Tag Archives: Repost

Early Flash (and Jim Membership)

Excerpted from an essay originally posted at K-Squared Ramblings in 2005.

Golden Age Flash Archives vol.1Most comic book character indexes aren’t really interested in the supporting cast, or even one-off villains. If I want to find a major villain like the Fiddler, chances are I can find a complete list somewhere online. But if I want to know which issues featured Jay’s old college buddies, I’m on my own.

Speaking of Jay’s old college buddies, he runs into five of them during the issues featured in The Golden Age Flash Archives, Vol. 1….and four of them are named Jim. There’s Jimmie Dolan, Jim Evans, Jim Carter, and Jim Dane. (Interestingly, the fifth friend is named Wally.) Jim Carter and Jim Dane are both in silver mining. Jimmie Dolan and Jim Evans both know that Jay is the Flash, but Jim Carter and Jim Dane don’t. I suspect that Carter and Dane are the same guy, but the writer didn’t remember the name he used before and didn’t feel like looking it up. (Comics were episodic back then, and you didn’t have continuity police among the readers ready to pounce on every coloring error.)

Also interesting: In the 17 issues collected in that book, no super-villains appear. The villains are all gangsters, kidnappers, corrupt politicians, crime bosses, etc. Even the story with the giant lizards has gangsters creating them. Skimming one list, the first recognizable villain to show up is the Shade—in issue #33! For the first three years (or at least the first year and a half), most of the Flash’s enemies wore ordinary business suits!

Note: Since I originally wrote this, I have tracked down a number of Golden Age stories. You can read a follow-up in Completing the Set: Tracing the Origins of the Shade.

Why I Don’t Like Barry Allen Generating the Speed Force

Flash: Rebirth featured a number of retcons, some of them explained away by time travel, others explained as new information, and others simply stated with no explanation at all. The most galling one to me was the revelation that the Speed Force is generated by Barry Allen with every step he runs, and that all other speedsters (including those who preceded him like Jay Garrick, Max Mercury, and Johnny Quick) depend on Barry’s existence for their own.

There are two things that bug me about this.

First: it doesn’t make sense. The speed force was introduced to do two things: provide a hand-wave explanation for the impossible physics of super-speed, and tie all speedsters’ origins together. Where do Flashes get their energy? The speed force. Simple, end of story. But now the speed force gets its energy from Barry Allen. So we’re right back where we started: Where does Barry get his energy?

Second: it elevates Barry Allen above all other Flashes permanently.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it were simply a matter of: Barry’s back, and here’s why he’s important now. That would be the same kind of thing Mark Waid did when he had Wally West become the first Flash to mainline the speed force and gain new powers, or that Bilson & DeMeo did when they had Bart Allen absorb the speed force. In those cases, it was still a progression, and you could imagine that whoever came next would follow in their footsteps and become the most important Flash now.

What bothers me is that they didn’t want to take that route. They instead wanted to take the route that Barry Allen was not only the most important Flash now, but that he has always been and always will be the most important Flash ever. It flat out tells us that we’ve been reading about a second-rate Flash for the last 25 years. I know there are people who hold that opinion, but it’s galling for it to be declared canon.

It’s like two kids trying to one-up each other in a bidding war, and one pulls out, “well, I bid infinity!” — and because it’s the author of the series, not to mention the Chief Creative Officer of the company, it sticks instead of getting laughed off.

Adapted from a comment made last year. I was reminded of it by this recent Reddit discussion: What’s your least favorite retcon?

Cobalt Blue, Classic Rogue?

“Chain Lightning” (Flash #143–150, including the lead-in) is a polarizing Flash storyline. Some fans love the look into the future of the Flash legacy. Others can’t stand that it hinges on Barry having an evil twin. (I’ve never been entirely sure how much of the objection is to the evil twin trope in general, or to the fact that Cobalt Blue is Barry’s evil twin.) Even Mark Waid admits that it didn’t work, though he maintains in The Flash Companion that the idea was sound, he just screwed up on the execution.

But then I had a thought: What if Cobalt Blue had appeared during the Silver Age instead of the late 1990s?

The evil twin trope hadn’t been discredited yet, so there would have been few objections on that basis. And with Barry as the new, current Flash rather than a fond memory, there would be no sense that DC was tarnishing a cherished hero’s legacy.

Consider: The Flash’s opposite number, who could have had his life but for a twist of fate, who fights against the law instead of for it, who uses magic instead of science. There’s some solid appeal there. And being a conceptual opposite makes him fill a different role than the Reverse-Flash, who is basically the Flash, but evil. (Sort of like Savitar vs. Zoom)

Obviously the big 6-issue epics didn’t exist back then, but I can imagine Chain Lightning as a recurring type of story, where once a year or so, the Flash has to go into the future to help another future Flash fight that generation’s Cobalt Blue.

So…

Is Cobalt Blue that much worse a name than Captain Cold, Professor Zoom, Pied Piper or Abra Kadabra? (Admittedly, Waid says in the same interview that he wanted to use the name Wildfire, but DC nixed it.)

Is a literal evil twin that much harder to swallow than a clone (Inertia), a mimic who has been known to alter his appearance to match the original (Professor Zoom), the product of an imperfect duplicator ray (Bizarro), or an alternate universe version (Ultraman)?

