Barry Allen wakes up at his desk in Central City's crime lab to hear that he's meant to be finding proof local hero Citizen Cold murdered someone named Miss Alchemy. Realising this isn't his reality, he rushes into the corridor, spots he has no Flash ring and stumbles down the stairs. At the bottom is someone who's come to have lunch with him ... his mother. Norah Allen, whom Barry knows was murdered by his nemesis, Professor Zoom.
The opening is grabber enough, but then we move to Gotham City, where a very different Batman haunts the streets. He's trying to find out where the Joker has secreted Judge Harvey Dent's kids - twins, of course - and has no time for the taunts of henchwoman Yo-Yo. He tosses her off a ledge.
She's caught by Cyborg, who has a question for Batman. Will he join an alliance to recapture Europe from the armies of Atlantis and Themyscira? Wonder Woman and the Amazons have killed more than 32 million UK citizens - the men, presumably - and any male who sets foot on the islands is going to leave a little lighter (click to enlarge).
Aquaman and the Atlanteans, meanwhile, have sunk continental Western Europe into the ocean, plunging Paris, for one, two miles undersea.
Not that the alliance, in Gotham via hologram, is exactly raring to go. They're a ragtag bunch comprising familiar faces and concepts from the regular DC Universe. There's a team of young heroes named S.H.A.Z.A.M. whose members share the powers of the old wizard, with their most formidable player being one Captain Thunder, complete with a tiger sidekick named Tawny; Enchantress and Shade the Changing Man, emissaries of the Secret Seven; the mysterious Outsider; a new Element Woman; the Golden Age Sandman; the Pied Piper; Green Lantern Abin Sur; and a masked teenager with electrical powers named Farooq. Batman gives them his decision, and it's one that has a powerful effect on the gathering.
We shift scenes, and Barry is driving to Gotham, hoping to get help from Bruce Wayne. Wayne Manor is deserted but he does find Batman, in a scene that makes for a blistering cliffhanger.
I've detailed a lot of things, but there are plenty of surprises in this debut issue. We're in a strange version of the DC Universe, altered by Professor Zoom's Reverse Speed Force, and it's one I'm happy to explore for a few months. The characters we meet are an interesting bunch, and with Barry Allen in possession of the knowledge that time is out of joint - presumably he's been left unchanged by an overconfident Zoom, expecting to make Barry feel helpless - I don't doubt that Europe will be saved from those awful Atlanteans and thuggish Themyscirans (I'm typing this from the UK ... and I've a higher pitch than usual).
Writer Geoff Johns controls the pace here with confidence, ladling out enough mysteries in one scene to have us desperate for more, while ensuring that the next vignette is just as enticing. The voices of the new characters are fresh, tinged with tension, and I'm dying to see how Cyborg's associates pull together. If, indeed, they do.
A favourite scene sees Batman, challenged by Cyborg after throwing Yo-Yo to a dead drop, reply, 'She slipped', echoing a significant incident in the life of the regular DCU's Jason Todd. A subtle moment, it speaks volumes about this Batman.
Andy Kubert's illustrations, inked by Sandra Hope, are full of energy, perfectly suited to Johns' story. Individual panels are little gems of precision, while the few splashes really deserve the space afforded them. The first look at Batman is as thrilling as you could wish for, giving us a peek at the Flashpoint Caped Crusader and transformed Gotham. The Flash pin-up at the start of the issue is a real beauty, as I said in my look at the Free Comic Book Day preview (one page of which isn't part of the story here). And the appearance of Cyborg's crew is the moment I begin thinking this could be a classic crossover.
And all credit to Alex Sinclair for a superb job of colouring, and Nick J Napolitano for stylish lettering. The art team's cover is a cracker too, with Barry's lightning speedlines echoed by the shredded threads of his costume, which themselves recall blood.
I'm not the biggest fan of massive crossovers - and with dozens of books involved over the next several months, this qualifies - but the mother book certainly has me hooked. It takes the 'anything goes' motto of parallel world and imaginary stories, infuses them with the intense sensibility and knack for sparking life in obscure characters that has made Geoff Johns DC's most-popular writer, and has artists at the top of their game bring the whole to life. What's not to like?
Actually, I could do without the castration business. The Amazons Attack mini of a few years back was horrible enough, with Wonder Woman's traditionally noble sisters twisted into murderous caricatures of themselves. I see how the nation of Themyscira, as a parallel to Atlantis, is a useful building brick for this story, but having established that the Amazons know how to aim their swords, let's not mention it again, huh?
That apart, this is how to begin an event. Surprises, mysteries, strong artwork, sharp dialogue ... any doubts as to whether I'd follow Flashpoint have been wiped away with this first issue.