Prelude to Flashpoint


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

DC and Marvel both love their mega-crossovers. Scarcely a month goes by when the entire superhero line of one or both of the Big Two comic book companies isn’t caught up in some universe-shaking event after which nothing will ever be the same again. In the last several years, DC has usually had more than one of these overlapping uber-crises going on at the same time.

Even so, Flashpoint was one that I thought I could safely ignore. Coming hot on the heels of Infinite Crisis, Countdown, Death of the New Gods, Final Crisis, Blackest Night and Brightest Day, among others, Flashpoint took place entirely inside an altered dystopian timeline that was never meant to last. And the thing is, there had been a lot of those already, too.

But hey, Abin Sur was stil alive on this world. The kids can’t get enough of that Abin Sur.

DC had always loved its alternate worlds, ever since writer Gardner Fox created Earth-2 in 1961 as a way to say that the original Flash, Green Lantern and all the rest of the Justice Society of America still happened during World War 2, just on another earth. On the earth we were usually concerned with, the age of heroes was a new development, and there was a new Flash and Green Lantern bearing only slight resemblance to the original. That way we could say the 1940s adventures of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman still happened somewhere and still have them young for their then-current adventures.

And from time to time they’d just, you know, cross dimensions just to hang out together.

Gradually, DC accumulated more and more of these alternate worlds. On Earth-3, familiar heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman (called Ultraman and Superwoman) were villains who held sway on their world with little heroic opposition.

She’s usually a lot tougher than that. And meaner.

Earth-S contained the Marvel Family and other characters that DC had obtained from the defunct Fawcett Comics. Earth-X featured old Quality Comics heroes, the Freedom Fighters, trapped on a planet where the Nazis had won World War 2. Earth-Prime was a planet without superheroes, supposedly “our” earth. Earth-C was populated by anthropomorphic “funny animals” Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew, who would cross over from time to time with the Just’a Lotta Animals of Earth C-Minus. And those are just a few of the better known of DC’s near-infinite earths.

Wonder Wabbit’s a whole lot flirtier than her human counterpart.

As a kid in the 1970s, I never had any problem keeping this stuff straight. I’d read the adventures of various heroes in World’s Finest and it never bothered me that the Captain Marvel story was set on a different earth than the Green Arrow or Hawkman story. It wasn’t a big deal. But DC decided this was getting too complicated, and 1985’s crossover Crisis on Infinite Earths killed off all those other earths, resulting in a single merged timeline that incorporated characters from many of these other earths, while having no room for others.

No room for you, Superwoman! For now, anyway.

Children of the 1940s Batman or Wonder Woman obviously had to find new parents, so history was pretty radically rewritten, and would have to be rewritten several more times as different writers decided that the previous solution didn’t make sense and tried on another one.

At least two of the heroes shown here would need new parents pretty soon.

In this new reality, there weren’t supposed to be any alternate earths anymore, but writers still found a way. The evil parallels of our familiar heroes, the Crime Syndicate, were simply relocated from Earth-3 to the “Antimatter Universe.” A “pocket universe” was created to account for some other stories. So the elegant idea of parallel universes existing side-by-side on different vibrational frequencies was replaced with a bunch of different workarounds. And any crossovers with other companies’ heroes, such as Marvel’s, were still predicated on the idea of parallel universes.

During this time that DC supposedly had only one universe, the company started telling a lot of fanciful stories set in completely different realities. DC had always published “imaginary stories” from time to time to explore what might happen if Lex Luthor killed Superman, or if Superman and Batman had teenage sons who teamed up to fight crime like their dads, or if Superman split permanently into two separate people.

So that’s a thing that happened. Or, er, didn’t happen but could have.

Like Marvel Comics’ What If? series, these imaginary stories often had a credible jumping-off point from canonical continuity, when something like that might have happened, or might happen someday. But that was only occasionally the case with the “Elseworlds” stories that DC started publishing in 1989. Sure, you had JLA: The Nail, which posits a world in which Ma & Pa Kent ran over a nail and never found the rocket that contained baby Superman, and Superman: Red Son explored what might have happened if that rocket landed in the Soviet Union instead of the American heartland. Batman: In Darkest Knight showed Bruce Wayne becoming Green Lantern instead of Hal Jordan. But most “Elseworlds” stories imagined a completely different world. What if Batman was set in the Victorian era (Gotham by Gaslight)? In a Puritan theocracy (Holy Terror)? In the age of pirates (Batman: Leatherwing)? What if he was a vampire (Red Rain)? How about a Victorian Wonder Woman (Amazonia)? What if the Justice League were heroes of the Old West (Justice Riders)? Other Elseworlds mashed up Batman with Frankenstein, Superman with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, or the JLA with The Island of Doctor Moreau.

I don’t even know what the hell this is.

