Tagged: Barry Allen

Marc Alan Fishman: Just A League of Their Own

Somewhere around the mid-point of one of the chaotic action sequences in Justice League, a thought echoed in my head. “Avengers was better. I know it was. But why?” Put a pin in that.

And while we’re at it, consider this the blanket SPOILER ALERT. I’m not going to be holding back on plot points and such.

Justice League was a solid effort to continue DC’s course correction. Full stop. The flick tries hard to shake itself of its sullen feeder-films – save for Wonder Woman, which wasn’t downtrodden at all – and ultimately sticks the landing by final credit roll. Over the course of two hours (and change), Zach Snyder, Joss Whedon, and Chris Terrio assemble their (kinda) Lanternless league efficiently. The threat is worthy of the big bangers of the DC(E)U. The quips and sardonic looks feel well-worn and dare I say earned.

So why did the entire movie leave me feeling an uneasy mélange of contentedness balanced equally with ennui? I mean, Rao-be-damned, the movie just made me use the word ennui!

When I noted the efficient assemblage of the titular superteam, it comes couched with a cacophony of caveats. Our introduction to Barry Allen / The Flash seems to speed through his origin in a manner sans-irony given his power set. While he’d been on the fringes of Batman v Superman, we’ve been granted no real anchor to his character by the time he’s donning his car-wreck of a costume. It’s all flashes of awkward Big Bang Theory Sheldonisms smashed on top of tearful angst over the incarceration of Henry Allen. Late in the film, he shares a moment (one of the better exchanges, I should add) with Victor Stone / Cyborg, declaring they are the accidents. But because it comes so late – during the predictable recuperation of the nearly-defeated team scene (that all superhero team movies need, I guess) – it just feels like a tacked-on bon mot, instead of a necessary moment of respite.

And what of the aforementioned Mr. Stone? He’s Deus Ex Machina – ironically, figuratively, and literally. He’s given what might best be described as the affirmative action gift of the longest origin of the group, but never are we invited in the mind of the part-man-part-machine. Stone is stone-faced essentially for the length of Justice League, removing every ounce of characterization Khary Payton has been investing into Cyborg since 2003. When Cyborg of Justice League mutters a soft-spoken Booyah, it comes with the tenacity of a wet fart – meant only as lip-service, not fan-service.

And then we have Aquaman by way of the Abercrombie shirtless collection. WWE’s Roman Reigns, err, Jason Momoa exists as multiverse variant of Arthur Curry so devoid of the traits I’d long associated with the character, I all but abandoned any known factoids of the comic book original minutes into his first scene opposite Bruce Wayne – who himself was enjoying his take on the Fall Hugo Boss collection. Their shared scene, the one you no doubt saw in the trailers and commercials, sets us up for the League’s water-based warrior. He’s a hard-drinking, hard-fighting, surfer-lone-wolf with a pitchfork and a chip on his shoulder. His origin isn’t really told so much as it is scribbled, child-like, on a bar wall, and then half-dialogue-vomited in an appropriately confusing underwater scene. Verily.

Reading through my last few paragraphs may make you believe I utterly loathed Justice League. But you’d be wrong. For every dour note I left the theater with, came an equal smirk of joy overseeing the goodness that Snyder actually captured. Superman, after two incredibly dark films finally is presented the way we want him to be. Full of hope, love, and swagger. Wonder Woman continues to be the best female protagonist in comic book films by several levels of magnitude. And Batman? He’s rich. He’s funny when he wants to be. Believably human. And hilariously voice-modulated. All that, and we didn’t get any meaningless self-sacrifices, or fighting a giant blue sky-beam. Heck, the stinger at the end of the film even got me to clap.

So, why then, did I inevitably wind up in an Avengers conundrum? It stands to note that there’s no way to ignore that Marvel assembled their uber-team successfully a full five-years ago. And by the time it made its way to the movieplex, had given the general teeming masses of newly minted fanboys (and girls) time to live with the main members of their cast (Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor primarily). Because the feeder films (Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and Thor) had all been well-received, there was a feeling of earned glee when the Avengers coalesced to punch mindless CGI aliens for forty minutes. In contrast, Justice League carries with it the weight of mismanaged and darkly derided prequels (minus Wonder Woman), and oozes desperation from its pores. It’s cut-to-shreds-by-committee, and feels as such. Avengers was lived in. Justice League came across like a wrongly-coined #MeToo.

But perhaps, there exists a silver lining amidst my kvetching. Justice League did leave me excited for what was to come. And it’s that feeling above any others that leaves my eyes on the horizon for the pantheon of DC superheroes… rather than the floor in collective shame.

Marc Alan Fishman: To Every Season, Turn, Turn, Turn

As we wind things down on the current season of TV, I’m of two different minds on two shows I’d long held in similar regard. Agents of SHIELD (no, I don’t want to add all those extraneous periods. You know what I mean, right?) and The Flash. Both turned in seasons that were rife in comic references. AOS gave us Ghost Rider, LMDs, Madame Hydra, and a dash of the non-Marvel-sanctioned Matrix. The adventures of Team Flash gave us… Flashpoint. I am nothing if not full of opinions on both.

