Writer: Geoff Johns
Pencils: Andy Kubert
Inks: Jesse Delperdang
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Nick J. Napolitano
Cover artists: Andy Kubert & Sandra Hope (regular)/Rags Morales (variant)
Editor: Kate Stewart & Rex Ogle
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
I was covering a criminal case recently as part of my regular court beat for the daily newspaper for which I work when a particular offender’s behavior caught my attention and made for a good story. It was already an interesting story — a cabbie had been convicted at trial of sexually assaulting a drunken fare — but his appearance (actually, his refusal to appear in court) for his sentencing hearing added to the drama. It seemed as though this man just couldn’t accept recent developments in his life, so he simply refused to acknowledge that his life had been altered (due to his own criminal actions, mind you) irrevocably. His choice to refuse to deal with the recent developments in his life just made things worse. One might perceive that he seemed to take a stand on principle, but there comes a point when principles conflict with harsh realities.
And that got me thinking about Flashpoint #4.
The plot really doesn’t advance all that much in this issue, but there’s a key scene in it that really clicked for me — so much so that I can’t help but wonder if it’s the central point that Johns is trying to make with this event book. In this issue, the Flash’s mission changes. He stops trying to return the world and timeline to the state of perceived perfection, to restore his loved ones and friends back to their previous, unaltered state. In essence, he stops striving to make his personal wish come true and he just tries to do the most good he can in the circumstances with which he’s faced. Johns explores a different kind of heroism as a result. In the super-hero genre, the protagonists always shoot for the perfect solution, no matter how much of a hail-Mary play it may be. Here, Barry Allen sets aside his idealism for pragmatism. He also sacrifices his personal interest for the well-being of people he believes weren’t meant to be.
So the Flash compromises, setting aside the big picture of the Way Things Are Supposed to Be and works toward making the best out of the situation that he can. Which brings us to Barack Obama. As other online comics commentators have pointed out, Barack Obama’s incorporation into the world of Flashpoint as its U.S. president marks a shift in storytelling choices for DC Comics, as in the past, generic, fictional politicians have fulfilled the role in the shared super-hero continuity. The first recognizable character in this issue if Obama, and it’s this emerging theme of compromise that makes me wonder if Johns’ decision to switch presidents, from faceless fiction to the real thing, wasn’t meant as an extension of that theme. I can’t help but wonder if Johns’ focus on compromise in this story represents a larger commentary on the political climate and developments in the United States.
Since he took office, many have felt that Obama has failed to fulfil the promise of change that he literally campaigned on and that he symbolically represented. It could be argued that he’s trying to do what he can in challenging political circumstances. The debt-ceiling debate obviously arose long after Johns wrote this issue, but it’s fitting the two coincided. With the recent debt debate, politicians scrambled to arrive at a deal to prevent, among other things, a downgrade of America’s credit rating, and to do so, a push for more revenue (i.e., taxes) was apparently abandoned. And by setting aside increased revenue generation as an option, the credit downgrade came to pass anyway. That issue might serve as a summary of the Obama administration’s tenure. With that in mind, I wonder if Johns might be saying that Obama has compromised too much in the name of governance or politics, or is he offering an explanation or acceptance of the compromises. I expect one’s own feelings and ideology will color the interpretation.
There are other instances of compromise in this issue. Among the six S.H.A.Z.A.M. kids, Freddy Freeman feels differently about the appropriate course of action, but he lets go of what he thinks is the right course to work with his friends. The Alt-Batman in the story compromises as well. He was dead-set against getting involved in the war between Aquaman and Wonder Woman, but here, he relents and joins the fray.
There are scenes in this issue — notably, the action sequences — in which the legendary Joe Kubert’s influence is readily apparent in his son’s linework. Clearly what he learned from his father has served Andy Kubert well, as it serves as a strong foundation for dynamic storytelling. There were a couple of moments in which the figures are a bit rough and loose (notably in the climactic battle sequence), giving the impression, fleeting as it was, that the work might have been a bit rushed. Overall, the visuals are quite strong. I especially enjoyed Element Woman’s look. The Jim Lee design for Element Woman is striking, cute and charming; she looks like something of a pixie. I also enjoyed how the lettering for her dialogue conveys her more innocent, bubbly nature.
The Element Woman character, both visually and conceptually, reminds me of Delirium from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and I’m thrilled the new character will have a life beyond Flashpoint as a member of the new, retooled incarnation of the Justice League in the fall. I also really enjoyed the Captain Planet-like riff on the Shazam! concept that was incorporated into Flashpoint. While DC has yet to announce any “New 52” plans for the Shazam! concept, my hope is that this new take survives into the new continuity as well.
While enjoyable, Flashpoint #4 is far from a perfect super-hero comic book. The wrench that the Enchantress throws into the works later in the issue comes from out of nowhere and really doesn’t make much sense without the context of Flashpoint: Secret Seven. I didn’t care for the fact that in that respect, this five-part event title moves away from being generally self-contained to relying, even in some small part, to peripheral developments in the other spinoff comics. Still, the shift in the main protagonist’s priorities helped to set this story apart and helped to make it seem like something more than a fun yarn about alternate versions of familiar characters. 7/10
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