The Legacy of Julius Schwartz: Silver Age Stars


Julius-Schwartz

Childhood impressions often leave the deepest marks. I have always been a DC Comics fan because these were the only comics available to me to see in East Manchester, and the impressions these made have coloured my subconscious response to the DC Universe ever since.
For instance: Superman and Batman were clearly the Big Two at DC but, aside from the adventures with the Justice League of America, I paid them very little mind (except after Batgirl was introduced). Instead, I was drawn to a quartet of heroes who individually and collectively I felt were front-runners. These were The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and The Atom.
It was surely not a coincidence that these four, together with the JLA, were all being edited by Julius Schwartz, or that they were being written by one or other of John Broome and Gardner Fox. Another thing that linked them, and I was aware of this from 1966 onwards, when I learned of the Justice Society of America, was that they were all legacy heroes, re-imaginings of heroes from the Golden Age and, as such, pillars of the Silver Age.
Years have passed, comics have changed, each of this quartet have had their own legacies, and yet DC keeps coming back to Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Carter Hall and Ray Palmer, no matter what.
In the 2000s, DC sought to cash in on their past by producing a line of DC Showcase Presents, big, bright, cheap black and white reprints of these and other heroes, stuffing twenty issues at a time into 500 page plus volumes. It was a cheap exercise in nostalgia, and I bought several of these.
But 500 page books take up space, and I have very limited space. Not all that long ago, it struck me that the availability of long series on DVD, in full colour, would not only be superior to the Showcase Presents books, but would be far far less hard on space. Two DVDs to cover all the volumes I had of these four, including what was on the ones I hadn’t yet bought, covered the entire contents and more of ten such books (allof which I have subsequently sold on eBay).
I hadn’t intended to treat any of the four series to the kind of in-depth review I’ve been carrying out here. Indeed, it was refreshing to simply read for no other purpose than the joy of reading. But I couldn’t help but think about what I was reading as I went along, about the joint sensibilities of the four series, and the contrasting characters and relationships each portrays. Particularly the very different relationships between the four heroes and their respective girlfriends/wives.

The Flash

The Flash

Barry Allen was the first Silver Age hero, making a very slow start with four appearances in Showcase itself spread out over three years, and finally being granted his own title in 1959, despite being the third most successful character Showcase had thus far produced. But he was the most original.
Robert Kanigher had set the new Flash up, with four lead stories matched by four back-up stories by John Broome, who became the full-time writer once the new series began. Kanigher wrote Allen’s spectacular and convincing origin, so much more plausible than Jay Garrick’s, and set up his relationship with his girlfriend Iris West.
And Carmine Infantino drew everything with a sleek, futuristic look that brought believability to The Flash’s superspeed stunts, though it’s amazing at this distance how often that takes the form of a static single image, frozen in a running posture.
It’s Broome who builds up The Flash’s world, introducing over and again the Rogue’s gallery of career criminals, each with a single scientific gimmick that they use to plague the hero. Captain Cold, The Trickster, Gorilla Grodd, Mirror Master, Captain Boomerang, Abra Kadabra. Heatwave and The Top were later additions, who also felt a little bit like add-ons, whilst the Pied Piper had the advantage of seniority but was never used all that much.
Barry Allen’s – and The Flash’s – relationship with Iris West, intrigues me. Iris was a career woman, a ‘newshen’ as the demeaning term insisted. She was dedicated to her role as a reporter, which was a frequent godsend to Barry when he needed to shoot off and fight crime, disappearing in the opposite direction to Iris and her ever-ready reporter’s notebook.
The personal level however is something different. I don’t mean Broome’s notoriously dubious memory which had Barry and Iris go from ‘engaged to be married’ to ‘in love’ to, finally ‘just good friends’ I mean that although the pair see each other in practically every story, and Barry frequently tells us that he loves Iris, his affections are practically never reciprocated. There’s very little kissing, there are virtually no expressions of love of anything similar from Iris, indeed her dominant response to him is frustration at his being perpetually late. Sometimes, it boils over into anger, though that’s usually swept aside quickly with a hesitant excuse about his duties to the Police lab.
Iris’s frustrations are entirely understandable: Barry is a rotten boyfriend and we very rarely, and then only in glimpses, see the good dates. She must see something in him that makes the constant let-downs bearable but we’re never given a hint as to what.
There is one clue: in a team-up with Green Lantern in his series, in which Iris knows and gets on well with Carol Ferris, Iris contrasts her own attitude to her home-town hero with that of Carol’s to GL: The Flash is fine, and she likes him, but it’s Barry she loves and, in the end, The Flash only impresses her as a hero.
Nevertheless, Barry and Iris became the first DC hero and girlfriend to marry, in 1966. Naturally, it’s a superhero wedding: Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash, impersonates Barry at the altar, trying to get Iris into bed for himself. What’s so disappointing is that not only has Barry married Iris without telling her of his other life, he breaks his promise to her: in an earlier adventure involving alien invasion, Barry had had to reveal his secret identity to Iris, who allows him to wipe the knowledge from her mind on his promise to tell her for real after they marry. He doesn’t.
In fact he goes a year of dithering before telling her, having been urged on by Jay and Joan Garrick. It’s hardly conducive to a good marriage to keep such a thing secret for so long and the poor impression isn’t dispelled by Iris admitting she’s known since their honeymoon night, because Barry talks in his sleep (it’s 1967 and the Comics Code is still in unrefined force: of course Iris hasn’t gone to bed with Barry before their wedding night: another world).
Rogues and relationships were not the only components of John Broome’s world. As early as The new Flash’s sixth issue he introduced a teenage sidekick, Wally West, Kid Flash, who would team-up with his mentor, every now and then, and star in his own series of irregular back-ups stories, set in and around his hometown of Blue Valley. There was the friendship with Green Lantern, and the team-ups that took place in both magazines, which brought Barry and Hal together as friends, and Iris and Carol in a frequent beach sextet with Thomas and Nerga Kalmaku.
In a major mistake, never repeated, Broome used one back-up story to re-introduced Winky, Blinky and Noddy.
But the biggest moment was issue 123, the great and fundamental story that still affects every single superhero comic published by DC from then until now and beyond. There’d been a clamour from old and young fans to see something of Jay Garrick, so Julius Schwartz brought in Jay Garrick’s creator, Gardner Fox, to write a team-up story that defined the two Flashes as heroes of different parallel worlds, separated by differing vibrational rates (A Flash pseudo-scientific notion that had me thinking for decades that this was real science).
DC’s Multiverse and everything that has ever happened in it or about it, all comes back to this one issue.