Let’s start with the good, shall we? For the first time in the history of the show, Agents of Shield dug its heels in deep with reverence to the pulpy source material. Because of this, the normally cinema-by-way-of-a-limited-budget show felt larger than ever. With pronounced arcs carrying through a disjointed season, we finally got a TV show with the pacing and payoff akin, truly, to actual printed comics. We had a genuine drive from the beginning to end – allowing the final beats of the season to encompass literally everything that came before it. The means justified the ends, and by the time the stinger for the 2018 season drops, we’re exhausted in the best way.

Beyond the prowess of the prose, where AOS shined brightest came collectively in character development. Over the course of this season, nearly each member of the team was given an arc to follow. And while perennial favorite Phil Coulson was left with the least to improve upon, even he was given a few badass moments to chew the scenery on. With Phil mostly on the dramatic sidelines this time around, the MVP of the season falls solely on Iain De Caestecker’s Leo Fitz.

Where he and co-science-bro (by-way-of-Sam-and-Diane) Jemma Simmons were once the bright-eyed innocents of the team, Fitz was saddled with the most growing up to do over the lengthy season. Shouldering the moral arguments of science-over-dogma, followed by a What If conceit Stan Lee himself would have been proud to take credit for, left our Scotsman bereft of any remaining innocence by season’s end. That the writers of AOS make the gravitas of Fitz’s arc feel deserved stands out as the season highlight for me.

You’ll note we’re three paragraphs in, and I’ve not had a single good thing to say about The Flash. Sadly, much like my thoughts around the literary basis of the arc, Flashpoint does for the TV show the same as it did for the comic and animated feature: drag the whole series down into the muck and mire that plagues DC all too often these days.

Simply put, The Flash’s best moments all contained themselves in the singular episode that largely snuck away from the timeline-altering plot that drove the entirety of the season. The Supergirl crossover episode that showcased Grant Gustin’s singing chops, Duet, stood alone as the single point of light in a dreary season.

As with the source material, The Flash saw Barry Allen time-travel to the past to save his mother from her timely demise. By doing so, we entered an Elseworld tale that spins out like so many would-be DCU alternate timelines. Things are darker, grittier, sadder, and devoid of the humor and spritely spirit that has long been the calling card for the show’s continued success. And by doing so, and pitting Barry Allen against yet another Speed-Based-Villain for the series… we are treated to yet-another-plot wherein Barry must. Run. Faster. Except this time, he merely gets by with a little help from his friends.

Speaking of… Not to continuously drop elbows on a dead Beta Rey Bill here (sorry, I know I’m crossing the streams, but I don’t know any more famous comic book horsies), but Team Flash is as much to blame over the dead-in-the-water season as any linger ties to Flashpoint itself. Whereas AOS took time to build, and rebuild their continuously expanding team – taking time to really allow the audience to get into the heads of Mack, Yo-Yo, and even The Patriot – The Flash seemed content to heap team member after team member into Star Labs without ever expanding each character beyond one or two notes they began with. Be it Wally West, that one scientist who HR Wells loved, or Malfoy CSI (I think his name is Julian, but he’s not worth the Googling), basically every Flash-bro walked into Star Labs, delivered or received a litany of pep-talks about their value to the team, and then sat back to let Barry run and mope. By the season’s end, I felt a connection to every Agent of Shield. I left The Flash wishing I had any feelings whatsoever.

At the end of the day, we know both shows will return for another season. My hope is that Barry and his team will return to the real roots of the character – the fun, and hope – and largely forget as much of the Savitar saga as metahumanly possible. As for Agents… Heh. Well, let’s just say Coulson did his job; I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Marc Alan Fishman: JL Fashion Statement “Gritty Is the New Black”

DC released the image that precedes this week’s via a puff piece in USA Today. In it, we see the Aveng-err-Justice League being scowly amidst steam and metal and stuff. It’s really striking, ain’t it?

As the image made its way across the social media networks I frequent, a common theme rose to the surface: Vomit. While I typically love to play devil’s advocate in situations like this, offering a nice counterpoint to typical rantings in lieu of some of my own delicious snark, I honest to Rao can only pile on. Let’s carve this screencap into a thousand angry pieces, shall we?

