Flashpoint and The Birth of The New 52
Comic books can be as confusing and convoluted as anything on the planet. In truth, sometimes I think that they actually are the most confusing and convoluted thing on the planet.
It’s incredibly difficult for anyone, let alone a longtime reader, to pick up a book and immediately understand what’s going on.
I don’t believe it’s purposely done. I believe it inadvertently happens because generations of editors, writers, and artists each work to cement their own legacy in comic history. To do this often means that they have to change things. This could be any number of things. The history, the abilities, or even the origins.
Frank Miller’s Batman and Daredevil come to mind.
He, through careful crafting and imagination was able to transform and take these two characters to unprecedented heights. Basically, Frank Miller’s work rewrote the characters and set the standard for who and what they were. This meant that every writer, creator, and artist after him had to draw upon what Frank Miller did.
Frank Miller and what he did doesn’t always happen. On occasion, the rewrites and reimagines change characters in unforgivable and unforgettable ways. Think about how many abilities and changes Wolverine has undergone since the 70’s.
When this happens, when a character, history or universe becomes so entangled in itself, the publisher has nothing left to do but start over. This means that the character receives a reboot or reset. Unfortunately, this is no easy task. Worse yet, done incorrectly, it can set them back years or even decades.
All publishers go through this.
DC is a master of it
The worlds within DC have, on more than one occasion, become so convuluted that both new and old fans couldn’t figure out what was happening. DC had created a universe that didn’t allow anybody to pick up a comic, dive in, read it, and instantly be able to tell what was happening. Instead, their world required the reader to go to their local comic book store, purchase a few years worth of stories, and somehow piece it together. As you can imagine, nobody in his or her right mind would want to do this.
In the 1980’s Marv Wolfman and George Pérez set the standard for resetting a universe with Crisis on Infinite Earths”. The 12 issue run masterfully created a “how-to” guide for comic book reset and told one Hell of a story. Crisis on Infinite Earths entrenched itself in comic book lore and to this day, is regarded as one of the best stories ever written.
Nearly 25 years later, DC had to show the world how to reboot a universe once again.
Flashpoint caused a company-wide relaunch and rebrand of the most popular DC titles.
- Detective Comics
- The Flash
- Wonder Woman
- Batman: The Dark Knight
- Green Lantern
- Green Arrow
- And more
For this, they turned to master architect and renown DC writer, Geoff Johns. Johns immediately turned to The Flash, Barry Allen. And with Barry, he once again changed his history.
In this new history, Eobard Thawne, or Reverse Flash killed Barry Allen’s mother, Nora. Even though Barry had the capability to travel through time and prevent her death, he would not because he knew that changing history caused problems.
Changing this, Barry awoke in a world in which his mother was still alive. What makes this different from other resets was that in Johns’s world, this reality wasn’t a parallel existence to another reality. Think Earth-One, Earth-Two, Earth-Four, etc…
This world was actually a new timeline known as Flashpoint.
Flashpoint was very different from the regular continuity that Barry came from. Within Flashpoint, Bruce Wayne was the one who died that night in the alley leading Thomas Wayne to becoming Batman and his mother, Martha to become the Joker. In this timeline Aquaman and Wonder Woman were at War with one another and the U.S. Government, from birth, imprisoned Superman. In Flashpoint, no one new of Barry’s other timeline except for, well, Barry.
Throughout Flashpoint, Barry was under the impression that Reverse Flash had changed the timeline. He understood it that Reverse Flash went back and killed Nora. This wasn’t so. As Barry discovered, Barry went back and saved his mother.
This led Barry to travel back through time to stop himself from saving his mother. He successfully did so and the result was an entirely new reality being born. This reality became the New 52.
What makes it so special?
Flashpoint was not on the same level, as say, Crisis on Infinite Earths but it achieved a very similar outcome. Like Crisis on Infinite Earths, it gave birth to an entire timeline that saw every story start with it. This meant that from September 7, 2011 onward, the entire DC catalog reset itself back to issue #1. More than that, DC slimmed down their line up to just 52 different titles.
Basically, Flashpoint became a starting point.
In the world of comic books, this is unprecedented. Certainly, DC wasn’t the first publisher to reboot its issues and characters and it won’t be the last. What DC was, however, was the fist publisher to reset its entire line up of books to #1. DC bravely marched, blindfold on, into unchartered territory.
If it doesn’t, this should impress you.
DC has a history of comic books and characters that date back before the Second World War. Adolf Hitler was marching and DC was making superhero books. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman had been riding issue numbers for nearly a century and they reset. Of course, as of today, books have begun to pick up where they left off but that’s inconsequential. Because of Flashpoint, the New 52 swung the spotlight back to DC and it stayed there for years.
Even the mighty Marvel and their Marvel Now! couldn’t stop it.
Very few characters had the ability to travel back through time and venture across the Multiverse. After Flashpoint Barry Allen became THE character to do it. Understand that Flashpoint wasn’t Barry’s first foray into traveling across the Multiverse (he was unquestionably important to Crisis on Infinite Earths), but it was the one that changed everything.
Very few characters could affect change on the level that Barry did. For, arguably the first time in his existence, Barry Allen stood tall with the likes of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. His efforts made readers all over the world question who of the four was the most important and powerful. The answer was Barry. None of the “big three” could cause a change in the way that Barry did.
I don’t aim to beat a dead horse but Flashpoint cemented Barry Allen as one of, if not the most important character in DC Comics.
Flashpoint became more than a comic
Flashpoint has been adapted to various forms of media since its creation. It has been turned into one of the best outings in animation, Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and the focal point of a season three episode of The Flash on CW.
Average stories don’t get this kind of attention. They can’t. By all metrics, Flashpoint wasn’t an average story. Geoff Johns crafted one of his best works in Flashpoint and now production companies are lining up to get a piece of it. And they should be.
Flashpoint, along with changing everything, gave the comic book world an updated template on how to reboot an entire company.
At the end of the day, there may never be another Flashpoint and that’s probably a good thing.