Is the concept that much more hokey than a gang boss who dresses as a clown (Joker), a talking telepathic gorilla (Grodd), a villain who spins (The Top), runs around in a parka and snow goggles in the heat of summer (Captain Cold), or throws trick boomerangs (Captain Boomerang, of course)? Look at the reactions to Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge from people who don’t read The Flash. They were surprised to find that the Rogues were compelling characters. Readers outside the Flash fanbase look at the Rogues’ names, costumes, and powers and figure that they’re nothing but lame jokes, but when used properly, they transcend the cheese factor.

What do you think? Am I totally off-base here, or could Cobalt Blue have worked as a classic Silver-Age villain?

(Originally posted October 2008. Expanded from a remark I posted on Twitter earlier, itself condensed from a post on Comic Bloc in response to Heatwave the Rogue’s assertion that Cobalt Blue is the Mopee of the modern era.)

Cataloging a Multiverse

How important is it to label fictional universes? Does it matter that Young Justice takes place on “Earth-16,” while the universe of Batman: The Brave and the Bold doesn’t have a number? Is Earth One a good label for a self-contained Superman or Batman series? If an editor writes “Earth-1” instead of “New Earth” in Tangent: Superman’s Reign, should it overshadow discussion of the actual story? Do they need to be precisely separated, with each story identified clearly as belonging to one universe or another, or is a more general classification enough?

And once you’ve decided to catalog them, how do you label them?

A few multiverses that come to mind are DC Comics’, Marvel Comics’, and Michael Moorcock’s.

The multiverse of Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycle is extremely fluid, with details changing whenever he wants to tell a different story. Just looking at the Elric stories, there are three or four origins for Stormbringer, and as many for the Melnibon√©ans and their pact with Arioch. There are several versions of the 20th-century Count Ulrich Von Bek (depending on whether you include Count Zodiac). Worlds are less like parallel lines and more like streams that can run together, mingle, and separate again (kind of like the briefly-used Hypertime as used by DC).

DC and Marvel, on the other hand, favor a discrete structure in which each universe can be precisely identified. This may have something to do with the focus on continuity as a key element of comic-book storytelling, and would explain why, for instance, Marvel has made an effort to number what seems to be every single alternate reality they’ve ever published.

Approaches to numbering:

  • Sequential. DC started out like this, with Earth-1, Earth-2, Earth-3, etc.
  • Random. Current DC multiverse, except for the first few we saw at the end of 52 which were based on worlds from the original DC multiverse (Earth-2, Earth-3, Earth-5 from Earth-S, Earth-10 from Earth-X). Marvel’s main continuity, Earth-616, was reportedly picked at random (though there is some disagreement on this point).
  • Referential. Things like choosing Earth-S for the worlds of Shazam or Squadron Supreme, or Earth-C for Captain Carrot. Earth-97 for Tangent (which appeared in 1997) and Earth-96 for Kingdom Come (which appeared in 1996) would also fall into this category (but see the next point).
  • Systematic. Taking referential labels a step further, using a consistent scheme. Marvel derives most of its designations from publication dates.

Personally, I prefer to just name them. “The Tangent Universe” or “New Frontier” or “Supremeverse” gets the idea across more directly than, say, Earth-9.

What do you think is the best way to identify alternate universes?

Originally posted at K-Squared Ramblings.

Faster Than a Man in Tights

Ad: Faster than a man in tights.Speedster? Check.
“World’s fastest man?” Check.
Skin-tight costume? Check.
Wings on head? Check.
Lightning motif? Check.
Round insignia on chest? Check.
Yellow boots? Check.

I first saw this ad for movietickets.com with 3:10 To Yuma a few years back. You may have seen it. He’s trying to impress his date by running and buying the tickets for their movie while they’re still at dinner. The show’s sold out, but it turns out she’s already bought the tickets online. Amazingly, they’ve got the video clip online…

I haven’t been quite sure what to do with it, since I’m not ready to start in on listing every parody of the Flash to ever appear in media.

Hmm, now that I think about it, the Blur in that Baby Ruth commercial back in the 90s was blue, too.

Originally posted at K-Squared Ramblings in 2007

Did the Flash Save Comics?

This essay was originally posted on K-Squared Ramblings in 2008.

When the New York Daily News broke the news about Barry Allen’s return, they brought up the hero’s key role in launching the Silver Age of Comics. Superheroes had fallen out of favor in the early 1950s, and comics were exploring genres like westerns, horror, romance, etc. When DC successfully relaunched the Flash in 1956, there was an explosion of new super-hero titles.

The Daily News quotes former Flash scribe Geoff Johns as saying, “Without Barry Allen, we’d still be reading comic books about cowboys.”

I don’t think that’s precisely true. Not to discount Barry’s contribution—it’s entirely possible, even likely, that super-heroes would have remained a background genre. But for one thing, we’re looking at half a century of ephemeral pop culture. For another thing, let’s consider: why were comics going after the western, crime and horror genres when super-heroes failed? Because that’s what was popular in movies and television at the time.

I’d guess that, without the Flash revitalizing super-heroes, we would have seen more science-fiction comics in the 1960s, more police comics in the 1970s, sitcom comics in the 1980s, and so on. Comics genres would probably have followed along with trends in pop culture instead of becoming heavily focused on a single genre.

We wouldn’t be reading cowboy comics today; we’d be reading reality comics.

Perhaps the presence of multiple genres would have eventually gotten rid of the “but, you know, comics are just for kids” mentality. (Not that it’s worked for cartoons or video games yet, but video games are still relatively new, and cartoons have similarly been dominated by the musical fairy tale and slapstick comedy short.)

Eh, who knows? Maybe they’d be all about pirates.