Monday, April 06, 2009

Stuff I Read

Flash: Rebirth #1

Here's some math: Barry Allen died in 1986. It is now 2009. Barry Allen has been dead in real time for 23 years. Now, true, superhero comics have an aging fanbase, but as a point of fact, the only people old enough to remember a time when Barry Allen was the Flash are over thirty years old. Even a thirty-year-old would still only have been seven when Barry Allen died. Let's not forget that one of the main reasons the character was on the chopping block to begin with was that it was quite unpopular, snaking through a series of poorly-received storylines that culminated in the title's cancellation with issue #350.

And how many of those 246 issues were any good, really? (The series began in the late 50s with issue #105, picking up numbering from the first Golden Age iteration.) Discount the first fifty or so issues of the great Silver Age run - as era-defining for DC's Silver Age as Fantastic Four was for Marvel. After that, into the late sixties and seventies and eighties, who talks about Barry Allen? Seriously, in all my years on this blogosphere I have never - ever - seen anyone willing to wax rhapsodic about any issue of Flash produced in the twenty years between 1965 and 1985. I'm sure they're out there, somewhere - but just look, for comparisons sake, how much keyboard time is spent lionizing relatively bad comics such as the Mod-era Wonder Woman and Bob Haney's The Brave and the Bold. If there was anything interesting to be found in those twenty years of continuous publication, I have never seen anyone on the internet mention them, which is about as telling a barometer of fan interest as any I can imagine. If people cared, people would talk about Barry Allen - but no one does. Ever. For better or for worse, people did care about Hal Jordan - there was a whole extremely motivated fan community dedicated to his return, for God's sake - raise your hands if you remember the days of H.E.A.T. taking out full page ads in Wizard.

The only people old enough to actually have any kind of relationship with the character of Barry Allen are over thirty-five. So, for many people, the nostalgia for Barry Allen isn't just nostalgia, it's nostalgia for someone else's nostalgia. There is no franchise in comics more susceptible to nostalgia than The Flash - it's all about legacies, and the continuity of the title, and giving respect to forebears, and family, and blah blah blah.

The Flash is a character that almost screams "square" - I'm sorry, it's true. Wally West is a responsible family man concerned with living up to the example of his figurative father figures. Barry Allen is a friggin' cop with a friggin' high-and-tight haircut. Barry's been out of the loop for over twenty years, brought into a bold new world. Ronald Reagan is no longer in the White House, it's some sort of Negro. Children talk back to their elders. Why, I'll bet a man can even be arrested for striking his wife.

On paper, the Flash could be interesting. I stress, "could" - but the fact is that for almost two-decades the Flash has been the repository for successive writer's mid-life crises and family issues. Perhaps that's not fair - I like Mark Waid well enough, he's produced as many comics I like as comics I don't like, which is a good batting average in today's market. He probably doesn't deserve those kinds of ad hominem attacks, even if I tremendously enjoy making them. But still: his Wally West is the most boring superhero alive. What is the point of having a superhero whose one power is that he runs fast, if you fill the book and the character's entire mythos, with other people who run just as fast? Who have bland personalities and blander motivations and blather on saying things like "Barry would be proud of you, son" and "you're the father I wish I had"? How many times was Wally's unsurpassed love for Linda some kind of plot-point - how many times did he come back from the dead for her love or beat the devil for her love? I mean, it's one thing to actually have a successfully married super-hero, that's novel enough, but I have never read an issue of The Flash that didn't make me want them to have a messy, ugly divorce, preferably involving Linda sleeping around with Max Mercury or Johnny Quick, some angry old man who drinks a lot but "still knows how to treat a woman like a woman". And, as if that wasn't incestuous enough, Geoff Johns' run had its own father issues in regards to Waid's run on the book - Johns was Wally West to Waid's Barry Allen, and oh boy haven't these people ever read any Sophocles?

Maybe it's that I don't have enough father issues. I mean, I love my dad an awful lot, but I'm not nostalgic about his life. I don't think things were "better" when he was my age - just different. The best thing a son can do for his father in my family is to live an independent, happy, fulfilling life. Barry Allen comes back from the dead and suddenly Wally's character has no purpose than to say, "waaaaaugh will daddy be proud of me". Get a diaper, crybaby. Live your own life. Seriously, now you've got three people with an equal right to the name Flash, with identical powers and similar dishwater personalities - plus a Kid Flash and Reverse Flash thrown in for good measure. Green Lantern gets a pass from me because it's got a much different, cosmic scope than other books - I don't mind the fact that there are 7,200 Green Lanterns because writers have a free hand to make them all interesting and different (even when the book stinks, they can still get mileage out of creating new and novel iterations on the idea of "intergalactic alien policemen"). All the Flashes are identical. All white, all conservative, all genial. Even Bart Allen is still, despite his "rebellious" teenage thing, still obsessed with family and legacy. Oh my God I want to scream just thinking about it. It's like the book for people who still think that The Simpsons is too anti-family values.

So have fun, Barry Allen. Ethan van Sciver is a good match for you, you should be right at home talking about how Joe McCarthy got a raw deal. Don't be too scared by all the black people and Puerto Ricans walking around your neighborhood, it's still not illegal to harass ethnic peoples.

Seaguy: Slave of Mickey Eye #1

For anyone who thought I was a mite vituperative against Final Crisis - well, deal. I thought the book was a mess, and the fact that Morrison had the gall to insult people who "didn't get it" still makes me see red. The series was nothing but a giant blueprint of how to produce the most incredibly unpleasant shrill "momentist" superhero comics known to man. Hey, do you like your comics to have anything but the most awesome money shots lined up in a row like some kind of fanboy bukkake? Well, sorry. At least Mark Millar is honest about his pandering - the worst part is that I think that Morrison is trying to pander, but is going about it in such an ass-backwards way that it's almost adorable. Almost.

But the problem is not that Morrison is incapable of writing a better comic than Final Crisis, it's that he most certainly is. Seaguy is such a comic. All the stuff that he was trying to say in Final Crisis gets said much better in and much less space in these pages. This is really "The Day Evil Won". This is all the stuff about surveillance in a corporatist media environment that he was getting at with The Filth and tried to wedge into the sidelines of Final Crisis. This is an ostensible superhero book about the triumph of casual fascism that actually does seem to exist on a continuum with Foucault. This is chilling, gripping, hilarious and sad in equal measure. It's simply wonderful, and it's a reminder that for every comic be produces that pisses me off, he is still capable of something like All-Star Superman. If only he didn't have to be such a pissant.

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