First off, I’m fine with Batfleck. He’s grumpy and gray. Which is exactly what I expect Batman to be. I think the one fine thing to come out of Batman v Superman was the portrayal of Bruce Wayne and his emo counterpart. He’s weary. He’s underpowered. He’s overcompensating for a lot. The actual look of the armor is good. Flat, simple, thick. The added Oakley shades over his eye holes make me think he’s got some gadgets on this suit. I like the look, as it’s basically Frank-Miller-Meets-the-Arkham-City-Games. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade:  A-

And then we come to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. Diana here is actually pretty comic accurate, no? While someone forgot to saturate her suit with any actual color, the basic forms here are as we’d hope. Her corset-like top over a weird armor-skirt, bifurcated by an ab-piecing belt reads wholly to her pulpy counterpart. In the shot we also see her shield, sword, and lasso. She’s even got her tiara and gauntlets in place. While she doesn’t feel Amazonian to me — she’s clearly not smaller than all save for Flash — everything else is checked off the list. If someone could add 33% more saturation, I’d be in love. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: A-

Cyborg is depicted as a Michael Bay Transformer nightmare. As someone denoted to me on Facebook, his crotch literally looks like Megatron’s maw from Bay’s atrocities. Vic Stone here is a mangled mess of wires and tubes. It’s as if the CGI department just couldn’t help but scream “look what we done did!”

Look, I get it. The tragic accident that left Stone a small meat pile being grafted onto a T-1000 frame is a nice idea. But the look here is severely unfetch. From a practical standpoint, one would think maybe Batman would tell Cyborg to add layers of protective plating over the exposed machinery? Or perhaps not declare boldly “look at my lights. They show you where to start shooting and punching”? For Rao’s sake… the AI Bots in I, Robot had better armor. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: F

Flash. Oh, Flash. This picture clearly is of a team that prepared a bit before battle. See Batman’s shades, Wonder Woman’s armament, and that trident. Flash clearly found some leftover maroon gym mats and Bungie cords and decided to try his best at a Pinterest costume tab. I pray that Mr. Allen figures he’ll move so fast people won’t notice the mélange of oddly shaped armor bits held together by string and sheer force of will. The only smart move he made: his helmet covers a good part of his face. It’s a shame when the CW’s Flash is better appointed to fight crime than a Flash with several hundred million dollars more in the coffers. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: Whatever constitutes something worse than an F

Last in our assemblage of angst is Artie “Aquaman” Curry. This shark of a man is a big ole’ brute, ain’t he? The Snyderverse version of the once orange-adorned aquatic superman is clearly kin of WWE’s Roman Reigns. It’s a bold take. And we get it by now, don’t we? No one will make fun of him now! We can hear DC’s movie investors chortle. While Aquaman is shrouded in plumes of hate-smoke, there’s enough to go on here: He’s scale-armored. He’s got a bitchin trident. He’s got a massive beard. And he stole some shoulder pads from the set of Spartacus. Good on him. The look is different. But it’s intriguing. It looks stiff. But I’ll hold out hope it looks good in motion. Fishman’s Tim Gunn Grade: C+

So, what say you of this new League of Justice? Or perhaps the better question to answer… Who wore it better?

Marc Alan Fishman: A Tale of Two Flashes

Flash Rebirth

DC’s Rebirth brings with it a commitment to the tenents of the brand before things got overtly grim and gritty. No better examples crossed my desk this past week – opening up my now monthly shipped comic pack – than Titans and The Flash. Forgive me, I’m not actually sure if they are supposed to be preceded or followed by the Rebirth moniker… the shop keep explained it to me a week ago, and I honestly don’t even remember now. But no bother. Each issue was read and absorbed, and I’m here to finally say the words:

DC put out some great comics.

Titans directly follows the Rebirth one-shot reintroduction to the DCU from a few weeks back. As you’ll recall that’s where (SPOILER ALERT) we learned the Watchmen may be big baddies in this new version of the DCU, that there’s up to three Jokers running around, and the Nehru collar is slowly falling out of style. But most importantly: Wally West has returned from the void that swallowed him whole during the now-defunct New52.

For a first issue, Titans takes things aggressively slow. In antitheses to the norm of #1 issues, here we get basically just a single drawn-out scene. Wally has returned to Titans Tower – err – Apartment, to gather intel on his former team. Nightwing immediately springs forth from the dark to fight the would-be intruder. A few panels – and one big shock – later, Dick Grayson remembers his fast friend. Not long after that, a similarly paced intro-fight-shock-apology occurs with each of the remaining Titans (in this iteration we have Nightwing, Arsenal, Garth, Donna Troy, and Lilith). A couple of hugs and exposition about a potential big bad to hunt down, and the issue is donezo.

The Flash reintroduces Barry Allen to all, by way of a more rote version of his well-treaded backstory. Taking cues from the recent TV series, our definitive origin is now this: Barry witnessing the murder of his mom when he was 7, by Professor Zoom. His father is incarcerated for the murder, and Barry spends his days eventually exposing and incarcerating Zoom at Iron Heights. Barry is still CSI, under TV-guided Captain Singh. The issue pulls a bit of a wink and nod by starting us off at this familiar crime scene; a murdered mother, a father to blame, a child who watched it all. But this isn’t Barry Allen’s backstory. It’s present day, where he’s tending to a new case in Central City. And with his lab equipment churning away, Barry takes to the streets.

We’re caught up to the Rebirthening of Wally West, but this time from Barry’s perspective. After a similar explanation of the potential big bad, Barry splits from his protege to continue in his own way. He runs to the other top CSI in the DCU; Batman. From there, a quick reset of known facts (Comedian’s bloodied pin, visions of speedsters, mentions of time bandits…), a cliffhanger to chew on, and the issue ties itself up in a neat bow.

