Words of Questionable Wisdom: Flash In the Pan?
Just what’s wrong with the newest incarnation of DC’s Fastest Man Alive?
By Paul Sebert
From a marketing standpoint there’s a secret formula that stretches back to the golden age of comics to all good franchises: brand extension. Two years after the successful debut of Captain Marvel, Fawcett Publications introduced a teenage spin-off in the form of Captain Marvel Jr. Upon first glance one could mistake Freddy Freeman’s superhero persona as a clone of Captain Marvel but a number of traits set him apart from the big red cheese. His blue costume was a striking visual design, he retained his youth even in his alter-ego, and his civilian identity had a tragic past (he was crippled and orphaned by Captain Nazi.) Perhaps the most important trait that set the Younger Marvel apart from his predecessor was the way he was drawn; while C.C. Beck’s drew Captain Marvel in a charmingly cartoonish art style, Emanuel “Mac” Raboy used a more realistic art-style that was decades ahead of it’s time. Captain Marvel Jr. was soon followed by Mary Marvel, along with Marvel Family Comics (featuring Uncle Marvel and the Lieutenant Marvels) and even Hoppy The Marvel Bunny (star of Fawcett Funny Animals.) In fact, had Fawcett not been doomed by a long, costly lawsuit with DC comics, it would be easy to imagine a world where the Captain Marvel franchise still remained strong.
In the 1950s when the “Adventures of Superman” television show was at the peak of it’s popularity, DC editor Mort Weisinger used a variation of the Fawcett “family” approach to cash in. He began by introducing spin-off books for supporting cast members Jimmy Olson and Lois Lane at first. These were followed by Superboy (a prequel title rather than creating a new character) and Supergirl. Today the “family” franchise remains a strong marketing tool, though there’s a lot that can go wrong. Some spin-off characters are so far separated from their source that fans reject them. Other times a character can have so many spin-offs that he or she loses their uniqueness.
In the 1990s, The Flash rode high on a newfound wave of popularity fueled by the writing of Mark Waid. The decade would also see the return of Jay Garrick, the original Flash, Golden-Age speedster Johnny Quick, and Quick’s daughter Jesse. We also saw Barry Allen’s grandson Bart “Impulse” Allen and his cousin Jenni “XS” Ognats who served on the Legion of Superheroes. Yet another golden age hero “Quicksilver” was reintroduced under the name Max Mercury. Things got to the point you would have expected DC to introduce a Funny Animal Speedster.
Needless to say things got a little confusing, and it became a little troublesome for writers to bring credible threats to Keystone City when you had multiple speedsters zipping about. So DC went about trimming back it’s roster of speedy superheroes. Johnny Quick passed away during Zero Hour, and Max Mercury later vanished into the Speedforce. Jesse would give up her powers during Geoff Johns “Blitz” arc while XS was shuffled away in LoS reboot.
The most popular addition to the Flash “family” to come about during Waid’s run was Impulse who proved popular enough to warrant his own spin-off title in 1995. While never a gigantic seller, Impulse immediately became a cult. With Waid’s light-toned writing and Humberto Ramos’ wildly animated art, the book was delightfully different from anything in a market filled with anatomically dubious “grim & gritty” superheroes. Adding to Bart’s uniqueness was a sweetly naÃƒÂ¯ve personality, a well established supporting cast of fellow high school kids, and a the book’s small town southern setting. Two years after the launch of Impulse, Bart would join Robin, and Superboy in forming “Young Justice” one of the most beloved books of the late 90s.
Following Mark Waid’s run on The Flash readers were treated to Geoff Johns groundbreaking run on the title, which introduced a slew of new villains while making classic foes like Captain Cold and Mirror Master seem more menacing than ever. It was during this run that many of the supporting cast members were cut, as a reoccurring theme of Johns’ stories was Wally alone and facing impossible odds.
Johns also orchestrated the re-launch of the Teen Titans franchise in a new series which mixed classic characters like Starfire and Cyborg teaming up with Young Justice alumni like Superboy (Conner) and Wondergirl. The new book was an immediate success on many levels, I think Johns’ handling of Bart Allen wasn’t one of them. In attempting to let Bart grow up a bit, Johns stripped the character of much of the humor and innocence that made the character charming. While from a thematic standpoint it made sense to reestablish Bart as part of the Flash lineage by having him don the Kid Flash standpoint, aesthetically Bart was giving up a sleek costume in favor of a garish yellow & red one. In terms of costume designs “old” doesn’t necessarily mean “classic.”
Anyway Infinite Crisis came, and in a nod to the original Crisis The Flash made a last stand. Wally West and his family vanished into the speed force, and Bart Allen was left behind, mysteriously aged 4 years.
This gave us the set up for the new Flash series by Danny Bilson and Paul Demeo which picks up a year after the end of Infinite Crisis, which sees an adult Bart Allen working for Keystone motors.
Which brings us to the problem with the series, which actually doesn’t have anything to do with the creative team involved.
The problem is that DC once had a Flash “family” and decided that was hurting the main character’s uniqueness. They decided to only keep the original Flash, Jay Garrick, and the most unique one Bart Allen. Only…
- It’s Bart Allen without his youth…
- It’s Bart Allen without the “big hair and feat art” art style used by artists like Todd Nauck and
- Humberto Ramos…
- It’s Bart Allen without the humor…
- It’s Bart Allen without the relationship with Superboy and Robin.
- It’s Bart Allen without any of the supporting cast from Impulse, Young Justice, or Teen Titans.
So in short we’ve lost Barry, we’ve lost Wally, we’ve lost Johnny, we’ve lost Jesse, and we’ve lost Max. All we have left of the franchise in DC comics currently are Jay and Bart… but we’ve lost everything that makes Bart Allen, Bart Allen.
Which to me makes as much sense as if Fawcett comics were to write out Billy and Mary Batson, made Freddy Freeman’s alter ego an adult, drew him in a cartoonish art style, and effectively turned the character into the new Captain Marvel.
Oh wait please forget I said that… now I know what Judd Winick has planned for Trials of Shazam.