture every other scenario quite adeptly.

Alex Sinclair's colors are delightful pop; they capture the neon aesthetic of the city as well as bringing life to Kubert's characters--as do Sandra hope's conservative inks. Things look the way they should, as do people, which is ever so important when the reader has to recognize alternate analogues.

Ultimately, Flashpoint #1 also suffers from Johns' voice-- why FP Billy Batson makes a Star Wars reference followed by a character making a Hogwarts jokes is really beyond me, except that it kinda sounds cool? The downer is that just pages before, Johns gives Citizen Cold some legitimate bad-ass dialogue as well! The joke feels a touch forced.

Frankly, though, Johns has enough ideas in his head to make Flashpoint #1 a rewarding read. While not as connective to its audience as Fear Itself, this series seems well on its way to delivering a unique vision of what the DC world's come to. And really, any comic where the Bat-Man drops someone from a roof can't truly be bad, can it?

It cannot.

Chris Kiser:

As reported plenty of times elsewhere throughout the comics Internet, Flashpoint #1 packs a pretty solid surprise ending. While it falls somewhat short of shocking and doesn't quite earn the right to be called a doozy, it's a nice play upon the reader's expectations that somehow managed to remain unspoiled in the midst of all the pre-Flashpoint hoopla. Even more importantly, it near single-handedly salvages this debut issue from becoming an unqualified letdown.

With an alternate reality premise full of changed histories and reconfigured identities, Geoff Johns had in Flashpoint the opportunity to really go hog wild. This issue was his chance for unrestrained play in the DC sandbox, to explore a universe full of could’ve beens al a Marvel’s Age of Apocalypse.

What we got, however, is a partially reinvented world that, while distinct on the surface from the regular DCU, seems oddly inhibited. For readers hoping that Flashpoint would deliver creative twists on their favorite characters, the actual results are frustratingly familiar. The names and faces may be different, but the underlying ideas are all too much the same.

Instead of brewing up a new central conflict for the Flashpoint universe, Johns seems content to simply dish out another round of costumed heroes versus costumed villains. The set of tie-in miniseries spotlighting these characters may ultimately reveal them to be interesting and unique, but for now they remain the type you could find populating any publisher’s superhero line.

Where Johns does deviate sharply from the norm, he pushes it so far off to the periphery as to virtually make it insignificant. Case in point, the ongoing military conflict between the armies of Aquaman and the armies of Wonder Woman, which we never see but which we are told is being waged in Europe. Now, if Europe had traditionally played a significant role in the everyday stories of DC Comics, we might find this meaningful. As it is, it’s about as inconsequential as a war between two Justice Leaguers could be.

Without the entertaining distraction that a bold reinvention of the DCU could provide, we’re left to realize how by-the-numbers the rest of Flashpoint’s plot turns out to be. As soon as Barry Allen awakens to an existence in which he never became the Flash, we can see all the major beats coming a mile away.

From dead relatives returned to the land of the living to a wife in love with another man, you can find the template for just about every science fiction story that dropped its protagonist into the midst of a dream world right here. And forget about the mystery raising your interest. Haven’t recent issues of The Flash pretty much told us that Professor Zoom is behind it all?

By its position as a company-wide crossover, Flashpoint places the burden of great expectations on itself. If this were simply the next story arc in the Flash ongoing, it may suffice to simply serve as a piece of Barry Allen character development, but that just won’t do in the high stakes environment Johns is fostering.

Thom Young:

Oddly, though I agree with every complaint that my colleague Chris Kiser raised about this first issue of Flashpoint, I found myself liking it considerably more than he did. Chris nails it on the head when he states, “If this were simply the next story arc in the Flash ongoing. . . .” Of course, that is precisely what Flashpoint #1 is . . . it’s actually just Flash #13.

Immediately before reading Flashpoint #1, I read Flash #11-12 (because I had fallen behind on my reading of monthly comics, and I needed to catch up by completing the “Countdown to Flashpoint” arc before beginning Flashpoint proper). Thus, upon reading all three issues back to back to back, it’s quite clear that Flashpoint #1 is really just Flash #13 with some crossover stuff involving Batman, Cyborg, and assorted parallel universe variations of traditional DC characters (and illustrated by Andy Kubert rather than Francis Manapul).

If you’ve been reading the ongoing Flash series (which was officially canceled with issue #12), then you can easily pick up Flashpoint as merely the next chapter in the story that has been unfolding there.

However, if you decided (or will decide) to pick up Flashpoint as a self-contained series that should work on its own without requiring the reader to have knowledge of other stories, then you are living in 1984 (the year, not George Orwell’s novel*), as you are completely oblivious to the realities of contemporary publishing practices by DC and Marvel.

So why did I enjoy this issue more than my colleagues (even though I agree with Chris Kiser’s complaints)? Because of what are either amazing coincidences or carefully constructed uses of old DC stories.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite issues of The Flash was #215, mostly because of the Neal Adams cover but partly because of the two stories in that issue (the second being a reprint of the second story from Showcase Comics #4, which was the issue in which Barry Allen first appeared as The Flash, of course).

Anyway, in Flashpoint #1 Barry wakes up from a nap after falling asleep at his desk at work. Upon waking, he soon realizes that he is on a parallel Earth.

(I know Geoff Johns is calling Flashpoint an “alternate timeline” rather than a “parallel Earth.” However, in theoretical physics, parallel universes are created as the result of alternate timelines, so it’s really just a matter of semantics here).

