In 1984 Marvel unleashed the first major comic book crossover series, Secret Wars. This 12-issue series was supplemented by nearly every Marvel title, creating a story that spanned well over 500 pages. The following year Marvel published Secret Wars II and DC published its epic Crisis on Infinite Earths. Despite very favorable reactions from the fans, these kinds of mega-events did not return until 2004 when DC published Identity Crisis, followed in 2005 with Infinite Crisis. Since then, both Marvel and DC have had at least one big crossover event every year.
From the publishers’ viewpoints, these giant tent-pole events make a lot of sense. It gets fans excited about seeing their favorite characters working and fighting with each other. It’s not the same old humdrum villain of the month. It also encourages fans to read titles they might not otherwise, thus boosting sales. The drawback is that it takes a big investment in time and money to read all the ancillary titles. Fortunately, most of these crossovers are written so that you don’t miss too much if you miss some of the companion titles.
DC’s big crossover event of 2011 was called Flashpoint. The core 5-part miniseries series was written by Geoff Johns and penciled by Andy Kubert. Released in June, it began with the revelation that the DC universe had radically changed and only Barry Allen, AKA the Flash, was aware of the new alternate reality. Over twenty tie-in titles rounded out the saga, for a combined count of over 1500 pages.
Flashpoint was an ambitious way to explore new character origins in an alternate universe. Some characters and situations
were similar to their familiar, established lore, but many were completely revamped, and a number of brand new characters were introduced.
I read Flashpoint #1-5 and three of the tie-ins (The Outsider #1-3, Deadman and the Flying Graysons #1-3, and Frankenstein & the Creatures of the Unknown #1-3). I enjoyed the exploration of the skewed DC universe. Re-imaginings like Dick Grayson obtaining the Dr. Fate helmet looked like they could turn into some fascinating story lines.
I got the sense, however, that this had originally been intended to be a longer story. The tie-ins, especially, felt rushed and without clear resolutions. In Flashpoint itself, Barry Allen seemed to figure out what was going on very quickly and it seemed more than a little contrived that his archenemy would suddenly appear to taunt him, which then led to his quick defeat.
I really would have liked to see more of this alternate reality. It gave a lot of freedom to the writers to change or even kill favorite characters, and to investigate new relationships without compromising established continuity.
But such was not to be. Shortly before Flashpoint started, DC announced it would be restarting all of its titles with #1. The “New 52” were scheduled to begin in September, so Flashpoint had to be finished by then. In fact, Justice League #1 appeared on the same day as Flashpoint #5. With one look at Flashpoint, though, it was clear that whatever it had originally been intended to be, it had become a way to push the reset button on the DC universe. Much as Star Trek (2009) invented a way to split the timeline of the Star Trek universe so that previous continuity was preserved, Flashpoint was a way to create a new hybrid DC universe that did not conflict with previous continuity, and allowed DC to create any new “reality” that they wanted.
Fortunately, the new DC universe is not a radical departure from the old one, but there are significant changes. I’ll look at them in future articles.