This, as the Stone Roses once memorably put it, is the One. The Revelation. The scene in the Library without the Library and without the villain being amongst the listeners because, to reference Agatha Christie for a moment longer, this is the Roger Ackroyd moment. The narrator dunnit. And, as has been forecast with increasing confidence over the past few months, the Sanctuary Killer is Wally West.
I don’t like it. That has nothing to do with critical responses and everything to do with Wally being my Flash, the one I used to buy, month-in, month-out, during Mark Waid’s tenure, with and without Brian Augustyn. I can’t like Wally West as the madman killer, nor the cold, calculating plotter, nor the suicide he already is in a time paradox that undermines the credibility of the time paradox.
I’ve never liked Heroes in Crisis. To me, it hasn’t for one moment or one panel lived up to the potential I imagined for it when first I learned of the series. Wally’s soliloquy here, taking up the entire issue, explaining every twist and turn, detail and deliberation, also undermines the entire concept of Sanctuary in the first place. It failed on Wally, and by extension, when you remember all those hero’s concerns, expressed in dozens of Watchmen pages, it failed all of them. All we ever saw were deep-rooted traumas, traumas specific to the conditions of a superhero universe, but we never saw any cures. We saw problems but not solutions. These were problems that had no solutions, but we didn’t even see healings, neither permanent nor sticking plaster.
The story is that wally has been committed to Sanctuary because he’s failing to cope with the simultaneous issue of having lost the woman who meant everything to him and the children they had together, in short everything that made his life what he wanted it to be, and being seen as the symbol of Hope, since it was his re-emergence three years ago, in DC Universe Rebirth that kick-started DC’s current phase (the one that will never end because it will all be explained in Doomsday Clock and that will never finish).
Wally comes to the delusion that Sanctuary has been set up for him alone, that nobody else is undergoing pain equivalent to him but that they’re saying so to humour him. So if all the data is being destroyed by being broken down into billions of scattered bytes, the Fastest Man Alive can re-assemble them in seconds. And seeing everybody else’s traumas broke Wally mentally, set off alarms and caused him to lose control of the Speed Force momentarily, killing everyone at Sanctuary, except Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, because they were a bit slow coming outside (seriously?)
So far, so disappointing. A man suffering from PTSD goes crazy and becomes a mass-murderer? Lovely message, so positive and life-affirming, people suffering from any kind of mental health issue will empathise immediately. I know I do (no, I’m lying). But it’s the aftermath that drops a leaden weight onto the scales and sends the pan for Absolute Fucking Disaster crashing to the ground, because Wally West, the bright spark, the kid who did it all, the sidekick who grew up to become the man himself, who’s just caused deaths in a second of lost control… starts plotting a superspeed cover-up that puts the frame on two completely innocent people, not to mention re-programmes the entire place, re-sites ALL the bodies and creates all manner of clues, red herrings and mindfucks just to fool his CSI Uncle and The Batman. No. Not in a million years can this be accepted. Not just because it’s Wally West and I have a soft spot for him. Not just because there isn’t a hair of continuity between any version of Wally West that ever existed before and who the hell this person is, and not even because it’s a kick in the face for all the readers who bought into Wally’s return at the beginning of Rebirth. Because it’s bullshit. Because it’s crude. Because it’s lame.
And it falls apart. You see, Wally, this Wally who’s been relating this confession, has also gone into the future, by five days, and found his five days in the future self, all to buy himself the time to do something good to make up for this doing bad. Wally-Now catches up with Wally +5, in the company of some green-skinned woman I can’t recognise, and after Wally +5 gives him the last piece, the rose in the river, Wally-Now kills him, by strangling him. Kills himself. Suicide. So Wally’s now dead for real.
Or is he? I’ve already read one theory that everything, the whole story, is actually a fantastically sophisticated VR construct by Sanctuary, curing Wally. It’s elegant, I grant you, and there is still one issue to go, and go it shall, but from this point, any attempt to undercut this, to explain it away as a Hoax, a Dream or an Imaginary Story, will be twice as hollow as this episode.
But there were rumours in 2018, before Heroes in Crisis first appeared, that Brian Azzarello would be launching a new Suicide Squad series, with Wally West as a lead character, not that anything has been confirmed. Other rumours current at the same time have come to fruition, not that that proves anything.
It doesn’t really matter. To be honest, no matter how Emerald Twilight this gets, I have never been able to believe in the story, and once the final issue is out and I’ve said about that what demands to be said about it, not only will I be selling theseries on eBay, as I’ve threatened, but I will be deleting it from my personal version of DC Universe Continuity. Should Never Have Happened will become simply Never Happened, as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve just finished watching a series of superhero TV – DC, naturally – and the course of it has reignited my increasing doubts about the modern predeliction for superhero TV series that I’ve been watching, with decreasing avidity, throughout this decade.
Although I did watch Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD for a number of seasons, until I abruptly lost all interest in it at the very start of season 5, my long heritage as a DC Comics fans attuned me to their TV shows from the beginning of Arrow.
But it’s a long time since I’ve watched Arrow itself (except for its contributions to the annual crossover), and that’s now been put under notice of cancellation. And The Flash was wonderful fun when it first appeared, full of excitement and the sense of joy attendant upon the power of speed, though it’s been losing itself in angst for ages now.
Supergirl looked well worth it just on the strength of Melissa Benoist in a micro-skirt and thigh-length boots, but I struggled to survive to the end of season 2 because, well, you know, the stories were crap and when you start claiming that Supergirl is stronger than Superman, my suspension of disbelief vanishes in a puff of smoke.
