FEATURE FRIDAY: Re-Visting some Representations of Heroism in DC Comics’s Flashpoint

With the two year anniversary of the beginning of the 52 universe on the horizon and a new summer event with Trinity War I wanted to reflect a bit on what I thought made the goodbye summer event to the previous incarnation of the DCU, Flashpoint, guided by Geoff Johns, something worth remembering and re-reading. The substance of the Flashpoint series across all the titles, and granted at some points the crossover books  were at times a bit stretched thin, was in how the writers presented the idea of heroism to the reading audience in a number of ways. With an animated version of Flashpoint coming to DVD in summer 2013, and with our own lead editor Josh Epstein debating about the event’s legitimacy historically recently on his Infinite Crossover podcast, I wanted to throw my brief thoughts into the ring on an event that I also felt was a success in being an entertaining story about some of my favorite heroes. This post was originally published on my blog in August of 2011 (See, I am not that late to the party!). The two issues of the event I focused on, “Flashpoint #4” and “The World of Flashpoint #3,” were originally released on the same week, and I am sure can now be found in trade collections, back issue long-boxes in an LCS and of course online if you would like to read the story in full for yourself.

“Flashpoint #4”

(writer) Geoff Johns; (pencils) Andy Kubert; (inker) Sandra Hope; (colorist) Alex Sinclair; (letterer) Nick J. Napolitano; (cover) Andy Kubert

The most curious thing about the main Flashpoint title, written by Geoff Johns, is that it is really a centerpiece that focuses more on the characters than the action. This is interesting because it allows for bigger themes and ideas to emerge. One that had been sort of bubbling under the surface but came out in full this week is in a scene with the children who comprise the Shazam-tastic Captain Marvel ( aka Captain Thunder in this timeline) in a conversation with Barry Allen, Cyborg, Batman, and Element Woman. The Flashpoint world is on the brink of destruction and heroes are in short supply to go to the front lines to help. As the rambling and disjointed heroes have come to a house for help, it is Billy Batson, a mere boy granted magical powers, who has watched the world begin to disintegrate from war and hatred in front of his eyes on television, fully capable but much like everyone else scared, who has the following exchange with Barry Allen/The Flash:

Billy: We’ll come with you./ We have to, guys. Even if it’s only The Flash and us. We can’t sit inside and watch TV and hope something good is going to happen./ We have to make it happen.

The Flash: No, No, it’s too dangerous for kids.

Billy: It’s dangerous for everyone, Flash.

Such discourse in comics is common, but, often it is overlooked as just another component of writing for the superhero/heroine genre: the good guys must rally and someone must give the version of the rally round the flag speech. However, let’s take a moment to approach what is perhaps being said here on another level. This is the call to action– social action and/or social justice. Here, in this “comics summer event”, we have substance over style as the characters and situation being faced mirrors our own society yet again (which, I might add, all great literature does). Generations (especially young people) who read this will be faced with the question of whether they themselves are active or passive citizens within their own culture and society and what that may mean. As an adult who teaches, this is one of the most important things I try to impart to students—that transformative social change begins with questioning (born from reading and/or discussion) enough that it moves you to action of some kind.

“The World of Flashpoint #3” 

(writer) Rex Ogle; (pencil/inker) Eduardo Francisco; (colorist) Stefani Renee; (letterer) Travis Lanham; (cover) Brett Booth

As one of the ancillary titles, I am sure not everyone who is reading the main event book may be getting this one. While it is not a perfect side story (as some of the side ones are not), there is a very important point about cultural beliefs when the character Traci 13, in a dramatic moment of trying to find clarity for her father, thinks:

Traci: All these champions, both good and bad, are all driven by their selfish motives. Each is caught up in his or her own little drama. / And each of them wants nothing more than to mold this world into the image of what they consider right. / But who is truly right? It’s all a matter of perspective…

On the next splash page, she imparts to him (along with psychic imagery):

Traci: The world can be a terrible place, dad./ But it can be a beautiful one. It’s a place where people try to make it better./ Each in their own way./ Trying to solve the world’s problems, one step at a time./ There are no easy solutions. Sometimes you just have to let go…/…and hope.

Traci’s call for understanding perspective in a diverse world is punctuated by the two page splash image of man, woman, alien, cyborg, machine, element, meta-human etc. all wanting to make a change for “A” better. The point Tracy is making, I believe, as many philosophers, educators, anthropologists and social theorists have also discussed the last hundred years, is that the first step in understanding culture is to understand that unity can exist even when it is understood differently based on ones upbringing and moral code. With respect for another cultures perspective, respect for views can become shared via reciprocity, and suddenly light is shed upon that most of what everyone wants, regardless of place on the planet, is basically the same: To live a healthy life with opportunity and chance for themselves and those around them; To be free of war and pestilence and hunger and death; To unshackle those that are oppressed and put in danger by those that only want power; To be educated; To be heroes for one another when the time comes.