Tuesday, February 28, 2006

R.I.P. The Flash – 1987-2006 part 2

We continue FanBoyWonder’s homage to the two decade run of The Flash featuring the Wally West character as the third generation Fastest Man Alive. Part one, http://fanboywonder.blogspot.com/2006/02/rip-flash-1987-2006.htmldealt with the title’s first writers, Mike Barron and William Messner-Lobes.

In part 2, we’ll deal with the contributions of writers Mark Waid and Geoff Johns. When Mark Waid first took over writing chores from WML in 1992, he was know more for his work as a DC Comics editor than anything he’d done as a writer.

FBW first got a hint of Waid’s writing chops when he scripted Flash Annual #4—Flash’s part of the God-awful and now quaint Armageddon 2001 event of 1991—and he managed to crank out a quality story from a dumb story premise.

However, when Waid picked up the writing baton from WML, it would begin his near decade-long association with Wally West where he would return the character to greatness, reintroduce the Flash legacy, crank out some of the best Flash stories ever told and introduce the Speed Force, the source of Flash’s speed.

Waid hit the ground running with a four part Born to Run flashback story arc, a sort of Kid Flash Year One in Flash 62-64. Waid re-told and modernized Wally West’s origin while not substantially altering it—yet he still managed put his own stamp, a lesson Judd Winick could learn.

Later that year in Flash # 73 would team Wally West with the original Flash Jay Garrick—newly returned from exile with the rest of the Justice Society—for a very special Christmas issue. On the last page of the issue featured the holiday surprises to end them all—a seemingly returned from the dead Barry Allen.

That led-to the six part Return of Barry Allen, Flash 74-79. Waid fooled us all into believing Barry Allen had returned from the dead. Turns out it was just a time-traveling, memory lost Professor Zoom. Wally was forced to confront his fear of replacing Barry as the Flash and in doing so finally became his own hero.

Waid also introduced Impulse, Bart Allen—the current Teen Titan Kid Flash, who is Barry Allen’s grandson—a refugee from the 30th Century. He also completed the turnaround of Wally West by restoring the legacy of super-speedsters with Jay Garrick, the original Flash, Johnny Quick, his daughter Jesse Quick and Max Mercury—the former Quality Comics hero.

During the Terminal Velocity storyline, Waid addressed the coincidence of the nearly identical origins of Barry and Wally (i.e. lightning striking a cabinet full of chemicals) by introducing the Speed Force—the source of all of the all of the speedsters’ velocity.

Of course, Waid also had some clunkers like The “Dark Flash” storyline. Walter “Wally’ West was a counterpart from alternate timeline who wasn’t able to save his Linda Park from dying and he briefly took the place of our Wally West.

Nearly a decade later, Waid was all tapped out but he left behind fine legacy of solid Flash stories.

When Geoff Johns took over for what was supposed to be a six-issue fill in story arc, he quickly made the book his own. For us, his early Flash stories didn’t really strike a cord—but upon reflection and re-reading we are seeing that they stand up over time.

Johns really hit his stride with the introduction of Zoom, Wally’s West’s own Reverse Flash. Hunter Solomon, one-time Flash friend, received his powers when he attempted to use the Cosmic Treadmill to travel back in time and prevent the worst day of his life.

The result was a nemesis who didn’t get his powers from the Speed Force but instead from stepping outside of time. Zoom assaulted Wally’s pregnant wife Linda, causing her to miscarry their twins.

In issue 200, Johns gave fans a nice treat with a meeting between Barry Allen and Wally West via time travel. Hal Jordan as the Spectre granted Wally a wish by using his magic to restore Wally’s secret identity to the world. We always believed his public identity was a mistake and we were glad to see Johns correct it.

Johns' best Flash story came in the aftermath of Identity Crisis as Wally came to grips with Barry Allen’s role in the JLA’s mind wipes of Dr. Light, the Secret Society of Super Villains and of Batman when he tried to stop them.

In Johns’ last story arc, Rogue War, he left the book on top. The reformed members of the Rogues Gallery and the rogue Rouges go to war with the Flashes—Wally West, Jay Garrick and Kid Flash Bart Allen caught in the middle. Add to the mix two Zooms and a time traveling Barry Allen and a clever way to save West twins from miscarrying and you’ve got some darn fine reading.

At issue 225, Johns left the book having completed Wally West’s return to respectability. If only the powers that be at DC had the wisdom to shut the book down then and there.

The good bye had been a bit easier to swallow given the crappy fill-in issues following Geoff Johns departure from the title. For the last five issues we were forced to endure fill-in writer Joey Cavaleri insult us with a throw away plot.

Hilary Goldstein of IGN.com, summed it up quite nicely in her review of Flash issue 230, http://comics.ign.com/articles/681/681899p1.html.

"This wasn't the way to end things for the Flash. The [Vandal] Savage story arc was a throw-away, a "baddie of the week" tale that serves as the temporary resting place for this series before a relaunch later in the year.

“While Flash gets his due in Infinite Crisis #4, you would think that knowing this was the final story of the series, DC would have provided something that tied up a few loose ends or at least featured a more interesting character. It would have been wiser to end things with Geoff Johns' "Rogue War" than let the series limp out like this.”

We couldn’t agree more Hilary.

It was a great run Wally, thanks for the ride!


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