Axel-In-Charge: Facing the 'Divided' Marvel NOW! Future
As we all know by now, DC’s big summer event Flashpoint includes the main five-issue miniseries, fifteen three-issue miniseries, and an as-yet-undisclosed number of one-shots. My first reaction to this format was along the lines of oh good, just five issues. I take it this is a minority opinion.
To be sure, it makes Greater Flashpoint about 90% ancillary, and that is a proportion more suited for profit than for narrative. There is also the notion that DC is diverting resources to all those tie-ins which could just as easily have been used on projects aimed outside the insular superhero readership.* It’s usually the case with these kinds of events that you buy the titles you want and you leave the rest on the shelf; but here, the sheer magnitude of tie-ins suggests that DC is doubling down on Flashpoint in a very specific, market-targeting way which will be hard to ignore.
As Douglas Wolk has pointed out, however, Flashpoint is not the most voluminous DC event. He counts 76 single issues in 2009-10’s Blackest Night, although twenty of those were part of the regular Green Lantern and GL Corps runs. (Because GL Corps told an ancillary storyline about the defense of Oa, I’d even argue that BN Proper really only included the eight-issue miniseries and those issues of Green Lantern which tied directly into the mini.) Going back a few years, Infinite Crisis ran for seven issues, four six-issue prefatory miniseries, four one-shots tying the prefatory miniseries into InfC proper, the Countdown To Infinite Crisis one-shot, the four-issue “Sacrifice” storyline which itself tied into The OMAC Project, plus assorted regular-series storylines like JLA’s “Crisis Of Conscience.” Of course, every issue was important to the year-long weekly miniseries 52, Countdown, and Trinity, so arguably Flashpoint covers a similar scope in a shorter period.
Guiding the consumer’s buying practices, though, is the question of “importance.” Does Flashpoint: Secret Seven have any real bearing on Flashpoint Proper, or is it just an excuse for Peter Milligan and George Pérez to riff on Suicide Squad? The Blackest Night: [Title X] miniseries, and the “zombie issues” of cancelled titles, all played out against the events of BN itself, but by and large they weren’t required reading. In fact, the Blackest Night: Flash miniseries may work better as a bridge between Flash: Rebirth and the current Flash series.
That, in turn, brings us to the recurrent question of whether these titles really “matter” in the larger scope of DC’s superhero line. Even three months out, I daresay Flashpoint, like any alternate-timeline story, cannot by definition leave much large-scale effect. The one detail I expect Flashpoint to change is Nora Allen’s death, since (according to Flash: Rebirth), that’s part of Professor Zoom’s timeline tampering. Moreover, Flashpoint itself probably won’t fix Wonder Woman’s changed history — clearly, you’d think that would happen in Wonder Woman — but the end of “Odyssey” should come just as Flashpoint is starting, so I suspect those changes will be addressed somehow.
All that said, upon reading this week’s final issue of Dan Jurgens’ Time Masters: Vanishing Point — itself marketed as a tie-in to the Return of Bruce Wayne miniseries — I realize I may have been thinking too narrowly. SPOILERS FOLLOW …
… mostly to tell you that TM:VP ends with a “To Be Continued” blurb directing the reader to Booster Gold #44 (which should be out in May) and, yes, Flashpoint #1.
See, I thought TM:VP was an opportunistic (although logical) way to ride ROBW’s coattails. Turns out it’s also a way to connect ROBW, and by extension Final Crisis, with Flashpoint and the aforementioned Professor Zoom subplot from Flash: Rebirth. Because it’s Jurgens, though, TM:VP has used the Linear Men (from his early-‘90s work on the Superman books), Waverider (from Armageddon 2001 and Zero Hour, both of which he pencilled), Supernova (originally in 52, then in Geoff Johns’ work with Jurgens on Booster Gold), and the Black Beetle (BG again). This means issue #6 is concerned mostly with moving various players into position, both behind the scenes of ROBW and in preparation for Flashpoint.
