Monday, August 25, 2008

Flash v. 2 #4 - "Kill the Kilg%re"

Writer: Mike Baron
Artists: Jackson Guice & Larry Mahlstedt

I love this issue's cover - the best so far - which strikes the right pulpy sci-fi-ish feel for this incarnation of the character.

What's interesting from a contemporary perspective is the way that Cold War paranoia has seeped into the storyline: they come up with a plan to stop Kilg%re - turn off all the power in the world - but the US government flacks balk because they're afraid the Soviets might use that as an opportunity to make a sneak attack.

The first action sequence in this issue is the first in the series that really flat out works, but there's still not much in the way of interesting use of Flash's super-powers.

I've also been going through the B&W first volume of Showcase Presents The Flash, as a kind of supplement to this exercise, and I can't help but note how inventive John Broome and Carmine Infantino are when it comes to figuring out different ways to show Flash using his powers. One of the premises of Baron/Guice's run is that while Flash is still really fast, he has lost a lot of his super-speed. He's not longer able to reach light speed or travel around the world eight times in one second. This is part of the overall move towards a more down-to-earth version of superheroics, but it also seems to have cut off opportunities for spectacular, flashy action.

The final fight is better, though: it's more of a chase and it emphasizes speed and motion.

I've been hard on Guice's work, but I should point out he's not at all a bad comics artist. He has a good sense of space and pacing. His figure drawing and characterizations are fairly expressive. However, four issues in, he hasn't yet shown that he's particularly comfortable as a super-hero comics artist and he hasn't been able to turn his discomfort into a virtue (a la Don Heck).

Overall, though, the book has recovered from the second issue's misstep.


James said...

One of the things I'm learning from this exercise is how hideous the Flash's costume is.

Lately I've been thinking of using some of the DC Universe characters for gaming purposes, and I'm wondering: what the hell is the Flash's motivation? I never followed the character, but as I understand it he's got some inadequacy issues about upholding his uncle's legacy. But is that all there is to it?

The Flash is a strange character to me, because he seems to exist without relying on any other genre. Batman, for example, is a pulpy noir guy. Superman is a 1930's science-fiction conceit crossed with the 1930's crusading-reporter bit. But the Flash is... what? He's not a super-version of some other genre: he's just super for its own sake. And this seems to be true for his villains as well, at least compared to the more atmospheric villains of Batman & Superman.

Jon Hastings said...

I'm not 100% on all the dates, but Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert created Flash almost two years after the appearance of Superman, so my guess would be that Flash is one of the first "pure" super-heroes. There was already an audience for the concept, so they didn't need to graft things together.

The Broome/Infantino Silver Age Flash has the same kind of sci-fi vibe as something like the Kirby/Lee FF.

The costume works really well from a design pov, especially in terms of "super-powered spectacle", but this comes across much more clearly in the stuff drawn by someone like Infantino (who's always trying to find new and interesting ways to draw Flash using his powers).

Baron's take on the character plays up the idea that Wally has to live up to the standards Barry set, but that he also has to, well, just live. So, you've got the Spier-Man thing of "with great power...", heightened by having to carry on Barry's legacy, and tweaked by Baron's focus on the sci-fi-ish details of Flash's super-speed metabolism (i.e. - only has a limited supply of energy, etc.).

However - I think with Flash (and with a lot of the 2nd tier DC characters), there isn't a central, self-contained ISSUE built in to the character (as there is with Spider-Man, the FF, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron Man, or Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman). The issue is contextual and based on the character's position in this larger entity - what you call continuity and I, following Mike Grost's lead, have been calling the DC Mythos. Peter Parker/Spider-Man works just fine as a character "outside" of the Marvel Universe (as in his movies). Wally West/Flash gets his "purpose" as a character from his context.