Encounter at Flashpoint


On Wednesdays I look at various chapters in Wonder Woman’s history. Click here for previous installments.

Last week I started talking about Flashpoint, DC Comics’ 2011 mega-crossover that led into the New 52 reboot that restarted all of the company’s superhero series and reimagined many of its characters (usually for the worse), and remained the status quo they have today. It turned out that I had so much to say about this series in general that I didn’t have space to actually talk about the part that directly involved Wonder Woman. So the quickest of recaps: The Flash has screwed up time while trying to set right a change his archenemy made in the timeline, inadvertently creating a dystopian reality in which, among other things, a war between Wonder Woman and Aquaman has led to the sinking of Wonder Woman by Atlantis and the British Isles conquered by the Amazons.

Can’t we all just get along?

Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Wonder Woman, DC Comics, 2011.

There are six different trade collections of Flashpoint—seven if you count the volume of The Flash that was all lead-up to the event, which you really should—and the part most directly related to Wonder Woman is in the volume appropriately, if unwieldily, titled Flashpoint: The World of Flashpoint Featuring Wonder Woman. It collects four different three-issue series: Wonder Woman and the Furies, Emperor Aquaman, Lois Lane and the Resistance, and The Outsider. Of these, we only really need to be concerned with the first two. The Outsider is about a superhuman crimelord who really has his own thing going on, and as far as I know hasn’t been seen in comics outside the Flashpoint reality. Lois Lane is technically tied in with the Wonder Woman storyline, in that Lois hooks up with the superhuman resistance fighters in Amazon-occupied Britain, but there’s really only one scene that at all illuminates what’s going on with WW.

Well, she certainly looks like she means business.

Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies #1, DC Comics, August 2011.

So how did things get to this point, where war between Aquaman and Wonder Woman is tearing the world apart?  Through a wacky misunderstanding, of course! Well, not a wacky misunderstanding so much as a Machiavellian manipulation, but sometimes they amount to the same thing.

Wonder Woman and the Furies is cowritten by frequent collaborators Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (Legion of Super-Heroes, Resurrection Man), who also write the accompanying Lois Lane and the Resistance miniseries. The first issue was drawn by the late Scott Clark (Brightest Day, Grifter), who did some great work with it, and the next two were had somewhat rougher pencils by Agustin Padilla (IDW’s G.I. Joe)

The story starts with a headstrong young Princess Diana deciding to go off on an adventure in a boat to see what lies beyond Paradise Island. When she’s attacked by a Kraken, Aquaman comes to the rescue, but she doesn’t need all that much rescuing. Just a little help, is all.

Oh, you have no idea. But you will.

This leads to diplomatic relations between the two reclusive cultures, the Amazons of Themyscira and the Atlanteans of, well, Atlantis—ties that they intend to seal with a marriage between the two young royals.

For all that Wonder Woman and Aquaman have been teammates off and on for 50-odd years in the Justice League of America and TV’s Super Friends, their relationship has for the most part been strictly business. Although writers flirted with romances between Superman and Wonder Woman, and later between Diana and Batman, rarely has there been any spark between her and Aquaman. Christopher Priest had a clever story in 1998’s JLA 80-Page Giant #1 that had Aquaman accidentally getting tangled in Wonder Woman’s lasso and making some awkward confessions about finding Diana intensely annoying but terribly attractive. In Mark Waid’s JLA #48 Wonder Woman was put into enchanted slumber like Snow White and Aquaman correctly surmised that what she needed was a kiss from a handsome prince.

But all in all, there’s never been much chemistry between them. Maybe it’s because Aquaman’s often been pretty bland, and of course for a long time Aquaman was married. He was actually the first superhero to get married in his own series, back in 1964, but there were also many years when he and his wife Mera were estranged and he had other relationships. Wonder Woman, meanwhile, hasn’t had a steady love interest since her relationship with Steve Trevor was retconned out of existence in the 1980s, and not much has come even of the unsteady ones.

But of course, this isn’t the same Wonder Woman, and it’s not the same Aquaman. Not anymore, because time is broken. Again. And it’s not so much a love match as a diplomatic marriage, though they’re clearly friendly with each other. At first.

On paper, the match makes some sense. Aside from both being royalty, they come from hidden mythological warrior cultures unknown at first by the outside world. They even worship some of the same gods—Poseidon and any other sea gods of the Greek pantheon, anyway.

Before we know it they’re engaged, and one page later it’s their wedding day. But the ceremony is interrupted by what seems to be an Atlantean assassination attempt on Diana, whom her mother Hippolyta saves by jumping in front of the trident that’s been thrown from the balcony, at the cost of her own life.

You can’t say Dallas doesn’t love you, my queen.

It’s a frame-up, though, as we quickly see that the assassin is actually the Amazon Artemis in the armor of Aquaman’s protégé Garth (AKA Aqualad). Garth confronts her but is quickly defeated by Artemis, framed and immediately executed by as a murderer by Hippolyta’s sister Penthesilea. But we immediately learn that Penthesilea is behind the plot to kill Diana and spark war between the Amazons and Atlanteans all along, working with Aquaman’s brother Orm. If there’s one thing we should have learned from Wonder Woman comics by now, it’s that any sister of Hippolyta who shows up is always going to be bad news, and of course any Aquaman fan would know that on the traditional DC earth, Orm is the villainous Ocean Master. It doesn’t look like he’s any nicer on this earth—just better at hiding his fiendishness.

War! Good god, y’all. I don’t think this is really something that happens in the comic, though.

Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies #2, DC Comics, September 2011.

