Posted by: Brian Hibbs on July 17, 2007
My second post and already I’m going back on my word. I was going to start here by talking about manga, but then DC sent me a copy of ALL-FLASH #1, their attempted relaunch of the speedster’s series.
Why would someone want to try this one-shot issue? Well, for me, the only reason is the writer, Mark Waid. His first run on the Flash was considered one of the best superhero comics of its era, back in the mid-90s. (I’m astounded to note that it lasted for eight years! And it was the subject of lots of well-remembered online discussion. We’ve all learned a lot since then.)
That’s not the only throwback element of this comic. The title itself was first used in 1941. Wally’s kids are dressed in outfits reminiscent of the Tornado Twins, Barry Allen’s children introduced in a Legion of Super-Heroes story from 1968. The issue opens with Waid’s trademark narration from that first run, “My name is Wally West. I’m the Flash. The Fastest Man Alive.”
The story is the most modern thing about this issue, picking up from the recent DCU death of Bart Allen (aka Kid Flash, another retro element, but best remembered to me as Impulse). Even that, with the Rogues gathering, committing a crime whose scope they don’t understand, and then bickering among themselves, reminded me of Waid’s big fifth-color event, UNDERWORLD UNLEASHED. (Fifth-color: DC’s printer had just developed the technology to use five colors, instead of the standard four, meaning that the comics had a bilious neon lime green added for emphasis. Sad that the only things I remember about that story are that, Blue Devil’s wonderful supporting cast being unceremoniously killed off because no one at the time understood their appeal, and the Joker selling his soul for an exploding Cuban cigar.)
This is a hard sell to me. I don’t like the current DCU. I don’t like the emphasis on death and morbidity, on loved ones in constant danger (as though sweethearts and dependents are nothing but causes of worry), on heroing as a sad, lonely thing instead of concentrating on the wonder and fun amazing abilities would bring. I don’t care to wallow in more of it or watch more heroes slurped down into its mud. Sure, the Flash is an important part of the universe, but I want comics that can be read on their own.
For some reason, it took five artists and teams to draw this thing. I’m not even going to speculate on what that means about deadlines or last-minute plans. For all I know, it’s a style choice, meant to evoke the different eras of the hero. The first change, from Karl Kerschl to Ian Churchill & Norm Rapmund, makes me think that’s plausible, because it reminded me of last-millennium art, scratchy with speed lines. I just hate having to flip back and forth to the credit page to see who’s doing what, especially since I have to keep count of what page I’m on. This many credits work much better if the staff remembers to add internal page numbers.
I’m new to the rating thing (and not sure I really agree with using them), but my reaction to this comic is “eh”. I’m apparently part of the target audience — I remember Waid’s first run fondly, I understand the appeal of the nostalgic hints — but there’s nothing in this issue to bring me back for more. The disposable, interchangeable villains, craven and venial as they are, have more personality than the hero. Wally is upset because his ward (too old-fashioned a word?) has been killed, so he grits his teeth and takes revenge that’s more sadistic than murder.
On the positive side, this doesn’t seem necessary for those interested in trying the new Flash series. It gets the hero from where he was to where the writer wants him to be going forward. If you don’t care how he got there, skip it and try the first issue of the relaunch. The best part of the book, the small element that gives me hope, is that Wally is inspired instead of tied down by his family.