On the other hand, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow was great fun, with an appealing sense of its own clunkiness, a refreshing willingness to not take itself seriously, and the freedom with which it would continually throw a constant variety of minor characters I would never ever have expected to have seen in live action. But season 4 has been an utter disaster.
Black Lightning? Never watched it. It was just one too many, literally: making time to write is far more important.
A couple of months ago, I watched the first couple of episodes of Doom Patrol, DC’s second Netflix original series. I was very impressed: being off mainstrean TV allowed (a) full(er) reign to be given to the inherent weirdness in all versions of that team (well, maybe not John Byrne’s version. Or Paul Kupperberg’s before him). I mentioned it to a mate at work who watches the same kind of series I do. Hearing that I’d never watched the first DC Netflix series, Titans, he loaded it all up for on an external hard drive.
This is the series I’ve finished this morning. It’s been a struggle.
The TV Titans is based heavily in the early issues of the New TeenTitans series from Marv Wolfman and George Perez that started in 1980 and which became a landmark series. Over the course of its eleven episodes, five of the original Teen Titans have appeared, all except Kid Flash, plus Hawk and Dove, the Jason Todd Robin and the afore-mentioned Doom Patrol. It’s dark, on all levels, from the language upwards, which gave me my first problem: the Teen Titans series I was most familiar with, that the season-long storyline has echoed at every step, was the opposite of dark. It was light, upbeat, fresh, fast-paced, drawn with delight and openness. It was dynamic, and it was a light in the post-Implosion darkness at DC that changed the company’s future.
Titans is nothing of the sort. In fact, it’s completely cynical, which is largely why it’s taken me so long to complete it, because, especially since episode 7, I’ve had to force myself to watch.
What was so bad about episode 7? Up to that point, the episodes had been slow. Not merely deliberate of pace, or in a manner that ratcheted up tension. Just slow, funereally so, as if adopting a pace opposite to the speed and directness of a Marvel Film conferred seriousness on the show by that fact alone. Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) was moody and brooding and violent, Kori’ander (Anna Diop) was flambuoyant in dress and appearance but wholly plastic, Rachel – Raven – Roth (Teagan Croft) was a boring little Goth girl and lord knows they’re only of interest to other Goths, and Garfield Logan (Ryan Potter) was supposed to be light-hearted and a counterbalance but didn’t stand an earthly against the prevailing angst even before they started dumping on him too.
But episode 7 managed to combine not merely a deathly slow pace, dragging twenty minutes of decent story out over forty-five minutes, but also cliched stupidity and dumb plotting. Essentially, Rachel has just discovered that her birth mother Angela (Rachel Nichols, still looking surprisingly attractive) is alive and held in a psychiatric hospital. She’s desperate to see her. Hold on, says Dick, we need to check this out first, make sure it’s not a trap (I mean, there’s only been sinister forces after Rachel since minute one, ok?).
So Rachel sneaks out, with Gar, and guess what? It’s a trap! OF COURSE IT WAS A FUCKING TRAP, IT WAS ALWAYS GOING TO BE A TRAP, YOU STUPID **** and the two youngsters are captured, not that you could see the cliche coming from the other side of the Crab Nebula. So Dick and Kory survey the place and find it’s chock-full of armed guards and electronic surveillance by the mile, only they can get in unnoticed, and they can free Rach and Gar, and they can stand around talking, and walk kilometres down dank, dark, ill-lit corridors, without the slightest sign of any of these hoardes of guards or anyone spotting them on the CCTV, and I am bored out of my crust because the episode has all the tension of cold rice pudding and it’s expecting me to swallow the likelihood of this as if I were stupid.
That left four episodes before the end of the season. Two of these introduced and included Conor Leslie as Donna (Wonder Girl) Troy, who I’d never heard of before but who immediately became almost worth the interminable dullness by being both seriously gorgeous but also almost exactly like the Wonder Girl of the New Teen Titans. The other two were, to put it politely, diversions. One devoted itself to the back-story of Hawk (Alan Ritchison) and Dove (Minka Kelly), told in flashback from Dove’s hospital room, she having been in a coma since episode 3, which was reasonably interesting.
The other was a flashforward/fantasia of Dick, living in California, married to Dawn (Dove) Grainger with a young son and a second bun just short of coming out of the oven, being called back to a deteriorating Gotham to try to save Batman: The Joker has killed Commissioner Gordon, Batman’s sworn to kill the Joker (and does) so Dick betrays Bruce Wayne to the cops, leads a raid on the Manor that sees Batman beat and kill everybody, including Agent Kory Anders, so Dick kills him, giving way to the darkness inside him (oh, snooooore).
Which might have been interesting but for one thing: this was all but the last ninety seconds of the last episode. I get that it’s intended to be a cliffhanger ending, but it was the most inept handling of such a thing I’ve ever seen. It contributed nothing, literally, to the developing story, coming over as a complete abnegation of the obligation to deal with your commitment to the audience to advance the story and set up your conclusion.
Add to that some ridiculously shallow and cliched lines over the last two episodes that sounded as if they’d be written in the writer’s sleep and I’ve no hesitation in calling this a piece of ripe and mouldering shit. I shall politely refuse a loan of season 2.
But this isn’t just about venting my feelings on Titans. It ties into the wider picture of the other superhero series I still watch.
