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Grumpy Old Fan | Who’s got room for Professor Zoom?

by  in Comic News Comment

While it might not be much, Saturday’s Free Comic Book Day will bring our first real glimpse at the world of Flashpoint. I’ve been looking at the looming alternate-universe epic as little more than a fun way to spend the summer — which would be fine, by the way — but apparently that is just crazy talk. Everything will change, as it always does; as it did with Brightest Day and Blackest Night and Final Crisis, etc., etc.

Naturally, there are different degrees of “change,” from wholesale reorganization to continuity tweaks. 1985’s Crisis On Infinite Earths gave DC carte blanche to rework characters from the ground up. 1994’s Zero Hour, 2005-06’s Infinite Crisis and 52, and 2008-09’s Final Crisis also allowed DC to tinker with the timeline, mostly on a small scale. More esoteric devices like Hypertime, Super-punches, and plot-specific time travel have produced and/or explained certain changes.

However, in practical terms, the post-COIE changes haven’t upset too many apple carts.  Oh, Zero Hour tried to clean up Hawkman’s history, and it also facilitated a new Legion of Super-Heroes timeline, both of which were big deals.  More recently, though, Infinite Crisis gave Clark Kent a “secret Superboy” career and restored certain aspects of Batman’s and Wonder Woman’s histories, but those developments stayed in the background. Accordingly, a change that doesn’t affect a title’s regular storytelling practice doesn’t seem like much of a change.

And therein lies the real puzzle of Flashpoint: what room is there, across DC’s superhero line, for the kind of change which excites more than it frustrates?  Of the 55 DCU/superhero-line titles DC will publish in July (as the big event reaches its midpoint), 17 are part of Flashpoint, and many of the rest are dealing with their own ongoing arcs. Today we’ll look at who might be flexible, and speculate a little on what might happen.

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THEY GAVE AT THE OFFICE

Counting the Gates Of Gotham miniseries, Batman Beyond, and an extra issue of Detective Comics, July’s Bat-books account for 11 of the 38 non-Flashpoint titles — and they look pretty booked already, thanks to a combination of the Batman line’s perpetual popularity and the current “Batman Incorporated” umbrella. Although Dick’s been a full-time Batman for over two years, Bruce is barely six months back in the saddle, and Batman Incorporated hasn’t finished its first big arc. Ancillary titles like Gotham City Sirens, Batgirl, and Red Robin are doubly secure, both because of their Bat-connections and because they don’t have that much history to tweak.* Similarly, Batman Beyond is apparently doing well enough that there are rumors of Justice League and Superman spinoffs. (Never mind that BB may also be on a different Earth entirely.) I’m not even factoring David Finch’s The Dark Knight into this analysis, since it has its own problems just getting published.

Don’t feel bad, Flashpoint, because the Bat-cast has historically been resistant to continuity changes. I can only remember a handful of significant alterations: Jason Todd’s revised origins, Barbara Gordon as Jim’s niece (and, later, adopted daughter), Leslie Thompkins’ expanded role, and Alfred as the Wayne family butler (as opposed to being hired well after Bruce became Batman). Most of these happened in the late 1980s, right after Crisis On Infinite Earths, although Infinite Crisis made small-time crook Joe Chill the Waynes’ killer once again. Considering Grant Morrison’s “everything happened” dictum for Batman’s history, it’s funny that Bruce/Batman himself has changed so little over the years, while Alfred’s and Gordon’s backstories have been extensively rewritten.

Anyway, the second big franchise which looks Flashpoint-proof is Geoff Johns’ own Green Lantern. The current “War of the Green Lanterns” storyline is set to wrap up next month, with the two-part Aftermath miniseries ending in August. If Flashpoint ends on time in September, it would give the GL books some room to prepare for any post-Flashpoint changes. Regardless, that may be asking a little too much of GL readers, who have been through a constant cycle of epic storylines: “Sinestro Corps,” Blackest Night (and the months-long buildup thereto), “New Guardians,” and now “War of the Green Lanterns.” I just can’t see introducing more changes on top of all that, unless they’re designed to bring the Corps back to normality.

