“Then the whip cracked over the jutting bones of the horse; it lurched forward, snorted and began to gallop down the street at enormous speed. Jerry clung on as the cab rocked from side to side and hurtled across an intersection. From over his head he heard a strange, wild droning and realized that the driver was singing in time to the rhythm of the horse’s hooves. The tune seemed to be Auld Lang Syne and only after a while did Jerry realize that the song was a favourite of the 1917-20 war.
‘We’re here because we’re here because we’re here,’ sang the driver, ‘because we’re here. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.’ ”
– Michael Moorcock, A Cure For Cancer, the not-amazing sequel to a book that I really liked.
Annotations for Flashpoint #1 and #2.
Summer, 2011. The world is ending. Not the real world. I mean, sure, the economy is collapsing, there’s a natural disaster once a week that qualifies as horrific and soul-destroying, royalty are getting married on television, diseases are flourishing, people are making up fictional drugs that then get reported on by massive news outlets, etc etc; but no, the real world isn’t ending right now. Maybe next year Terrence McKenna and 1999 Grant Morrison will be right and everything will end then. But right now, the real world isn’t going anywhere, no matter how many signs of revelation appear to be fulfilled every day. The world I am speaking about is a small, fictional world, that only a few thousand people even having a passing knowledge of, one currently managed by Geoff Johns and 2011 Grant Morrison, whose cells have been completely replaced since 1999 and can (maybe must?) therefore be considered a different person by the standards of Morrison comics, have been triage doctors in a disaster zone for some time, and the disaster zone is called the DC universe. It’s ending. And if you really think about it, you being one of the fraction of a fraction of a percentage who actually would read something on this site instead of somewhere else, who actually read about comic books on the internet, who in the grand scheme of things has absolutely no effect on the comics industry outside of con attendance numbers, because let’s be really honest the same people bought Flashpoint and Paying For It and any dichotomy that you want to create there is imaginary…. the DC universe is ending and you can’t force yourself to care.
DC comics characters are always going to be around in some form, any intellectual property that can produce a movie as lucrative as The Dark Knight will always be allowed to produce in some form, and saying that DC is going to keel over and die is, at best wishful thinking and at worst, a facile basis for an argument (you may think of those two things reversed, but whatever). Not going anywhere. There might not be a print arm of DC after a while, but there will always be a DC comics. But not this DC comics, not the one that has existed for twice as long as I’ve been alive. There’s a reboot coming, and a massive shift in the company’s business model that is WAY MORE IMPORTANT has, and let’s be honest, needs to be, the real news story. Comics going digital is happening and the direct market isn’t going to exist the way it does right now, and may not exist at all, in ten years time. This is going to happen, the question is just timeline of events. DC going day-and-date digital with 52 books at once is a nice way of them saying “we’re sick of waiting for someone else to do this”.
The big reboot, the first of it’s kind, as it is specifically targeted with making these characters saleable as media properties instead of juking the stats with the pre-existing DC/Marvel audience; is simple – they need to change the Superman origin (pesky copyright law and creators families saw to that) and they need to streamline everything else and bang it into easily translatable shape, which means Batman can’t be semi-outing himself the way he did, and the way Professor X did the exact same way in New X-Men almost a decade ago. It means Superman can’t be “walking to find the spirit of the USA” and Wonder Woman needs to actually make sense (or as much sense as possible). And Green Lantern can stay the same because it’s been written with twin goals of making it unassailably simple and yet ornate enough to resemble biblical hierarchies, something that Geoff Johns is spectacular at doing. Green Lantern may be ridiculous as a concept and as a “mythology” (in the JJ Abrams sense not the Joseph Campbell sense, though really who can tell the difference anymore when Edgar Wright wrote a Joseph Campbell speech for Scott Pilgrim specifically to show to JJ Abrams, then cut it when Abrams went “I’m the only person in the world who’d find that funny”), but it’s the kind of material that can easily be handed to a Hollywood screenwriter and hammered into shape over a weekend instead of the months-long process off writing, editing and thematic hedging that the Nolan Bat-movies have been said to go through (Marvel just writes the scripts on set, it’s much easier). Essentially Geoff Johns’ approach to Green Lantern is what they now have to do with every DC comics character and title. Which is interesting in a lot of ways, particularly in that Johns isn’t a particularly great writer so much as he’s someone with 1) a lot of commitment to the DC Universe, maybe the most committed since Roy Thomas was walking the earth, making things safe for alternate universes; and 2) a innate, Richard Donner-trained skill at developing plot and theme independent of any other elements needed in a story.
Geoff Johns was essentially born to write for DC comics, and is great at doing so – his run on the GL books has been proof of that. The problem is in doing so, in fixing the entire mythology of a character that was dated when Gil Kane stopped working on it, he was in effect making the template of the destruction of the thing he loves as it exists today.