The Flash has fallen to pieces. Grant Gustin was excellent as Barry Allen to begin with, alive to possibility and the blast of his powers. But as early as season 2, the creators started to Oliver Queen him. Ollie’s always been the grim, gloomy, driven one, the responsibility-magnet, assuming everything bad that happens is because of him only. Barry’s gone a long way down that path until the pair are barely distinguishable. The show drags.
It’s also, paradoxically, got too much comic relief. Ralph (Elongated Man) Dibny is an endearing idea but the reality is that of a clownish sleazeball, where the original is supposed to be a detectivesecond only to Batman. The idea of having Ton Cavanagh as a different Harrison Wells each season was amusing but, even before this year’s ‘Sherloque’ Wells, was struggling to survive the stupid personalities.
And adding Jessica Parker Kennedy this year as Barry and Iris’s daughter Nora from the future was good in conception but lousy in execution: Kennedy just isn’t a good enough actress, and ever since it was revealed that her character is working with the Reverse-Flash, it’s been a case of wondering just how dumb everyone else is that they can’t see she’s clumsily hiding something. Five more episodes to get to the end of the series and I’m out, no matter how stupendous the teaser for season 6.
Which leaves me with Legends of Tomorrow. Up until the end of season 3, I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and the idea that things should take a turn for the magical this season was intriguing. Instead, it’s been a bust. Gone are the funny and awesome cameos. Instead, the series has decided to turn up the comedy knob, to painful effect.
It’s like the Helfer/Giffen/deMatteis Justice League International comic, which was superhero as sitcom, going goofy. The problem then, and the problem now is that there’s only so far you can go down goofy before the requirement to top yourself, to get even goofier becomes insurmountable, and from there it’s a short step – or fall – into inanity.
The first half of the series, until Xmas, was bad enough in that respect, but the show then took a break until April and it’s return has landed with a completely dull thud. Ray (The Atom) Palmer and Mick (Heatwave) Rory have ossified into caricatures whose performances can be, and are being phoned through: lord knows, there’s nothing for either actor to actually do. Gary of the Time Bureau is an inept idiot that not even MacDonalds would employ, let alone a serious intellignce agency. And Mona (Ramona Young) has been played as Little Miss Bubblewit.
I’m sorry but, no matter what he does, I look at Mat Ryan as John Contantine and think, you’re having a laugh, mate, and for ******’s sake lose the fucking tie if you have to have the ‘knot’ a permanent seven point six five inches from your shirt collar. And much as I like the sight of Tala Ashe, the ‘character’ is nothing but a monotonous sarcasm and that’s not good enough.
At this moment, I’ve downloaded the newest episode but I’m not full of enthusiasm about actually watching it, since I already know so much, sight unseen, of what will be in it.
The problem would seem to be simple. Too many shows, too few ideas. Since the CGI budget is limited, and the characters on Legends appear to be completely averse to wearing their costumes, the stories are having to be wound around minimising any kind of superhuman activity, which misses the point. And once you take the superhero stuff out, what’s left is limited.
There’s an irony to the fact that I have managed to read superhero comics for nigh on sixty years and remain interested, but I can’t even go near ten years with the stuff on TV. That said, the forthcoming Batwoman series starring Ruby Rose looks interesting, or at least likely to satisfy the more shallow side of me. It might be the only thing left then.
This fortnightly Friday afternoon slot is traditionally where I indulge my nostalgic fascination for the British weekly boys comics of my youth, but as a change of pace, my most recent exploration of comics on DVD has taken a different route, all the way into the Golden Age of (American) Comics. To be specific, I have been working my way through a DVD containing the entire 104 issue run of Flash Comics, the anthology title published at first by All-American Publications, and then by National Comics, forerunner of National Periodical Publications, the company that became the present-day DC, between 1940 and 1949.
Flash Comics was one of the very first titles published by All-American, a company run by M.C. (Charley) Gaines, and owned in equal measure by himself and Harry Donenfeld, owner of Detective Comics, publishers of Superman and Batman. Gaines, who had most recently been Donenfeld’s chief salesman, wanted to set up his own company, whilst Donenfeld wanted to publish more comics to take advantage of the boom, but was restricted by his Accountant and Business Manager, Jack Liebowitz. Gaines was Donenfeld’s solution, but he insisted on Gaines accepting Liebowitz as his Business Manager as well.
This ultimately proved divisive, as Gaines and Liebowitz absolutely loathed each other, but it lasted until 1944, when Donenfeld gifted Liebowitz a share in his ownership of All-American. This was too much for Gaines, who withdrew co-operation with his partners, until agreeing to be bought out for $500,000.00, which he used to set up a new comics company. With effect from issue 68, Flash Comics became a National comic, created by the merger of Detective and All-American, for the remainder of its run. Flash Comics was the company’s fourth title but its first superhero title (flagship title All American Comics didn’t feature any masked men until nine months after Flash Comics 1). It starred, unsurprisingly, the Golden Age Flash, along with the Golden Age Hawkman. These two characters appeared in every issue and alternated nearly every cover (Black Canary in issue 92 was the only other character to appear on the cover, bursting through a hoop held by the two mainstays), with the other one appearing above the masthead.
The initial line-up also included, in no particular order, Johnny Thunderbolt (later re-named Johnny Thunder), The Whip, Cliff Cornwell and Ed Whelan’s Minute Movies. King Standish (later re-named The King) was added in issue 3. Of these, Johnny Thunder lasted the longest, until issue 91, before being displaced by the Black Canary, who’d debuted in his strip, the ungrateful minx, whilst Cliff Cornwall, an American intelligence agent, only lasted until issue 19, followed out of the title by The King (last seen in issue 41), The Whip (issue 55) and the Minute Movies (issue 58).
