When Flashpoint was first announced I was pretty curious. I’m a big fan of alternate reality stories and that’s what this is. Flash (Barry Allen) wakes up in a world where he simply does not exist as a superhero and instead, Captain Cold is Central City’s champion. People like Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Superman and Cyborg still exist in this world, but they’re very different from how Barry and the reader remembers them. The fun of a story like this — especially as a reader who knows the history of the universe pretty well — is finding out why certain heroes are different, why some are the same and why some brand new ones exist. It sounded a lot like Marvel’s Age Of Apocalypse which swept through the X-books back in the mid 90s. And, much like that event, this one wasn’t contained in just one book and spread out into six trades’ worth of minis and one-shots exploring this brand new world.
Of course, when the whole Flashpoint thing was announced, we in the general public had no idea it was going to lead to the complete and utter dissolution of the DC Universe I’ve been reading since I was 9. Like a lot of people I was bummed when I first heard that, but it’s been a few years and I’m a 30 year old father, so who has time to worry about that kind of stuff? With my one-time negative look at Flashpoint and New 52 long gone, I figured it would be fun to actually get back to the book and see how it was. I mean, I dig Johns’ stuff a lot and he’s a longtime Flash fan and writer, so it’s gotta be pretty cool right?
Well, yeah, for the most part. It’s kind of your basic “guy stuck in an alternate universe story” but like I said, that’s the kind of thing I dig. This one is packed with fun takes on the DC characters like breaking Billy Batson into six different kids who combine into Captain Marvel and also a brewing war between Aquaman’s Atlanteans and Wonder Woman’s Amazons. And of course, the whole thing’s a race against time where the one person remembering the old reality is starting to forget it and other characters tell him he needs to succeed, that it doesn’t matter who dies because if Flash succeeds, this world will have never existed.
Much as I liked this story, though, I’m hesitant to go after the other five trades. The problem with these big events is that you can’t ever tell which tie-ins are worth reading. The reality of the situation is that a ton of them are put out as a cash grab to make more dough off of the main story. When it came to something like Blackest Night, the main stories were great, but the tie-in stuff was dicey-at-best and mostly unnecessary. The problem is that, the way these things are put together, even if a really cool idea is developed in one of the off-shoot books, it won’t really matter in the larger scheme of things because the main writer is already doing his or her thing and probably has the story all the way plotted out. I remember there being some pretty creative uses of light powers in a few of those tie-ins, but they wound up not playing any kind of larger part in the story because, at the end of the day, they’re basically afterthoughts. So, what I’m saying is, “Are any of the other Flashpoint books worth checking out?” I’m probably not going to pay much money for them, but if I get a few recommendations, I’ll keep an eye out while on Sequential Swap or whathaveyou.
After finishing Flashpoint, it seemed only natural to move into the New 52 book starring the same character. I’ve said before that Barry Allen isn’t exactly the most interesting character in the world to me, though I did start taking a shine to him with Flash: Rebirth. I think it’s because there’s such an uphill battle there for me as a reader my age. See, for my generation of DC readers, the Flash was always Wally West. Barry was a guy who — as my pal Ben Morse has said a number of times — was at his most interesting when he died. Aside from that he was this Silver Age goober who wore a bow tie and was always late meeting his girlfriend. I didn’t really know about his deeper cuts (on trial for murder and whatnot), but that was the impression I had. The nice thing about the New 52 is that it’s given me the mental break I needed to look at Barry as an all new, fresh character, not someone being dusted off by a creator with a love of those older stories.
One of my favorite things when it comes to reading stories about these heroes that have been around forever is when a writer can take that character’s powers and explain them in a new way or do something new with them. Flash and his fellow speedsters are kind of the poster children for this idea. They started out simply running fast, but then they could vibrate through things, tap into the Speed Force and much more. Super speed is also an interesting power because it’s easy to understand on one hand — dude’s fast — but has additional layers to it. I actually remember two instances of hyper speed powers behing shown that have taken up residence in my brain. One was a moment in someone else’s comic (I believe) where everyone in the DCU is watching TV and Wally goes out and gets his girlfriend/wife Linda’s dry cleaning between words of s sentence. Another was the way the real world must slow down for you when you’re super-fast, to the point where most normal people seem like statues. That actually came form an episode of Batman: The Animated Series starring Clock King called “Time Out Of Joint.” Both of those instances gave me a much better idea of what it much be like foFlash to function in the real world.
Anyway, one of the neat things that writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato do in this book is explain Barry’s powers with a slight twist (at least as far as I’m concerned as an every-now-and-then Flash reader) and that is by showing that Barry can practically see the future because he can think through every scenario so quickly that he’s already imagined all the outcomes well before they actually happen (like how Midnighter is with fighting, but with everything). It makes perfect sense and yet I’d never thought of it before. Moments like that are really fun to me as a reader.
So you’ve got a cool exploration of powers while also reintroducing some of Flash’s Rogues in fun and creative ways (the new Top!), plus I can actually buy Barry as a CSI guy now because, well, why not? I know there’s all kinds of explanations that could be given on how he caught up on modern police techniques in the previous DCU, but him going back to that job after returning in Rebirth just didn’t wash with me. Anyway, I also really dig how Manapul handles the artwork on this comic. His style is a little bit loose, on the cartoony side, but it’s also incredibly fluid, which fits the concept perfectly. I’m becoming less and less a fan of huge numbers of panels on a page, but Manapul and Buccellato use that concept to great effect in this book, often to point out every little thing Flash notices. As far as I’m concerned, this book succeeds at everything New 52 was supposed to do: updating old, dusty characters in modern ways that can be appreciated by brand new readers and longtime ones alike. It kind of reminds me of what a lot of animation folks do when adapting comics to TV: cherrypicking the best ideas and making them their own.
The question I ask myself at the end of every trade-reading experience is whether I’m going to keep that particular book, pass it on to someone else or put it up on Sequential Swap. This has been an interesting question to answer with the New 52 books. A few — like Scott Snyder’s Batman — have been instant “Keeps,” while others that I won’t mention have been total slogs I never even got all the way through, so they get tossed on the “Dump” pile. But, a lot of the ones, like Flash, Superboy, Supergirl and Teen Titans wind up in a weird kind of limbo. I liked what went down in the first volume, but if there isn’t a solid storytelling arc that comes to a decent conclusion or blows me away in some other manner, they get to keep their spot in my collection. But if there’s a ton of creator changes, an abrupt cancellation or things just fizzle out in general, there’s no point in keeping them on board. For now, though, the first Flash volume and others like it get a pass for now.