Tag Archives: Writing

Where’s Wally West? C2E2, Dan Didio, and the Illusion of Change

First off, sorry for the lack of updates last week. Sometimes, life gets too busy to blog.

There’s been a lot of talk about Wally West since C2E2 panels brought up the usual non-answers, and a Bleeding Cool reporter accidentally asked Dan Didio about Wally.

He explained that fans had grown up with Wally West, seen him get married and have children and with the de-aging of Barry Allen, it would cheat those fans who grew to love Wally to de-age him as well.

As a justification, it’s a bit disingenuous. “We shouldn’t do to Wally what we did to Barry” kind of suggests that maybe they shouldn’t have done it to Barry either. And while there’s something to “We’re making your favorite character go away because we know you wouldn’t like what we do with him,” it seems like it would rank right up there with “I don’t want to ruin our friendship by dating you” on phrases that people like to hear.

At Boston Comic Con, Francis Manapul mentioned a rejected a Wally cameo that he tried to put into an early issue of the New 52 Flash.

He doesn’t say how Wally would have appeared, and frankly, that’s a problem in itself. A few months ago when I met Brian Buccellato at a signing, he pointed out that having Barry Allen young and Bart Allen as Kid Flash kind of squeezes out Wally: Wally should be somewhere between Barry and Bart. But if Barry never died, and Bart’s already Kid Flash, where does that leave Wally?

There’s just no room for Wally West in the DCnU.

I kind of suspect that’s by design: A lot of Didio’s statements line up with that first panel of Comic Critics up above (though I’m sure he did watch Justice League Unlimited – and note the reference to the same nostalgia cycle I talked about recently), and he’s often talked about how Barry Allen is “more iconic” and otherwise superior to Wally West. I’ve long thought, cynically, that “more iconic” means “the version I grew up with,” but as I mull over the words reported by Bleeding Cool, I think it means something else. Continue reading

Can the Flash Survive Another 6-Part Epic Relaunch?

Flash: Rebirth #1 - Variant - thumbnailThe writers and artists have changed. The face under the Flash’s mask has changed. But there’s one thing that the three Flash relaunches we’ve seen since Infinite Crisis all share: pacing.

For some reason, every time DC has relaunched the Flash lately, they’ve done it with a slow burn.

Rising Action: Speedsters Slowing Down

Now, I have no problem with slow burns in general. I really did like most of Final Crisis, for instance (and that was almost all slow burn), and as frustrating as Flash: Ignition was at the time, I really like the story in retrospect — but as a break from the crazy pace of Run Riot and Blitz. Just about everything I’ve read or watched by JMS has used a slow build-up to something huge, from Babylon 5 to Squadron Supreme (some to better effect than others).

But I don’t think it’s the best structure to launch a character whose main claim to fame is speed…especially when it’s serialized.

Continue reading

How Soon is Too Soon to Judge a Serialized Story?

Flash: Rebirth #1Following up on my Lightning in a Bottle/Flash: Rebirth comparison, one of the issues I found myself flip-flopping on was how early you could fairly judge an incomplete story. In addition to my frustrations with Flash: Rebirth, I’ve picked up at least 8 other first issues over the last three months. Times (and storage space) being what they are, I’m taking a hard look at what I’m buying, including the new books.

To the Question

The UnwrittenSo, at what point is it fair to write off an incomplete story?

The UnknownOn one hand, I’m the kind of person who hates to leave a book unfinished. Even if I don’t like it much, I’ll generally slog through it (as I did with A Game of Thrones). So if I’d picked these miniseries up as complete editions rather than individual chapters, I’d probably read all of them through to the end.

But I’m not buying them as trade paperbacks or as hardcovers. I’m buying them one chapter at a time, and while I’m happy to let details unfold over time, if I’m just not interested, what’s the point in spending an additional $12+ to get the rest of a story I don’t want to read?

Making the Cut

Mysterius the UnfathomableAll those new books I’ve picked up in the last few months are at #2 or #3 now, and I’ve realized that’s my threshold these days. If I really don’t like a first issue, I’ll stop there, but if I’m sort of lukewarm toward it, I’ll usually give it a second chance. That worked out well with, for instance, Ignition City and Mysterius the Unfathomable. In both cases I wasn’t quite sure about the series at the end of issue #1, but issue #2 sealed the deal.

Ignition City #1So, The Unwritten and The Unknown, both of which grabbed me in the first issue? Already on my list. Final Crisis: Escape and Unthinkable, both of which had me just intrigued enough to pick up a second issue? Gone after issue #2. Still not sure about Final Crisis: Dance, which I think I’ll give one more issue. If not…it’s on the chopping block.

And yet…


The IllusionistA few weeks ago I watched The Illusionist. I won’t say much about the plot, because it’s better without spoilers, but…I hated the first hour of the movie. Just couldn’t stand it. The two leads were just acting so stupid and self-destructive that I couldn’t sympathize with anyone except the police inspector, and even that was probably in part because he was effectively narrating the story.

If it had been a two-part TV miniseries, I wouldn’t have bothered with part two.

But I stuck through with it, and the tone changed significantly in the second half…and then the ending was so good that it completely made up for everything that had bothered me about the beginning.

So I have to wonder, what might I be missing by dropping a book two issues into a 5– or 6-issue story?

Any thoughts? When do you decide to stick with or drop a miniseries?

Origins: Only as Complicated as You Want Them To Be

Secret Origins Annual 2Back in February, DC’s Executive Editor Dan Didio stated that one of the reasons they are bringing back Barry Allen as the primary Flash is because “you can’t tell the origin of Wally West without Barry Allen.” I have to agree with Comics Should Be Good that this isn’t a valid reason. It doesn’t take that much more time to explain Barry’s involvement in Wally West’s origin.