The Flash 2

As the Sixties started to extend, things started to change, for the worse. John Broome left America, travelling in Europe. He settled in Paris at one point, on an Israeli kibbutz at another. He continued to write for The Flash, but not every issue. Fox started contributing more scripts. He was responsible for issue 167, in which a silly, goofy quasi-angel named Mopee claimed to be responsible for the accident that transformed Barry Allen into The Flash. Astonishingly, some people hailed the story, and these were not self-defensive made-up letters, some came from regular fans who haunted the letter-column. Everybody else just shut their eyes and pretended it had never happened.
Infantino, however, was growing restless. He was interested in the company structure, attended Editorial meetings and, the moment the chance came up to become Editorial Director, dropped The Flash and all his other assignments immediately.
Art duties on The Flash went to veteran Ross Andru, who followed Infantino’s lead faithfully but lacked the latter’s grace and imagination. Fox’s plots got sillier and Schwartz had to spend more time working them into something intelligible.
Eventually, Kanigher returned, taking over as a regular gig, and Irv Novick started a long career as Flash penciller. Kanigher was still the freewheeler, unable to take superheroes as seriously as the audience increasingly wanted. For issue 200, he loaded the number 200 into the story 200 times. Two issues later, he transformed Iris from an ordinary American woman into a refugee from a thousand years in the future, send back as a baby to avoid a nuclear war. Unlike Mopee, this one stuck but the worst aspect of this development was the story title – ‘The Flash’s Wife is a Two-Timer’, ‘two-timer’ being slang for someone cheating on their spouse or girl/boyfriend, but more importantly at least a dozen years out of date.
Barry Allen’s series ran 350 issues, until 1985, but I called it quits for the DVD at issue 204, a nice, round, one hundred issues. Enough for me.

Green Lantern

Green L

In contrast, Green Lantern was all John Broome’s own work. Management were happy with the new Flash and wanted to see what Schwartz could make of a Green Lantern revival. Magic was exchanged for science, invisible Tibetan monks were replaced by a race of little blue men all drawn to resemble then Israel Premier, David Ben Gurion, and Gil Kane was selected to draw the new series, inked, like Infantino on The Flash by Joe Giella. Kane liked to base faces on people he knew so Hal Jordan, test pilot, bore a strong resemblance to his old neighbour, struggling actor Paul Newman.
Broome set up two contrasting and complementary backgrounds for Hal Jordan and Green Lantern. We, the readers, knew before GL that he was powered by the Guardians of the Universe, immortal, blue-skinned beings from the planet Oa, who had set-up a Corps of 3600 agents, space policemen, each with a sector of space to protect. Hal’s slow discovery of the reality of his role was spread out over the first year of his series.
Meanwhile, there was a supporting cast to establish. Hal worked for Ferris Aircraft, based at Coast City in California, a great contrast to the midwestern Flash and Central City. His boss was the woman he was in love with, Carol Ferris, placed in charge of the company by her father, who was taking two years off to cruise the world. Carol had had to swear off dates and romance, though she was to get a specific exemption from her absent father before too long, but not for Hal.
You see, Hal loved Carol, but Carol loved Green Lantern. Hal knew he could easily win the woman he loved by admitting his secret identity but, with an understandable pride, not to mention a greater need, he wanted to win Carol as himself. In the meantime, he had to fend off all Miss Ferris’s sneaky attempts to get his mask off.
The only friend to know his secret identity, until Barry Allen, was Thomas Kalmaku. Tom was a Ferris Aircraft Engineer or, as the series had it all the way until the early Seventies, he was an Eskimo grease-monkey known to all, including Hal, as Pieface. I don’t suppose the series sold all that well in the Eskimo community.
Tom was a faithful friend who was keeping a secret casebook of GL’s adventures which was a frequently-used device to get a story told in the first person. The general run of Green Lantern’s stories featured fluid art from Kane, bodies contorted elegantly, albeit stripped of power by Giella’s inking. When the latter was replaced by Sid Greene, the art improved immediately. Greene’s inks were lusher and more decorative, lending the art an extra sense of power.
Green Lantern’s stories had the advantage of breadth, with the Guardians and alien planets available, but the fans were unusually ambivalent about such things, with some wanting nothing but and others none at all. The balance was tilted to ordinary crooks and some super-villains, but not as many or as frequent as The Flash. Dr Polaris, master of magnetism, Sonar, master of sound, Black Hand, the cliche criminal…
Like The Flash, Green Lantern teamed up with his Earth-2 counterpart, Alan Scott, four or five times. The first of these was a massively important event, ‘The Secret Origin of the Guardians’, introducing the renegade Guardian Krona, threatening the whole Universe, and showing the cosmic hand releasing stars into the void that many interpreted as being that of God. Later team-ups were not so much fun, giving prominent roles to Doiby Dickles, but they were yet another angle for GL’s stories.
And there were the Jordan Brothers’ back-ups, with Hal heading home to visit his two brothers, Jack the DA and Jim the funloving youngster. Attractive journalist Sue Williams is convinced that Jim is Green Lantern and persists in this delusion despite the number of adventures GL has in Coast City whilst Jim is here at home. Even after she marries him, she doesn’t lose her belief and is constantly frustrated that he won’t even admit his secret to his own wife…
Most intriguing was Star Sapphire. She was the putative Queen of an alien matriarchal race, the Glamorans, who thought men completely unfamiliar. When one Star Sapphire died, they would search the Universe for her replacement, who had to be identical, that’s how they were known. Their recently deceased Queen was the dead spit of… Carol Ferris.
So Hal and GL’s beloved became his enemy Star Sapphire, but with the same consistent urge to marry Green Lantern. To become the Glamoran Queen, Star Sapphire had to defeat Green Lantern, but Carol Ferris wanted to be defeated by him (and melt into his arms and have the winner takes the spoils due to him, no doubt). It set up a perverse psychological situation that added a new dimension to an already twisted triangle.