We get a little more of the back story of the marriage in the second issue. Both made no bones about it being a political marriage. Aquaman is still involved with Mera in this timeline, and Diana even says that she’d be fine with their relationship continuing—discreetly.

She’s pretty cold in her pragmatism, actually.

Aquaman and Diana still try to salvage the peace, despite Penthesilea and Orm vociferously lobbying for war. But the peace talks are sabotaged by sneak attacks from both sides, unbeknownst to the negotiating monarchs, making war inevitable. The Amazons even destroy their whole island to take out as many of the enemy as possible.

Man, Philippus dies in pretty much every alternate timeline. And they still can’t spell her name.

Now homeless, the Amazon army invades the British Isles, turning it into New Themyscira and gathering her own team of women superheroes, the Furies, to defend it (Hawkgirl, Huntress, Cheetah, Vixen and Terra, maybe others as well). Nearly as ruthless, Aquaman’s Atlanteans have kidnapped Geo-Force, King Brion of Markovia, and turned him into an earthquake-causing weapon. And that’s when both parties are still fighting the war with respectful regret. They don’t truly hate each other yet.

Yeah, Arthur’s going to take that well.

When Diana kills Mera in battle and cuts off her head, somehow thinking it would be the respectful thing to do to wear Mera’s helmet from then on—well, things get a lot worse.

This time it’s personal.

Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies #3, DC Comics, October 2011.

On the first page of this comic, the Atlanteans sink Western Europe. All of it, just like that, using Geo-Force to tear it apart. Their real target is Britain and the Amazons, of course, but little do they know that Diana has a secret weapon as well. Geo-Force’s sister Terra is working with the Amazons of her own free will, and uses her similar powers to raise England high above the rising flood.

Well, Rush Limbaugh should be pleased.

Diana discovers her aunt’s treachery, catching her in the act of kissing Orm. The weird thing is that the conspirators ruined the peace between the Amazons and Atlanteans in a plot to unite the peoples later on—only now toughened by battle, with the weak rooted out. That is to say, led by themselves. This is surely the least effective way possible to achieve that plan, but that’s the plot device chosen to get Wonder Woman and Aquaman to tear the world apart. Diana also learns that the humans of the British Isles have been sent to internment camps and subjected to genetic experiments, all unbeknownst to her.

Awww, see, their peoples CAN get along! Just as long as they’re at each other’s throats first.

So now Diana knows it’s all been a lie and the whole war has been engineered by traitors, but things have gone far too far to turn it back now. The Wonder Woman and Aquaman we know could still be able to reason through it, but they also would never have let things get to this point. The ones of this darker timeline aren’t quite as bright and not nearly as even-tempered.

There’s no question of giving away the ending, because there isn’t one. One problem with all these Flashpoint miniseries is that no matter how interesting the situation they set up might be, none of it would ever be resolved for better or for worse, because of the end of the world. This world was never supposed to exist, and once the Flash figures out how to fix the timeline—or reboot it into the similarly screwed-up one that we’re stuck with now, anyway—all of its conflicts simply ceased to exist. So each of these three-issue miniseries are written as if they were four-issue miniseries at the very least, just cutting off in mid-battle. There’s no indication what happens next because really nothing happens next.

Well, he seems nice.

Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman #1, DC Comics, August 2011.

Written by Tony Bedard, with Ardian Syaf drawing the first issue and Vicente Cifuentes the other two, the Emperor Aquaman miniseries looks at some of the same events that Wonder Woman and the Furies did, but more from the Atlantean side of things. Things that aren’t revealed until late in one series are shown right away in the other, which makes the question of spoilers fairly moot. For example, Emperor Aquaman #1 opens with Aquaman swimming through the ruins of Western Europe, which he doesn’t sink until the last issue of the Wonder Woman miniseries.

He’s one grim guppy.

This first issue tells the whole story of how Geo-Force was abducted under the guise of peace talks—a bit of treachery to which Aquaman was fully privy this time. We’re also shown the beheading of Mera, though not yet who did it. We actually don’t see Wonder Woman at all in this issue, though she’s talked about a lot.

Spoiler warning: She has no head.

Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman #2, DC Comics, September 2011.

The second issue is concerned almost entirely with Aquaman’s back story, from babyhood to the kingship, and we see some of the same scene that revealed the traitors to Diana, only before she arrived.

Well, it’s true.

In fact, the first glimpse we get of Wonder Woman in this whole series is on the back page, when she finally arrives for their battle royale.

Oh, sure. He gets the upper hand on HIS cover.

Flashpoint: Emperor Aquaman #3, DC Comics, October 2011.

Weirdly, the last issue continues to recount how Geo-Force was captured, which is odd because we know all about that, but it’s just to let us in on the fact that Orm set up Mera to go fight WW in the battle that would lead to the sea queen’s death. Orm, a traitor? Who would have thought? Well, anyone who read the other series or who has any idea who Orm is in the first place, but other than that?

Spell it out for him. K-i-s-s-i-n-g.

And Diana lets Aquaman know that as well, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because they’re too far stepped in blood to turn back now. It doesn’t matter because the conspirators continue to sabotage even the slightest steps toward peace. And it doesn’t matter because not only will none of this end well, it won’t end at all. It’s not a story so much as a situation, looked at from many angles but not really going anywhere, just escalating into nothingness.

And in the blink of an eye, this Aquaman and Wonder Woman didn’t exist anymore. Aquaman was again much like he was way back in the 1980s, before he lost his hand and grew a beard, only cooler now, and Wonder Woman was rebuilt from the ground up yet again into the New 52 version who’s still largely undefined. But that’s another story, and one we’ve already talked about at length.  As for Flashpoint, well, it was a flash in the pan, and never intended to be otherwise.

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