Beyond the snarky synopsis though, both of these books peel back the words of Geoff Johns not more than a few weeks back. As I’d snarked about previously, the DCU creative powerhaus incarnate took umbrage towards the cynical and cyclical nature of the brand he himself represented. He appealed to the baser instincts of the DCU: to celebrate heroism and optimism over real-world issues and the doldrum of continually modernized comic canon. At the time, I scoffed. In fact, if you go back and read my words, I vowed to continue to ban my enjoyment of their (and Marvel’s) books! But somehow, like a jilted ex, I couldn’t quit on comics. And while neither Titans or Flash were perfect… they were what was promised.

While we’re still very high above the week-to-week gestalt of what all DC is trying to prove with their Rebirth movement. But if the aforementioned issues are the spark to ignite the new wave of pulp, then I’m very much game for the future. Even with the imminent threat of further dragging down Alan Moore’s creation into the mire of pop-cannon or the threat of unknown Speed Force demons, it’s hard to finish either opening salvo and not walk away with a smile. Titans overtly celebrated friendship and the makeshift families we build for ourselves – through the lens of a formerly hokey after-school superhero club. Flash begins right where the New52 left us off – angry, depressed, embittered – before pivoting towards hope, rationality, and the teaming up of dissimilar heroes working towards a common goal.

Suffice to say I’m timidly optimistic myself. While he didn’t pen either issue, I feel as if I owe Mr. Johns a drink the next time we cross paths. Granted it won’t ever happen… but I’ll be damned if I don’t owe it to him anyways. The future is bright once again.

And that is a Flash Fact.

John Ostrander: He Is Not Who You Think He Is!

The Flash

SPOILER WARNING: In talking about the season finale of The Flash TV show, I’m going to tell a few secrets. If you haven’t seen it yet and are planning to watch it later, then you may want to also read this column later.

GEEK WARNING: if you have no interest in superheroes or superhero TV shows, well, if you DO feel that way, what are you doing on ComicMix in the first place?

The CW’s The Flash wound up its second season this week and has re-affirmed its place in my heart as the best superhero show on TV. Well, I don’t watch all of the superhero shows but it’s my favorite of the ones I do watch.

The show has a great cast, strong writing, and a great love of the source material. This comes out in little “Easter eggs.” They’re details that, if you know the reference (in other words, if you’re a geek), it’s an even better moment. If you don’t know, it doesn’t matter; you can still enjoy the story, but knowing it is more fun.

A case in point is the actor John Wesley Shipp who, for these past two seasons, has played the father of the Flash, aka Barry Allen. The greater resonance comes if you know that John Wesley Shipp played Barry Allen, the Flash, in the earlier TV version. It’s a nice tip of the hat.

This season the TV show has dealt with Earth-2, a long venerated DC Comics concept. There are many Earths (the concept is referred to as the multiverse) and they are separated by different dimensions. The people on Earth-1 have doppelgangers on Earth-2. For example, “our” Barry Allen is not the Flash on Earth-2. The Flash there is a guy named Jay Garrick, who, in comics, was the original Flash when the character first appeared in 1940.

On The Flash this last season, Jay Garrick comes to Earth-1 to help Barry and his crew deal with this season’s Big Bad, another speedster named Zoom who is bent on stealing the speed from Barry and has already done so to Jay. At one point, we see that Zoom has a prison and in it is a man in an iron-mask being kept captive whose identity is a mystery for most of the season.

If you’re not a geek and not into the show, you probably have a headache at this point. I did try to warn you. And it will get worse.

Big reveal: we eventually learn that Zoom is, in fact, Jay Garrick. I won’t try to explain how that works; it’s all narrative hocus-pocus. It works in context of the show. And Jay is a sociopathic serial killer who now wants to destroy all the Earths in the multiverse save the one he intends to live on as ruler.

Oh, and one other thing. Zoom isn’t really Jay Garrick, either.

Zoom, in fact, is Hunter Zolomon who also has a doppelganger on Earth-1 and to whom we were introduced earlier in the season. The Earth-1 Hunter Zolomon is really kind of nobody, just like the Earth-2 Barry Allen. It turns out that the real Jay Garrick, the Earth-2 Flash, is that captive Zoom has in the iron mask. Dampers in the mask keeps him from using his powers.

In this season’s penultimate episode, Zoom kidnaps Barry’s father (John Wesley Shipp, remember; try to keep up) and kills him before Barry’s eyes in an effort to get Barry to race him. The race will power a doomsday device that will destroy the multiverse save for Earth-1. Well, the bad guy has to hang his mask somewhere.

That all happens and it includes a really sweet shout-out to how Barry Allen/the Flash died in Crisis on Infinite Earths. (He got better; this is comics, after all, but the moment is legendary.) Zoom is outwitted, defeated, and destroyed in a most satisfying manner.

