Super-Speed Violence

Four Color Media Monitor considers the dark side of Flash as multidimensional CSI — namely, the level of violence in the CSI shows.

And Geoff Johns certainly has a reputation for scripting graphic violence. I didn’t notice it so much on his initial Flash run, despite the fact that he opened with an entire morgue full of murder victims, but it became clear as I read more of his work — JSA (though I only really read “Injustice Be Done” and the first arc of Justice Society of America — which has Baroness Blitzkrieg, who super-speeds through people causing them to explode), Infinite Crisis (Superboy Prime screaming “You’re ruining everything!” as he dismembers and beheads C-list members of the Titans with his bare hands on-panel), etc.

I do think violence — even graphic violence — has a place in storytelling, but not necessarily in every story. In something like Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge, or Irredeemable, it fits. You’re dealing with hardened criminals or ax crazy super-beings, and that’s the point.

But I don’t think it’s a good fit for the Flash. In all his incarnations, the character has primarily been about the wonder of speed. And while super-speed can certainly make violence very effective (or ineffective, depending on who the fast one is), and has many practical uses, what do most people think about when they think of the Flash?


That’s not battle. That’s not a fighting technique (discounting Baroness Blitzkrieg, anyway). That’s adventure.

Sure, adventures often involve fighting, or death-defying stunts, or overcoming a powerful villain of one sort or another. But the violence isn’t the point of the adventure — it’s an element of risk.

I said last week that I liked the idea of Barry as an interdimensional detective, and I do — in the sense that I want to read about him solving bizarre crimes. But I don’t want to see it turn into Powers. I’m already reading Powers, and I want something different from The Flash.

I’d like to think that Geoff Johns, as he brings to an end the story of Superboy Prime in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds and gives us the final word on death in the DC Universe in Blackest Night, will keep The Flash (post-Rebirth) more about adventure than about death and dismemberment.


11 thoughts on “Super-Speed Violence

  1. John Cage

    I’d like to think that Geoff Johns, as he brings to an end the story of Superboy Prime in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds and gives us the final word on death in the DC Universe in Blackest Night, will keep The Flash (post-Rebirth) more about adventure than about death and dismemberment.

    Well who knows. Stranger things’ve happened I suppose.

    Just seems like the thinking with the first two issues was ‘let’s have these guys get murdered right at the beginning and have it be all bloody and gory and then reveal Barry’s dad killed his mom and then we’ll have a speedster character no one is using get killed off at the end and people will think it’s hardcore and take it seriously because it’s a comic book and people don’t think they can be shocking and violent‘. Something like that.

    Have a good day.
    John Cage

  2. Lia

    One blogger, writing about Johns killing off Rainbow Raider (sniff) called him Geoff “I need a hug” Johns. I think he can be rather brutal, and he also tends to write more violence into the Rogues’ backstories, for instance. In Rebirth #2, Sam Scudder was now a murderer before becoming Mirror Master. In Flash v2 #215, Barry claims in his letter that 11 cops died trying to bring in the Top. Heat Wave sorta-inadvertently killed tons of people with his pyromania. Etc.

    Now if the original writers of the Silver and Bronze Age had intended them to be guilty of these crimes, I’m sure they would have said so. Remember when Goldface killed a cop to draw out the Flash, and it was a really big deal? Heat Wave was disgusted, and it even became a big plot point later on with Flash’s lawyer. It was a big deal that a villain killed a cop. But now Johns retcons lots of casual murder into their early histories and I don’t think that’s what previous writers intended at all.

    (Of course, the Top is a bit of a unique case, because if he’d succeeded in some of his early schemes, he would have killed at least half the people on Earth…)

    1. papa zero

      Youre right on. Rogues didn’t murder people… Goldface, Reverse Flash, the Top and only a few others stood out in this regard. Having picked up a substantial portion of Johns’ run in TPB I also noticed that Rebirth wasn’t the beginning of his characterization of Flash as a “conservative and humorless” hero. I could see how it would be used in Wally’s story arc – but Geoff has to know that he is changing the nature of these characters if he has in fact really read the entire silver age run.