By exposing that these characters had been mismanaged – maybe interestingly, maybe not – it soon became obvious that they needed to fix the entire line, and after multiple attempts to fix them piecemeal, and the continuity line-wide jerry rigging that’s been in play since the original Crisis on Infinite Earths failed to work no matter how quickly they’ve done it. So here we are at 2011, which is a fallow period for every edge of comics concerned (current comics superstars include the people who were doing amazing work ten years ago, a guy who likes to draw himself banging faceless prostitutes, a bunch of names you vaguely know, webcomics people on forums, veterans doing stellar work between ad jobs, and… yeah. I buy Orc Stain and BPRD mostly), the now-even-more-corporate DC comics decided that they need to make a move, and they decided that Geoff Johns had the right idea – and streamline everything. But instead of just doing what Johns does, which is essentially write his way out of a corner, they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater and chucking the entire universe. Worse yet – they’ve hired Johns himself to perform the act of destroying the universe he loves so dearly. I believe that he took the job knowing that if he didn’t take it, someone else would. Someone who probably wasn’t going to apply the care he would (whether you or I agree with this, the simple fact is that Johns loves DC comics in a way few do). So Johns took the job, and decided that it was best to tell the story in an alternate world apart from the DCU he loves.
Alternate universe stories, particularly in superhero comics, exist for one reason: to prove that the core world, the original world, is the only one that is correct one. Every issue of What If? and every Elseworlds ends in the world ending because they are secretly reinforcing the dedication of the readers of the major comics world. Not only in the “only fans could notice all these minor changes”, which is something that Flashpoint deals in too; but simply that these worlds are broken because they have deviated from the timeline. Any deviation from the real world results in death and destruction. That’s something that needs to be said to the reader – you know that this is wrong, because you understand the correct way of things. They are reassured by the differences.
Flashpoint is, generally a series of conceits with characters filling different roles than they’ve had – some of them in-character, some of them not. Generally, the timeline is changed because without the Flash, without Bruce Wayne as Batman (which is probably more telling than it wants to be – don’t be surprised when entire chunks of Morrison’s Bat-stuff disappears when the reboot happens – Bruce Wayne will be the only Batman). Without the characters that anchor the DCU, everything and everyone falls into global sectarian violence – Wonder Woman and Aquaman are evil dictators, other segments of the planet are written off casually because THEY DON’T MATTER. Gorillas running Africa may be casually racist but really its the result of that same reassurance – there are no characters that are important to the DCU in Africa. It’s dismissive more than anything, not for any reason other than it not being Gotham or Metropolis or Keystone City or whatever fictional place they need to tell a good Metamorpho story.
A bunch of villains are pirates (Captain Marvel Jr’s cameo on the pirate ship was probably the only thing in the entire series that I thought was kind of brilliant). Honestly, Andy Kubert is a pretty great action artist, and these are comics where characters stand around and discuss huge events. The events in the story “happen” in the way that big crossover comics have had them happen since time immemorial, which is really get all the heroes together and get them to talk with some occassional stabs of big reveals/twists. JJ Abrams is a great comparison point, because this is exactly what Lost and Alias episodes did. And it is done well, there’s not much you can say about it. So Kubert is kind of misused, I guess, but you can’t really fault anyone here for the work they are doing. I’m not that big of a DC guy, I don’t really go for this kind of story, but it does what it does well, kind of in defiance of the material on the page. Here are a bunch of characters I don’t know- – alternate versions of said characters no less – standing around discussing a fight with Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Okay. But this isn’t for me, this isn’t for anyone except the most devout DC fans. This isn’t a story, not really. This is apocalyptic literature, this is a message of the end times from the last deigned prophet, who’s job it is to document the last days of a fictional world. While DC, and superhero comics in general, have toyed with the imagery of the apocalypse for decades — Kingdom Come explicitly quotes John’s Revelation — but this is one the only mainstream comics that actually fills that role. This is the last time this world is ever going to exist, and not in the Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? way, or the House of M/Age of Apocalypse way, or even the Promethea/Earth X actually-well-done way. This is the series that will end DC comics forever, that will put the universe that Johns loves in the ground. Sure, he’s one of the architects of the new one, and I’m sure that’s what is getting him through this, but god, it must be rough for him to write this. It has to be excruciating.
Flashpoint #1 starts off with Batman, of all people, narrating. Not the real Batman. The alternate Batman. Which is Thomas Wayne and… yeah. Not the Dr. Hurt one, the original one. He’s the one in the story who’s telling it. But it doesn’t really read like Batman. It reads like Johns.
“I’m not the hero of this story. I’m a man who’s been corrupted by his own unbearable pain. I’m a man who has too much blood on his hands to be called good. I’m a man who had nothing to left to live for… Until the day I met the Flash”
We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here. DC Comics come out because they need to. There is no other reason. And no matter how much love was put into them, it just wasn’t enough to keep the thing going.
And Geoff Johns just found out. Flashpoint is his confession to us all.
- Sean Witzke June 2011