At that point, we meet the real Jay Garrick, an important character in DC lore. And he is played by… John Wesley Shipp! It turns out that Barry’s Dad had a doppelganger on Earth-2 and it’s Jay Garrick. What’s really nice is that, by the end of the episode, we see Jay Garrick in a Flash costume which is terrific because it’s a shout out and a salute to the fact that Shipp played the Flash in the 1990 TV series.

That’s what I’m talking about. If you don’t know all that it doesn’t affect enjoying the show but knowing it only makes that moment the sweeter. The 1990 series only lasted one season and the producers of the current Flash would be entirely justified in ignoring it but they keep faith with it. They honored it, the actor, and the fans who watched the show and remember it. You know; geeks like me. And I’m deeply appreciative. It’s that level of thought, of consideration, that makes me love this show.

There’s a lot more I could say about the finale and maybe I will in some future column. You have been warned.

I’m eagerly awaiting what comes next.

Run, Flash. Run. Forever.

Marc Alan Fishman: The Flash Reaches Light Speed

So I’ve gabbed about Gotham. I’ve adjudicated over Agents of SHIELD. Isn’t it time I got flustered over The Flash? After the episode debuting this week, “Out of Time”, I’m beside myself with glee. For those who saw the episode, that knowing smirk over my pun-tacular metaphor means we’re going to be the best of friends. For those who are missing out on the festivities – or don’t wish to spoil themselves having not seen the episode yet – I’ll see you next week.

OK, are the buzzkillers gone? Good. My god, what an episode! The Flash started off with a bang – melding the innocence of the silver age, with a well-rendered modern edge – and has quickly become appointment DVR television for the ole Fish-man. Whereas I boot up an episode of Gotham with tepid hope, and SHIELD with a yearning for less angst, I hit play at breakneck speeds when Grant Gustin slips in the red leather and lightning bolt ear cups. And “Out of Time” ensured that amongst all the comic-to-TV series being blasted throughout the airwaves these days, The Flash is the best one on by leaps and bound.

If I’m to ape my old Snarky Synopsis column from www.MichaelDavisWorld, allow me to sum up what all we saw this week. We callback to the very first episode wherein the Martin brothers kill Joe West’s partner and take off in a biplane. Lucky for them, Dr. Wells’ particle accelerator don’ blowed up, and the resulting storm they pilot through. It splits their plane and leaves the crappy criminals imbued with wizard-like power over the weather. But the brothers were separated by the crash, and ole Mark Martin (the older of the pair) wouldn’t catch up to his kin before Joe would put two bullets through his chest. Now, some time later, Mark returns to get his revenge (on the revenge Joe got on his brother for killing his partner, I suppose?). What follows – in between some typical CW-style love quadrilateral drivel – is a breakneck deluge of amazing exposition.

The new Weather Wizard attempts to murder Joe and nails (but doesn’t kill) the captain of the squad instead. He captures Joe and lures Barry and Iris out into the open – where a waiting tsunami begins to crest. Barry reveals to Iris he’s the Flash! Caitlin Snow preps the Flash to fight off the impending tidal wave with a wall of wind to contain it. And for the thousandth time in the show’s history, Barry asks “How fast do I need to go?” Of course the answer is always “as fast as you can, dummy!” Hence, he begins to run from one edge of the beach to the other at breakneck speeds. As the counter wall begins to rise, to subside the decimation, a smash cut lands Barry Allen mysteriously back to a familiar street-corner, literally an evening ago!

Oh, and while all of that was happening Dr. Wells revealed to the ever-curios Cisco that he was indeed the Reverse Flash, Eobard Thawne, trapped in the past after attempting to murder a young Barry Allen. And what does Cisco get for having the man who took him in practically as family, for finding out the juicy little spoiler? He gets his innards shaken, not stirred. And we’d be devastated over this… had Barry not literally traveled back in time to end the episode.

We Flash followers have known that time travel was on the horizon. Enough episodes had hinted at it to warrant more than a passing notion. And as Joe’s suspicions of Dr. Wells swallowed Cisco in just a few episodes ago, the end was nigh. But here we’re given the most dubious of double-backs. Having Barry now alter the timeline, we’re treated to the Hitchcockian allure of seeing the bomb under the table, whilst Barry be forced to save us from it. It’s the kind of storytelling that was made for the comic-to-TV adaptation. The silly psuedo-science of metahumans and speed forces are combined with well-worn characters who’ve spent just enough time with us for we, the audience, to truly care about their well being.

And at the center of it, a happy, smart, fun-to-watch hero. It’s something literally every other comic book TV show on today is sorely missing. Jim Gordon can’t smile without seething. Skye, Coulson, and their gang can’t smile without it being a smirk. And Arrow… c’mon! Barry Allen has not been without his flaws, failures, and share of doubt. But the overarching message week after week has been one of optimism and good will. The Flash has introduced us to plenty of villains of the week, but knows that there’s no use in wasting them away after a single appearance. And by being inspired by the comics that gave birth to itself, instead of feeling like it’s a burden to bear, we’re treated to serialized stories that don’t always pile on angst and guilt. By having a definitive end to the first Martin brother, we’re given the potent return of his revenge-seeking brother (who we knew must have existed, versus some damning plot device). And with Cisco getting to hear the villainous monologue of H. Wells (natch) only to have the entire story Superman: The Movie its way back to a world where it hasn’t happened yet? Well, that’s called having your cake and eating it too.