Another early, but thankfully short-lived feature was Rod Rian of the Space Police, a junior league Flash Gordon with superficially Raymond-esque art but nothing to distinguish it.
This gave way to ‘Les Watts, Radio Amateur’ in issue 12 (renamed ‘Les Sparks’ in issue 16). It was all about crimes being solved or stopped by radio hams. Like Cliff Cornwell, it was neither bad nor good, though Don Cameron’s art was pleasantly attractive but it was repetitive, and it wasn’t missed.
The Minute Movies were replaced by a brief run of much shorter Picture Stories from American History, until issue 68, which, whilst still static in approach, at least looked like a comic book story, not a newspaper strip.
There was another brief regular feature in the form of Rockhead McWizzard, a rather formulaic comic series about a caveman inventor who, every month, would get a bang on the head that inspired him to invent some device a thousand years ahead of its time, using current ‘technology’ that didn’t work and saw him getting punished by the local bigwig, Mr Gotrocks, who was always trying to exploit Rockhead’s newest invention. This ran from issue 71 to 79, before being bounced to facilitate The Atom’s transfer from All American Comics.
The DVD contains every issue from 1 to 104, but that’s not to say that I’ve now had the unanticipated chance to read every issue. Wherever possible, the compiler has used actual issues, which are complete, subject to minor wear and tear, clear and bright and easy to read. But over half the issues are available only as fiche (i.e., microfiche) copies, and these are a different prospect. Universally, the fiche pages are washed out, the colour blurring sometimes into mere shades. These are hard on the eye where they are decently readable, but the effect on the lettering is stressful, and a number of these have been so badly photographed that it is impossible or next-to-impossible to make out captions or dialogue, essentially rendering the stories unreadable.
And what of these stories? What of the Golden Age classics, of Jay Garrick’s career as the Flash before he became a mere adjunct to Barry Allen. That’s very interesting.
Jay Garrick was created by Gardner Fox, who wrote the first eighty stories. Harry Lampert drew the first five issues before handing over to E.E. Hibbard (Lampert went on to draw The King), who is credited with drawing the series until he was in turn replaced by a young Carmine Infantino in issue 87. I say credited, because there are quite a few issues in 1945 and 1946 that have Hibbard’s name but which are clearly being drawn by Martin Naydel, who was drawing The Flash in the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics.
Garrick’s origin is the justly infamous fumes of hard water, breathed in overnight after a lab accident, but it’s interesting to see how this comes with a seemingly scientific explanation that’s repeated several times during the series’ first year. Hard water, it is claimed, contains certain natural gases that act upon the human body’s reflexes, speeding these up to the point where Garrick is capable of thinking and moving far faster than ordinary humans.
And whilst his secret identity is supposed to be known only to his girlfriend, Joan Williams, it’s very noticeable that Garrick makes to attempt to keep his superspeed secret, especially when it comes to the Midwestern university football team, and he’s none too precious about it when he’s adopted his uniform and is beating crime as The Flash. Even when he starts to pay attention to keeping his mouth shut, it’s known to all and sundry that you can get in touch with The Flash by giving a message to Joan Williams, who is also known as Jay Garrick’s girlfriend, not to mention the number of times Jay goes missing just before The Flash turns up…
Actually, I must say a word about Joan’s incredible patience, given the number of times she has to go home from broken dates because Jay’s run off. And whereas Barry Allen has his compressed uniform in a ring on his finger, and Jay just tosses aside his street clothes, that wasn’t the case at first: as soon as he spotted something suspicious, Jay would have to run home first to grab his uniform. Thank God his power was super-speed, eh?
Yet there’s a decent brightness about the stories in the early days. Most of the time, The Flash is up against gangsters and mobs, with the odd mad scientist thrown in, but the Forties was a scant period for supervillains, unless you were reading Batman or Superman. The Flash tends to run too fast to be seen, run carrying crooks who find themselves unable to breathe, and usually ends up procuring confessions and promises to reform that would surely be illegal as coerced, but there’s an energy to the tales, a freewheeling looseness, a freedom from rules or tropes because nobody knew what didn’t work.
It’s not all good fun, however. Joan goes through a run of trying to compete with The Flash, paralleling the same attempts of Sheira Sanders in the Hawkman series (also written by Gardner Fox…), which constantly gets her into trouble. Thankfully, that doesn’t last too long, but what does is Winky, Blinky and Noddy, aka the Three Dimwits (any resemblance to the Three Stooges is sufficiently distant to stay out of litigation).
I have long been aware that The Flash, like so many other superheroes in the later Forties, was afflicted by Comic Relief, but I never realised that it started so soon. The Dimwits made their debut as early as All-Flash Quarterly issue 5 (The Flash’s solo title) in 1942, and were introduced into Flash Comics in issue 46, October 1943, popping up far too frequently until being dropped after issue 79. And a few times in Three Dimwit stories, Fox goes prematurely metafictional, having The Flash complain about what he has to do in the story.
Freewheeling isn’t all beneficial, you know.
Once the Dimwits (and Fox) moved on, The Flash’s stories restored something of a more serious tone, to the strip’s benefit.