I do note that Greater Flashpoint includes a handful of Batman and GL-related miniseries (Knight Of Vengeance, Deadman and the Flying Graysons, Abin Sur, and Hal Jordan), but I imagine those are there to get people to buy Batman and Green Lantern-related books, not because Flashpoint has some larger post-event plans for them. Profession (and lack of sidekicks) aside, Flashpoint’s Batman doesn’t seem much different from the regular version, and I bet FP’s Hal will get the power ring before too long.

NOT IN THEIR WHEELHOUSE

A few DC books fall within the general orbit of the superhero line without being particularly affected by its twists and turns. These include the two Legion titles (Adventure Comics and Legion of Super-Heroes), the loosely-connected-to-the-main-line Superman/Batman, and the Western Jonah Hex. As with Batman Beyond, the Legion books and Hex are so far removed from the main superhero line that I can’t see Flashpoint’s ripples reaching their time periods. Superman/Batman just does its own thing, often telling stories which predate current events,** so it might not end up referencing Flashpoint for a while.

REPLY HAZY, ASK AGAIN LATER

The relative flexibility of Justice League of America, Justice Society of America, Teen Titans, and Titans each depends, to a certain extent, on the team’s roster. The JSA and the Teen Titans both look relatively stable in that regard. However, the Justice League is perpetually recruiting, and the current evil-Titans setup can’t last forever. If it weren’t for July’s Titans Annual kicking off a new storyline, I’d say Titans was ripe for a Flashpoint makeover. What’s more, with a new Justice League International series on the way, and a number of old-school Justice Leaguers available to join a team, Flashpoint may give the JLA an opening to shuffle its lineup(s?) yet again.

BRIGHTEST DAY ALUMNI

As discussed last week, there are a handful of characters retooled through Brightest Day who are no doubt preparing for their next moments in the spotlight. Aquaman and Deadman are both fairly prominent in Flashpoint’s altered timeline, but not so much for Hawkman, Firestorm, Swamp Thing, or the Martian Manhunter. Because none of these characters have ongoing series for Flashpoint to affect, it makes me think that their post-Flashpoint appearances won’t be overly dependent on whatever roles they play in the altered timeline. Aquaman will probably be the exception to that rule, since Johns will be writing his ongoing series and no doubt linking FP’s Sea King to the unadulterated version.

As for July’s two BD-related titles, I don’t see the Search For Swamp Thing miniseries being overly affected by Flashpoint; although Green Arrow may be ready for a new direction now that BD is over.

(While I am curious to see if any of the series cancelled to make room for Flashpoint (Doom Patrol, Freedom Fighters, REBELS, Outsiders, and JSA All-Stars) might come back once the event has ended, the chances of that are slim at best. Instead, I imagine a few of those series’ slots will be filled by Aquaman and other Brightest Day stars.)

THE FIELD

I have learned not to try and predict anything about Secret Six, because it does what Gail Simone wants and it tends to work just fine. If the Sixers come out of Flashpoint with Bane leading a troop of Girl Scouts, I’m sure it’ll all be to the good.

However, Ms. Simone’s other title, Birds of Prey, gives Flashpoint a potential opening. Because Lady Blackhawk landed in the present via time anomaly, it’s entirely possible that the time-twisting required to undo FP’s changes could affect her as well.

Also not exactly from the main DC universe is Power Girl, a character I’m eager to see in Flashpoint for the simple fact that she comes from a parallel world which no longer exists. In fact, that may make it fairly hard for Zoom to remove her from the timeline — and even if he changes her history so that she’s no longer a threat to him, she’s been through that kind of thing before. In Infinite Crisis (written by Johns, of course), the Superman of the original Earth-Two reawakened her memories of their adopted home. The question is, who on the Flashpoint Earth would have that kind of connection to her? (Booster Gold?)

