One of the particular pleasures of Flashpoint is its global reach. Usually in comics heroes visit other countries solely to watch them getting blown up. While it’s true this changed reality crossover has plenty of devastation – the French are drinking more than the odd bottle of Evian, while millions of Brits have swapped eating kebabs for becoming them – I’m enjoying seeing heroes and villains moving around the world.
In this first of three, Dick Grayson and his equally acrobatic parents are travelling with Haley’s Circus around the parts of Europe not in thrall to either Amazons or Atlanteans. Sharing the bill with them is Boston Brand, the aerialist styled as Deadman. They’re moving from town to town, constantly wary of being caught up in some war atrocity or other, but making the best of life. The Graysons find plenty to smile about, because they’re a loving family. Boston thinks that’s something he doesn’t need, insisting that Dick is limiting his potential by sharing the spotlight with past-it parents.
Also on the bill are ‘freaks’ familiar from the regular DC Universe – the Ragdoll contortionist Peter Merkel, the terrifying King Shark, and Kent Nelson, who has flashes of the future while wearing the helmet of Fate. And it’s this golden helm which brings the circus to the attention of Wonder Woman’s Furies, who will do anything – kill anyone – to gain its magical power.
In regular continuity, both Dick Grayson and Boston Brand began their crimefighting careers after bullets rang out under the big top. For Dick, it meant the loss of his parents, and for Deadman, his own life. This issue’s cliffhanger hints that at least one of those scenarios is about to occur again, with Amazon swords substituting for gangsters’ rounds.
JT Krul’s script gives us something we’ve rarely seen, Dick’s relationship with his parents. They’re a delightful trio, revelling in their family bond, but ready to invite others in. Dick is older here than he was when the Graysons died in the non-Flashpoint world, letting us see that had he never become Robin, then Nightwing, he’d have been pretty much the same – a great guy. Boston, though, is different, not the gregarious friend to sad clowns and dopey strongmen his other self was, but a loner. He risks his life, but doesn’t enjoy life. He doesn’t even seem to come alive when he’s performing – Boston truly is a Deadman.
Kent Nelson is more like the Smallville TV show’s Dr Fate than his comics counterpart here, nigh driven mad by the whisperings of the Egyptian wizard Nabu’s helmet. It’s speaking of a different world, one in which Dick becomes a laughing young Robin Hood, and Boston a body-hopping ghost. The helmet is a clever way to reference events both in the Flashpoint and regular DCU, and the maguffin to drag the circus away from Europe’s backroads and into the firing line.
The art by illustrator Mikel Janin and colourist Ulises Arreola is magnificent. The circus atmosphere is evoked by page one’s vignettes of the ‘freaks’ before a roomy splash showing the Graysons and Deadman soaring about the centre ring brings a real sense of wonder. After that we travel from Austria to Poland with the circus, and get a sense of the community it hosts. The Graysons look every bit the lively, athletic trio (cutely, all wearing the Nightwing mask of regular continuity), contrasting with the spooky, self-contained Deadman. King Shark pitching a tent may appear incongruous to those of us used to seeing him snack on people in Secret Six, but here, in another time, another place, it makes perfect sense. As depicted by Janin and Arreola , the arrival on the scene of the Amazons – avenging angels in armour – bursts the circus’s bucolic bubble in dramatic fashion.
As great as the interior artwork is, Cliff Chiang’s cover is differently, but equally, splendid. The circus poster design is the perfect entry point to the world of Deadman and the Flying Graysons, and typical of the care with which this issue has been put together. Like Haley’s Circus, it’s not the greatest show on Earth, but it’s blooming entertaining.