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The End of the DC Universe...Again...

We’re less than a month away before it all comes to an end (again), and the DC Universe becomes something new, shiny and, let’s all be honest about it, probably pretty awkward for a few months. 52 new books, resetting and retelling DC history as if it was just happening today.

We’ve had some time to be shocked, to deny and finally to accept. But before they launch all these new number one issues, the powers that be at DC have to shut the old universe down, and for the past couple of months, they’ve been asking us to buy into that, too, while also reading about an interim universe that will lead into the new one.

First, the death throes of the old universe.

They’ve been handled with varying skill, also dependent upon what the characters’ new status quo will be. If the concept is going to be carried over with just a few tweaks, like the various Batman and Green Lantern books, the finality isn’t really final. It’s just tune in next month when some background details will have changed while you weren’t looking. Really, that shouldn’t make much of a difference – on a monthly basis, does it matter if Batman brought Joe Chill to justice or not? (See Zero Hour, a pre-internet reset of the universe which did much the same thing.)

Then there are the titles going out with a bang – in the case of Secret Six, literally. The new status quo either drastically changes who these characters are, like a non-animated Cyborg being judged super cool and essential to the DC Universe, or it’s decided that they should be shuffled around into other books.

In the case of Secret Six, it does resolve one consumer/retailer concern. If you’re buying the trade paperbacks, or stocking the trade paperbacks, Secret Six does what a good series coming to an end should do – comes to an end. Like Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s beloved Hitman, the Six go out in a blaze of glory and strange honor.

The characters that no one’s figured out what to do with in the new Universe, like Scandal Savage and Knockout (who has no place, being a New God, and they don’t exist in the New 52) get to end their story. And if some of the Six get revived in Suicide Squad, well, this is the old universe. Don’t ask so many questions. (I’m really, really hoping for Ragdoll to appear, but only if Gail Simone writes him.)

Somewhere in the middle lie characters who the mainstream barely notices anyway. At this point, the fantastic Zatanna series comes to a close, though she’ll reappear in Justice League Dark, with another new costume that, let’s face it, won’t hold a candle to her classic one. They never do. (Though in the image here, maybe it will.)

Booster Gold’s series comes to a close, but he, too, will reappear in Justice League International – kind of like how William Shatner went from Star Trek to The Barbary Coast. Because he is a time traveler, and we’ll presume that won’t change, it’s possible that he will be the one character who remembers what his reality was before Flashpoint. But I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Then there are those problem children that will be redone but not redone. Deep down in our hearts, we know it needs to be a clean slate. We know it. If anyone can make Aquaman a top-selling character, it will be Geoff Johns, but the only way to do it is to have a whole new universe for Aquaman to play in. Like Hawkman (also coming back), too much has been done to the character to allow him to swim smoothly – gotta cut the baggage loose.

Of course, it’s also kind of annoying that we all thought that’s what Brightest Day was supposed to do – shake off all that baggage and give everybody a clean slate. Well, it did, but we had a cooler clean slate in the back room, guys, sorry. We barely gave you time to take notes.

And then there’s Superman and Wonder Woman – both characters getting major revamps for whatever reason. Conspiracy theorists, discuss the necessity of Superman’s Kryptonian origins here. In truth, both are characters that the general public knows the basics of and couldn’t care less about all the details beyond that.

It’s just sad to see J. Michael Straczynski and his collaborators come to the conclusion that these characters work really well in their classic forms, just in time for a whole new version to be sprung upon us. Why, it’s almost subversive.

Now to the World of Flashpoint.

A dystopian version of the DC Universe in which Barry Allen never became the Flash, this five issue mini-series and a whole flock of remora mini-series supposedly provide the key to the New 52. The main book Flashpoint has been fun in a weird way, selling us on this alternate world without really justifying much.

Geoff Johns created the ultimate evil deus ex machina in saying that the Reverse-Flash has been running around in the background just messing with the time stream, and thus reality. As impossible explanations go, it sure beats a continuity punch.