A few low-selling DC titles might benefit from a brush with Flashpoint; namely THUNDER Agents, Xombi, and Zatanna. While none of them really need revision (particularly the just-launched Xombi), more exposure via Flashpoint — even to an alternate-universe version — couldn’t hurt.

TWO OUT OF THREE AIN’T BAD

I have held off talking about Superman and Wonder Woman because I think they (and the ancillary Super-books) are well-positioned to take advantage of Flashpoint’s manipulations. Both will be coming off of year-long JMS-influenced arcs, and readers expect Wonder Woman in particular to be revamped (re-revamped? Retrovamped?), at least as far as it takes to restore her familiar status quo. Supergirl also seems to be waiting for a regular creative team to give it a fresh direction.

It bears repeating that Superman and Wonder Woman could both use some attention to their post-Infinite Crisis backstories. The Johns-written Superman: Secret Origin filled in some gaps, mostly with regard to the Superboy issue and early relations with Luthor and the military, but it wasn’t concerned with being comprehensive. Moreover, Johns didn’t try to either reconcile Secret Origin with, or distinguish it from, the original 1986 revamp Man of Steel or the 2004 revision Superman: Birthright. If Flashpoint facilitates a reordered Superman history, a nice byproduct would be a step-by-step account of the Man of Steel’s early life and career: Krypton looked like this, these things happened in Smallville, this is what brought Clark to Metropolis, here’s his Superman debut, etc. While fans might greet such a story with yawns, it could set the tone for future stories by emphasizing how these various events continue to affect our hero. How is a Clark who was Superboy different from one who wasn’t? What did New Krypton teach us about Krypton-that-was, and vice versa? Does Luthor’s hatred of Superman still come from a singular humiliation?

A similar treatment would also help Wonder Woman’s newly-complicated history, which now includes a nebulous multi-year span — from her first appearance in Patriarch’s World through her participation in 1986-87’s Legends. However, given her prominence in Flashpoint and the potential fallout from the current “Odyssey” alt-timeline, I wonder if DC doesn’t have something more sweeping in mind. Flashpoint could open the door to a wholesale revision of Wonder Woman’s history, making her debut not at the beginning of the Silver Age but all the way back to her World War II origins. Since she’s practically immortal, it would be easy for her to join both the Justice Society and the Justice League. In a nice bit of historical irony, she could even be Superman’s in-universe inspiration! She’s had different supporting casts in different eras (and Steve Trevor has died and come back a couple of times), so that wouldn’t be much of a problem — and there’s something of a precedent for that too, when the Lynda Carter TV show explained that Modern Steve was WWII Steve’s son. Mind you, I’m not saying this is a flawless idea, or even a good one; but surely it lives up to the mantra “everything is going to change.”

THE HEADLINERS

That leaves us with Flash (represented by Flashpoint, of course) and Booster Gold, the two titles most intimately involved with this event. Since Booster is something of a continuity-cop these days, he’s both ideal for commenting on Flashpoint and relatively insulated from its effects. Indeed, in 52 #52, Booster and Rip Hunter saw firsthand how Mr. Mind pruned the worlds of the current Multiverse into an array of distinctly alternate timelines. Therefore, I don’t quite know how FP could change his basic setup (well, I have an idea, but that’s for later). As mentioned above, though, I would like to see how/if he interacts with Power Girl in FP’s altered timeline.

Finally, there is the Flash, Barry Allen, herald of DC’s Silver Age of Comics, metatextual symbol, and all-around nice guy. The seed of Flashpoint was planted in Flash: Rebirth with the revelation that Professor Zoom manipulated Barry’s history, framing Barry’s father for the murder of Barry’s mother. Rebirth explained that the power to change time without consequences was unique to Zoom, and was specifically off-limits to Barry. Nevertheless, one expects that in Flashpoint, Barry and/or his allies will find a way to undo Zoom’s changes — or at least undo enough of them.

