Where have I been, you ask? It’s a long story, full of excuses and bullshit, but mostly, when you break it down, I’ve been lazy.
I started a new job, one away from the easy (but financially unfeasible) life of a comic shop manager. The change in schedules (I went from staying up until 3 every morning and sleeping until 10 to having to be at work by 7) really threw me off my game for quite a while and the simple fact still remains that I no longer have a job where I can just sit on my ass and read comics every day (some days I can, just not EVERY day), so that’s cut into the amount of books that I plow through each week.
And then I started reading actual books again, something I hadn’t really done in the year since I graduated with an English degree. I swore, on the day that I skipped commencement to sleep until 1 and play video games, that I wouldn’t crack the spine of another book until I damn well felt like it (having had three years of “great” literature force-fed to me) and I stuck to that vow like I was Bruce Wayne in Crime Alley. So, again, that cut into my comic reading time. As it stands right now, I have a pretty hefty backlog of books to get through, some of which will eventually be reviewed here, but the majority of which you’ll never hear my opinion on.
But when you get right down to it, like I said, I just got lazy for two months. It was awful easy to just read comics as a fan for a while and not as a critic.
Then I went to WizardWorld in Chicago and every time I introduced myself as being a writer for Sequart.com and Slush Factory, the angry pixie that I call my fiancée would chuckle and mutter, “Yeah, like you’ve written anything since June…” And as we all know, having pretty girls laugh at you is a great motivator for geeks of all ages.
And so here we are.
I’m back, at least for this week. It remains to be seen if I can honestly get myself back into the groove, but I promise that I’m going to try. It may take another couple of weeks before things settle back into their normal routine (to be fair, and also steer some of the blame away from myself, it should be mentioned that our esteemed site director spent the better part of his summer in the armpit of Europe, France ((isn’t it more appropriate to call them the asshole of Europe? I dunno…)), and was generally unreachable at times). Hopefully, I’ve not lost the two readers that I had before the hiatus.
As well, let’s all give a big Sequart.com welcome (and by that, I mean the deafening silence of our message boards) to Bryan Miller, my good friend and now fellow reviewer for the site.
I must say, in all honesty, it’s good to be back.
So let’s get this bitch on the road:
The Flash #201
DC Comics – Geoff Johns (w); Alberto Dose (a)
This is like reading Ultimate Flash, I swear to you. If DC hired Brian Bendis to revamp the Flash, then forced him to abandon that “decompressed storytelling” crap of his (here in the real world, we call that “padding your story”), it would probably read a lot like this. And while the Flash may not initially seem like a character that was just screaming for a new start, this issue proves that it was more necessary than it would appear.
In the wake of the return of Zoom, the Reverse-Flash, Linda West’s pregnancy is lost and her husband, Wally (The Flash) seriously considers hanging up his boots. It’s not simply self-pity when he bemoans his decision to reveal his identity to the people of Keystone City (and, obviously, the world at large), as his public persona directly caused the loss of his unborn twins (well, that and the rampage of a time-traveling psychopath). In a plot twist that only works in the best comic books and the worst television dramas, Barry Allen (long dead) returns from the future (where he retired before dying during the Crisis on Infinite Earths) with Hal Jordan (also dead, now the Spectre, agent of God) and offers Wally the chance to put things right: it can be arranged that no one will remember who The Flash is, nor will they know that they used to know. West jumps at the chance to protect the lives that his cavalier attitude has endangered, but again, there’s a twist: Wally no longer remembers who the Flash is either.
All that brings us up to date, in case you hadn’t been reading the book lately. For the record, #201 is a perfect starting point for new readers, as any foreknowledge of the character (aside from the basics; i.e., there’s a superhero named The Flash and he runs really fast) or his world is really unnecessary, since it’s all being rewritten right now anyway.
Wally West is working the midnight shift as a mechanic for the Keystone City police department, a department that is struggling to cope with the plague of super-powered rogues that has free rein over the blue-collar metropolis. Although he loves his work, West has a hard time balancing his career and his love life, spending precious little time with his young wife, a med student still reeling from the loss of their unborn children after an untimely incident involving the Flash. Meanwhile, officer after officer turns up frozen in mid-August by unknown means and nightly reports and daily newspapers ask the question on everyone’s mind: where has the Flash, the masked hero whose recklessness Wally and Linda blame for their tragedy, gone?
This is the world that Wally West finds himself in, driving to work late one night; this is the world that the Flash inadvertently returns to when Wally’s SUV flips over during a pile-up on a rain-slickened city street and time simply stops. West’s inner hero, if you will, spends little time wondering how it is that, after a flash of lightning engulfed his vehicle, he is able to touch the raindrops that are suspended in midair and gets to work dragging the other frozen motorists from impending disaster. Awakening seconds later in the pouring rain, the rubber soles of his shoes mysteriously melted, a golden ring is pressed into Wally’s hand as a stranger mutters, “It’s time to run again.”