Green L 2

Hal Jordan kept pursuing Carol Ferris for dates. Carol kept telling him she didn’t love him, she loved Green Lantern. But she kept going out on dates with him, willingly, so presumably she was having a good time. Not that we saw any but kissing, even if it was only goodnight kisses, must have been involved. Inevitably, we have to ask if Carol was using Hal to get some kicks? It’s not like she was going on any private dates with Green Lantern, so was he effectively some himbo substitute?
Whatever the real situation, it was overturned spectacularly in quite unexpected manner in issue 49. Out of the blue, Carol tells Hal that she has gotten engaged to some guy called Jason Belmont of whom we’ve heard nothing. Jason is the one. She writes her infatuation with Green Lantern off as exactly that: nothing but an infatuation. This is a slap in the face for Hal who, having missed Barry and Iris’s wedding, decides he’s going to ask Carol to marry him…
Green Lantern struggles through the action story, distracted by this bombshell, then drops one of his own. He can’t bear living in Coast City any more. He’s quit Ferris Aircraft, he’s leaving Tom and Nerga behind, he’s hitting the road.
It was a shock and no matter. DC heroes didn’t do things like that. At one stroke, all the background to the series was rejected. And, his confidence so thoroughly shattered, Hal made a conscious decision not to rely on his ring so much, to settle more things with his fists.
This suited Gil Kane, who was moving towards inking his own pencils, adding dynamism but sacrificing detail and elegance. What value it was was dubious, however. Hal started off as a drifter, falling in love with the first girl he meets, until she confesses to worshipping Green Lantern, at which he abruptly leaves. He settles into being an Insurance Assessor in Evergreen City and takes up with an attractive but personality-free redhead called Eve Doremus who has no interest in GL, until he finds it entirely too safe a life and leaves without even saying goodbye to her. Then he becomes a Toy Salesman with an arch-rival, Olivia Reynolds, who uses sex to sell toys to middle-aged overweight buyers.
Without a solid base, the series flags and drifts. Broome’s scripts were diminishing. As well as Fox, Schwartz started using fan-turning-pro Mike Friedrich on a couple of stories. But Green Lantern needed a shake-up, and with issue 76, Schwartz decided to shake it until the maracas cracked.
The new team, Denny O’Neill as writer and Neal Adams as penciller, arrived like a thunderclap. They took away practically everything about the series before, and they airlifted in Green Arrow as a co-star, for no apparent reason other than the shared colour, though the duo had already thoroughly revised Oliver Queen, and made him interesting for the first time in nearly thirty years.
The O’Neill Adams run is regarded as a landmark. It came when DC was trying to catch up to Marvel by filling their comics with ‘Relevance’. Adams’ hyper-realistic approach was visually influential, a vital component of comic art to this day. O’Neill turned the series into a philosophical debate, the conservative, order-oriented Green Lantern versus the excitable, anarchic, ultra-liberal Green Arrow. In that sense it was a complete flop. This was not a time for conservative arguments, no matter how small the ‘c’, and besides, O’Neill admitted that he just couldn’t get into GL’s head, seeing him as a cop and nothing else. The arguments were one-sided and the decision to take things down to a ground level suited GA, but made a mockery of GL’s powers, even with a deliberately de-powered ring.
The run was hailed, then and still, though it’s decades since I looked at it and decided that it is actually an incoherent piece of shit that could never have been produced at any other time. Modern slavery, racial prejudice, pollution, over-population, these were among the subjects O’Neill dealt with, without a trace of subtlety or any natural integration of the story to the heroes or vice versa.
Fans raved. O’Neill Adams took the series from eight times a year to bi-monthly and then, after only fourteen issues (one a reprint) to cancellation. Everybody loved it, but nobody bought it.

The Atom

The Atom

Hawkman was the third Golden Age hero to be picked up and refurbished under Julius Schwartz but his was not the success of The Flash and Green Lantern. It was along and slow journey to a series of his own, during which time The Atom leap-frogged him into both a series of his own and Justice League membership. So he comes next.
The Atom was the work of Gardner Fox and Gil Kane, the latter paired again with Joe Giella on inks, a consistent partnership until issue 37, when abruptly Mike Sekowsky took over as artist, one issue before The Atom merged with the failed Hawkman series to present both heroes in a mixture of team-ups and solos.
Save for the name, there was no connection between this new Atom, Ray Palmer, and the original Atom, the creation of Ben Flinton and Bill O’Conner. The original notion came from Gil Kane, suggesting reviving The Atom but giving him the powers of Doll Man, a Quality Comics character who could shrink to six inches in height whilst retaining his full-size strength. The name of Ray Palmer came from Schwartz’s SF magazine editor friend, himself a dwarf.
Al Atom was nothing but a pint-sized bruiser, 5’1″ in height, with no superpowers until late in his career. Palmer was a research scientist investigating compression of matter, who solved his problem by finding a fragment of white dwarf star mater from which he ground a reducing lens that shrunk things, only for them to explode through decompression when they returned to full size.
Palmer had to use the lens on himself when he and his girlfriend, Jean Loring, were trapped by a rockfall when leading a nature troop exploring caverns. Ray expected to be sacrificing himself but ‘some mysterious, mutant force’ in his body kept him, and only him, intact.
Palmer’s decision to become a superhero was intrinsically tied up in his personal life. Ray loved Jean and proposed to her every week. But Jean, a ‘lady-lawyer’, wasn’t prepared to marry him and retire to being a mere housewife until she had established herself in her legal career.
Given, as we saw with Iris West, that under the Comics Code not even bad girls did until they had a ring on their finger, Ray decided to use The Atom’s abilities to help Jean solved all her cases, no matter how fantastic, in double-quick time, so that she would marry him and, well, catch up on lost time.
It’s an unusual motivation for a superhero, and it was never expressed as such in even the most oblique of fashions, but it’s as plain as the nose on your face.

The Atom 2

Jean and Ray were happy with each other in every respect except their differing attitudes to wedding proposals. There was none of Iris West’s continued exasperation, nor of Carol Ferris’s preference for a glamour figure. Jean and Ray had something both wanted. Marriage was only a matter of time. In the end, it took to issue 26 before the momentous moment came. The couple meet counsellors who talk of relationships changing. It’s Ray’s proposal day, but his latest case has him distracted and he drops Jean off without a word, sending the poor girl into a panic. Because she does love him, and if he’s starting to cool off, because of her constant rejection of him, she’s thrown into a sudden panic at the thought that she might lose him.
In the end, when she catches up to him, she tearfully apologises for all her refusals and suggests that if he were to ask her again… Ray goes for it immediately. Jean says yes, and the two kiss enthusiastically. In fact, they go on kissing at every possible opportunity, and on a couple of occasions, when Jean fears Ray to be dead, or seriously injured, her anxious panic and the sheer relief of him being ok make this by far the most immediate and sweet of loves.
Though Kane and Giella were common to both series, the art on The Atom was very different. The Atom’s small stature, his ability to shift it at an instant’s notice, his judo-throws and punches on crooks twelve times his height shared the same balletic nature at times, but avoided the force and violence Kane tried to impart to his other series.
Nor did The Atom develop even as much of a rogue’s gallery as Green Lantern, his principal recurring foe being Chronos, the Time-Thief, who brought a scientific ingenuity to their battles. On the other hand, where Hal Jordan had his Jordan Brothers back-ups, The Atom had Ray Palmer’s former mentor, Professor Alpheus Hyatt and the Time Pool, enabling The Atom to drop into the past and meet with all manner of historical figures that you just wouldn’t expect a superhero to have anything to do with.
There were even a couple of entertaining if not spectacular team-ups with Al Pratt, one involving Jay Garrick’s old foe, The Thinker, looking completely different, and the other some bizarre ageing and juvenating scrapes back and forth across Earths 1 and 2.
The abrupt switch to Sekowsky, who was used to The Atom from Justice League of America but not one-tenth as suitable for him in his solo book, came as a considerable and unpleasant shock. But as this was the last solo solo issue of the series, let’s divert from here to Hawkman’s series.