Thus, the “importance” of Time Masters: Vanishing Point snuck up on me. Again, at first I thought it was just Jurgens using Booster and company for an entirely appropriate storyline. It bothered me that ROBW had a three-issue head start on TM:VP, because that would apparently take some of the suspense out of the latter’s “search for Bruce” plot, but then TM:VP went off on its own and that became less of a concern. Still, those tangents further reinforced my perception of TM:VP as one of Jurgens’ pet projects, not a lead-in for DC’s next big thing. The miniseries’ final two issues were four weeks and seven weeks late, respectively, so a 6-issue mini which started in July is just now ending — but oddly enough, just as DC is revealing the details of Flashpoint’s format. Curious readers who figured TM:VP wasn’t anything to worry about can now either hunt for the back issues, or wait for the paperback, due April 6. It makes me wonder whether issues #5 and #6 were delayed in order to set up Flashpoint, or whether DC originally planned to stick “to be continued in May” at the end of an issue scheduled for December.**
Anyway, it plays perfectly into the view of DC Comics as a publisher who does not reward the casual reader. Although this is nothing new, I am reminded of the 1992 Vengeance of Bane one-shot and Sword of Azrael miniseries, which the publisher strongly hinted would play significant roles in the Batman line, but which didn’t sell commensurate with that hype. (If I remember right, the Bane special soon became particularly valuable in the short-term speculator’s market.) Because today’s DC is much more invested in its shared universe, I am surprised when something like Time Masters: Vanishing Point isn’t accompanied by a big pay-attention banner. If it means Flashpoint will bring together all of DC’s time-travelers, as well as provide some closure on that lingering Flash: Rebirth plot thread, this summer’s miniseries could be the capper to stories from the likes of Jurgens, Johns, Grant Morrison, et al., going back at least a couple of decades.
Understandably, though, DC wants readers to think all its books both work together cohesively and are perfect jumping-on points. I think DC realizes this is an unattainable goal, so it errs on the side of us lifers. This too is nothing new, especially not as supposed by me, who is all for new-reader friendliness and gladly trusts that the shared-universe maintenance will take care of itself. I’m sure there are also comics readers who view the whole “does it matter?” argument as the most moot of all points, since hardly any corporately-produced superhero stories truly “matter” in the literary sense.
Nevertheless, the current superhero-comics market is what it is, and this summer it’ll include the 50-odd issues of Greater Flashpoint. It’s much too early to tell whether most of those ancillary miniseries will be worth reading, although I am predisposed to like anything drawn by George Pérez. I do think that Flashpoint has the potential to be new-reader-friendly, both because it’s an altered timeline and because (despite its girth) it does look fairly self-contained. Even the high-concept Blackest Night was the culmination of four years’ worth of Green Lantern, not to mention various other bits from GL lore and previous DC events. I keep saying that DC’s best crossover remains 1998’s DC One Million, which essentially introduced a familiar-yet-different take on everyone’s favorite superheroes, and left the main superhero line virtually unchanged.*** Flashpoint is similar, at least superficially. Just as every DC-superhero title jumped ahead to its “millionth issue” in September 1998, Flashpoint looks to be ubiquitous for the summer of 2011.
We’ll see soon enough if all those miniseries were justified. Quality forgives quantity, after all. Regardless of its effect on continuity, Flashpoint can be — and needs to be — important where it counts.
* [Conversely, if these fifteen miniseries will replace the appropriate regular series for three issues, they could potentially disrupt ongoing storylines, and nobody likes that. I don’t think this will be the case, considering that in-series arcs like “War of the Green Lanterns” and “Rise of Doomsday” look like they’ll be running alongside Flashpoint.]
** [September’s solicitation for issue #6, which scheduled it for December 15, asks “How far has Reverse-Flash gone this time in his manipulations of the time-stream?!” and begs “Do NOT miss this peek at what lies ahead for the DCU!” It looks like maybe that was the plan after all.]
*** [Unless you count Hypertime, which a) was only implied by the future-history of DC1M and b) has been virtually ignored for the past ten years or so.]