For all that these were set on other worlds, some of which were occasionally revisited for a sequel, the worlds were not intended to be taken literally. They were a fiction within a fiction, not as “real” as the stories told with the ongoing versions of the same heroes in the main line of comics. That changed with DC’s 2005 crossover Infinite Crisis, which brought back the multiverse with new versions of the old parallel worlds, and many of the Elseworlds—at least the most popular ones—were also among the 52 parallel universes of the new multiverse.

Nothing in particular was ever done with this concept, sadly, because this new multiverse would only last for another five or six years before the next multiverse-restructuring event, which happened to be Flashpoint. But we’ll get to that in a minute. All that actually happened with this cool new multiverse was a few gimmicky series early on to establish it in the first place. Countdown had a few superheroes traveling from world to world in search of the Atom, and Countdown: Arena had representatives of all these parallel worlds fight each other to the death: Batmen fighting Batmen, Wonder Women fighting Wonder Women. Unfortunately, these were some really lousy series, and that was about it for the 52 worlds. There was a lot of talk of Grant Morrison writing a cool series that would explore the multiverse, but that never happened.

Seriously, don’t even talk to me about Countdown: Arena.

Flashpoint takes place in a radically altered world, but it’s explicitly not an alternate earth. Someone’s messed up the timeline, and now nothing’s like it used to be. (Spoiler warning: As is implicit in the title, it’s all the Flash’s fault.)

Oh, Flash. Can’t you do anything right?

Like most of these mega-crossovers in the last decade, it was spearheaded by DC head writer and chief creative officer Geoff Johns, who really likes this kind of thing. Johns wrote the main storyline, a five-issue miniseries, but there were also no less than 16 three-issue miniseries and four one-shots exploring what happened to various characters in this new world. And a couple of characters, Flash and Booster Gold, were actually aware of the change and explored it in their own respective series.

In this darkest timeline, Batman is still the sole survivor of the crime that killed his family, only it’s papa Thomas instead of son Bruce, and he’s much meaner. But the biggest thing going on is that the world has been shaken by all-out war between Wonder Woman’s Amazons and Aquaman’s Atlanteans that’s left all of Western Europe underwater and the United Kingdom conquered as New Themyscira, its human population put into camps.

Now, some of these miniseries looked vaguely interesting to me at the time, because they revived minor characters long forgotten in the mainstream timeline, but more than anything it looked like a cynical ploy to rake in a whole lot of cash from fans struggling to piece together what was going on.  And ultimately, why on earth would I want to do that? None of this would last, and this world would vanish as quickly as it came into being. DC had created divergent new worlds like this before: Kurt Busiek’s 52-issue 2008 limited series Trinity created a world without Superman, Wonder Woman or Batman, which again was the actual DC earth altered, but that series never really crossed over was what was going on elsewhere in the DC universe. The aptly-named Tangent Comics was a 1997 line of one-shots creating an entire alternate world of characters who shared the names of familiar DC characters but nothing else. And the thing is, all of these stories could be safely ignored by fans who cared only about the ongoing mainstream DC continuity, because ultimately they “didn’t count.” (That said, Trinity was kind of interesting in its own right, and I’ll probably feature it in Wonder Wednesday eventually.) All you had to do was wait for it to blow over.

Tangent Wonder Woman. No reason you should know her, really.

But here’s the thing: When the Flash put the world back together again, he did it wrong. On the advice of a mysterious voice, he patched three universes together into one: the mainstream DC superhero universe, the “adults-only” Vertigo line, and the Wildstorm universe of heroes that DC had obtained a while back. The voice says that “the history of heroes was shattered into three long ago” and that “the timelines must become one again,” but of course this is bullshit. Jim Lee, who created Wildstorm as a cofounder of Image Comics, had become copublisher of DC Comics, and this was just a way of embedding his creations into the bedrock of the DC Universe—despite the fact that it makes no sense for, say, Batman and the Batman takeoff Midnighter to coexist on the same world. It also provided a opportunity for Johns, Lee and copublisher Dan DiDio—the people who messed up the DC Universe to the point where it needed a reboot in the first place—to remake it in their image. In any case, that was the birth of the “New 52” reboot of 2011, the status quo that continues to this day.

Leave it to the Flash to screw everything up. Again.

Wonder Woman was in a particularly weird place when this happened, because she’d just finished a storyline in which her costume and personal history had suddenly completely changed, and she had just found her way back to her old life (though not her old costume) when Flashpoint started, giving her a whole new life story, and then the New 52 gave her another one. Poor Diana was getting rebooted every few months.

So, after all that, how was Flashpoint?  Or at least the Wonder Woman parts?  Well, I’ll tell you, but not this week. I’ve rattled on enough for one Wonder Wednesday already. Next week we’ll jump right into Flashpoint: Wonder Woman and the Furies—and, time permitting, possibly Emperor Aquaman as well—and see just how it was that we got where we are today.

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