June 27, 2008

Flash Hints from Wizard World Chicago

Category: Flash News — By

CBR has been live-blogging the DC Nation panel at Wizard World Chicago, and reports these comments regarding the Flash. Update: Newsarama’s coverage is up, with a few more bits. I’ve tried to merge them together more-or-less in order.

“Barry Allen’s back,” a fan yelled. DiDio polled the audience to see what Flash they liked best. Jay Garrick and Bart Allen didn’t win, but Barry Allen and Wally West were both favorites.

“Flash came back and Martian Manhunter died, doesn’t that balance the scales?” [Dan] Didio said.

This is interesting phrasing, given how balance is such a central theme to Final Crisis.

- With Barry Allen back, does DC have a better plan for what to do with Barry than “what you had for Wally?”

Van Sciver: “Oh of course.”

DiDio: “Wally will be around. He’s part of the Titans team right now, and he’ll be part of that team for the foreseeable future.”

On the plus side, that again suggests that Wally West will live through Final Crisis despite Barry Allen’s return. On the minus side… who knows what they consider “foreseeable” at this point. (And they have misled us on future Flash plans before.) And it’s The Titans.

It would certainly fit with rumors that Wally may stay in the Titans while Barry rejoins the Justice League. Though it doesn’t preclude Wally staying in Justice League of America while Barry joins James Robinson’s Justice League cast with Hal, Ollie, Ray and company.

Will they bring back Bart Allen? “You have read the first issue of ‘Legion of Three Worlds,’ right?” Didio asked, and Johns hid his head in his hands.

“I haven’t read it,” [Bob] Wayne said. “It hasn’t come out.”

At that point, [Geoff] Johns put his head down and shook it, then leaned toward the microphone in front of him and said, “You’ll read it now.”

“No plans at this time,” Didio came back. “How did I cover, Geoff?”

Hmm, perhaps the carrot-dangling has officially passed from grandfather to grandson… :-) (This part was mashed together from both write-ups.)

Seriously, fans have been speculating as to “who was in the lightning rod” since Justice League of America #10 wrapped up The Lightning Saga a year ago. It was made clear that the Wests’ return was unintentional, but strongly implied that the Legion did manage to bring someone back. Barry? Bart? Someone else? Barry’s return in Final Crisis seems to eliminate him as a possibility, so Bart’s a strong candidate. (Looks like I’ll be adding another miniseries to my pull list this summer.)

- Any more Elseworlds? DiDio: “As a matter of fact, we have a couple in production right now… We have one story coming out from Cary Bates.”

Aside from this being big news, since they’ve been avoiding the Elseworlds name, there’s a possible Flash connection…since Cary Bates wrote Barry’s series for the better part of 15 years. Could this be a similar project to the Teen Titans Lost Annual?

- Wally’s twins? DiDio: “Montessori School,” he joked. Van Sciver: “They’re going where Nightwing’s going.”

Okaaay… I’m going to guess these were both joke answers.

- After writing Rogues Revenge, does Geoff Johns have anything else with the Flash? Johns: “Ummm… I don’t know!”

Update: There’s more Flash news from Saturday’s DCU: Crisis panel.

Final Crisis: Altered Balance

Category: Opinion — By

In responding to Comic Treadmill’s review of Final Crisis #1, I realized that a common thread links many of the criticisms various people have leveled at the series: a change in balance between plot, continuity, and theme. I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as I can.

Plot-Driven Events

We’ve gotten used to event books where the most important elements are plot and continuity, almost to extreme. Books like The OMAC Project, Day of Vengeance and Rann-Thanagar War were accused of being bullet-point series, where the writers seemed to be going down a checklist of items that had to happen. Villains United differed by emphasizing characterization, and proved to be the stand-out among the four Infinite Crisis lead-ins.

Looking back at Infinite Crisis: what was the theme? Early on there seemed to be a concept of “Okay, the world’s fundamentally broken. Do you fix it or start over?” — but that went by the wayside as it turned into villain threatens the universe and heroes must stop him. If anything, perhaps the value of perseverance?

Focus on Theme

With Final Crisis, people have complained about the “filler” — the caveman battle in issue #1, the Japanese super-hero team at the night club in issue #2, etc. — and about continuity. Either there’s too much continuity, because it uses obscure characters, or there’s not enough, because it conflicts with Countdown and Death of the New Gods (which didn’t quite line up themselves).

I think what Grant Morrison is doing is writing a story where theme is more important than plot. What happens, or how it happens, isn’t as important as why it happens. And so far, the “why” is all about humanity’s capacity for corruption. From taking the prehistoric gift of fire and turning it into a weapon of war, to taking the modern-day gifts of super-powers and turning them into a tool for popularity, we see how humans can misuse their potential. Similarly, there’s the detail of the community center becoming a strip club. The corrupting influence of Darkseid and his minions fits right in.