The more I think about this, however, the more I am convinced that Barry’s actions will themselves have significant consequences for him personally. In short, I expect Flashpoint to give Barry the choice of saving either his parents or himself; and naturally I expect Barry to choose his parents. Part of me even thinks that Barry’s sacrifice will somehow affect DC’s cosmological underpinnings (again) — perhaps creating a new Earth-DC out of his memories,*** and infused with his spirit; or perhaps recreating the infinite Multiverse itself. I like the second option better, not just because it would be cruel to cut short Barry’s second career after a year and change, but because Barry could then be lost in said Multiverse for however long it took to establish Wally and Bart in their own titles. (Hey, it worked for Dick and Damian….) An infinitely-expanded Multiverse could also widen the scope of Booster and Rip’s jurisdiction, and/or turn the book into an Exiles-like trek across parallel worlds.

Pardon the digression, but another Multiverse-related idea occurs to me. It arises from the confluence of time travel, Crisis On Infinite Earths, and the relative absence of the Green Lantern Corps. When I was reviewing DC’s various historical rewrites to prepare for this post, I remembered that none of the Corps went back to the Dawn of Time with the rest of the superheroes in COIE #10. Later, in Zero Hour, Hal Jordan/Parallax tried to shape history to suit his tastes (specifically, to save Coast City from destruction), but he had already destroyed the Corps by that point. These things interest me because Krona, the Oan exiled for observing Creation, is back in “War of the Green Lanterns”; and the Anti-Monitor got a couple of scenes in Brightest Day. Now, Anti-M**** wasn’t expressly set up as a Green Lantern villain, but he is tied pretty closely to GL Corps mythology. Just as his positive-matter twin, the Monitor, was born on Oa’s moon, so he was born (in the Anti-Matter Universe) on Qward’s. Early in COIE, Anti-M put the zap on the Guardians of the Universe and cut off the Corps’ power; and when they recovered, they had their own problems. While the other superheroes were at the Dawn of Time, the Corps was in the Anti-Matter Universe, fighting an army of bad guys for control of Anti-M’s power source on Qward’s moon. Thus, Anti-M never faced the Corps directly until the Sinestro Corps War, and has since shown up since in Blackest Night and Brightest Day.

I mention all of this to note that if Professor Zoom is going to shape the timeline like a topiary, he’ll need to account for the big cosmic events too. It’s one thing to divert Kal-El’s rocket; it’s another to put the Anti-Monitor in a box. I for one would like to see Anti-M out of that box and hopping mad at the yellow-clad speedster who put him there. Besides, forcing Zoom to assume Barry’s role in Flashpoint’s version of COIE would certainly be poetic justice; and Barry recruiting the Green Lanterns to make sure things don’t get out of hand (and/or to help remake the infinite Earths) seems eminently appropriate.

* * *

Ultimately, if Flashpoint does leave a lasting mark on the superhero books, I suspect it will be more of an expansion of storytelling possibilities — again, like the infinite Earths returning, or (more likely) a troop of new-to-new-ish characters — than an array (no matter how sweeping) of detail-oriented changes. I’ve mentioned a couple of blow-it-up-and-start-over possibilities, but that’s all they are. While Flashpoint has the potential to shake up the regular DC timeline in radically new ways, especially with a few of its key characters, the practicalities of a shared superhero universe don’t leave it much room to operate.

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* [Restoring Catwoman’s history as an amnesiac flight attendant might be fun, though.]

** [It did have a Blackest Night tie-in, but that looked like an exception to the book’s normal practice.]

*** [That idea came from Graeme McMillan, and I like it because it’s a nice counterpoint to Barry’s buddy Hal trying to do the same thing in a more misguided way.]

**** [A great nickname, coined by the venerable Amazing Heroes critic R.A. Jones back around 1986.]