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June 25, 2007

CR Review: Flash #13


Creators: Marc Guggenheim, Tony Daniel
Publishing Information: DC Comics, comic book, 32 pages, June 2007, $2.99
Ordering Numbers: APR070194 (Diamond)

Because of an unhealthy, irrational love for series finales, this morning I watched the final episode of something called Stargate: SG-1, not having seen a single minute of the television show before today. From what I could tell, Stargate: SG-1 was a show about various quirky but ultimately competent to heroic people having lighthearted science fiction adventures. It's the kind of series where it's clear the fans love the actors like they were members of their own personal summer repertory company. This makes for an experience where you can almost feel people other than you out there somewhere delighting in a lot of humorous and character-intensive moments of narrative satisfaction, elements the first time watcher has no chance to understand. Stargate: SG-1 was on for ten years, 215 or so hourly episodes, with a movie's worth of basic set-up and a spin-off series adding to plot accrual. Despite all of this weight and avenues for white noise and complication, I had a better grasp of what the heck was going on during that final episode than I did reading Flash #13, a comic that's been around for 13 issues over approximately a year's worth of time, featuring a character I must have read 250 comics about when I was a kid.

imageI would imagine from gleaning a cascade of Encyclopedia Brown-like clues such as the small number of issues published and the advertisement for yet another re-launch coming after this one that this Flash series was an unsuccessful re-fashioning of the longtime character. Further, I'd guess it spun off one of the Infinite Infinities mini-series or some other cosmic walk through crowd scenes and speeches proclaiming the fundamental awesomeness of DC's superhero icons. This Flash series seems to have starred that little Flash guy from the 1990s who was always drawn with over-sized feet, ratcheted up design-wise into a bland, much less stylized adulthood. Iris (Mrs. Flash) and Barry Allen (1950s-1980s Flash), two longstanding DC characters I thought were dead, make guest appearances; the Mrs. makes an extended one. There is portentous talk of a Speed Force, which I believe is some great-mystery-of-the-universe explanation of that which provides the various DC fast-runners their superpowers. Bizarre but heroic life lessons are intoned. We experience foreshadowing so blunt it's more like foreactualthinging. There are gruesome fight scenes. Sadly, we know the rhythm even if we don't know the lyrics.

I'm not as clear on some of the plot specifics. There's a bad guy named Inertia revealed as a fraud that somehow tricked the recurring cast of super-villains. Since he's never introduced in terms of his former status, and therefore all I know about him is that he's a guy who was leaning against a wall, I lacked a firm grasp on that moment's significance, too. After leading up to it in a few previous sequences, the book's climactic moment shows the new Flash nearly beaten to death and then shot with various ray guns until he dies, briefly embodying the heroic lesson from page one (no build-up to that, either; he just busts it out, like a NASCAR driver thanking a sponsor). Flash informs us before he croaks that he saved some abstract number of people. This is a good thing, because although we were told some off-panel folks are in danger, we don't know from anything we're told what the exact stakes are and exactly what constitutes their being saved. I guess by cluing us in, Flash was being heroically polite. We could all learn from Flash. If you have to be beaten and zapped to death in front of your fans, that's no reason not to provide some necessary exposition. Anyway: superhero killed. Then we get some crying/somber super-pals: pie-tin hat Flash, the Robin on either side of the one Batman got killed and refused to memorialize in his Bat hide-out because Batman hates girls, and a heroine in a goofy 1940s-looking costume I think may be the daughter of the old Mort Meskin character Johnny Quick (sorry; Roy Thomas I'm not).

Does any of that sound fun? It shouldn't. It wasn't! It was sort of like being dragged behind a boat for ten seconds after falling off your waterskis. There's no permanent damage, but it's unpleasant as all hell while it's happening. The plot here practically defines dreary, as you're essentially watching someone get murdered, and the scriptwork seems ten years behind Guggenheim's recent stint on Blade (which I bring up because I actually read Blade and so I have a rare point of comparison). Much of the dialog has the dubious charm of dry exposition without the conveying information part (see below), which is quite the feat. People make strange points of emphasis when they talk. The treatment of heroism feels forced and arbitrarily injected into the narrative. (I really wanted the kid on the first page to say, "Why are you telling me this? Am I going to survive this issue?") The staging is all weird, too, close-up after close-up interspersed with a few medium shots, which I imagine is a choice that could have come from Guggenheim or pencil artist Tony Daniel or both. I never knew where anyone was, I never knew the exact progression of events within the fights, and I never could tell things vital to the plot like when it was possible for Flash to run away, or when he was too surrounded to do so. If this were a stage play, the bad guys would constantly distract the audience by running off stage every so often and then rushing back on.

I have no idea how to run a superhero comics company, and as such businesses make millions of dollars a year, I don't want to be backseat driving their licenses. Still, I can't imagine such a muddy, dreary conclusion to a mis-step in terms of concept works on any level for anyone. I guess this could be seen as a send off for those fans who liked this iteration of the character, but if there were enough of those to make that worthwhile, the series wouldn't have been canceled in the first place. More likely, the important thing here is that this new Flash "do the job" pro-wrestling style to help convince the audience Captain Cold and the gang are slightly less of a joke than usual, storytelling capital that will be spent during some mini-series on down the line and then forgotten. Worst child star ending ever.

posted 1:00 pm PST | Permalink

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