Flash Comics‘ other star was Hawkman, whose early career paralleled the Flash in an unexpected manner. Like Jay Garrick, archaeologist Carter Hall, a reincarnated Egyptian Prince Khufu whose memories were restored by sight of the glass dagger by which he was originally sacrificed, was created by Gardner Fox, this time with artist Dennis Neville, and once again the original artist only lasted a handful of issues before being replaced by a longer-running penciller, Sheldon Moldoff in issue 4.
Moldoff’s an interesting case. He left Hawkman after being drafted into the Army in 1944, his last work appearing in issue 61, after which Hawkman was handed over the teenage prodigy Joe Kubert. Moldoff boasted of seeing that Hawkman required an Alex (Flash Gordon) Raymond approach, which endeared him to Charlie Gaines. Most people describe it as an Alex Raymond swipe, and can run down the original panels they accuse Moldoff of tracing. Certainly, Moldoff doesn’t go big on panel to panel continuity, not even the primitive kind. And there are plenty on instances where he is clearly tracing photographs.
Nevertheless, Moldoff was the first to put Hall’s girlfriend and fellow reincarnatee Shiera Saunders into costume as Hawkgirl, in issue 24, though that aspect of the series was an awkward one. Shiera was brought in as Hawkgirl for a one-off, or so Hawkman intended, but once she’d dressed up once, she kept wanting to fly again every issue. Like Joan Williams, she was initially portrayed as trying to beat Hawkman at his own game, and being pretty much inadequate, and even when he accepted her as a regular partner, she was constantly getting beaten, captured, unmasked because, well, she was a woman.
Then suddenly this silly stuff evaporated, and Hawkgirl got good overnight, though she always got less exposure than Hawkman. Still, this was now a real partnership.
The arrival of Kubert brought a sparkling originality and angularity to the series, not to mention a vivid ugliness to the crooks, with their narrowed, mean eyes, cramped postures and pencil-moustaches above prominent chins. Kubert picked up Hawkman in issue 62, left the character for issues 77-84, when Hawkman was drawn by Chet Kozlack, and returned to draw all but a couple of the remaining stories, by which time his art had shed its early angularity.
Hawkman’s stories mostly pitted him against ordinary crooks and mad scientists and, like the Flash, he was unfeasibly prone to getting clonked from behind on the helmet. A couple of adventures foreshadowed his Silver Age counterpart’s career by getting him involved with aliens, and there were a couple of stories involving the water-breathing scientist, Neptune Perkins, whom Roy Thomas would revive in the Eighties, but Hawkman didn’t get a recurring villain until late on, in the form of the Gentleman Ghost (was he or was he not a real ghost?)
Flash and Hawkman were Flash Comics’ representatives in the Justice Society of America in All Star Comics 3, with the former being replaced by Johnny Thunder, who was the title’s number 3 character. Johnny was the creation of writer John W Wentworth and artist Stan Aschmeier, who signed his art as Stan Josephs. Wentworth (whose W distinguished him from John B Wentworth, writer of The Whip) wrote the series until 1947, when it was taken over by Robert Kanigher.
What can you say about Johnny Thunder? The series debuted as Johnny Thunderbolt, though the boy was Thunder, son of Bank Clerk Simon Thunder, from the beginning. Being born at the seventh hour on the seventh day of the seventh month of a year ending in seven (1917) made seven year old Johnny a target for kidnapping by the Bahdnesians, who gave him control of a magic thunderbolt that, if summoned by the words Cei-u, would make people do what Johnny told them to for an hour at a time.
Johnny escaped back to America and his family by accident. At first, he had no idea he had a thunderbolt. Then, when he cottoned onto it, he didn’t know how to summon him (fortunately, the words Cei-u sound exactly like Say You, and you’ve no idea just how many different ways that can be accidentally contrived into a sentence. Even when Johnny sussed out the right words, it didn’t improve things any because, basically, Johnny was a dope. An idiot. A clown, who never worked out a) how to give sensible and coherent instructions to his thunderbolt and b) that the Bolt carried out his instructions literally.
Comic relief characters are one thing, but when they’re the star of the feature, that’s another thing entirely. Johnny and the Bolt were one thing, but at a dismally early stage, Johnny adopts the bratty eight-year old menace Peachy Pet, comic relief to a comic relief character. Later in the series, Wentworth introduced the Bolt’s family, his wife and brattish son, Shocko, who kept popping up on Earth (the Bolt was initially given the name of Archibald, though this was rapidly forgotten and he was Oswald on the family’s second appearance and ever after).
If this were not such an horrendous and unfunny mess of a series by this point, I might be tempted to applaud some aspects of Wentworth (W)’s approach. In a forerunner of both The Goon Show and, long after, metafiction, Wentworth started to write his comic book story as a comic book story with the characters conscious that they are being written. Unfortunately, Wentworth also uses this trick to play some lazy games with stories by having them run out of pages before an ending can be contrived.
Robert Kanigher took over Johnny Thunder with issue 86, introducing a beautiful female jewel thief, the Black Canary, in Carmine Infantino’s first work for National. But I’ll come back to her a little further on.
These were the big three of Flash Comics. Compared to them, compared to themselves, the other series were minor league. When The Flash won the right to his own title, Johnny Thunder replaced him in All Star Comics. But for the Second World War and the introduction of paper-rationing, there’s a good chance Hawkman would have followed him. Who then would have been the new JSAer? The King? The Whip? No sir, not either one of these.