Hawkman

Hawkman

The Winged Warrior may have only been a tad less popular in the Forties than his stable-mate The Flash, and indeed may have only been denied a series of his own by the Second World war and paper-restrictions forbidding launching any new series, but when Julius Schwartz chose him to revive, Hawkman ended up with the longest, slowest and meandering path to his own series of them all, and the shortest run, only 27 issues.
Unlike the other three Silver Age legacies, Hawkman was started in The Brave and the Bold instead of Showcase, and he was handed to his original creator, Gardner Fox, to write, instead of John Broome. For art, Schwartz chose Joe Kubert, the artist who finished off the original Hawkman’s run in the Forties, and a superstar. This was a mistake.
Kubert’s art was magnificent. It was beautiful. But it was wholly different from the light and clean DC house-style, and it was no longer suited to superheroes. Two three-issue try-outs failed to break Hawkman, though the issues were gorgeous. So Schwartz slotted Hawkman into the back of Mystery in Space, alongside Adam Strange, and turned the pencils over to Murphy Anderson, who was far more often used on inks. The outcome? A massive upsurge in response and, only four issues later, that solo series, Fox and Anderson. Made it ma, top of the world.
The Golden Age Hawkman was a human archaeologist and socialite who discovered himself to be the reincarnation of the sacrificed Egyptian Prince, Khufu, and rediscovering Khufu’s Ninth Metal (later Nth Metal) with its anti-gravity properties. With his bare chest, his striking Hawk helm, his wide spreading wings, Hawkman’s look was perfect and, with minor design changes, to the helm, Schwartz kept it all, down to the name Carter Hall, an anglicisation of Katar Hol, the girlfriend and partner as Hawkgirl, Shayera (or Sheira) and the propensity for using ancient weapons.
Everything else was different, though. This Hawkman was an SF figure, a human-appearing alien from the planet Thanagar, a Police Officer in uniform, chasing a Thanagarian criminal to Earth and staying to study our Police methods, taking up a post as a Museum Director. But the biggest shock was his Hawkgirl, a gorgeous redhead, a fellow Policewoman… and Katar’s wife! A Mr. and Mrs. Superhero, living, loving and fighting side by side.
As a contemporary superhero figure in the Sixties, Hawkman’s greatest weakness was his power. He could fly. So you can fly? What can you do that’s impressive? He didn’t even make use of his wings for anything but, well, flapping them to stay aloft. Ok, it was his Thanagarian Anti-Gravity controls that got him off the ground, the wings just guided him about. But Superman, Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter could all fly, and they could do other things as well. Even Wonder Woman and The Atom could take to the air and get about, just by gliding on air-currents. Not impressive.
Schwartz and Fox tried to build in supervillains, such as the IQ Gang or the Matter Master. They went all James Bondish with CAW, the Criminal Alliance of the World, but mostly Hawkman and Hawkgirl spent their days fighting monstrous races and weird civilisations, other planets, other dimensions, sub-atomic worlds, you name it, with a large dollop of set-ups paralleling Earth history, especially the religious kind.
At first, Carter had to try to avoid the attentions of Mavis Trent, girl naturalist, pretty and prone to flinging herself all over the tall, lean Museum Director at a moment’s provocation. Now Carter was married, though you got the feeling it wouldn’t bother Mavis all thaaaat much, but like Carol Ferris, she divided her enthusiasm between him and Hawkman, and Hawkman couldn’t go around saying, oh, by the way, have you met my wife? This didn’t last that long as Earth supporting characters got forgotten.

Hawkman

But I still love the series. A large part of that is Murphy Anderson’s art, even now. Sure, it’s smooth and you could call it bland without fearing a call from the libel lawyers but then aged 10 and now aged 65, I love its easiness, its gracefulness, its wholeness. But what made Hawkman for me was the relationship. Katar and Shayera Hol loved each other. They were each the most important thing in the world to each other. There were none of the issues, the side-steps, the complications or frustrations that Barry Allen, Hal Jordan or Ray Palmer faced. It made you wonder exactly why Schwartz was so reluctant to have his bachelor boys settled.
Best of all, the Hawks were a team, and they were equals. True, Hawkman still got the primary role, and it was he who came up with all the ideas, but he never once considered Hawkgirl to be a weak link. He trusted her to fight as hard and as effectively as he did. That sort of thing was rare, and effective.
Hawkman struggled along, never getting out of the bi-monthly groove any more than The Atom did. Membership of the JLA brought no boost, except to Hall’s career with the team: Hawkman immediately became part of a ‘Big Five’, with Superman, Batman, The Flash and Green Lantern, dominating line-ups.
Just as Superman and Batman were friends who knew each other’s identities, and the same went for Flash and Green Lantern, Fox set up a similar arrangement for Atom and Hawkman. First, the pair teamed up in The Atom, and at the end the Halls met this Ivy Town couple, Ray Palmer and Jean Loring. Then this was repeated in miniature in Hawkman 9, as the Hawks have to go to The Atom to help unshrink them, and he does so in Ray Palmer’s laboratory before an entirely sensible and genuinely nice revealing of identities.
Schwartz, Fox and Anderson produced twenty-one issues. Some I hold in higher regard than others, but these do tend to be the ones I bought at the time, my favourite being issue 13, despite its somewhat didactic and quasi-scientific approach to the legends of the Valkyries. And then there was a sudden change in issue 22: all three out, replaced by George Kashdan, editor, Bob Haney, writer and Dick Dillin penciller, in a story that has Hawkman confirm his alien origins.
It was stupid, destructive and crude, and almost immediately forgotten. That goes for all six issues of Kashdan’s term, accompanied by the side-lining of Hawkgirl into a very much background role, even after Haney was replaced by Raymond Marais from issue 24 until the end, in issue 27. Hawkman, it was announced, was merging with The Atom, adopting the latter’s numbering and reverting to Julius Schwartz. So…

The Atom and Hawkman

In a different post I could have a lot to say about this seven-issue run that didn’t save either series. There were several aspects and differences to both characters and details to discuss. But ultimately the run was crap and this post has gone on long enough already.
Julius Schwartz may been the editor again but you would hardly have known it against his titles of the decade. Writers and artists bounced around: Fox, Kanigher, O’Neill: Dillin, Anderson, Kubert (even Kubert Anderson twice). Nothing the same issue to issue. A mixture of team-ups and solos, one team-up to two solos. Practically no Jean Loring, except for a final issue descent into madness that foreshadows all the rest of her career. Hawkman and Hawkgirl squabbling – squabbling!
No, this isn’t fit to sit alongside the other series herein, and it makes for a bitter ending. But I have the Silver Age Giants in my collection now, in full colour, and taking up not that much space than a dime.

Happy Birthday…


Not many people know this but today, 4th June, is an anniversary.

DC Comics have been going around lately celebrating certain character’s 80th Anniversaries but I bet they haven’t even thought of this one. Then again, it’s not exactly a memorable number of years, since it’s only the 59th.

People, I refer you to the legendary, seminal, invaluable The Flash 123, the classic story “Flash of Two Worlds”.

Many of you will already be ahead of me, but for the others: Barry Allen, aka The Flash, puts on a show of superspeed stunts to entertain the children of the Central City Orphanage. He ends the show with his version of the Indian Rope-trick which causes him to vanish and reappear outside of town. and town is different when he gets back.

That’s because Barry Allen has become the first person to penetrate the vibrational barrier and find himself in another, parallel world. One in which he is in Keystone City, one in which the Flash is the retired hero Jay Garrick, whose adventures filled Flash Comics and All-Flash throughout the 1940s.

