Review: Flashpoint Beyond trade paperback (DC Comics)

I enjoyed Flashpoint Beyond immensely, much more than I expected. The book is very much of a piece with writer Geoff Johns' 52 and Booster Gold runs — the deliciously cryptic chalkboards and vague references to future events, lots of timestream shenanigans — such to make concrete aspects of Johns' work I’ve been missing in his absence from the DCU. I’m not wholly sure how long or if Johns is sticking around following his newest Justice Society miniseries — there’s nothing in the May 2024 DC solicitations with his name on it — but Flashpoint Beyond suggests other stories to be told and I’d be eager to read them.

In no uncertain terms, Flashpoint Beyond continues to tread on some of the biggest third rails of DC Comics. I’ve no special insight into Johns' mindset and so it’s impossible to say what draws him to tell stories where good taste or controversy might lead others to shy away — hubris, profit, or pure, honest belief he’s making a valuable contribution to this space. But I like ambition, and the sheer etymological scope of everything brought together in Flashpoint Beyond is itself fascinating, and so I’m entertained even if others understandably might not be.

[Review contains spoilers]

When DC first announced Flashpoint Beyond — and I intentionally didn’t look too close to forestall spoilers — it seemed to me a perhaps unnecessary return to DC’s alt-reality in which the story was pretty much told, timed to capitalize on the hype around the Flash movie. Having read it, I don’t think that’s a false impression necessarily, so much as I wouldn’t have predicted Johns would pen a follow-up to his Watchmen sequel Doomsday Clock at all, letting alone that Flashpoint Beyond would be it.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

At this point, the ship has well sailed on Watchmen sequels, and if they disrespect the original work and its author, then Damon Lindelof and Tom King might be as guilty of it as Johns. At the same time, neither Lindelof’s Watchmen TV show nor King’s Rorschach miniseries feel quite so egregious as Johns' Doomsday Clock, insofar as the other series play with Watchmen within the context of Watchmen’s own tone, while Doomsday Clock brings Dr. Manhattan toe-to-toe with Superman.

As such, jumping all the way to the end of Flashpoint Beyond, that Johns' Watchmen legacy character Nostalgia says she’s trying to find “The Watchmen” feels designed to troll the very audience that would be quick to point out there’s never a team called “the Watchmen” in the book proper. It is in that space where discomfort lies; there have been Watchmen sequels, and quite good ones at that, but no one’s except Johns' feels like it’s working to create new IP off of Watchmen’s bones. (See Lindelof refusing to do another season of Watchmen no matter how much we beg.)

I’ll hold off more speculation than that until I read the actual resulting stories, but it underscores just how much factors into this book. Watchmen is a lot in and of itself, but Beyond combines that with the Flashpoint Batman Thomas Wayne, who was created by Johns but popularized in the miniseries by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, before appearing in Tom King’s 80-issue Batman run and two different miniseries by Joshua Williamson before finally, finally ending up here with Johns again. Plus the Time Masters, in the style again of Johns' Booster Gold, plus that this whole thing centers around Hypertime, Mark Waid’s continuity paradigm that launched from his Kingdom miniseries, about to celebrate its 25th anniversary (and itself a perhaps ill-conceived sequel to Kingdom Come).

Among my concerns about Dark Crisis were the opaque threats to the “Omniverse,” something I still haven’t seen explained well. Flashpoint Beyond doesn’t do better and perhaps even muddies things further, but Beyond is still a better epilogue to Dark Crisis than that book itself provided, showing Mr. Terrific on a media tour to explain those recent events and their implications.

Hypertime, as originally posited by Waid, was an in-story way of explaining continuity errors between issues — Batman has a new costume in his own title but an old costume in Justice League, that’s “caused” by Hypertime. In Flashpoint Beyond’s televised debate between Terrific and the Time Masters' Bonnie Baxter, I’m not sure Johns does well enough explaining his redefinition of Hypertime beyond that it’s opposite to the Omniverse, but still it’s interesting to hear the characters of the DCU discussing it. (In short, Omniverse relates to multiversal “Crises” and Hypertime relates to time-based events like Zero Hour, but don’t even get me started on how Beyond is multiversal and yet relates to Hypertime, etc., etc.)

In its time, I liked the original Flashpoint setting; if skewing a little dark in the forced way of the early New 52, it had good roles for Cyborg and its nascent Superman. Again, more Flashpoint wasn’t something I necessarily desired, though I enjoyed how Johns deepened the story here, both Thomas Wayne, his “Alfred” Penguin, and his new Robin working alongside GCPD commissioner Sofia Falcone Gigante (!) and also Superman and Poison Ivy teamed up with a female Eclipso, a Starman with tentacles, and the Bloodlines New Blood Ballistic (hat tip, Mr. Johns) against a Kryptonian invasion.

As this reality bends ever closer to world war, it increasingly reminds of Johns' Doomsday Clock continuity, perhaps not coincidentally. Much like DC’s other dystopian alt-Earths, Injustice and DCeased and DC vs. Vampires, I’d certainly buy the book where Johns details this Flashpoint/Kryptonian conflict.

Thomas Wayne — Having been hero, villain, and hero again, pretty well dragged through the muck — emerges a fascinating protagonist, anti-hero but a softie at heart. That’s quite right for Geoff Johns' Flashpoint Beyond, a book itself at times shockingly violent, though here the characters and tone befit the violence far better than some of what Johns was pulling in Infinite Crisis.

And oh, the teases — from Nocturna to Nostalgia, the Thirteen, Per Degaton, and the threat of Martha Wayne’s family. Not all of these stories will be resolved in Johns' books, I don’t think, making Flashpoint Beyond a generous team player. Johns is no longer architect of the DCU as he once was, that role having passed to Scott Snyder and then Joshua Williamson, but with Flashpoint Beyond, clearly he still knows how to center his stories in the thick of things.

Batman steals the Silk Spectre’s snow globe to try to save the Flashpoint universe. I tell you what, I’ve seen just about everything now.

[Includes original and variant covers, character designs and page layouts]

Rating 3.0


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