But because it ultimately is rewriting continuity, Flashpoint does owe us a little more cohesion. On its own, we can just say, oh, yeah, that was fun, some really neat ideas there, maybe Cyborg really is that badass. (But then, in crossover events, so is Ray Palmer as the Atom – but that still doesn’t make him a linchpin of fandom.)

So far, though, it hasn’t sold us on that. Yes, Barry Allen didn’t become the Flash and his father died instead of his mother, itself a plot complication rewritten by Geoff Johns within the past two years. But how is that the thing that topples everything else?

(By the way, a similar idea gets explored more concisely and effectively by Alan Davis in the Elseworlds mini-series The Nail – a superhero world without a Superman would be significantly different, especially when everyone – everyone – at DC editorial insists that Superman is the World’s Greatest Superhero and inspires all the rest.)

It’s hard to accept that the lack of a Flash means Kal-El’s rocket would crash in Metropolis and its contents be impounded by the military (also an idea sort of used before in the story “Superman of 2001”). Must be the Reverse-Flash playing God again. Barry Allen, being the same age as Bruce Wayne, probably had nothing to do with which Wayne got killed in Crime Alley.

And even if those are related events, or conveniently lay down at the feet of Reverse-Flash, there are still consequences of that that no one has adequately explained.

Thomas Wayne becomes Batman after witnessing his young son Bruce get gunned down in that alleyway. To the credit of writer Brian Azarello in Batman: Knight of Vengeance, the agony of that event makes sense to have still inspired the father to become Batman. And the heartbreaking conclusion of that mini-series motivates this other Batman to help Barry Allen restore reality.

But we’re also left with two illogical consequences. Dr. Thomas Wayne, dedicated to the citizens of Gotham before his son’s death, turns into Steve Wynn by day, transforming his beloved city into a gaudy Vegas. (Using the geography skills of Smallville’s writers, we can now pinpoint Gotham City, despite having a sea port, as being somewhere in Nevada.)

Somehow, also, the tragedy causes Martha Wayne to turn into Heath Ledger. We’ll let that one go, because again, Knight of Vengeance ends so beautifully, so rightly, that even though you have to read Flashpoint alongside it, it’s good comics.

Elsewhere, different titles try to explain the background of Flashpoint’s re-written history, such as Emperor Aquaman and Wonder Woman and the Furies (they had a #1 single back in the 60s). Then off to the left, you have concepts that are clearly being given test runs for the New 52, such as Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown (becoming Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E.) and Secret Seven, which does two things: introduces a version of Rac Shade combining Steve Ditko’s original with the Vertigo redux, and matters not a bit to the bigger picture of Flashpoint.

And many readers may be scratching their heads at the very existence of Rac Shade, or Tracy Thirteen, over in the book World of Flashpoint that only really pops into various places in the world without explaining much about it. But curiously, Tracy remembers several different previous existences, as she’s one of those characters so poorly edited in years past that she became whoever a writer needed her to be.

So will these versions end with Flashpoint, or will they live on in the New DC Universe? Dan DiDio has stated that they have no exit door for the new continuity. It’s how things will be from now on (at least until they figure out where they put the key to that exit door).

If true, it’s unfortunate for a character like Booster Gold, who has been made interesting in his own series for the simple reason that he knows how fragile continuity is, and works to preserve it. Without the malleability of his fictional universe, he’s just another guy in a super suit, though his teeth are extra shiny.

If true, what of the long promised Multiversal by Grant Morrison and a host of artists, exploring some of DC’s alternate worlds created by Final Crisis and now presumably locked out of reality?

Perhaps that’s how we can keep the JSA concept alive – one that needed to be shunted away to its own time period, because as we reach 2012, it’s getting harder and harder to explain how these World War II heroes could still be alive and kicking and kicking hard. (Smallville tried, but succeeded mostly by ignoring the question.)

So the question at all gatherings of comics readers right now is – what will you be reading in the New 52?

My wallet has reached no conclusions for me yet, but please, offer your opinions on our Facebook page

Derek McCaw

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