He has landed upon what will become known as Earth-2. The Multiverse is born, and the number of stories that derive from this one moment is incalculable.

What leads me to say that today is the Multiverse’s 59th birthday? Go to your copy of “Flash of Two Worlds” and turn to the panel where Barry-Flash, fearing he’s dropped through a timewarp, stops off at a newstand to check the date of the paper. Its the Keystone City Herald, not the Central City Picture-News, the moment at which Barry realises he’s in a parallel world.

And look at the date of the newspaper: 4th June 1961.

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…

Uncollected Thoughts: The Flash s05 e01


Now *that’s* more like it…

From being my favourite of the DC superhero shows, because it was such sheer fun and the perfect antidote to the forever gloomy Arrow, The Flash has tumbled down a long way for its insistence upon turning Barry Allen into a near carbon copy of Oliver Queen. This got so bad that by the end of season 4 I was prepared to switch off, like I have with Arrow and the terminally wet Supergirl.

But, to be fair, I decided to give season 5 the Four Episode Test, and I’ve just watched episode 1. So, what’s the initial verdict?

Well, first of all there’s a switch-up through the cast with Hartley Sawyer (Ralph The Elongated Man Dibny) and Danielle Picot (Cecile Horton) being promoted from recurring, and Jessica Parker Kennedy as Nora West-Allen, aka XS as the newest arrival. There’s also Chris Klein as season 5’s big bad who doesn’t really get a look in yet.

What’s being set-up is last season’s cliffhanger. Nora is Barry and Iris’s daughter from the future, thirty years into the future in fact. She’s supposedly stranded in time, due to the effect of negative tachyons. Bearing in mind the risk of damage to the timeline, Barry’s all gung-ho to get her back where/when she belongs before the excitable young woman gives anything away about what’s to come.

This hovers on the edge of extreme drippiness, especially in the formulaic scene with obligatory slow music when Barry discusses how, by meeting his daughter as an adult, he feels he’s been cheated out of all the ‘firsts’ a parent gets whilst their baby becomes a child and more. Even without the one spoiler I knew coming in, this counts as pretty blatant ironic foreshadowing, but it’s here that the season gets something that might all on its own be enough to sustain it.

Because according to that futuristic newspaper that was first introduced in season 1, The Flash will disappear in 2024 in some form of Crisis (seasoned comics fans will know what is being implied, some variation on 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, when the Barry Allen Flash was killed off, not to return for twenty years). Nora’s not here because she’s stranded. She’s here to spend time with the Dad she never knew, the Flash who, according to a new future newspaper she projects, from 2049, never came back.

There was a clever bit at the start when the customary opening credits monologue went to Nora West-Allen, not Barry, which justified the closing credits monologue in which she makes it plain she’s come back to do everything in her power to keep her Dad from disappearing.

Thinking about things logically, that gives her another five seasons before it all gets a bit critical, though I’m betting that by episode 22, The Flash and XS will somehow find themselves in 2024, dealing with it.

After all, the programme has already started to blur this simple human tragedy by having Barry do what Oliver Queen always does and keeps the whole thing to himself. No, we’re not going to tell Iris, even though she knows about that 2024 headline, we’re going to be completely fucking stupid as usual and do the one thing that drives me insane about this show, gah!

Anyway: there’s a couple of Easter eggs for us fans, such as Barry and Nora’s favourite desert coming from a place in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island, home of the real Snapper Carr (forget the stupid one in Supergirl, oh, and by the way, don’t ask. Please) and, incidentally, the first Justice League of America secret headquarters. And The Flash’s new suit is mentioned as having been designed by Ryan Choi, aka The Atom 4.

Speaking of that new suit… it’s taken them until season 5 but The Flash finally looks like the real Flash, in a bright red, non-leather, non-dark, non-stupid chinpiece costume, projected from a signet ring… It was one of those moments that veterans like me long to see and it made the whole episode worthwhile, just like that bit in season 2 where the two Flashes recreated the cover of The Flash 123. Sometimes I’m easily pleased.

We’ll see. If only they’d cut the crap, which is still there in embarrassingly large chunks. I doubt they will, since it’s all part of the show’s formula, but if they can come up with enough decent bits in between, and lay off the bloody angst a bit, i might get to next June still watching this.

How I began falling out of love with Superhero TV 2


They’ve renewed all the DC ‘Arrowverse’ shows on the CW Network, which is fine by me so far as Legends of Tomorrow is concerned but, barring a complete reversal of form in the last six episodes of the fourth season, I’ll be bailing out on The Flash before it returns later in the year.

When it started, The Flash was a perfect contrast to Arrow, showing much more of the fun side of superpowers, and the sheer joy of superspeed. Gradually, as the show’s worn on, it’s taken on more and more of Arrow‘s pervading air of seriousness, and its general woe-is-me, all-my-fault grimness. Barry Allen has turned into a junior league, not justice league, version of Oliver Queen, and it’s a pain in the neck.

The show’s been off air for four weeks, during which I haven’t missed it and despite a couple of intriguing twists along the way, there was one central point that left me despairing.

This season, the show has introduced a version of Ralph Dibny as The Elongated Man. It’s not particularly faithful to the original, but it does maintain the tradition of treating a man who can stretch his entire body in unpredictable ways as a light and humourous character.

This week, that proved to be a problem for Barry ‘The Flash’ Allen. Team Flash is up against The Thinker, a meticulous and superhuman planner. But Ralph keeps straying off the plan, trying to improvise, joking his way through, and it leads to Barry benching him, refusing to let him join the battles.

Of course, it’s Ralph’s unpredictability that’s needed to win the day, but before that, Barry has to go through the everything-on-me phase, grimly determined that Ralph should be just as miserable, sober, stone-faced and in lockstep with everything Barry says and does. And when he accepts that Ralph has his own way of doing things and always will have, we get this awful, cheap, cliche of a speech from Ralph about how the misery of his younger years turned him into a compulsive joker to conceal his fears. It really is the most awful piece of writing I’ve ever heard on The Flash.

So, I’ll stick around to see how the season wraps up, then, unless there’s some seriously refreshing twist, or season five offers up at least four Justice Society members as regulars, I’m out the door. Please, Legends of Tomorrow, stay as gloriously clunky, goofy and awkward as you are: I need you. (And more of Caity Lotz and Tala Ashe in bikinis won’t go amiss either).

The Trial of The Flash (x2)


A long time ago, in a Multiverse far, far away, DC Comics put The Flash on trial for Murder.

This was an extended, two-year plus run-in to Crisis on Infinite Earths in which it had been decided that the Barry Allen version of The Flash, the symbol of the Silver Age that was to pass before our eyes, should die. His writer, Cary Bates, set-up a scenario in which the Flash actually did kill one of his Rogues, the Reverse-Flash, albeit unintentionally, and to save a life, and had him put through a lengthy trial, in which he was actually found Guilty.

He then rather spoilt the outcome by having the Guilty verdict be the result of mental domination by one of The Flash’s future foes, leaving the door open for our favourite Speedster to bring this enemy down, and secure a new verdict of Not Guilty.

