Comic Fodder

DC Comic Reviews: Week June 20, 2007 Part 1

Each week Comics Fodder will bring you reviews of a few titles from DC Comics. Not all titles will receive a mention. Should readers feel a certain title has been overlooked from DC Comics, DC's Vertigo or Wildstorm imprints, drop us a line and we'll take a quick peek.



FLASH: THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE 13
Written by Mark Guggenheim; Art by Tony S. Daniel and Art Thibert; Cover by Tony S. Daniel

You know, sometimes I want to know what the hell is wrong with the guys at DC.

It is true that readers gave up on the Impulse title, and reasons for that may vary (I gave up very early on as I began to find the lead protagonist kind of... annoying). And it is also true that readers were somewhat horrified by "Flash: The Fastest Man Alive", which seemed to have been an idea cooked up in a plotting session dominated by Bizarro and, possibly, Beppo. Or maybe it was a dare of some sort.

But it's superhero comics, where you can have a character with a history like Hal Jordan and not bat an eye. Nothing was irreparable. A lightning bolt, disappearing into the Speed Force... anything. But for some reason at DC, when a writer or editor hits a slump, rather than hand over the reigns or seeking out a creative solution, they tend to kill their own heroes. That's not to say the deaths always work out, or stick. Even Jason Todd, one of the most important deaths in the DCU was reversed. (Really, DC readers should have a counter running on their PC to countdown the days until someone finds a way to bring Bart back from the grave.)

The failure of Didio in hiring buddies from the TV industry, coupled with Bilson and Matteo's soon-to-be-legendarily inadequate take on the Scarlet Speedster didn't need to equate to a violent ending for Bart Allen. Rather than punish themselves, picking up the slack and staying on their feet, DC once again took the route of punishing the character. Whether misreading the audience is endemic to the DC editorial structure, or they're just out of ideas, the end of Bart Allen wasn't just tragic on the page. The death of Bart Allen speaks of a certain bankruptcy of imagination that seems to strike at DC when a comic doesn't live up to the hype of the solicitations and numbers begin to fall or they need to garner a little attention for a title that it can't seem to draw without immensely drastic measures.

Despite some odd pacing and a confusing solution for the Speed Force machine supposedly threatening so many lives, the desperation of Bart Allen makes for some engaging reading. The problem, unfortunately, is that Guggenheim (or DC Editorial) waited until the final issue for the reader to sympathize a bit with Bart, which made this reader realize he's on his thirteenth issue of a series which he's been reading as a casual observer and with no investment in the titular hero. Had I no notion that big changes were afoot, its entirely likely I would have dropped the series altogether. Bart has defied characterization for the length of the series, other than a seemingly entirely out of character (based upon Impulse, Yong Justice and Teen Titans) reluctance to use his powers, so the bold declaration of the mantle of The Flash kind of works, but only barely reflects upon the past twelve issues of denying a destiny.

For good or ill, the best panels in the entire comic belong to Tim Drake. You don't need to know the context of the past few years worth of DC Comics to understand Tim's devastation, but for those who have followed Robin's story of late, the few panels devoted to the moment capture each beat in a manner which conveys the devastation.

Bart Allen didn't need to die to make way for the return of Wally or Barry. The Teen Titans can always use a Kid Flash, and The Flash Family will feel a bit incomplete without Bart in the mix. It seems that editors took the extreme, if uncreative, direction in solving their narrative glitch. Rather than write their way out of a corner, they simply ended the game, at least for now. Sadly, more than a decade of the Bart Allen character will now probably be remembered in regards to the stupefying decision to "surprise" readers by throwing Bart Allen into adulthood and into the role of The Flash.

The Flash series is due to restart in the Fall with Mark Waid at the helm and surely a flurry of mixed feelings from readers in the run-up to the restart of the series. After all, a few too many clues in this week's JLA seem to point to more in store for The Flash Family before the end of the year.



JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA 10
Written by Brad Meltzer; Art by Ed Benes and Sandra Hope; Cover by Michael Turner; Variant cover by Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning

The "Lightning Saga" concludes, but it's fairly clear that the story is not over for the JLA, JSA nor the Legion of Super-Heroes.

The final chapter of The Lightning Saga came to an end, but provided no resolution for the mysteries put before the readers, a move which is sure to irritate many who've been following the series who know less now than they did $15 and five issues ago. The point of the series seems to have been two fold: (a) a quick tour of the current state of the DCU with renewed interest in dormant Silver Age ideas, and (b) to reintroduce the most popular version of the Legion of Super-Heroes into continuity, even if it doesn't jive with the existing title.

While the series didn't suffer from Bendis-style decompression, the meandering quality of the tale, matched with the faux-ending won't do writer Brad Meltzer any favors in finding his place in the pantheon of comic writers. It seems Meltzer is enjoying his time playing with his favorite toys, but he seems unwilling to place the JLA (or JSA) up against fierce competition or truly challenge them other than by leading them around a bit by their noses and tossing Amazo their way, even as his characters explain how they've trained for this scenario often enough that it should be a cakewalk.