The King started out as King Standish, his real name. Standish was a rich young man who fought crime armed with a phenomenal skill at disguise. Within seconds, he could transform himself into anyone at all, substitute for them, several times an episode. Supposedly, the reader never ever saw the King’s real face, but if that’s so, he had a remarkably regular ‘stock’ false face. The same went for his one and only recurring – and boy, did she recur! – enemy, The Witch, a female crook and mistress of disguises. The same theory went for Witchie, as the King affectionately called her, the only way she ever knew she was facing him, but she too had this ‘stock’ false face that the King was forever recognising.
Despite the fact that he got her bang to rights in nearly every adventure, the King always allowed the Witch to escape and plot again. He always claimed that this was because life was more interesting with her around, though personally I think he was just trying to get into her knickers, if you’ll forgive the crudity.
The King was a pretty poor series, to be truthful, but it exerted a strange fascination on me, although not quite as much when the King took to wandering around in a costume consisting of a top hat, a domino mask, an opera cape and immaculate gloves. I was sorry to see it disappear, without trace.
It was outlived, though not by much, by the rather more vigorous The Whip, the creation of John B Wentworth, with artist George Storm, although Homer Fleming drew the strip on a longer term basis, and Dr Mid-Nite’s creator Charles Reizenstein subsequently took over the scripting. The Whip, whose series ran until issue 55, was a junior league Zorro, the Mexican hero El Castigo, who defended the peons and peasants against the grasping landowners in the 19th century. His modern day equivalent was effete playboy Rodney Gaynor, a distant descendent of El Castigo, who inherited a Hacienda in a Mexican town owned by grasping landowners. After meeting crusading reporter, Marisa Dillon, Gaynor revived The Whip to firstly take up where his ancestor left off, then generally to fight crime.
The Whip was decently active but was marred by the cliché of having Marisa despise Rod as a bored, spineless playboy and revere the Whip for his determined fight, just like Lois Lane with Clark Kent. Worse though, as the Whip, Rod spoke in a shamelessly racist Mexican accent, full of the worst kind of cheap and nasty dialogue that no-one thought anything of then, but which now assaults the eye and mind. Him in the Justice Society? Ye Gods.
Of the other two series, Cliff Cornwell (drawn by Sheldon Moldoff) was a modestly decent adventure thriller about an American Agent, foiling saboteurs and the like, neither especially bad nor especially good in any respect. Ed Whelan’s Minute Movies (initially credited as Flash “Picture” Novelettes) was something else entirely. It had originally run in Movie Comics, a six-issue All-American series, and before that as a newspaper strip, and it retained the latter format, of narrow, rectangular panels with no attempt to exploit even the least of comics’ possibilities.
The series told movie-type stories, using a repertory company of recognisable ‘actors’, such as Dickie Dare and Hazel Dearie, who were romantic leads, or Fuller Phun, who was comic relief. I read the first few offerings in amusement, but the repetitive nature of the series and the lack of any visual variety, not to mention the archaic art style – very Twenties – meant that it rapidly became tedious. Still, it lasted until issue 58.
The longest and most popular of the later series was The Ghost Patrol, which started in issue 29, replacing Les Sparks, and, with a couple of gaps, ran until the final issue, no 104. The Ghost Patrol were three American aviators, Fred, Slim (who wasn’t) and Pedro (who spoke like thees) who died but had to hang around on Earth because they weren’t yet due in Heaven. Though they were ghosts, they could switch back and forth between completely solid and human and being ghosts. Frankly, I found it unreadable – this is a comic featuring Johnny Thunder and Peachy Pet!
The Atom’s advent in issue 80 was something of a surprise. He’d been a regular in All American Comics since issue 19, but his series in that title was cancelled with issue 61 and he was about to be dropped from the Justice Society in favour of Wildcat. But some unexpected scheduling issues saw Wildcat’s debut appear with three stories featuring The Atom awaiting print. No-one wanted to chop and change, and it’s been theorised that there were a handful of Atom five pagers left unused, so he was dropped into Flash Comics until the end of the run so as to justify keeping him in the JSA.
By this time, creators Ben Flinton and Bill O’Connor were long gone, but Atom stories were rarely better than perfunctory and the art was better only because Flinton’s work was atrocious. Even so, that meant that no less than four JSAers had their base in Flash Comics.
Following the DVD through to the end has thrown up some interesting wrinkles. The standard impression I’ve always had of the Golden Age is that superheroes began falling out of fashion after the War, and that many series were effectively abandoned to their comic relief characters, with the hero only a straight man.
But Winkly, Blinky and Noddy disappear without fanfare after issue 79, from which point onwards, The Flash becomes an almost entirely serious strip, and enjoys the best art of the decade from Carmine Infantino. Joe Kubert returned to Hawkman in issue 85, stripped of his early angularity and grotesquerie, with a sleek, almost balletic style. Hawkgirl (and Shiera Saunders) never looked better. Indeed, after a long-term set-up that had The Flash as the first story and Hawkman as the last, several issues see the heroes swap places.
Johnny Thunder remains ridiculous until issue 85, but in the next issue, Robert Kanigher takes over the writing, Carmine Infantino the art (his DC debut) and the Black Canary begins the quick process of taking over the series. She’s introduced as a glamorous jewel thief who steals from crooks, but was so immediately popular she was brought back as a crimefighter, with whom Johnny was, understandably, besotted.
The Canary appeared in all but one of Johnny’s stories from 86 – 91, is credited as co-star and then bounces him out in issue 92, which introduces Dinah Drake, her flower shop, and her boyfriend, private eye Larry Lance.
