|Synopsis||When Barry Allen wakes up in a world without his powers and his mom surprisingly alive, his seeks out answers. Teaming up with an older Batman and other heroes, Barry hunts for why the world has changed...and grapples with whether it should remain that way|
|Release Date||March 2012|
Imagine waking up one day to a world different than the one you know. Maybe Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is suddenly President of the United States. Maybe Ed Sheeran never became a pop star. Maybe your best friend never moved to a different state or your least favorite coworker did move to another state. Maybe you got that promotion, that car, that house.
But what if you were the only one who knew the world had changed? And what if that change precipitated the end of the world, like President Johnson kicking off World War III?
When Barry Allen wakes up at his desk one morning, he’s amazed to discover a similar situation: a world – his world – has been altered. He no longer has his speed, Superman doesn’t zoom overhead, and the man behind Batman’s mask isn’t Bruce Wayne. Perhaps most importantly, Barry comes face-to-face with his mom, Nora Allen. Even if he was moving at super-speed, the interaction would halt him. Nora’s supposed to be dead, murdered by an enemy of the Flash’s years before Barry became the Scarlet Speedster.
It’s a race against time as Barry puts clues together, puzzling out just how and why his world became so wonky… and determining if he can repair a damaged space-time continuum before two warring forces decimate all life on the planet.
Violence: Several deaths are implied – we’re told disasters and warfare kill thousands, sometimes millions of people. Other characters are killed off-panel. Fights see people punched, kicked, shot, thrown, slammed, burned, stabbed, blasted with lasers, and electrocuted. Barry subjects himself to lightning a couple times. Someone’s finger is broken, followed by their leg later. A character is shot in the head. We see the corpses of dead combatants.
Sexual Content: A few female characters wear revealing outfits. Someone jokes about a character historically treated as gay.
Drug/Alcohol Use: None
Spiritual Content: A deceased character is said to be “in a better world.” One minor character is a demon; another minor character wields magic. “Captain Thunder” is an alternate version of Shazam, who possesses the powers of mythical deities and heroes Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury along with the biblical figure Solomon.
Language/Crude Humor: A few uses of God’s name in vain along with several uses of h*** and a few instances each of d***, a***, and b****.
Other Negative Content: Some characters lie and act manipulatively. A vigilante employs near lethal tactics on criminals. A group is betrayed by a seeming ally.
Positive Content: People risk their lives to help and save each other. Various characters are driven by a sense of acting rightly or correcting previous wrongs. Heroes consider sacrificing their personal desires for greater goals.
Maybe this shouldn’t sound shocking… but Flashpoint moves too quickly.
When lumping in the event’s main series with all the tie-in series and one-shots, this crossover extravaganza comes in at a whopping 61 issues. The various issues explore the “Flashpoint” world, the alternate universe seemingly created by the Reverse Flash, Eobard Thawne. In crafting this review, I read only the original five-issue series, particularly as this is the primary influence on the DC Extended Universe’s The Flash film. This main series only covers the overarching “Flashpoint” narrative, wrapping up Geoff Johns’ run on Barry Allen’s life and leading into DC’s New 52 reboot.
Storytelling at the Speed of Light
The series’ premise is strong: Geoff Johns (Batman: Earth One) and Andy Kubert cover literal and figurative miles in Flashpoint, dumping Barry Allen into a world where his mother is alive. I’m a sucker for alternate timelines and dimensions in comics, worlds which twist and reshape the core identities of our favorite superheroes. Wolverine grew old and gave up stabbing people? Cool. Superman grew old and gave up saving people? Engaging angle.
In this world, Thomas Wayne became the Dark Knight Detective after his son Bruce was murdered in an alley, Superman was imprisoned by the government instead of adopted by a loving couple from Kansas, and Aquaman and Wonder Woman prepare to engulf the world in war over a longstanding feud. There’s no Justice League to unite diverse heroes under one cause. The superhuman champions that exist are scattered, distrustful of one another.
Johns and Kubert are tasked with juggling the peculiarities of this new world alongside their main plot, creating my primary complaint. The series invents unique spins on DC’s prominent pantheon of protagonists that are as entertaining as, if not more than, the central plot. Unlike Old Man Logan or Kingdom Come, however, Flashpoint doesn’t explore this premise deep enough; with plot points hurtling themselves at readers, we’re never given a chance to soak in the world. That’s where, I assume, the tie-in series and issues come in, offering readers that broader, deeper gaze. As a standalone series, Flashpoint doesn’t flesh out one of its core selling points.