This all occurred between 1983 and 1985 and, although I did not normally read The Flash in that era, I did pick up the run about six months in and followed it until its semitragic ending.

The current season of The Flash tv show has gone for a change of pace in relation to its Big Bad Villain, eschewing another superhero and going for The Thinker, aka Clifford Devoe, an updated version of a Golden Age villain whose abilities lie in his brilliant mind and comprehensive plotting.

Which, in time for the mid-season finale, involved framing Barry Allen for the murder of… Clifford Devoe.

There have now been four episodes since the series returned after New Year, dealing with the Trial and Incarceration of Barry Allen. I’ve already excoriated the first of these as one of the most stupid episodes of American TV I have ever seen so I’ll not waste any more time on that.

But after two weeks of Barry moping around in prison, and discovering that the Warden has actually proved he’s The Flash, we got the resolution of this latest Trial of The Flash story (to all those getting their Flash fix from a certain major commercial TV company, ‘ware Spoilers).

Barry has been kidnapped into a super-special secret metahuman wing of Iron Heights, known only to crooked Warden Wolf where he is imprisoned along with all four of the new, bus passenger metahumans (don’t ask). Wolf plans to sell them to the annoying Amunet (Katee Sackhoff with a wince-inducing English accent and manner).

Team Flash works to frustrate this, Barry uses his CSI skills to create an acid that breaks everyone one, only to be intercepted in the Yard by Wolf and Amunet, who turns everyone against CSI Allen – aka – The Flash!

Everyone, that is, except Hazard, Becky Sharp, the one with luck-powers. She’s turned over a new leaf in prison, helped by Barry’s encouragement, and she uses her ability to project bad luck onto everyone else, causing multiple deaths throughout, including Wolf but not Amunet (pity).

But then (and now it starts getting complicated or, to use another word, stupid), The Thinker intervenes, to capture all four bus metas, including Becky. Y’see, Devoe’s body is dead, but he’s developed this means of transferring his mind into other people’s bodies, which isn’t half freaking out his lovely (depending on which hairstyle she’s wearing at the time) wife, Marlee. It’s all part of his plan to kidnap the twelve bus metas, seven of whom haven’t yet been identified, and Marlize gets even more freaked when her husband sideslips into Becky and insists on dancing with her to their song (icky!)

Meanwhile. DA Cecile is one day away from conducting Barry Allen’s Appeal, on the grounds of new evidence, of which she has none, not one iota, Vibe and Killer Frost are prepared to break Barry out, but he refuses to leave until he can leave on a legal basis. Is this tedious little sub-story ever going to end?

Well, yes. Ralph (The Elongated Man) Dibny has discovered a new superpower this week: if he concentrates, he can look like anyone he wants. So, just as the Judge is about to gavel the appeal into next week, the courtroom door opens and guess who wheels himself in? Why, it’s Clifford (wink, wink) Devoe, not dead after all, and eager to help clear Barry Allen’s good name.

Remind me again, which section of the US Criminal Code covers impersonating murder victims. So much for Barry Allen’s insistence on only getting out if it’s legal.

And people wonder why I’m losing patience with superhero tv shows.

A Twitch of the Nose


Sometimes, just sometimes, little things mean a lot.

This week’s episode of The Flash introduces Hartley Sawyer as Ralph Dibny, ex-cop, Private Investigator, fulltime sleazeball, and the latest victim of season 4’s busload of new metas. Uh, Ralph Dibny, hello?

Ralph Dibny was created in 1960, by John Broome and Carmine Infantino, in The Flash 112, the eighth issue of Barry Allen’s series. He was Barry’s best friend after Hal (Green Lantern) Jordan and the first DC hero to make his identity public. He was the Elongated Man, who could stretch his body to impossible length. Dibny’s super-power was a rip-off of Plastic Man, then deep in comic book limbo, and he appeared the best part of a year before Mr Fantastic.

For us DC fans who go a long way back, he’s an old favourite, an oddball, slightly goofy and wonderfully innocent character, and part of the pain and effect of the killing of his wife, Sue Dibny, in Identity Crisis, was that the two were this perfectly matched, untouched pair.

The TV Dibny isn’t any of that. He was thrown off the Force, after exposure by Junior CSI Allen, for faking evidence, although this was to put away a killer who was going to get away with it. Now, he can stretch his arms and legs, and take a bullet to the forehead and only have it push out the back of his skull before it bounces back into shape (and the bullet falls out of his nose). And he’s going to join Team Flash.

I have my doubts. The CGI technology doesn’t yet exist that can make that kind of superpower – stretching – remotely plausible, but let’s wait and see.

But that little thing? One of The Elongated Man’s oldest traits is that whenever he smells a myatery, his nose starts to twitch, and in a comic, boy can it twitch!

And at the very end, when it turns out Dibny’s been hired by Devoe, this season’s big bad, as foretold last season, Barry confirms there’s something big going on. Dibny brightens up. “I smell a mystery!” he cries. And his nose twitches! They got it so perfectly! I am howling with laughter and the day is immediately 80% brighter!

Sometimes, they can get it so right.

Not yet, but…

McSnurtle


Every now and then, the makers of The Flash tv series throw in an unobtrusive Easter Egg for us older comics fans to recognise with glee, whilst not drawing attention to it in a manner that makes the majority of the audience feel they’re missing something.

Classic amongst these was the moment in season 2 episode 2 when the two Flashes, Barry Allen and Jay Garrick (as he was then believed to be) recreated the classic cover to The Flash 123, which first brought back the Golden Age Flash for the Silver Age kids.

And there’s another brilliant touch in this week’s episode, the mid-season premiere, returning from the Xmas break. It’s the end of the episode, everybody’s truning up for the housewarming at Barry and Iris’s new loft apartment that’s surely too big and spacious for them to actually be able to afford. HR Wells’s gift is a pet, a turtle. It is named McSnurtle the Turtle.

Pause at this point to allow me a fit of laughter, with gales of chortles to follow every time I think of it. It won’t mean anything to you, but it hit me where the funny bone lives. Of course the turtle is named McSnurtle: way way back, back in the mid-Forties, the Golden Age of Comics, when Jay Garrick and his silver helmet was the one, the only Flash.

The only Flash, but not the only speedster. Jay was rivalled by The Terrific Wotzit, a superspeedster who wore the identical silver helmet/red shirt/blue pants combo as The Flash. And, you’re ahead of me now, I can tell, The Terrific Whatzit was… a turtle.

McSnurtle the Turtle!

I love it.

The Fall Season 2016: The Flash season 3

The Fall Season 2016: The Flash season 3

Now there's two of them
Now there’s two of them

I dunno.

I’ve spent the three months since Barry Allen, in an excess of grief over his father dying, went back in time to prevent the Reverse-Flash from killing his mother, Nora, thus changing time and history, in avoiding all but the most unavoidable spoilers for season 3, i.e., photos.