There’s a certain repetitive element to the Canary’s series, since somewhere about halfway through the story both she and Larry get a crack on the back of the head with a pistol butt, until you start to fear for her skull, but they always do escape, and the story ends with Larry boasting to Dinah Drake about he was invaluable in solving the Black Canary’s case.
With Infantino drawing both Black Canary and The Flash, and Kubert drawing Hawkman, Flash Comics’ final phase saw it at its most splendid and gorgeous. Even The Atom got some decent art, from Paul Reinman, to see him to the end of his career.
Just as Hawkman and The Atom’s costumes changed with effect from All Star Comics 42, the same change was performed for both characters from Flash Comics 98, and I noted that Hawkgirl also gave up her hawk-helm for a cloth mask, covering only her forehead and eyes, and allowing her lustrous brown locks to flow free (and with Kubert they were definitely lustrous, to the point where you wondered how nobody ever recognised Shiera Sanders).
One thing I found interesting was that the opening pages of the Flash, Hawkman and Black Canary episodes carried a marking in the corner of a panel, FL and a series of three numbers. This numbering suggested that they were the issue numbers of Flash Comics that the stories were intended to be published in, but each of these numbers were in advance of the issue in which the story appeared, and as the issues advanced, these were issue numbers that would never appear.
In contrast, the equivalent marking on Atom stories used OH as its key, which doesn’t appear to correlate to any contemporaneous National Comics title.
Given that some Flash stories carry similar tags using AF (for the recent cancelled Flash solo title, All-Flash), there’s no other reasonable explanation. Which suggests a number of stories that hadn’t yet been used, or that were not intended to be used. In 1968, DC did write off an enormous amount of unused art, for tax purposes, making it plausible for there to have been several stories skipped over for whatever reason. Flash Comics was cancelled from issue 104. Unlike All American Comics or All Star Comics, it did not continue as a Western. The end obviously came quickly: all the features except The Flash ended with the usual tag that the star’s adventures could be followed every month in Flash Comics. Issue 105 would not be published until ten years later, and would star a different Flash entirely.
This isn’t the only Golden Age comic of which I’ve read a full run: I have the complete All Star Comics in DC’s hardback Archive editions. But that was a complete run of a flagship series and this has been an anthology title with decidedly varying series. It’s fun to see what the comics of that era really were like, and I’m more likely than not to do the same thing with All American Comics, which was Green Lantern’s home title. And in a silly way, I’m grateful to see the original and only Forties appearance of Jay Garrick’s foe, The Shade, who was nothing remotely like the one that appeared in Jay’s return in the classic The Flash 123, and upon which all subsequent versions have been based. I shudder…
But despite the limitations of the material, I wouldn’t want to have this stuff in any other format than the DVD. Had I the space, I still wouldn’t want to give it that space..
How much of this story has been a waste of space? How many of the pages of this issue are pointless, an abuse of the audience by getting them to read a lazy, needless fight between Harley Quinn and Booster Gold, observed in couch potato fashion by Batgirl and Blue Beetle, until the four decide to pool their approaches? How many pages are wasted by Batman and The Flash using very different approaches to locating Blue and Gold, The Flash dashing off for microsecond searches of areas of the world where they’re not to be found, and Batman sitting in his Batcave chair, watching his alarms, which are hidden in every safehouse either of the pair have ever had, knowing that sooner or later, being Beetle and Booster, one of them will do something stupid and trigger their alarm? How many pages are given over to the Watchmen grid of Wally West talking to Sanctuary, updating himself on the number of weeks he’s been there and his evidently false belief that he’s been improving?
The answers to these questions are 11, 3 and 4 respectively. That leaves 6 pages (including a double page spread) that might, we hope, actually advance the story, although not in any way that makes sense up to the end of issue 7. These involve Wally and Poison Ivy and a field of beautifully drawn and brilliantly coloured flowers that are a genuine aesthetic delight, and they seem to be leading towards the suggestion, which has been suspected by a lot of people for quite some time already, that the Sanctuary killer is Wally himself.
I really hope that this is still red-herringing.
Art this time around is split between three artists, twelve pages drawn by series artist Clay Mann, nine by Travis Moore and the remaining three by Jorge Fornes, whose more primitive style stands out like a sore thumb against the other two.
I mean, there’s not really that much else I can say about this issue. The main cover, an exasperated Superman shouting ‘Enough!’ and thrusting Booster and Harley out of the picture has nothing to do with this episode. The only thing I can applaud is that it’s coming out on time, and as Doomsday Clock 10 has now been pushed back into May, my prediction that I’d get to the end of Heroes in Crisis before DC’s premier fuck-up crossover is going to come true in spades.
Given that Tom King’s current arc in Batman, ‘Knightmares’, is as boring as fuck and seeming interminable, this is not a period in which I am favourably inclined towards him. I’d like that to improve.
Six of nine. It’s a sad commentary on mainstream comics publishing today that the much-trailed Heroes in Crisis mini-series is slowly developing its own mini-version of the logical disasters that have most thrillingly contributed to the miserable buffoonery of Doomsday Clock. First, it was supposed to be a seven issue series drawn by Clay Mann but, once Dan DiDio, still pining for the misery of The New 52, managed to claw back sole control, it spouted two extra issues drawn by another artist, and all but officially designated as fillers, extra pages had to be shoehorned in to issue 2 by another artist to ram home the unconvincing death of Wally West, and now all we have of series artist Mann in issue 6 are a first and last page with all the stuff in between drawn by Mitch Gerads.