The Flash is comic book TV done well. Perhaps it’s never been done this slick, this smart, and this fun. “Out of Time” maybe the episode that proves that even the most comic book of concepts can be done sans snark. And that my friends… is a Flash fact.


Dennis O’Neil: Beginnings, Myths, & The Flash

I guess that now we know because – correct me if I’m wrong – last Tuesday we were all hunkered down in front of our television sets watching the latest addition to broadcast video’s superhero pantheon acquire his powers. ‘T’was lightning mixed with some other stuff that made the Flash the Flash.

Can we all just relax a bit?

We seem to have a need to know from whence we came, we noble mortals. Most of the word’s religions/mythologies have an “in the beginning” chapter and, funny thing, it doesn’t seem to matter much what the particulars of those creation myths are. A bird brings up a speck of mud from deep in a primordial ocean and that morphs into our planet; the earth emerging from the cracking of a cosmic egg; the dismemberment of a primordial being whose body parts become flora and fauna…and on and on and on. These tales and many, many more have all, at one time or another, sufficed to answer the question of our Beginnings. We seem to want to know our heroes’ origins, too, and so “origin stories” have been staples of comic books (which are what we’re concerned with here) from the first pages of the first appearance of the first mega-popular superhero and of course we could mean none other than Superman. That origin, as movie producer Michael Uslan pointed out decades ago, is quite similar to a story found in the Bible, and you can take that anywhere you want it to go.

Where were we? Ah, I remember: flashing.

The creators of the program under discussion chose to use science to explain how Barry Allen can move so darn fast. Nothing new: there have been four comic book iterations of The Scarlet Speedster and all owe their special traits to science… or maybe we should make that “science.” Briefly: Jay Garrick inhaled hard water vapors to acquire his power; Bart Allen got his after a sojourn in a time machine; Barry Allen and Wally West got their superspeed after being near a lightning bolt that struck some lab chemicals in two separate incidents. (And hey, you carpers – the word “coincidence” exists for a reason.) The teevee folk chose a variation of the Allen-West scenario.

There are, of course, other comics heroes who owe their uniqueness to “science” – we’re not forgetting The Hulk’s exposure to gamma rays, The Fantastic Four’s being zapped with cosmic rays, Spider Man’s encounter with a radio active spider and if you’ve a mind to, you can add your own favorites to the list, but I want to get back to the Flash.

If comics had existed before, oh, say, the Renaissance, our heroes powers would probably been explained by magic because, although science – without the quotation marks – existed back then, I doubt that the varlet on the street thought of it when he considered the miraculous. Magic, or contact with the Almighty, were what caused miracles to happen. Label something magic and… case closed. “Science” served the same purpose for comics (and pulp) writers. As suggested above, we mostly don’t care about the particulars of our origin stories, we just want them to exist.

Then: abracadabra. Now: quantum physics.

As for that label we use to explain the marvelous…we have to be careful if we plan to call it bogus. The nifty – and frustrating – thing about scientists is that they’re never absolutely sure of anything. They always allow for the possibility that they’re mistaken, that something will happen tomorrow that will completely invalidate what they “know.” Radioactive spider? Wellll…


Dennis O’Neil On Alternate Earths

Good news! The angel Fettucini has just delivered a Message From On High: from this moment on, all politicians must be free of greed and egotism and be motivated solely by the desire for good governance and love of heir fellow man.

The, uh, bad news is that the above is true only on Earth 4072, which, of course, exists only in an alternate universe. These things are relative. To the inhabitants of Earth 4072, the news is not bad.

They can be useful, these alternate universes, especially, if you write fantasy or science fiction.

Consider Julius Schwartz, an editor at DC Comics. In 1959, he was given the task of reviving a character who had been dormant for most of the decade, the Flash. Instead of merely redoing the Flash comics readers (okay, older comics readers) were familiar with, Mr. Schwartz and his creative team gave the Flash a comprehensive makeover: new costume, new secret identity that included a new name, new origin story – the whole bag. But Mr. Schwartz had a potential problem: some of his audience – those pesky older readers – might wonder what happened to the original Flash. Mr. Schwartz provided an answer by borrowing a trope from science fiction: alternate worlds. In the Schwartz version, there were two Earths coexisting in different dimensions. The original, Jay Garrick, was on one Earth and the newer model, Barry Allen, was on the other Earth. It was the publishing equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.

Take a bow, Mr. Schwartz.