Thus I have seen Wally West in his Kid Flash costume, and Jay Garrick-the-real-one in his Earth-2 Flash uniform (which, in the DC TV-verse is going to be Earth-3 and I’m going to get a terrible headache because that’s just wrong) avoiding learning anything about what was going to happen.

Which meant that I had a lot of time to speculate for myself about how they might play this and what they would do, and how it would affect everything else, and how long they would run it for (privately, I was thinking four episodes, maybe three if they panicked.)

It’s already over. Not entirely, which I shall explain in a moment, but by the end of this episode the big Reset has been, well, reset. Bye bye alternate timeline, bye bye, and you were a hell of a lot less fun than the Earth-2 (DC TV-verse) version of Team Flash.

This is because, as I may have mentioned from time to time, all my fascination with time travel and alternate pasts and presents and futures stems at root from Justice League of America 37. I expected changes, big changes, unrecognisable changes. I got small, disconnected changes. Cisco is rich, owns what used to be STAR Labs. Caitlin’s a pediatric opthalmologist. Iris is a reporter for Picture News, Wally used to drive illegal souped-up cars (now, wait a minute….). Joe, admittedly, is a hopeless drunk, uncaring of his job, whilst Barry has changed the most of all. He’s a CSI with the Central City Police Department and he’s got super-speed. Now, come on.

The biggest thing I expected and which I decidedly didn’t get was that Barry would not have his powers and would not be the Flash. The show not only bottled that decision, they fudged it. Barry had his speed, he had all his memories, he was still the Flash except that, there being another Flash in town, he didn’t have to be a speedster (except for when he ran somewhere fast like he was always doing).

And I’m sorry it may be comic-book logic but I’ve had fifty years of this logic and it is logic, but if the alternate timeline had Cisco be very rich and have bought a STAR Labs not damaged by the proton accelerator blowing up, where did the accident that gave Barry his speed come from?

True, Wally’s ‘origin’ was completely different (illegal car, experimental turbo-mixture fuel, lightning strike, bongo, except that Wally doesn’t have supermetabolism for when villains stick a pole through your ribcage, for some unexplained, convenient and lazy reason).

What Barry did have was his parents back. Recently deceased Henry but, above all importance, long-gone Nora (played with charm, grace and a hint of calm MILFness by Michelle Harrison), for three idyllic summer months. What Barry didn’t have was any contact with the Wests. Ok, he’s been stalking Iris for three months whilst, in pure klutz-mode, working up the nerve to speak to her, but he doesn’t know either of the others and Joe doesn’t like him. But then Joe-the-drunk-fuck-up doesn’t like, or care about, anyone. Why was the alternate Joe a drunk duck-up? You expect that to be explained?

In terms of the story, there is a new speedster villain in town, the Rival (a very obscure Golden Age opponent of Jay Garrick, in the very last issue of Flash Comics in 1949, revived by Geoff Johns) who’s facing off with Kid Flash (don’t call me ‘Kid’), whilst Barry has got Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash (wearing Matt Letscher’s face, not Tom Cavanagh’s, the latter being AWOL this episode) locked in a speedproof glass cage and intending to keep him there forever. Like that was thought through particularly well by Barry.

The thing is, Thawne is issuing apocalyptic warnings about Barry dooming them both, and Barry’s getting spasms in which memories of his former timeline are getting sucked out of his head until he realises he has to collapse this bubble of time before it becomes permanent and Wally dies. Which means that to do so, he has to ask Thawne to kill his mother.

One episode. I am not the only person to feel cheated by that.

So, back to life, back to reality. Everything is as it was. Except that Barry done fucked up again. It’s not all quite the same. Iris and Joe aren’t speaking to each other. Father and daughter are estranged and have been for no little time. Maybe it’s because Joe is, or was, a drunken fuck-up like in the alternate timeline, I don’t know, that would be neat, but for that we’ll have to wait and see.

By the way, there’s a new actor playing precinct Captain Mendez this year. He’s played by Alex Desert. Hands up who remembers the awful 1990 version of The Flash

So, given that I thoroughly loved season 2, this is for me The Flash‘s first major disappointment, making the whole cliffhanger thing into an annoying intrusion (still, Bary won’t mope about saving his mother any more). I’m going to pretend next week is the real start of the season. We have already got a twist coming: Edward Clariss, aka The Rival, was shot dead by Joe in Earth-A (for alternate) but is alive in Earth-1. He’s woken up by a mysterious voice and an invisible hand etching a word into his bedroom mirror. The word is ‘Alchemy’.

The Doctor will see you shortly…

DC Rebirth… or, Fifty Years, Seven Universes and What About the Scrap of Red Cloth


It’s five years since Flashpoint reset the DC Universe one time too many for me, as detailed here. It’s considerably longer since I last bought an actual DC mainstream comic, but I’ve not been entirely out of touch. Old habits fade only slowly. The thing about the New 52 Universe was that it broke the thread of continuity that had run through DC since the beginning. It undercut history, removed legacy, deleted the proper Justice Society of America, and took down Superman’s shorts. I borrowed a couple of GNs from the library, on occasions, and the storytelling was incomprehensible.

It’s also been a bust, commercially, which is why the universe is being reset yet again. DC Rebirth is the name of the game, and since ‘Rebirth’ is Geoff Johns’ property, it’s yet again his show. Though only in the set-up: after the appearance this week of DC Rebirth 1 and only, Johns is being shunted over to the films division to apparently counteract the effects of Zack Snyder.

I don’t like Geoff Johns’ writing. This has made following DC awkward for the last ten years and more, since he has been flavour of the decade, to the point of having been appointed DC’s first Chief Creative Officer (first, because they’ve never needed one before). Basically, that means that the DC Universe is run according to the tastes and preferences of one man, and if you generally don’t agree with that man’s perspectives, things are a bit of a wasteland for you.

Reading DC Universe: Rebirth 1, I felt a tremendous sense of deja vu. It was exactly like reading Countdown to Infinite Crisis eleven years ago: the same dynamics, the same focus upon an individual whose fate is the forerunner of change. Even the art was by the same artists , or ones who drew pretty much like the ones who did Countdown.

Whereas that one was the Ted Kord Blue Beetle, on his way to his lonely, but significant death, this character aroused a more immediate sympathy in me, because it’s Kid Flash: the Kid Flash, Wally West, the real Wally West, whose been on the missing list since Flashpoint. And whilst Barry Allen and I may have been born around the same time, Wally was, in a realer sense, ‘my’ Flash, the one I collected assiduously – until Geoff Johns took him over, at least.

What it’s about is that, despite his having been Flash the last time we looked, Wally has spent the years since the Flashpoint trapped in the Speed Force as Kid Flash. Now he’s trying to get out. In fact, he’s desperate to do so. The problem is that, to return to reality, he has to appear to someone who recognises him, and that’s not happening. Not Batman, not Johnny Thunder, not even his beloved Linda Park (who is now a struggling reporter from a very tiny blog about to lose everything. Not even the Flash, Uncle Barry, remembers who he is.