I had the same problem with complaints that Bart Allen’s origin was too complicated.

The origins are only complicated because we, as fans, want to include every little detail.*

Up to Speed

When it comes down to it, all you really need to explain the Flash — any Flash — is that he’s really, really fast, and he helps people (as Marc Guggenheim pointed out in his brief run on Flash: The Fastest Man Alive).

Flash v.1 #309How about an origin? For Jay Garrick, Barry Allen and Wally West, the key element is: “A laboratory accident gave him super-speed.” You can get a little more specific if you like, say, “Gained super-speed after being struck by lightning and splashed with chemicals.” As for Bart Allen? “Inherited super-speed from his grandfather” — kind of like Zatanna, who inherited her magic from her parents, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone complain that her origin is too complicated.

Sure, you can go into all the time-travel and accelerated aging for Bart, but you don’t need that for the sales pitch. It might help explain his personality during his years as Impulse, but even then, all you have to add is, “He was raised in virtual reality and has no concept of danger.”

Of course, if you’re going to tell a 7-part, 150-page epic Secret Origin story, I think there’s plenty room to cover a mentorship with a classic hero.


Flash v.2 #62Now, if you’re going to do a Wally West story that really focuses on the fact that Barry Allen was his idol, his uncle, and his mentor, then yeah, you need to explain that relationship. But for the typical Flash vs. some Rogue story, the reader doesn’t need that level of detail. It’s enough to know that he trained under the previous Flash and later succeeded him. Kind of like how Hal Jordan trained under another Green Lantern (Sinestro), and succeeded a third Green Lantern (Abin Sur). Not only does the training under Sinestro seem to factor into most retellings of Hal’s origin, but the history between Hal and Sinestro seems to be extremely important to the current Green Lantern mythology.

Green Lantern #33And yet I’ve never heard anyone claim that since you need to know Sinestro in order to know Hal Jordan’s origin, you might as well focus the Green Lantern series on Sinestro.

Or, for that matter, that since you need to know Obi-Wan Kenobi in order to understand how Luke Skywalker became a Jedi, then you really ought to focus on Obi-Wan instead of Luke. (Though given the current focus of the Star Wars franchise on the prequel era, perhaps that’s not the best example.)


So, is Barry Allen important to Wally West’s origin? Absolutely, no question about it. Does it make his origin more complicated? A little. Does it mean that DC can’t tell compelling, comprehensible stories about Wally West as the Flash? Of course not. Admittedly DC hasn’t been telling the best Flash stories possible lately, but having Barry in Wally’s background certainly didn’t stop them from telling good stories over the previous 20 years.

This is not to say that DC shouldn’t tell stories with Barry Allen instead of Wally West. Just that if they want to claim that it’s somehow necessary or better to focus on Barry, this particular rationale doesn’t hold up.

*Update: It’s not just comics fans, either. I once asked a family friend what Les Misérables was about, and she spent at least twenty minutes describing the plot of the three-hour stage version. And consider this tribute to “excruciatingly detailed” movie plot summaries on Wikipedia.) I don’t know if it’s our attention to detail, or our love of storytelling, but it’s just so easy to pile things on that a new reader doesn’t really need to worry about until a story warrants it.

(Thanks to comics.org for the cover scans.)

Final Crisis Should Have Been a Graphic Novel

I’m beginning to think that Final Crisis should have been an original graphic novel, not a miniseries.

I understand there are many reasons to do a big event as a miniseries. People are more willing to spend $3.50 a month for 7 months than to drop $20-25 all at once. And they’re more willing to pick up a first issue to try it, knowing that if they don’t like it, they don’t have to pay for the rest of the series (while with a book it’s all or nothing). It’s easier to schedule tie-ins. Plus it keeps the hype engine going for longer.

But those are all business reasons. Let’s look at artistic reasons. Specifically this one: it’s clear that Final Crisis will read better all at once than in serialized chapters.

After the contention that the series requires the reader to be a walking encyclopedia of arcane DC knowledge (a claim with which I disagree), the biggest complaint about Final Crisis is that it isn’t clear what’s going on. There’s a sense that you need to have read interviews and annotations just to follow it.

It seems like readers want an inverted pyramid structure to their comics. Establish all the players up front, then jump into the conflict. Which is certainly a valid way to tell a story, except that:

  • It’s not the only way to tell a story.
  • It’s not even what comics readers really want.

Movies and novels frequently tell stories where they give you only pieces of information, bit by bit, and slowly assemble them into a whole so that by the time you get to the end, or three-quarters through, or half-way through, you know what’s going on. Before the sequels soured people’s memories of the first film, The Matrix was massively popular — but it takes a long time before Neo — and the audience — find out what’s really happening.

And really, people don’t want everything spelled out ahead of time. They want to be surprised. They want the rush of a cliffhanger ending. And when you spend an entire issue establishing the situation and players, like in Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, they complain that it’s all setup, and it’s like “reading a Wikipedia article.”

The problem is trying to mix the story structure Grant Morrison is using for Final Crisis with the serialized format.

A movie can spread out the exposition because it’s a whole work intended to be watched all at once. A novel can get away with it because it’s perceived as a whole work, not as series of connected stories. You can pause reading a novel and know that you can read the next part, which might explain more, anytime you want. When you have to wait a week for the next episode of a TV show, or a month (or two, or more) for the next chapter of a serialized comic, waiting for things to make sense can be a much more frustrating experience.

So doing it as a graphic novel would solve that problem. Have the whole thing come out in one volume. People can sit down, read it at their own pace, and follow the pieces as they come together. They can see how the story works as presented on the page, and then if they want to look deeper into symbolism, see how it connects to 70 years’ worth of shared universe stories, or do a literary analysis, then they can look up the annotations.

Final Crisis: Altered Balance

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.


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.