For as brief a time as the main series explores this alternate world, Kubert impressively brings the Flashpoint universe to life. His Superman is a gangly young man, paled by a lack of exposure to the sun. A crew of pirates, led by Deathstroke the Terminator, plan to plunder a flooded Paris, the Eiffel Tower mostly sunk beneath the waters. Wayne Manor is decrepit and overgrown, the Bat-Cave an empty shell of Bruce Wayne’s expansive headquarters.
Ideas, moments, and sequences are thrown at the wall and, taken in isolation, largely stick. How can this world be a twisted version of the main DC reality? Johns’ take on an older, somewhat grumpier Batman reminds me of Frank Miller’s version of the vigilante from the Dark Knight Returns. Kubert’s Superman stares wide-eyed at the horizon when he’s freed from confinement, basking in sunlight long denied him. Whatever ideas Johns concocts for the series, Kubert injects with life, reshaping the familiar and corrupting the historical. The reader is briefly allowed to soak in the horrors of Amazonian/Atlantean warfare, mourn the loss of Bruce Wayne, or sympathize with the long-suffering Kal-El.
Admittedly, many of these changes feel a tad arbitrary when considered as a whole. The universe in Flashpoint is constructed upon a central event, but it doesn’t produce a ripple effect across the rest of the world. That event doesn’t explain why Abin Sur is alive and never bestowed the Green Lantern ring upon Hal Jordan or why Captain Cold is suddenly a superhero. Perhaps it’s too much to expect everything to be connected, but Johns and Kubert present this as an alternate timeline rather than a different dimension, evoking a “butterfly effect” concept which doesn’t work as logically as I would have hoped.
This Flash Has a Point
What our creators capably construct, however, is a fascinating Barry Allen story. Following 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry Allen was supposedly dead, reduced to atoms after saving the multiverse from the Anti-Monitor. Wally West, Barry’s nephew, took over the Flash mantle until Barry returned during Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis. Geoff Johns, penning Barry’s adventures after his return, introduced Nora Allen’s murder, transforming the event into Barry’s impetus for becoming a forensic scientist with the Central City Police Department… and for becoming a superhero when he’s gifted his speed.
So how does Barry respond when the responsibility of superhuman abilities is lifted from his shoulders and the goal driving his life — solving his mom’s murder — is removed? Flashpoint seeks to answer what it is that makes Barry a superhero, whether the power itself or the decision to use that power wisely. The series examines the crux of who “Barry Allen” is, and not just as the Flash. We’re given a hero who could easily fade into the background, ignore the changes, and live life with the mom he’d originally lost.
Johns and Kubert allow Barry to struggle with the alterations. Nora Allen’s return to life means Bruce Wayne remains dead, Superman stays a captive of the government, and Aquaman and Wonder Woman are tyrants instead of superheroes. Can Barry live knowing the world is different? And if Barry’s willing to restore the timeline to its original state, is he equally willing to sacrifice what he just gained?
The appeal of Barry Allen is he’s the man who can run at superspeed yet never seems to have enough time. He’s late to work, dates, events. It’s a fun juxtaposition between the character’s abilities and his humanity. Johns throws in an engaging wrinkle by, initially, stripping Barry of his speed and giving him exactly what he wants: time… and the one person he’s lost so much time with.
Barry’s role extends deeper than this, as the series’ latter issues reveal, and further strengthens Barry’s heroic potential by offering him a choice. He’s not Superman, who can bench press planets; he’s not Batman, whose plans have plans within plans and backups for those plans and safeguards against those plans failing. Barry’s much more in the moment, lightning quick with his thoughts and actions. Johns utilizes Barry’s humanity, to great effect… and with consequences which could irrevocably change the character and his universe.
It’s easy to see why the DCEU has used Flashpoint as the basis for the Ezra Miller-led film. Even if the “alternate universe” elements feel somewhat disconnected and scattershot, they’re clever. Detailed panels, character designs, and concepts become fancy, fun window dressing for the main story. The overarching narrative, though fast-paced, nicely hinges on Barry’s character and gives us a good reason for why we want to run alongside the Fastest Man Alive. Barry’s motivations and core character elements are explored as well as can be in just five issues. So come for the fun moments and stay for Barry’s story. And last word of advice? Take your time. You’ll miss a lot if you try speed-reading this series.
+ Creative re-imaginings of classic DC characters
+ Detailed character designs and lavish settings
+ Strong story allowing Barry Allen to take center stage
- Deeper exploration of altered timeline relegated to tie-ins
The Bottom Line
Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert's series may only skirt the edges of an engaging alternate dimension but still tells a decisively powerful Barry Allen story.