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

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.

Update: I could swear I’d written more on the idea that Barry broke time and it had to re-settle, but either I didn’t, or I wrote it somewhere else. In any case, here we go: Think of it as drilling a hole in ice vs. smashing through it. In one case you get a precise hole. In the other, you fracture everything around the change you made. After the ice has fractured, it might re-freeze, but not in the same configuration.

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.

27 thoughts on “Flashpoint and the DC New 52 – Changing History in a Flash

  1. mr maczaps

    i agree with what you said. i felt let down with this final issue and then nothing… the new JL book was okay but its not like it wouldnt work within the previous timeline, minus the “who are you” lines throughout… lame. whats the name of the speedster in Marvel again?

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      Barry’s mom dying again had already been established as the cost of repairing the damage Barry had done in the first place. The cost of merging the timelines is more likely to be losing the Justice Society, Wally, Donna, etc. Barry’s marriage to Iris, if you want to focus on a personal cost, generations of heroes if you want to look at the big picture.

      Reply
  2. Josh

    Plus, Bleeding Cool had a good article about the mysterious woman from the 2-panel spread showing up in the background of the new comics, so maybe more explanation will be forthcoming? Or it could just be a fun Easter egg.

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      I’m sure there’s more explanation forthcoming. In which case I think it would have been better to set it up in the new universe (like, say, DC’s flagship book), not to throw in a half-hearted “but wait, there’s more!” tease that comes out of nowhere and feels out of place in the middle of an otherwise self-contained (if you consider Flashpoint as a whole) story.

      Reply
  3. Jesse

    IT MAKES NO SENSE.

    Honestly, I thought that Barry was going to have to recreate the world from the ground-up in some way, and by relying on his (outdated, Silver Agey) memories, would form the new DCU as best he could, but some things would be different.

    The woman was so out of the blue that I went back through the pages to see if I had missed something.

    Reply
    1. Ben Hall

      I had the same theory, and what was up with Kid Flash’s ending? I mean it doesn’t work with the main story’s ending except with the sucking up speed force idea.

      Reply
  4. papa zero

    You know what we need? A huge crossover series to explain what happened and clearly define the DC universe as it stands.

    (you know I’m kidding, right?)

    Reply
  5. married guy

    MAJOR let down.
    I read those pages as a back door should the DCnU bomb.
    Another ‘IT ALL BEGINS HERE!’ mini series where Saint Barry brings everything back.

    Reply
  6. liquidcross

    Keep in mind, the mysterious woman said timelines, not universes. Those are two completely different things; we’ve seen in the DCU countless times before that an alternate timeline is not necessarily an alternate Earth.

    It’s more likely that the three timelines she spoke of were “old” DCU, Flashpoint DCU, and DCnU. (The Vertigo and WildStorm characters were shown as part of the old DCU, as they became part of Flashpoint DCU and will be part of DCnU.) In fact, all three of those timelines are shown in order from left to right, and they “merge” into DCnU. Of course, it still makes no sense that Earth-50 would somehow meld into DCnU Earth, but since does editorial care about little details like that? 😉

    With the mysterious woman appearing in all fifty-two new #1s, it’s clear that DCnU is yet another event. We’ll see how long it lasts.

    Reply
    1. Wayne Lippa

      I was under the impression that the three timelines were the old DCU, Vertigo, and Wildstorm (all shown on the left page of the spread) and they were all merged into the new DCU shown on the right page of the spread. (notice how new Superman, Batman, etc. are on the bottom of the page, and new GL, Supergirl, and a bunch of others are at the top of the page, so even though it looks like 2 timelines of people on the right page, they are all actually from the new DCU timeline. At least, that’s how I saw it.)

      Reply
      1. liquidcross

        If that’s the case, then it’s incredibly poor and ignorant storytelling, since Vertigo and Wildstorm were never alternate timelines to begin with (as others have stated above).

        Reply
  7. Jeremy

    Agreed. As much as I enjoyed the book, I was left with a lot of questions. Including but not limited to: Where the hell is Wally West?? DC said we’d find out his faith in Flashpoint #5 right?? >.>

    Reply
  8. West

    I’m not the biggest Barry fan but I have to say that I don’t like the idea that he screwed up reality and we’re supposed to embrace the result. This may seem harsh to some but it seems to be that this screw-up changed who people were and may have kept some people from ever existing so… Barry killed countless people during this screw-up.

    That doesn’t even touch on the many bad storytelling elements.