    2. Kelson Post author

      I think to some extent the darkening of the Rogues is a matter of changing times. I remember when I was in college (mid-1990s), one of my acting teachers made a point about how West Side Story is horribly dated now, because the big threat at the end is that one of the gang members actually manages to get a gun! Whereas today, half of them would probably have been carrying guns to start with.

      1. papa zero

        I would like to think that it is the craft of storytelling that takes precedent. When looking at West Side Story in it’s totality – some of the variables may go in and out of fashion but I don’t think it’s necessarily dated because of it’s lack of content of violence. Even that is cyclical through the ages of storytelling. Come to think of it – there really wasn’t any shortage of bayonettes in German guts or Cowboy/Indian gun violence. I think an effective and tense story can be told about a character who ultimately determines his only option is to get a gun.

        In the case of the Rogues – some of them did kill people… and most of them at some point or another sought to kill Flash himself. The difference was that killing was incidental to their self-serving agenda and sometimes avoided if possible. It is for this reason that the irreedemable characters like Goldface, Reverse Flash, or The Top became more precious as characters. They wanted to explicity cause suffering and murder. Violent and dangerous killers are useful characters but, so too are self-absorbed/self-loathing Rogues.

        Your point isn’t lost on me, I just think that making every gang member hold a gun makes for less dynamic in the characters even if on the surface it appears theyre all “more dangerous.” Before, Barry Allen could have conceivably entered a no win situation with Reverse Flash where he would have to kill him. Now? There seems little to make a distinction where you would draw a line. It certainly seems like Barry won’t be telling jokes and making fun of the Rogues anymore while simultaneously kicking their butts. 😛

        1. Lia

          Of course, Goldface WAS redeemed, and I believe the Top’s severe mental illness leaves him not responsible for at least some of his crimes (as an aside, it’s kind of disturbing how many characters during Johns’ run acknowledge that he’s bugnuts crazy but don’t think to get him any HELP). So even the Rogues who were known killers aren’t necessarily so cut and dried. Piper tried to force a man to suicide back in the day, but he’s the most reformed of the bunch now.

          But this is just kind of a tangent, it doesn’t take away from your argument (which I agree with).

  3. Demas

    I don’t think CSI is code for the same kind of gruesome crime scenes set to music video editing and cheesy FX, but instead the secret knowledge detective mechanic- ala Sherlock, Adrian Monk, etc.- but Barry’s deus ex machina will be super-science, vibrations, and molecules instead of uncanny memorization of trivia, details, and deduction. Looking at the Preview, the technobabble is already flowing….

    I definitely do not want the story to be like Powers, not just because of the adult content, but because of the painfully slow pace of procedural precinct stories. Sure, Powers and Gotham Central are great reads collected, but they are way too slow for a superhero monthly and take forever to resolve a single case. The cheesy 60s-Physics stories used scientific deus ex machinas to solve cases in one issue… but at the cost of credible science/stories.

    I’m curious what kind of balance they’ll try to strike. The reason procedurals can be drawn out is because the mystery is rational, realistic, and therefore rewarding upon the reveal. Technobabble reveals are somewhat meaningless… basically “A Wizard Did It” level revelation.

    1. Kelson Post author

      Thanks. I’m making an effort to include more original commentary instead of getting totally caught up in repeating news. Although in this case, it started as a linkpost with a brief comment…that turned into a longer comment…that turned into a full post!

      I guess the big question is for more general comics-stuff, whether to put it here, or at K-Squared Ramblings.

      1. West

        Toughie. If you’re going to keep this one Flash-centric I guess K-Squared is the way to go. But maybe your Speed Force line items (you do those here, too, right) can include links back to general comics posts from K-Squared that you think might interest us.

        .-= West’s latest blog post: SkyFire is a bad mutha… =-.


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