It seemed hard to believe that the fresh start promised for the issues following Zoom’s return could surpass the bound-to-be-legendary run that Johns has already amassed. And though it’s probably premature to say so now, as the arc (entitled “Ignition”) has only gone through one of six issues, it seems that Johns has done just that.
His take on the Flash was refreshing when he was first handed control of the title, taking the character away from the “Flash and his Amazingly Fast Friends” approach that Mark Waid had spearheaded and returning him to his Silver Age roots. But this near-complete revamp, though drastic, is the kick in the ass that this book needed, as I was beginning to feel that the bloom was off the rose just a bit in the issues before Zoom’s return.
If you’ve been looking for a reason to pick up this book, a book that’s been building buzz for quite some time now, this is the issue to start with. All past continuity is thrown by the wayside, but it doesn’t feel like Johns is abandoning the character’s history. Rather, he’s making my previous Ultimate Flash remark pretty damned appropriate, as “Ignition” is simply a kick-ass re-envisioning of what the Flash should be. It’s full of rich character moments, like the conversation between Detectives Chyre and Morillo and nice fanboy asides like Wally West having a midnight repast in a deserted diner with a stranger (who turns out to be Len Snart, Captain Cold). And the finale is worth the price of admission alone. Go out now and buy this book; I’d put good odds that Flash #201 is on Wizard’s Hot 10 inside of two months and you’ll all kick yourself in the ass then.
Fantastic Four #503
Marvel Comics – Mark Waid (w); Howard Porter (p); Norm Rapmund (i)
The Fantastic Four: Voyagers of the Unknown.
The Fantastic Four: Imaginauts.
The Fantastic Four: Resident Defenders of Latveria.
One of these things is not like the others.
After the “final” defeat of Dr. Doom (following his return to the mysticism of his gypsy roots), a physically and emotionally scarred Reed Richards leads his beloved, world-famous family to Latveria, the Eastern European nation that Doom ruled with an iron fist (God, I’m clever) for most of his adult life. Thinking ahead, Richards realizes that without Doom’s presence, Latveria is ripe for retribution at the hands of the neighboring countries that suffered under the deposed dictator’s rule and in danger of being plundered by villains with even less scruples that Doom (as the good doctor undoubtedly left behind a cache of sinister technology the likes of which the world is best off not seeing). Hence, the Fantastic Four interpose themselves between an unappreciative Latverian populace and the proverbial angry neighbors, circumventing Doom’s security and taking up residence in his castle while Reed ensures that nothing world-threatening is left behind.
It’s a nice idea, really, and indicative of the mood that Waid’s run has brought to the book. Dark and serious, yet at the same time, suffused of a sense of humor amongst its primary players that is appropriate simply because of the fact that they are, first and foremost, a family. Unfortunately, some serious breaking of the fourth wall (for no discernible reason) and an underlying plot thread that’s just been overused so badly as of late keep the issue from ever really rising to its potential.
Waid seems to have chosen this issue to be his metaphor for the U.S. invasion of Iraq (and amusingly enough, a case could be made for extending the metaphor to the search for WMD as Reed is ferreting out Doom’s weaponry), which is sad, because the high concept of the issue makes perfect sense and I would have liked to have seen it covered without beating an already dead horse some more. It’s a particularly inappropriate place to make the reference as well, because it only half works.
Granted, the Latverians’ hatred of the Fantastic Four and the Iraqi distaste for all things American dovetail rather nicely. Both peoples have lived under an oppressive regime that drilled into their heads the notion of one great enemy, to be feared and despised above all others. And both countries’ rulers were known to have sought after, at the very least, weapons with which to threaten the world. Left here, the plot thread would seem useable (though I prefer to have real world politics left out of my superhero escapism, thanks anyway) and, in a way, logical.
But the problem is that Iraq and Latveria are not the same situation (other than the obvious fact that one of them is real and the other is not). Latveria under Doom’s control is a strange paradox, a totalitarian regime where the people want for nothing. It is a nation free of crime and disease, but also one completely lacking in individual freedoms. All decisions are made by one man, all decisions made for the “good of the people.” Not even the most liberal resident of the Left Coast would claim that life under Saddam was comparable to this. Doom is played here as less of an evil dictator and more of a man with a superiority complex and a glut of power; to have him stand in for a man who killed thousands of innocents, often women and children, for no reason other than their ethnicity is nothing short of completely asinine.
Compound this with the useless opening sequence where the “camera” pans through the FF’s Baxter Building gift shop for no apparent reason for four pages and the repeatedly broken fourth wall and you’re left with a very uneven issue. Like I said earlier, it’s a nice high concept, really. It’s that the conversations between the FF, the ones that make the real world metaphor overt, that ruin the issue.