September 1, 2011

Flashpoint and the DC New 52 – Changing History in a Flash

Category: General — By @ 10:52 am

Flashpont #5 is out, and we now know how history was changed to create the Flashpoint universe, and how it was changed again to create the new DC Universe.

Well, sort of.

Obviously, spoilers for Flashpoint #5, so stop reading if you don’t want to know yet.

Creating the World of Flashpoint

We learn in…well…flashback, that Barry Allen, tortured by a lonely, closed-off life, decided that he’d had enough: he would try to fix it by preventing the Reverse-Flash from killing his mother. (This would have worked better if the Flash series leading up to Flashpoint had actually shown this as an ongoing character bit, rather than ignoring it for most of the run and dropping back into it for the last couple of issues.)

Barry went back in time and succeeded…and somehow it created a ripple effect that cascaded back in time at least as far as World War II (as ComicsAlliance puts it, “Barry’s mother being prevented from dying in the 1980s caused Frankenstein to kill Hitler in the 1940s”) and out into space, altering the trajectories of Abin Sur’s and Kal-El’s spacecraft and eventually changing the face of the entire world.

So from the standpoint of changing history, it doesn’t make much sense, unless you take the approach that random events are still random in the altered timeline regardless of what happened in the previous one…but then DC usually takes a more deterministic view of time travel in which everything else stays the same, but changes can cascade through chains of cause and effect (“For want of a nail…”)

When it comes down to it, the Flash didn’t change history. He destabilized time. It’s less time travel, and more like the creation of the different worlds of the multiverse in 52.

On to the New 52

So, how about creating the new timeline? That all happens in one extremely vague double-page spread, shown here.

(Scan grabbed from ComicsAlliance. I’m pretty sure they’ve used my scans in the past, so I figure fair is fair.)

The fact is, this is all we get. There are two scenes afterward, but if Flash and Batman had been drawn in their previous costumes, these scenes would have fit in just fine with the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe. I have to admit, I’m kind of disappointed that all we got as a transition was a single splash page with a bunch of cryptic comments from a mysterious new character. Once DC decided to use Flashpoint as the jumping-off point to the new universe, you’d think they would have added a few more pages. It just feels tacked on.

So.

A mysterious woman [Update: We now know she’s Pandora] explains that the history of heroes was split in three — apparently the DCU/New Earth, the WildStorm Universe/Earth-50, and the DCU-based Vertigo characters — and they’re going to be combined “at a cost.” What that cost is, isn’t explained. Nor is there any hint of what the Flash is actually doing in these pages, other than running.

It also seems a poor fit with the existing DC cosmology, the 52-world multiverse. This was brought up as recently as “The Road to Flashpoint” and is apparently still around in the future, since we’re getting an Earth-2-based Justice Society. Speaking of which, if the JSA still exists on Earth-2, does that mean that the previous versions of the WildStorm heroes still exist on Earth-50?

And it seems odd that they need to merge in characters who are already present. The Vertigo characters never really left the DCU, they were just editorially discouraged from being mentioned. Animal Man, the Doom Patrol and Zatanna all seemed to happily jump back and forth between labels depending on the tone of the story. Swamp Thing and John Constantine came back in Brightest Day. Even the Endless have shown up here and there. I’m not sure about Shade the Changing Man, but he showed up earlier in Flashpoint…as did at least one WildStorm character, Grifter, so the timelines had already been at least partly merged.

Ultimately, I’d rather have seen one of the following:

  • A few more pages of explanation. What exactly did the Flash do to combine the timelines?
  • No explanation at all. Barry prevents himself from damaging time too badly, and history just settles out differently.

What we’ve got instead just isn’t satisfying. It comes out of nowhere, doesn’t make much sense, and doesn’t justify its presence in the finale of a story that was clearly written without it.