Saturday, June 23, 2007

Comic musings for 20 June

This was the week. Everything changes.

Towards the end of last week, stories were coming out of the Charlotte and Philadeplphia conventions that DC was removing one Flash from the stage and bringing another one back. The one going away was pretty obvious, but how far away he was going was unclear. And the identity of the one coming back was bandied about, with a fairly large contingent of Barry-lovers wanting him to be the one and making up theories for it to happen. But it wasn't going to be Flash: The Fastest Man Alive 12, it was issue 13 where everything changes. And changed it did.

Sort of.

Spoilers ho!

Flash: The Fastest Man Alive 13 - Yeah, I'm breaking my own ground rules here a little bit, but despite having talked about this title last month, I'm going to do so again this month.

Everything changes. That's the theme, except this issue is a somewhat bitter reminder that sometimes things don't. Steven Grant has written a nice evaluation of what DC did by soliciting future issues of this title and then announcing it was really over with number 13. In it he talks about how DC basically lies to the retailers and readers. I understand his point about the retailers, though I don't think it is really all that bad for them (what was DC supposed to do, tell them and swear them to secrecy? How long would that have lasted with the potential of blowing up your orders for a "final" issue?).

And as for lying to the readers, I think a lie is okay in service of a good story. Really, the lie didn't take place within the framework of the story itself. And if the readers wanted to read solicitations and spoilers about upcoming issues and thus remove much of the weaponry a creative team has to tell a good story with surprises, then they can pay the price of being remotely upset when those solicitations turn out to be not as true as they might have hoped.

The problem in this wasn't a good story. It suffers from the same problems earlier issues of F:TFMA had and which I have talked about in this blog. The series had no foundation, and in fact, if DC is telling the truth, this was their plan all along with this title. Then why in world would they have wasted the reader's time with what was basically the first half of a mini-series that did nothing for the character? Mini-series should be used to amplify traits or the history of a character, or perhaps to answer questions that can't be handled in ongoing series for whatever reasons. But this series began with Bart unable to control the Speed Force, learning how to use it, then trying to give it up to become a police officer and then losing it again at the very end. Bart didn't mature, even though he supposedly aged four years in the time that he was gone. He was just able to have sex when he returned from wherever Infinite Crisis sent him (and it wasn't well-drawn sex either).

And all these problems return with this issue. There is no linear character development--in fact, they fall back on the trope that a hero can be a hero without his powers and then turn him into a raging maniac that pulps Inertia's face before the Rogues kill him (there I said it...but wait, all is not lost, read on). And so Bart ultimately returns to where he started--to his days as Impulse; he doesn't know what he's doing and he fights, in his own words, "like an animal." Tropes are okay, if they serve a purpose, so I was okay with the powerless hero, but devolving him so that he loses all the training that the Flash family had given him was just wrong. What would Max Mercury have said (and that's not a flippant question; Max is crucial to the development of the character of Bart Allen)?

And at the end, Robin's response is the only one that makes sense, shocked, dropping his phone and looking off hopelessly. But the panels with Jay Garrick consoling Liberty Belle are clueless; even if Jay is an experienced super-hero, a man/child he has raised as his son has died. And since when did Liberty Belle interact very much with Bart? (edit--a friend points out to me that, of course, Liberty Belle is the former Jesse Quick, so she has every reason to be upset. Mea culpa. However, I would point out that Jesse Quick as Liberty Belle has been such a non-entity that it's difficult to remember her original characterization. I predict that when Johns leaves Justice Society, Libery Belle's transformation story will still not have been told.)

So when Bart tries to use the Speed Force to heal himself, he can't, because (not an error--go on, read the next bit)

Justic League of America 10 - The Lightning Saga concludes. It starts in a strange place, with the Justice League and Justice Society continuing to fight against Sensor Girl's illusions, even though they had stopped in the last issue.

But then the League and Society race out to the locations where the Legion have gone to apparently resurrect a dead hero. And the story-telling begins to wander. They comic has seven different locations to keep track of with a slew of characters at each location. And for a while nearly every panel shifts to a different location as the dialogue is between the panels and is sometimes started by one character and ended by another in a differnt location. It's all very confusing.

Along the way we discover that Brainiac 5 is smarter than Batman, even though Batman was able to put homing devices in the costumes of the Legion. And Batman and Hal Jordan have flashbacks of Barry Allen, offering the big tease that it is really he that is returning. But when the lightning crashes and the smoke clears, it's Wally West who has returned, with Linda and his children (no longer babies). He has assumed the Speed Force, which is why Bart can no longer heal himself in his own title.

The Legion escapes back to their own time with an angry Superman ranting that his friends should have trusted him to help them, while Hal and Batman ponder that they were expecting someone else. And Jay welcomes Wally back as Bart dies in another title.

Of course there is the enigmatic last panel, hinting that the Legion really got someone else they wanted to go to "their universe," and my money is on it being Bart.

But the two issues together raise all sorts of questions.

1. What is Wally going to do when he finds out that, as far as anyone knows, his return was a critical cause of Bart's death? Are we going to have to suffer the grieving WAlly more than we did back when he was starting the second volume of Flash?

2. What was the point of sending Wally away for a year and then bringing him back? If you want to tell stories with him, why send him away at all? This question alone makes me believe DC had no intention of doing this to Bart for the past year, as it seems to have completely wasted a year's worth of issues (and not very good ones) about Bart.

3. What universe is this Legion from? Everything we have seen indicates that they are the Legion that Superman knew as a teen, but the last few panels would indicate other wise. And oh, by the way, who the heck is the third incarnation of the Legion showing up in Brave and Bold this week?

4. And if the point of bringing back the multiverse is to give the writers a deus ex machina to get their butts out of whatever corner they write themselves into, it wasn't worth the cost to bring them back. And so far, that's all it appears to be doing.

I have some interest in the upcoming Countdown mini-series, including The Search for Ray Palmer since it appears that a select group of heroes will be travelling around various alternate Earths, including the ones where the Elseworlds stories Gotham by Gaslight and Red Son took place. I'm all for the multiverse if it opens up the potential for good stories, but not if it actualyl acts as a crutch for bad writing, as the trump card when everything goes wrong ("oh thank heaven you were looking our way, Superman of Earth-44!").


Three notes, and I hate to say they have to do with the marvelous competition. First, I started reading Hulk because the premise of the whole World War Hulk sounded fascinating. And I must say that Greg Pak is doing a splendid job writing the title. It really does feel like Peter David is at the help again, and believe me that's a good thing.

Speaking of whom, Peter David will be taking over She-Hulk in September. Drat, another one of that company's titles on my pull list.

And third, I forgot to mention last week, the ending of New Avengers (or was it Mighty Avengers? I get so confused). Electra is a Skrull? And now anyone inf the last 30 years of history in that company could be/have been a Skrull? On the one hand that has some interesting possibilities, but on the other...who the hell thinks up that stuff? That's just stupid. More on that later, probably.

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