Balance

There’s also the “Evil won” concept, where Libra mentions that the balance has shifted between good and evil. Morrison has previously treated the fact that the good guys (almost) always win as part of the nature of the DCU. In JLA #9, the Key took advantage of this to set up a scenario such that the Justice League winning would further his own plans. More prominently, in JLA: Earth 2, the League tried to travel to the Crime Syndicate’s world and correct as many injustices as they could in a limited time period. Because the nature of that universe was opposite — there, evil always won — none of the League’s victories could last. Kurt Busiek later picked up on this for his “Syndicate Rules” arc. The key setup for Final Crisis seems to be that the rules have changed, and until they’re changed back, evil will always have the upper hand. This explains why, as one reviewer put it, heroes are getting taken out like teenagers in a slasher movie.

Clearly, for the story to not be totally depressing and destroy the DCU, part of the story will have to be about redressing that balance.

For the record: I’m not a giant Grant Morrison fan. I enjoyed his run on JLA, DC One Million, his Flash run, and Seven Soldiers. I’ve read the first trade (or perhaps two) of The Invisibles and maybe two issues of Animal Man, and none of Doom Patrol. Seaguy left me utterly confused, but I think I need to re-read it now. I don’t think I’ve read any of his Marvel work, or Image, or anything he did before breaking into the US market.

June 26, 2008

More Flash in Mortal Kombat

Category: Flash News, Media — By

Quick follow-up to last week’s post about Flash in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe: CBR and other sites have more screenshots — much clearer than those magazine scans — including these two with the Flash:


June 25, 2008

Welcome Back, Barry Allen!

Category: Flash News — By

Today’s Final Crisis #2 marks an event that many Flash fans have been anticipating* for years: the return of Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash.

Barry made his debut in the 1956 comic book, Showcase #4. In the early 1950s, super-heroes had faded from popularity, and most of their series had been either canceled or converted to another genre. (For example: the Justice Society’s book, All-Star, became All-Star Western.) DC Comics decided to try reviving the genre, and started by redesigning the Flash. They gave him a new origin and identity, a sleeker costume, and a more sci-fi flavor to the stories, and published him in their try-out title.

The Flash was a success, and after three more appearances in Showcase, they gave him his own series in 1959. Revamps of Green Lantern, the Atom and other heroes soon followed. In fact, the Flash is often credited with launching the Silver Age of comics. (The other hero most often cited is J’onn J’onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Ironically, he was just killed in Final Crisis #1.)

After 30 years, though, DC decided it was time for another relaunch. Sales on the book were flagging, and DC was preparing Crisis on Infinite Earths, an event which would make sweeping changes to its entire line. In essence they were launching a new age of DC comics. The death of the Flash symbolically represented the end of the Silver Age.** Barry met his end in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (1985), and his former sidekick Wally West carried on his legacy as the Flash of a new era.

Over the next 23 years, Barry Allen was part of a small group of comic book characters whose deaths seemed permanent. He showed up occasionally in time travel stories, and was placed in various afterlives — including a tribute story at Marvel and the concept that gives this site its name: the speed force, a Valhalla for speedsters. And of course there was the 1993 storyline, “The Return of Barry Allen,” in which he appeared to be back…only to eventually be revealed as an impostor.

But eventually, even Jason Todd and Bucky Barnes returned from the grave.

Speculation started with the build-up to Infinite Crisis. It became clear that Wally was going to follow his mentor into comic-book limbo, and fans started trying to figure out who would take over. Would it be Barry’s teenage grandson Bart, the current Kid Flash? A rejuvenated Jay Garrick? Would Barry return? Would several Flashes somehow be fused into one? Ultimately, DC transformed Bart into an adult and gave him a shot at the lightning.

One year later, the Justice League/Justice Society/Legion of Super-Heroes crossover, “The Lightning Saga” was working up toward resurrecting someone. Signs pointed to either Lightning Lad or a Flash, and when the news hit that Bart’s series was ending, fan speculation again went to Barry. This time, it was Wally who returned.

Another year later, with Final Crisis looming and continuing discontent with the relaunch, fans started to see clues that, once again, hinted at a possible return for Barry. Among those clues was a poster that appeared at the New York Comic Con that looked a lot like Barry — and was painted by J.G. Jones, the artist on Final Crisis. Then there was the summary for Final Crisis #2 and its “spectacular return from the dead.”

Then on April 30, DC Universe #0 hit the stores. The book served as a lead-in to multiple storylines, all tied together by an unseen narrator who starts the issue at one with the universe. As the story progresses, he begins to remember more of his life and his connection to various heroes, and the narration boxes slowly change from black to red. By the last few pages, they’ve picked up a lightning bolt. The final splash page shows a large, white moon against a red sky, a bolt of lightning cutting diagonally in front of it. The same day, the New York Daily News ran the story of the Flash’s return.