And Wally is utterly desperate. Not because he wants to return to life. He’d be happy to slip away, to dissolve in the Speed Force, to lose all identity forever, but he has to deliver a message, a warning. Five years ago, the Flashpoint, Barry Allen changed time by saving his mother from being killed in the past (odd coincidence that you should bring that up…)

Everybody believes that it was Barry’s action that changed time, created the New 52, but that’s not the case. Wally has a different perspective. There’s someone else, someone who manipulated things, who deliberately chose to steal ten years from everybody’s lives, ten years of incidents and events. It was done to weaken them, for some nefarious purpose…

And in the last possible second, Barry remembers, and Wally is back, to bring this warning. The Universe is about to be reborn, time to be restored, history will come back.

Because Barry, at the last possible instant, says Wally’s name.

Who is behind this, who has done this? That’s the good old fashioned sixty-four thousand dollar question. We get two clues.

One is a pan, from the earth to another planet, one with dark skies, pink sands, desert conditions. There’s a rigid, nine-panel grid page focused upon a watch, Wally’s watch, a gift from his Uncle. Someone is dismantling it, cog by cog, without touching it. There’s also some dialogue, with someone named Adrian, dialogue I remember from thirty years ago.

And meanwhile, Batman has been digging away at something, ever since the unknown stranger with a yellow and red costume and ginger hair manifested himself in the Batcave, pointing to the letter from his father that was an integral part of Flashpoint. There’s something behind the letter, buried in the rock, that Batman chips out in time for the final page. It’s a badge, a simple, yellow, smily-face badge, popular in the year 1985. And it’s got a diagonal streak of red – of blood – across one eye. (Except that it’s the wrong fucking eye…)

So the Watchmen Universe is about to be folded in with the rest of the DC Universe/Multiverse, after thirty years of separation and despite all the paramount reasons not to do so. But then, Johns and DiDio couldn’t give a shit about promises made by previous management, not when they can tangle their shitty fingers in a superior creation. It’s like the ‘let me piss in it and make it taste better’ joke.

So, what do we assume? At the end of Watchmen, Dr Manhattan, who had previously sequestered himself on Mars, decided to leave that Universe and create some life. Are we now to assume that the former Jonathan Osterman created the DC Universe? And that despite the good Doctor being a basically neutral but benevolent individual, he’s decided to play games with his creation? (Of course he will, Johns and DiDio are incapable of imagining that someone with Manhattan’s power wouldn’t act like a dictatorial shit with it. They really are extremely limited in their visions).

Rebirth is good as far as it goes, which is up to the point where the big reveal is intimated, at which point it turns into a possible utter disaster. I’ve signed up to get Earth-2 Rebirth, which is the Justice Society reboot, but that’s on a contingent basis, and depends very much on how authentic that series feels.

Nevertheless, I do not see myself making a return to DC like I used before, even if they restore Superman’s red trunks, an issue that remains to be seen. Too much time has gone by, old habits and old knowledge have been strained beyond repair. Johns may be gone but his spirit lives on, and my place is back among the back issues. Especially if they’re going to start shitting even more on Watchmen.

End of Term Report: The Flash


A happy crew

I love The Flash. Forget this grim’n’gritty nonsense, the superheroes I grew up on, who imprinted upon me my innate sense of recognition for the form, were filled with excitement and a sense of fun, and from its inception, this show has been the best at portraying that internal lightness, the joy and thrill of powers and the sheer yee-hah cut-looseness of superspeed.

A lot of people have talked down season 2, and are already talking of even further limited expectations for season 3. Not I. Whilst I recognise the flaws of this season, especially the way its first half was rather clogged up by the donkey work required to set up Legends of Tomorrow, the show had me from the moment when, at the end of episode 1, this tall, clean-cut guy walked into Star Labs and said, “I’m Jay Garrick.”#

The Flash of Earth-2. Earth-2. Earth-freaking-2 and it’s on tv and I’m watching people crossing the vibrational barrier that blew my mind so much fifty years ago!

So my objectivity and critical faculties tended to get overlooked on Wednesday mornings and I luxuriated in the show. And there was a lot to luxuriate this season. Iris growing into a viable and respectable character. The introduction of a young, strong Wally West (even if he isn’t ginger-haired). The week-in, week-out excellence of Jesse L. Martin’s performance as Joe. Danielle Panabaker getting to rock it out as Killer Frost.

And the presence of Jay Garrick, wearing a darker version of the Golden Age Flash’s costume, but hell’s bells, I am watching such an esoteric thing on TV!

True, I wasn’t happy with the show turning Jay into a villain, though the reveal was nicely handled. And I was definitely not on board with how, after the writers revealed that Jay wasn’t Jay at all, but was actually Hunter Zolomon, everybody still kept calling him Jay. But, still…

The finale was well set-up last week, with Zoom, aka Hunter (not Jay Garrick) Zolomon, killing Barry’s Dad, Henry, who we all remember is being played by John Wesley Shipp, the Barry Allen/Flash on the 1990 series. This wound Barry up to a pitch of genuine agony/anger that everyone else thought was unsafe, but which enabled him to face off and defeat Zolomon in a final race, where the penalty for losing was not just death for Barry and everyone on his side, but the destruction of the entire Multiverse, Earth-1 excepted. Barry pulls off a neat trick by duplicating himself, leaving one version to save the day Crisis on Infinite Earths style, by running himself into disintegration, whilst the other whupped Zoom.

So, this led into a seemingly downbeat endgame. The man in the iron mask in Zoom’s lair had already been revealed by Zoom to be the real Jay Garrick, whose name he had stolen, and who turned out to be the Flash of Earth-3. But the kicker – which did not come unforeseen – was that he was the spitting image of Henry Allen. Which did Barry no good at all.

So, rather improbably stuffed into a red and blue Flash costume, John Wesley Shipp took Harry Wells and Jesse back to Earth-2, where they would help him get on to Earth-3 (it’s funny how Barry hasn’t told anybody about his side-trip to Kara Zor-El’s Earth). Jesse wanted to go home. Harry had her blessing to stay, since he obviously fit in over here, but his promise never to leave her held, which means some hopefully tolerable contrivance is going to be needed next season to bring Tom Cavanagh back, because he is just as important to The Flash as Grant Gustin.

But the real Jay’s appearance completed the job of breaking Barry Allen. Iris is ready for him, what he’s dreamed of, but he feels too hollow, too broken inside to be what she deserves. So the real finale is Barry running back in time to his old home, that very night, the night the Reverse-Flash killed Nora Allen.

This time last season, Barry did this, but was warned off saving his mother by a future version of himself, wearing this season’s uniform. But this time, the season 2 Barry rips into the Reverse-Flash, and saves Nora. When season 1 Barry peeps through the door, he sees his Mom alive, and promptly fades out. As does season 2.

So. Barry’s saved his Mom. He’s Flashpointed his world (which ought technically to bugger up Arrow, Legends and Supergirl, if it now turns out Barry never became the Flash) which led to absolute disaster in the comics (the new 52, for a start).

Let’s bring it on! I can’t wait to see how they get themselves out of this. Roll on September.