Still, at least the trains run on time. The consistent monthly schedule means we can put this turgid disappointment behind us in three months, whereas Doomsday Clock will still be with us when the sun has gone nova and all that is left of the Solar System is one cubic inch of charred Charonic rock.
I’m in two minds about this issue. Once again, we don’t move an inch forward. The story stops dead, if such a phrase can be applied to a things that has never once been alive. What we get are Mann’s two pages, showing heroes being questioned about how many people they’ve saved and giving different answers, whilst in between we’re treated to Sanctuary at work, in virtual reality settings, in the form of the sessions relating to Wally West, Poison Ivy joined by Harley Quinn, and Gnarrk, who is a thawed-out caveboy associated with the Titans, Teen or otherwise, a holdover from the very early Seventies. Despite the intelligence with which he is treated herein, he really is a case of scraping the barrrel.
It’s just more, more, more relentlessly slow and inert ‘insight’, and at the two-thirds mark another entire issue of it is amateurish story-telling and dire pacing.
Yet I have a smidgeon of respect for parts of this story, or rather one part, being Wally West. King reruns the DC Universe Rebirth moment when Wally finally gets Barry to remember him, to break him out of the Speed Force, and to reset the Universe to the tune of Hope that was Geoff Johns’ rationale both for Rebirth and the egregious Doomsday Clock. Typically, King reverses this completely. Wally is greeted by everybody as not just the symbol of hope but as Hope itself, but he cannot accept himself in this role, feels massively pressurised by it, because he has no Hope. He’s returned alone, without the love of the family that has been inttegral to him, with Linda Park, his lightning rod, without Jai and Iris, his children.
This part is good, is seriously good, and it holds within it something of the structure that could have underpinned Heroes in Crisis and made it work. If you had started from this, if you had made this the basis upon which the series was founded, if you had focussed on it and not diffused it with dozens of heoes undergoing trauma counselling that, even two-thirds of the way through, we are not seeing at work. All we get are gnomic utterances by superheroes, cryptic soundbites with very often the depth of a puddle, because King is using too many people to have the space for anything but shallowness, and because he’s still not leaving enough space for an actual story to clad itself upon these bones.
Simultaneously with this issue, I also picked up the four-part crossover story, ‘The Price’, running between Batman and The Flash, written by Joshua Williamson, which gets far more out of Tom King’s story than King has managed to do by concentrating upon living characters affected by these deaths and their implications, where King is concentrating upon characters who we are being told, unconvincingly, are dead, meaning that their issues and traumas haave ceased to have any meaning. Like the victims, the problems are dead. If anyone really is.
Do we have any answers appearing in the murk? I mean, we’ve already been shown Wally’s moment of death at the hands of Harley Quinn and now we see it at the hands of Booster Gold but for it to be either of them would be lame. One major news and gossip site still reckons it’s Wally himself, which at least has the merit of being stupid, but in that case why has Wally’s death had to be so blatantly inserted by DiDio’s decree?
I repeat, three months from now, the complete set, first editions, mint condition, will be going on eBay, unless you want to make a private bid in the comments? Exorbitant offers will be listened to most carefully.
Fourth issue. There’s a lot of typographical swearing in this one, including the title, the way you get it in mainstream comics. Can’t have everyone seeing the Black Canary saying ‘Fuck it,’ can we?
Once again, it’s too damned little and too damned slowly. Wonder Girl/Donna Troy/Troia/whoever the hell she is, hauls a pissed Tempest out of a bar, then has the first of three full pages of superheroine confessions. Donna muses about whether Paradise Island actually exists (just ask Diana, you clown). Batgirl says nothing, just pulls down her tights far enough to see the entry and exit wounds, sufficiently re-positioned from Killing Joke so that it didn’t actually sever her spine. Black Canary lastts three panels of a Watchmen nine-panel grid before saying whatever she says and walking, leaving six panels of an empty chair.
Batman and The Flash, the two best detectives, complete their investigation and proclaim the killer: Booster (Flash), Harley (Batman). The Flash swears (yes, even though he’s Barry Allen). Maybe he says ‘Shit.’
Lois Lanre slinks round the bedroom in Superman t-shirt, tiny red knickers and very bare and very long legs, giving at least one page a reason for existing, exchanging cryptic remarks about what she’s to do with these ‘Puddlers’ revelations.
Green Arrow threatens to pop an arrow into both heads and let the afterlife’s greatest detective work it out: a decent line, at last.
Batgirl catches up to Harley and has to prevent her now cowl-less head being smashed in until, one cat-fight later, she persuades Harley to jointly investigate the crime with her, to prove to Batman that they’re nt both broken, scared, scarred girls, leading to one very Poison Ivy-esque full body hug.
Booster reveals he’s passed the lasso of truh test, only that’s now no longer infallible, as apparently it can only tell that you think you’re telling the truth. He’s telling all this to Blue Beetle, the Ted Kord one (how long’s he been alive again? Do I care? You can answer that one yourself.)
And Superman pulls off a very blatant Ozymandias rip-off from Watchmen 11, letting Batman and Wonder Woman know about these videos Lois has been getting and that she’s going to print on them. Batty snarls, Wondy asks when, and Supes replies “35 seconds ago”.
This nonsense is now hard on Doomsday Clock‘s heels for most fucking awful piece of garbage going: I’d almost rather re-read ‘Gadgetman and Gimmick-Kid’. I’d better make a profit selling this on eBay when no 9 finally appears.
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.