    Reply
  9. Josh Boman

    Wow guys, I’m a little surprised at all the negativity here. I know there may be elements that you don’t like, but I’m surprised. It seems like some of you enjoyed it, but the only way we know is a brief caveat like “Most of it was good, but…” On most other message boards I’m reading, people are pretty positive about Flashpoint and JLA #1. Sure Barry made a mistake, but he did it trying to stop Zoom from killing his mom, and he did the heroic thing and put it back as best he could. It doesn’t makes him a failure, but human. And sure it didn’t all make perfect sense, but this is comics. Can’t we focus more on the parts we enjoyed? It’s kind of depressing reading the comments here lately.

    Reply
    1. Jesse

      Nope, sorry. If you liked it, that’s great, but if other people didn’t, that’s fine, too, and they have the right to share their opinions.

      Saying “this is comics” implies we should lower our standards for comic storytelling. Why? If we thought that, none of us would be comics fans. There’s nothing about adding pictures to words that suddenly allows plotholes to be acceptable.

      Add to that the amount of press/pressure DC put on these particular books, and our standards should be even higher for them.

      There are a million comics that have tight, cohesive plots that make sense within the sci-fi boundaries they establish; this was not one of them. And we can call them on that.

      Reply
    2. West

      I didn’t like much of Flashpoint. I can hardly think of anything. Every sampling I gave it made me turn away with disapproval or indifference,

      I can understand comicdom making you feel bad because of our negativity or whatever but I guess I don’t get why we should focus on the positive instead of the glaring plot holes that are killing our suspension (of disbelief).

      We I really do want to like these stories – especially the Flash-related ones – but my opinion is what it is.

      And with good reason.

      Reply
  10. Zaki

    Personally, I find a deeply, deeply meta subtext in the fact that Wally first donned the red-and-yellow running suit as a way to honor Barry’s heroic sacrifice and ensure that it/he would never be forgotten. And as it turns out, he ended up doing such a good job of preserving his predecessor’s memory that his ultimate reward is that Barry came back to reclaim the suit, and it’s Wally himself who’s wiped from existence. Ah, irony.

    Reply
  11. West

    I was just about to shrug my shoulders and then decide how completely done with DC I would be after this terrible transition when it occurred to me that the Barry who tried to save his mom was stopped by the Barry who knew the effect that would have on the world.

    So why have there been any changes, at all…?

    There’s precedence in the DCU. Wally tried to change the past during…one of those arcs that involved seeing Barry for the umpteenth time after he died…then seeing how much he screwed up the Crisis (sheesh) he undid the changes he made and the multiverse did not rewrite itself.

    Anyway, this was horribly-handled. I will decrease my DC “contributions” accordingly.

    Reply
  12. Eyz

    For the time travel/alternating tons of events by changing one detail-thingie, it all reminds me of Rip Hunter and his “time is like a river, flowing” metaphor.
    He said something like you can’t deviate the rive, when Booster Gold tried to save Barbara Gordon, he couldn’t alter that. The river was still continuing its way, like if you’d throw a little rock in there.
    But give means to do so, like with that Black Beetle-bad guy, you could deviate the rive, create big “splashes”.

    Yeah, sounds pretty arbitrary, up “to the writer” to play with, in context…

    Reply
  13. Realitätsprüfung

    Eyz – that is quite right; a lot of Johns’ work over the past 5 years (52, Flash Rebirth, Flash, Flashpoint) has established the notion that the timeline has a primary path, and the deviations cause ripple effects. The Flashpoint world was the end result of Zoom’s multiple deviations from the primary path, and of course Barry’s ill-fated attempt to fix it.

    Reply
  14. Savitar

    Don’t agree with everything here. Barry is suddenly a master of the Speed Force, able to draw it entirely into himself. Too many questions about how the different universes were pulled into one. Changing the DCU seems like something tacked on needlessly.

    The Thawne material, the scenes with Mom, the conflict felt by Barry, all this would have worked better as a Flash event instead of a DCU-wide event.

    Reply
  15. Todd

    Well, just noticed this post today 12/12/2011 and flashpoint is now past history. I have to admit that I felt that the pages with the mysterious new character didn’t sit right in the story. I find that with what ppl in charge of DC are and have said about the new DCU “Crisis events and all” there is more confusion then resolution. I would not in the least be surprised to find out that the “multiverse” not just 52 worlds exist and this new dcu ends up just being the “new” earth-1.

    Reply

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