With all signs pointing to the arrival of Barry Allen in both Flash and hints in the cross-over epic of "The Lightning Saga", DC officially moves from surprising their readership to yanking their chain. In some ways, the return of Wally West seems completely welcome, especially when Wally's disappearance at the conclusion of Infinite Crisis seemed dissatisfying. However, there's a level of nonchalance at Wally's return, right down to the mention that they hadn't even had a funeral for him, so certain was the JLA that Wally would return (and Linda and the twins?).

Wally's addition to the team will be a welcome one, and hopefully his return to the DCU will work out well. That said, readers may be a bit tired of being teased in regards to the ultimate fate of the Barry Allen character when DC's been playing a "bait and switch" with the possibility of his return. Apparently Brainiac 5 and Batman felt similarly teased. In all honesty, DC may have misstepped by not just delivering on their promise. In many ways, by giving the audience Wally rather than Barry, it wraps up an unnecessary twist from Infinite Crisis, but it also needlessly either teases the audience regarding something DC won't give (for whatever reason), and walks a fine line between anticipation and frustration. It's been twenty years. They can get on with it.

Not long ago, I stated that "The Lightning Saga" might become one of the seminal series of this era for DC, but with no definitive conclusion, a soft ending of a climax, and a puzzler of a switch for readers (if they were following the clues), that status no longer seems quite as attainable. Depending upon the events of the next year across the DCU, the events of The Lightning Saga seem most likely to be merely the first salvo in a much longer story which, most likely, will not be contained to the pages of JLA and JSA.



ROBIN 163
Written by Adam Beechen; Art by Freddie E. Williams II; Cover by Patrick Gleason and Wayne Faucher

A single issue story focusing on Tim Drake's first father's day after his adoption by Bruce Wayne, writer Adam Beechen gives Tim a bit of a breather between cases/ story-arcs and gives readers an opportunity to catch up and familiarize themselves with the status quo for the Robin title while managing to work in some character bits.

Prior to Infinite Crisis, not even the "Robin" title had much room for hugs and general goodwill, but this issue reflects the sea change in the Batman titles since the new editorial and creative teams took the reigns of the Batbooks and decided to deviate from the path of "Batman as psychotic loner". Certainly prior to Infinite Crisis, readers may have wondered why Tim Drake was stickinga round Batman anymore at all as the relationship had become by even the armchairiest of armchair psychologist's analysis an emotionally abusive situation. Robin would reach to Batman only to be put in hsi place and told, endlessly, that Batman needed nobody, only to call upon the Boy Wonder whenever the mood struck him.

The Father/Son relationship which has built since the first OYL issue is a welcome change of pace. The change is reflected in the Batman and Detective Comics titles to some extent, but without Tim's point-of-view, the new ease of the partnership actually adds a great deal more credibility to the Batman and Robin team, and doesn't merely echo Rick Veitch's seminal work "Brat Pack".

Beechen was clearly looking for a throw-away villain for the issue as "The Jury" acts as a plot point far more than an actual threat (the biggest threat is not making it home for dinner for our hero), and the issue is a bit light on any conflict. However. we do catch up a bit on the Zoanne/Time relationship, and get a peak at how Bruce speaks about Tim to Alfred as well as seeing Bruce's newly awakened paternalism manifest itself a bit.

Beechen clearly recognizes the need for a breather between storylines, which would have been a welcome addition to the Teen Titans title (had he been assigned the title for more than a few issues). Hopefully his sense of pacing and development will translate to the Countdown work he's been assigned.

That said, the book is beginning to feel as if Robin needs a supporting cast which doesn't belong to the central Batman titles. Peers of any sort might be welcome. While a fatherly appearance by Bruce or Alfred is always welcome, establishing someone else for Robin to speak with would be welcome, if for no other reason than to ease the use of captions/ thought bubbles.




CHECKMATE 15
Written by Greg Rucka; Art by Joe Bennett and Jack Jadson; Cover by Matthew Clark

The "Checkout" storyline continues as Chang Tzu gets his eggy hands on Nightwing, Captain Boomerang Jr. and Sasha Bordeaux and tries to learn what makes them tick.

Despite the solicitations, the issue is co-written by Greg Rucka and Judd WInick, and Winick's finger prints appear with decidedly more frequency in this issue than the prior cross-over issues of this story-arc. It seems the "Pequod" team's storyline may have been handled by Winick as characters resort to anger and outrage much more than in Rucka's usual depiction of an almost melancholy vibe to Checkmate as they go about their work.

However, most of the Chang Tzu and prisoner scenes reflect Rucka's love of detailed techno-speak (even when it's DCU smoke and mirrors), and the slow dissection and delight by Chang Tzu seems more in Rucka's realm.

Overall, the issue is the "dark before the dawn" portion of the story as our heroes are placed in an inescapable situation, made equally inescapable for the folks at Checkmate HQ whoa re once again bogged down in international politicking and riding the razor line of attemtping not to cause an international incident as they go about their espionage work.