Anyway, in Flashpoint #1 Barry wakes up from a nap and discovers he’s on a parallel Earth. Similarly, the first story in The Flash #215 opens with Barry Allen waking up in bed, taking his shower (presumably), shaving, getting dressed for work, and then turning to ask his sleeping wife where his Flash costume is because it’s not where it should be. The sleeping wife tells him that it’s hanging in the closet where it’s supposed to be.

Upon opening the closet door, Barry discovers the Flash costume that belongs to Jay Garrick--who at that time (in 1972) was the Flash of the parallel Earth known as Earth-Two. That’s right, in Flash #215 Barry woke up to discover he was on a parallel Earth!

Even as a kid I was confused by how the Garricks on Earth-Two and the Allens on Earth-One had identical houses with identical furniture--including, apparently, identical electric razors and identical clothes--otherwise Barry surely should have discovered he wasn’t showering, shaving, and dressing in his own house long before he realized that the woman sleeping in the twin bed next to the one in which he awoke wasn’t his own wife, Iris, but Joan Garrick.

(I guess the double beds were needed to make it clear that no actual “wife swapping” took place during the night while Barry believed he was sleeping in his own bedroom on Earth-One.)

Anyway, both stories in The Flash #215 had to do with time travel, and Professor Zoom noted in “Countdown to Flashpoint” that the actual power of the Speed Force is the ability to manipulate time--that superspeed is an aspect of the manipulation of the space-time continuum. That explanation of superspeed actually makes sense in a pseudo-scientific way--and satisfactory pseudo-science has never been one of Geoff Johns’s strong points, so I’m actually very pleased with this new element he’s added to the Flash mythos.

Additionally, one of the effects that Barry Allen and Jay Garrick encountered in their journey along the time stream in Flash #215 was rapid aging (which they reversed by running backwards, of course). Interestingly (and perhaps coincidentally) one of Professor Zoom’s methods for harnessing the energy he needed during “Countdown to Flashpoint” was siphoning off energy from people that caused them to age rapidly. I suppose if Barry could have intervened and helped them to run backwards through the time stream their lives could have been saved.

Do I know for certain that Johns is using these past Flash stories to inform his current Flashpoint in the same way that Grant Morrison and Steve Englehart have relied on minor aspects of past Batman stories to inform their own Batman stories?

No, I can’t say for certain that the connections I’ve noticed between Flashpoint and old Flash stories (one from 1972 and one from 1956) are anything more than coincidences.

However, I can say that Johns is definitely using the history of DC Comics (and Fawcett Comics) to inform his current story. One of the parallel Earth characters that Johns is using in Flashpoint is Captain Thunder--which, of course, was the original name for Captain Marvel when he first appeared in Flash Comics #1 in 1939--not the Flash Comics #1 in which Jay Garrick first appeared (also in 1939) but the ashcan issue that Fawcett Comics published and that has become retroactively known as Whiz Comics #1.

Of course, several parallel Earth versions of Captain Marvel have been named Captain Thunder over the years following DC taking over the character in 1973, but the first was an odd story that appeared in Superman #276 in 1974. That story, written by Elliot S. Maggin, is odd in that it has Superman meet Captain Thunder--an obvious Captain Marvel parallel from another Earth--at the same time that DC was actually publishing the ongoing adventures of Captain Marvel in Shazam!

Why have Superman meet a parallel universe version of Captain Marvel instead of the actual Captain Marvel? I don’t know, but I don’t believe that the parallel universe Captain Thunder from Superman #276 has appeared in a DC publication since his first appearance 37 years ago. I’d like to think that the Captain Thunder in Flashpoint #1 is the same Captain Thunder that appeared in Superman #276--but he isn’t.

The Captain Thunder from 1974 was a Billy Batson analog named Willie Fawcett whereas the Captain Thunder in Flashpoint is created when Billy Batson, his sister Mary, their friend Freddy Freeman, and three other kids (six kids, one for each letter in the name S-H-A-Z-A-M) shout out "Shazam!" and are transformed into the World’s Mightest Mortal.

Or perhaps they’re transported to the planet Adon and simply trade places with Captain Thunder in the same way that Jack Kirby’s Forever People switched places with Infinity-Man when they shouted out “Tarru!” and were transported to Adon.

Yes, Johns is definitely linking the six kids in Billy Batson’s group with the five kids who made up Kirby's Forever People, and he's aware that Kirby was also alluding to Captain Marvel with the shout of Tarru! and the "transformation/transportation" of Infinity-Man. Thus, I’m inclined to think that Johns is knowingly playing around with the story elements from Flash #215 and other obscure aspects of past Flash tales.

These connections are not necessarily mere coincidences. Johns seems to have learned some tricks from Grant Morrison in crafting these types of stories--make the connections, but be subtle about it so that readers will feel they unlocked deeper meaning in your work.

However, what is an interesting coincidence is that the villain of the 1956 reprint story in Flash #215**--a time-traveling thief from the future named Mazdan--is a dead-ringer for Grant Morrison as he appears now in 2011.

Coincidence or synchronicity? You decide!

* Though Orwell’s novel might work as an accurate reference, too, in some ways.

** By the way, that 1956 story, “The Man Who Broke the Time Barrier,” was inked by Joe Kubert, the father of the illustrator of Flashpoint. Coincidence or synchronicity? You decide!

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