Monday, August 01, 2005

I sort of liked Mark Waid's Flash

Comics Should Be Good recently suggested that people, when about to complain about a Mark Waid comic, tend to open with "I really liked Mark Waid's Flash, but..."

Not I. See, Mark Waid's Flash is what got me reading the character. I loved the "Return of Barry Allen" arc, liked seeing Linda and Wally get married, and even enjoyed "Chain Lightning" and the 'dark Flash' from a different Hypertimeline. In fact, after his work on JLA (specifically "Tower of Babel," the Id story, and "Terror Incognita," since Queen of Fables wasn't particularly good) and JLA: Year One, I'd say the Flash is my favorite Waid run on any book until the current Legion of Super-Heroes. I certainly enjoyed it more than, say, the abominably dreadful odifferous lump of fermenting elephant feces that is "Superman: Birthright" (an exaggeration, sure, but I'll post on that another time).

But, Waid's Flash run is plagued with a bunch of real problems, despite really building the Flash legacy and the family aspect. Problems like:

*Time Travel: Okay, how many Waid storylines relied on Time Travel? I don't have the whole run, but off the top of my head, "Chain Lightning," "Return of Barry Allen," that one with John Fox, and at least one or two others. That's a lot of time traveling, and it really amps up both the potential confusion with the book, and Wally's apparent power level. When a hero can travel through time under his own power, he shouldn't face many threats that he can't beat. That's a problem on par with Superman being able to blow up planets by sneezing.

*Barry's shadow: perhaps not ever-present, but Wally ostensibly came into his own following "Return of Barry Allen," but still seemed like he was feeling subordinate to Barry. He's earned the position, he deserves some self-confidence. He doesn't deserve repeatedly screwing up until Barry time-travels to pull his fat out of the fryer, like in "Chain Lightning."

*Barry's. Evil. Twin. What's the lamest, most soap-opera cliché you could possibly come up with? "Oh, Barry's got an evil twin brother who hates him for being the Flash, so he becomes a supervillain with his own dynasty, an evil one, so he can evilly kill all the good Flashes." Cobalt Blue has a terribly lame origin, more damaging to the past than, say, "Oh, Gwen Stacy had twins from an affair with Norman Osborn." I like Cobalt Blue, but Waid really phoned that backstory in.

*Did I mention time travel? How many Flashes appeared in Waid's run on the book? Sheesh, Wally was often barely even a supporting character in his own series.

*"The worst threat Wally has ever faced!" I mean, it's natural to see a series continually trying to one-up its last stunt, but when you have to kill the title character more than once in a series, you may realize that you've set the bar too high.

*Love will keep us together. Was it twice? Or was it three times that Wally and Linda, separated by time, space, Hyperime, whatever, were reunited by their bond of love? Once is sweet, more than that is sappy. And yet, it was Impulse who was unaffected by Abra Kadabra's spells of forgetfulness.

*The Rogues. Geoff Johns has proven that Flash has one of the best rogues galleries in all of comics. How does Waid use them? Well, after essentially getting rid of any future uses of Prof. Zoom early on, he creates and kills some new villains (re: Savitar), overuses Abra Kadabra, way overuses Cobalt Blue, mutilates Capt. Boomerang, and gives all the Rogues' abilities to an inconsistently drawn character called the Replicant, who would have been cool if he'd done more with his myriad powers. As for the rest...anyone seen the Folded Man lately?

*The Speed God. Okay, the Speed Force is a workable idea. It's a little derivative, but it has some cool applications. Still, Wally eventually became freaking powerful (speed force costume, stealing speed, lending speed, exploding stuff with vibrations, self-powered time-travel, etc.) and had to be portrayed as increasingly dull-witted to keep from using those abilities to their logical extent. Johns made a brilliant move in bringing Wally back down to earth, simply by using less time travel and more ingenuity.

*Speaking of ingenuity, maybe my memory's just a little selective, but despite giving Wally more powers, so he wasn't just a guy who runs fast, Waid did rather little in the way of innovative uses of speed.

So, it's not that I don't like Waid's Flash run. I think a lot of it was good, and it was a great idea to make Wally more powerful and give him a worthy supporting cast (even if it was at the expense of cool characters like Chunk and Piper). But, the constant time travel, the repeated use of the future Flash dynasty, the crappy new Rogues, and especially the godlike nature of otherwise blue-collar Wally West, really stand out as blemishes against an otherwise decent run.


Brian Cronin said...

The good thing about Waid's Flash run is that he gives us such a beautiful cut-off point that it allows readers to look bad fondly upon the run, even thoughthe latter half of the run was quite weak.

I wrote at Comics Should Be Good awhile ago about the fact that writers should avoid "Big Events," in the sense that they should not have the comic work up to one point in time, because once that point occurs, if the writer stays on the book, the story is basically seen as OVER.

Reading Flash from #62-100, it was as strong of a superhero comic as you are ever going to see.

However, Waid wrote another 45 or so issues of Flash AFTER #100, which contains pretty much every complaint about his run (The stupid evil twin story, and the whole rergugitation of plots).

Since #100 was such a blatent cut-off point, it allows us to still reflect upon his run kindly.

That being said, people can have problems with Waid's Flash, but it still remains that you often hear his Flash offered up when someone is about to bash a current work of his...hehe.

Tom Foss said...

Oh, absolutely. And if it's not Flash, it's Empire or Kingdom Come.

Unfortunately for me, aside from "Return of Barry Allen" and "Terminal Velocity," I haven't gotten to read a whole lot of Waid's early run on the book. I hope to remedy that with trades, but that'll take a bit of time.

But it was pretty clear that, despite all the good stuff that followed #100 (the Dead Heat story, right?), Waid probably should have at least taken a well-deserved break, rather than trying to continually top his killing of the main character.

Thanks for the comment! I'm glad to see someone's reading this blog.