With Barry’s return confirmed in subsequent interviews, it was only a matter of figuring out when he would appear on-panel. When the “next issue” blurb for Final Crisis #2 showed that Flash painting and mentioned “the return of a long lost hero,” the answer was clear.

Of course, many questions remain. How long will Barry be back? Permanently, or just for the duration of Final Crisis? If he stays, will he take over the lead spot in The Flash? And what does that mean for the current Scarlet Speedster?

* And, to be fair, others have been dreading it, given the way DC seems to like killing off “redundant” characters these days. Those fears gained new fuel last year when DC killed Bart literally in the same moment that Wally returned (Justice League of America #10, Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #13, and All-Flash #1).

**The 1970s and early 1980s are often referred to as the Bronze Age, but the difference is mainly in the tone of the storytelling.

Frustrations with DC

Category: Opinion — By

One of the strangest things to hit comics fandom last week was the furor over DC EIC Dan Didio’s rumored ouster. It didn’t happen — in fact, his contract was renewed — but in response, Collected Editions has posted a list of 3 things Didio has done right for DC:

  1. Revitalized the summer event crossover.
  2. Greater continuity in publishing (ex: Countdown, Full Throttle, and The Lightning Saga all fitting together).
  3. Emphasis on a good story (including support for low-selling, but critically-appreciated books).

#1 is a matter of perspective: if you like big events, it’s a good thing. If you don’t, it’s not. Personally, I’m getting tired of them.

#2 is a bit of an odd choice for a wait-to-trader, since you don’t get the impact of, say, Bart’s death and Wally’s return hitting simultaneously if you’re reading the trades months later.  Though I suppose it’s sort of like looking at the way the various pieces of Seven Soldiers interlock.

#3 I absolutely agree with. I’ve lost a number of favorite books to low sales in the past, and while I haven’t gotten into, say, Manhunter or Blue Beetle, it’s nice to see some of these books given more of a chance.

My Frustrations

That said, I’ve found myself very frustrated with DC over the last few years, for the following reasons:

1. As mentioned above, I’m tired of mega-crossovers. I was actually prepared to skip Final Crisis until I found out it was being written by Grant Morrison. (Of course, it’s since become clear that I would have had to pick it up anyway for research material!) Edit: This is, of course, not unique to DC. Marvel is just as focused on big events. It occurs to me that my current favorite series are Fallen Angel (IDW), Dynamo 5 (Image), Fables (DC/Vertigo) and Girl Genius (Studio Foglio) — all of which are stand-alone series. Of those, only D5 even takes place in a shared universe.

2. Mishandling of the Flash after Geoff Johns left. Six creative changes in three years. Two relaunches, and possibly a third coming up. A high-profile launch with writers who hadn’t adjusted to the medium. Starting both relaunches with slow burns instead of hitting the ground running.

There was no need to relaunch the book after Infinite Crisis. DC just figured “You can’t have a Crisis without a dead Flash” (or whatever the quote was). On the relaunch, Bilson & DeMeo were learning rapidly, but not fast enough to turn around sales. Marc Guggenheim was brought in to kill Bart, and response to his story made it clear that DC didn’t need to replace him.  I’m very much enjoying Tom Peyer’s arc on the book, but just as it got going, DC announced a new creative team.  It feels like DC has no idea what to do with the character, and is flailing around in a panic, grasping at everything without actually taking hold of anything long enough to let it build.

Since Flash is the only ongoing DCU book I read regularly these days, that makes a big difference.  I can only hope that the attention the Flash is getting through Final Crisis and Rogues’ Revenge will turn things around.

3. The wholesale slaughter of “redundant” and C-list characters to make a point. That’s just throwing away long-term story potential for short-term shock value. Yes, you can bring them back, but every time you do, it makes the threat of death that much less credible for the next story. And no, this didn’t start in the last few years — I’ve seen more than a few favorites killed off within months of their series being canceled back in the 1990s — but it seems to have accelerated drastically from Infinite Crisis onward.

I can’t say how much of this is Didio’s fault, however, which is part of why I stayed out of the discussion last week.  That, and it had turned into a virtual lynch mob.  It was downright eerie watching the same thing happen, focused on the recent Flash editor, Joan Hilty, over at Comic Bloc — yes, Comic Bloc, the place that Newsarama posters think is full of rainbows and ponies enforced by a fascist dictatorship of moderators.  I’d like to refer readers to this xkcd comic strip.  Or, if you’re okay with swearing, Penny Arcade’s Greater Internet ——wad Theory (NSFW language) sums it up succinctly.

June 24, 2008

Rogues’ Revenge Round-Up

Category: Flash News — By

Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins have done a number of interviews about this summer’s Flash-focused mini-series, Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge.

The Comics Bulletin piece has a nice look at 5 of the 6 covers  — the plot-related “sliver” covers, fitting with the Final Crisis design, and the alternate “iconic” covers featuring Captain Cold, Heat Wave (pictured), and the Trickster, and a few pages of preview art.