The gimmick must have boosted sales because Mr. Schwartz soon applied it to other DC superheroes with similar success. Then other editors and their teams took the alternate Earth idea and ran with it and eventually, there were dozens of versions of Earth, each with its own pantheon of costumed heroes. This may have created story opportunities, but it also probably created confusion and narrative unwieldiness. For whatever reason, in 1985, the guys in the big offices decreed that all Earth be cosmically mashed into one, in a storyline titled Crisis on Infinite Earths that included all of DC’s superhero comics. Later, DC’s editors repeated the stunt three more times.

So…can we reach a verdict? Alternate Earths: pro or con?

Well…if you can get a good story from this, or any other, concept, yeah, sure. A good story is always its own justification. But you do risk alienating new or merely casual readers who might be confused, and you burden your inner continuity with the need to explain the multiple Earths stuff. Maybe this particular story could be told without multiple Earths elements and if that’s true, maybe it ought to be. Or do you risk compromising the uniqueness of your hero by presenting diverse versions of the character, and do you care?

You might want to mull these matters, especially if you make your living from comic books. Or you might not, but if that’s the case, why dont you want to mull them?


Emily S. Whitten: Spidey and Bats’ Infinite Playlist

“I can’t believe I agreed to this,” Bruce muttered, as he locked the front door of Wayne Manor.

“Hey, Bats!” a cheerful voice exclaimed from behind. Bruce turned.

“Peter,” he grumbled at the young man standing in the driveway. “I told you not to call me that when I’m out of the suit.”

“Sorry, Bats! Forgot,” Peter Parker replied merrily.

Bruce groaned inwardly. Here we go again, he thought. “Peter, what are you doing here?” he asked.

“I came to keep you company on the drive!” said Peter. “Plus, you know… Alfred thought if I didn’t, you might not come.”

“So… you came all the way out here just to turn around and go right back?” Bruce said wryly, walking to the car.

“Well, you know, it’s quick when you’re swinging through the air with the greatest of ease.” Peter grinned. “And Aunt May also thought it would be a good idea for me to get out of the house for a few. I think she’s kind of sweet on Alfred, actually.”


“Oh, well, you know. I could be wrong,” Peter said mischievously. “But they were looking pretty cozy over the turkey earlier.”

“Yargh,” Bruce said in a strangled voice. “Uh… well… let’s get going, I guess.” He slung a bag into the back seat and slid into the driver’s side. Peter hopped into the passenger seat.

“How ‘bout some tunes?” Peter asked, pulling out his iPod as Bruce pulled out of the drive. He turned on the radio. “Gah!” he shouted as music blasted; then he laughed. “Wagner? Really, Bats?”

“It’s Bruce, remember?” said Bruce. “And I like Wagner.”

“Yeah, who doesn’t love Ride of the Valkyries? Nothing overdramatic about that.”

“Did you come just to make fun of my musical selections?” asked Bruce.

“Of course not! Alfred said you’ve been feeling kind of down about the whole superhero-ing thing. Like you thought maybe you’re not making much of a difference and nobody appreciates you. So… I dunno, I thought you could use some positive reinforcement. Nobody wants an emo Batman.”

“Emo… ?” Bruce spluttered.

“I’m just sayin’,” said Peter, holding up his hands in mock surrender. He plugged in his iPod. “Anyway, I asked Harry to put together a list of all the songs people have written about superheroes, so we could listen on the drive. You know, to show you how people really do look up to us and we do make a difference. Wanna hear?”

Bruce sighed in defeat against Peter’s incessant good spirits. “Sure, whatever.”

“O-kaaay! Let’s see what we’ve got,” Peter said, pressing play.

“This isn’t bad,” Bruce said after a few seconds. Then the lyrics continued. Peter glanced over at Bruce, who was now glowering at the wheel.

“Hmm… let’s try another one, maybe?” Peter said.

“Excellent plan,” Bruce replied dryly. “I have to admit I like the music, but I’m pretty glad it’s just a song. I really prefer not to think about Superman being dead.”

“Uh, yeah,” Peter said. “Let’s try again.”

“Eminem. Now that I wasn’t expecting,” said Bruce in surprise. “… Although the lyrics aren’t exactly heroic, are they?”

“True; but a) it is so cool that you recognized Eminem in two seconds flat, Bats; and b) he’s a total superhero fan. Or so I hear,” said Peter. “Oh, hey hey! This next one’s about you, I think.” They listened in silence for a minute.

Bruce winced. “Did you even listen to these when Harry gave them to you?”

“Well, okay, I didn’t have time, and I grant you it’s not the greatest song ever… but at least Gotham has its own theme song!” Peter chirped.

“Yeah, somehow I don’t think it goes with the actual ambience of the city,” Bruce deadpanned. “Next.”

A jaunty tune filled the car.

“‘So long, Superman’? Seriously? Catchy, but are you sure Harry isn’t on one of his Evil Goblin kicks again?”

Peter scrunched up his nose. “Well… I mean, he seemed really enthused about the playlist idea.”

“Yeaaaaah. I bet,” Bruce drawled. “Also, why are there so many songs about Superman? What about the other half of our sometimes-team-up. Namely, me? Why the inequality?”