Overall, for readers of 52 and those following Checkmate, the series works well as part of the greater whole of the DCU of late, as well as a contained tale. Readers don't necessarily have to have read 52 to know that Chang Tzu is a creepy, egg-tastical mad scientist without much in the way of a moral compass, and exposition should catch up readers new to Checkmate coming in from Outsiders.

That said, Outsiders seems to be set for the chopping block, or at least a major reshuffling as indicated by the Outsiders: Five of a Kind mini-series running in August and writer Tony Bedard coming on with issue 50. The final pages of this issue suggest something as to what those August Outsiders solicitations might mean, as well as issue 50.



That's it for Part 1 of last week's reviews. Sorry to leave anybody hanging if you really wanted a Countdown review, but it should be posted Tuesday morning at the latest.

So what did I get wrong? Was the return of Wally the way to go? Was killing Bart the only solution? Am I way off base? Should I go jump in a lake? You tell me.

Come on, I can take it.



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Ryan is your resident reviewer of DC Comics. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas. He likes Superman.
ryan@filmfodder.com

Hi Ryan,

I couldn’t agree more with your take on the Flash situation.

In my own blog (http://fanboywonder.blogspot.com) I’ve been calling it the Murder of “Bart Allen” not by the Rogue’s Gallery but by Dan DiDio with “Hollywood bozos” Bilson and DeMeo aiding and abetting in the character assassination.

There are a number of historic parallels between this “Bart Allen” who aged before his time was just a clone of Wally West in the early days and between Ben Reilly—the Scarlet Spider, replacement Spider-Man and clone of Peter Parker.

At least DC had the sense to pull the plug on this disaster in about a year as the Spider-Clone story arc went on for a couple of years and did lasting damage to the Spidey franchise (except for Spider-Girl, I’ve rarely read a Spider book since).

DiDio attempted to shoehorn a character just finding his way as KID Flash, completely change what made Bart Allen a beloved character and again and turn him into a Wally clone just for the sake of “change”. This was all about ego and DiDio’s desire to put his own fingerprint on the DCU a la Stan Lee.

In the credit where credit is due department, Marc Guggenheim did a stellar job working with what he had to give “Bart” an honorable death. Those last panels with no dialogue just heartbreaking visuals thanks to the art of Tony Daniel, almost redeemed the previous 12 sub-par issues---Almost.

However, I’ve been saying “Bart” in quotes because that wasn’t Bart Allen, the former Impulse and Kid Flash. It’s my position that Kid Flash is NOT dead. That the young Bart who went into the Speed Force with Superboy-Prime in Infinite Crisis was not the same person older person who emerged.

This “Bart Allen” should be revealed as from one of the newly minted parallel Earths. Kid Flash is still out there and just waiting to be returned.

This is an escape clause just waiting to be exploited.

As for the Lightning Saga, I never in my life thought I would be so totally bored with a JLA/JSA crossover.

The problem with Brad Metzler’s JLA run has been that he’s lost his objectivity as a writer…he’s giddy that he has the keys to the kingdom and he just can’t step back to tell a single story, he has to tell 10 in the same issue from every possible point of view.

It’s not unlike Ang Lee’s Hulk movie. It didn’t fail because he didn’t take the premise and the character seriously, but rather because he took it TOO seriously. Lee got so involved in the world that he stepped into that he couldn’t imagine the viewer not feeling the same love and awe that he did. The same could be said for Metzler’s JLA.

Or to put is less kindly, we’ve all been paying $2.99 a pop (or a LOT more if you wait for the hardcover trade) to experience Metzler’s fanboy version of fantasy baseball.

But at least there is a satisfying payoff in the return of Wally West and family (although the twins did look just a tad older than when we last saw them).

Looking forward to the return of Mark Waid writing (an actual comic pro) writing the Flash this fall.

Thanks for listening,
FanBoyWonder

-- Posted by: FanBoyWonder at June 25, 2007 9:49 PM

I am actually looking forward to the Mark Waid Flash, mostly because I think it will wash the bad taste out of my mouth from this run on Flash. Man, you have to give Guggenheim some credit for trying his darndest to try and turn the thing around. I believe I read at Newsarama that he knew Bart was a goner when he took the reigns on the book and so he just had to get him to that point. Not an enviably task.

I am VERY interested to see All-Flash #1 so I can somewhat gauge my excitement over the new Flash series. I do wish DC would knock it off with dangling Barry before the readers. It's a distraction from the excitement I wanted to feel at Wally's return and dilutes the chance to enjoy the Flash we currently have.

I'm definitely not as down on the Lightning Saga as you are, but I agree with a lot of your points. I enjoyed the tour aspect of the series, but kind of failed to see the story work as a story with a beginning, middle and end. Too many plot-threads are being set-up to pay off at some indeterminate date. As the producers for Lost have learned, with no date set ins tone for when this is going to pay off, the fans can't maintain interest.

But, then again, we do have a series called "Countdown" going on, which suggests something is on the horizon.

-- Posted by: ryan at June 25, 2007 11:43 PM