“Dunno, Bats. ‘Once again it’s a mind bender.’“

“… Did you just vaguely mis-quote Method Man?”

“I can’t believe you got that reference. But it’s appropriate! The Wu-Tang Clan loves superheroes.” Peter scrolled down on the playlist. “Looks like Snoop Dogg does too.”

Bruce listened as they drove along. “Well, Peter, I like the rhythm… but I’m pretty sure I’ve never told Alfred to have ‘barbecued buffalo wings and a pitcher of Kool-Aid on chill.’“

“Okay, so maybe they put their own spin on things. But still! They loved you enough to make a whole song about you!”

“With sound effects and everything. I’m honored.” Bruce said, a bit sarcastically.

“Okay, okay, well hey, you know, here’s a different take,” Peter said, hurriedly pushing buttons. “I bet you love this one, huh?”

“… Is this… Prince? Prince did a Batman song? What’s this called?”

Seriously? You’ve never seen the Batdance before? Bats, you need to get out more.”


“Oh-em-gee; I can’t wait to watch the video with you. YouTube, here we come!”

“Nice try, Peter, but I am not letting you suck me into the bottomless pit that is YouTube again.” Bruce grumped. “It’s almost as bad as TV Tropes.”

“We’ll see.” Peter hit the button again. Bruce listened in silence for awhile.

“Huh – I actually really like this one. What’s it called? Maybe I’ll have Alfred download it for me later.”

“That’s the spirit! It’s The Ballad of Barry Allen by Jim’s Big Ego.”

“That’s a ridiculous name for a band.” Bruce paused. “Good song though. Let it play.”

[3 minutes later]

“Okay, this one’s the whiniest thing I’ve ever heard. What’s it called?”

Peter squirmed a little. “Uh – Spidey’s Curse?”

Bruce laughed. “Talk about emo.” He laughed some more and Peter thought he heard a snort. “Your theme song is one long whiny drone!”

“It’s not my theme song, Bats! Anyway, I much prefer Dashboard Confessional’s take. If I had to pick, I’d go with Vindicated,” Peter said, skipping ahead again.

“Okay,” said Bruce. “I’ve actually heard that one and shockingly, I’d have to agree.”

“And you’d also have to agree that this is awesome,” Peter said, skipping to the next song.

“Well everybody likes this one. But I mean, Harry does realize it’s not actually about Tony Stark, right?”

“You know,” Peter said thoughtfully, “it’s not, but somehow it is.”

“Touché,” replied Bruce. At the beginning of the next song, he grunted. “Another Superman song? Really?”

“Yeah, but this one’s really good. I think Harry likes these next three as much as me – he put them all in a row.”

“So we could get sick of Superman getting all the good songs faster? Hey, did he put Jimmy Olsen’s Blues on there? Now there’s a song I can sympathize with.”

Peter looked over at Bruce. “Wow, Bats. Are you… are you jealous of Clark? I mean, suave billionaire that you are, I wouldn’t have thought it.”

“Of course not, Peter. You know Clark’s like a brother to me. He’s just… a little unreal sometimes, is all. I can sympathize with Jimmy. We’re only human.”

“Fair point. Ooh, here, I like this one,” Peter said, scrolling to Weezer. “Kinda makes me feel like I’m back in high school.”

“What, like yesterday?” Bruce snarked.

“Ha. Ha.” Peter replied.

Bruce swung the car into a familiar driveway to the end chords of In the Garage.

“Oh hey! We’re here. Aunt May’s going to be so happy to see you! Betchya ten bucks she tries to get you to eat something within the first three minutes.”

“No bet,” said Bruce, smiling as the door opened on Aunt May and Alfred.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” they both exclaimed, as Aunt May took the bottle of wine Bruce was holding out and gave him a big hug.

“Glad you could make it, Master Bruce,” said Alfred, as Aunt May said, “So good to see you again, Bruce. Come in, come in!”

Aunt May bustled away with the wine, calling over her shoulder, “I bet you’re hungry – but never fear! I have some mini quiches with your name on them!”

Peter and Bruce exchanged an amused look. “Thank you, Aunt May, that sounds delightful,” Bruce replied politely as they stepped inside.

“So, Bats,” Peter said quietly as they stood for a moment watching Aunt May and Alfred hurry around setting food on the table, “what did you think of the music? All those people inspired to write about us in their songs; wanting to be like us, or looking up to us, or even just thinking about what our lives are like?”

“It does lend a different perspective, I’ll admit,” Bruce replied. “Also I’ve now learned that rappers really love comics. Was that the whole playlist?”

“Nope! Guess we’ll just have to save the rest for the ride back to Wayne Manor.”

“Oh, joy,” Bruce said. But he was smiling when he said it.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Bruce.”

“Happy Thanksgiving, Peter.”

Spidey and Bats’ Infinite Playlist

Our Lady Peace – Superman’s Dead

Eminem – Superman

R. Kelly – Gotham City

Firewater – So Long, Superman

RBX, Snoop Dogg, & The Lady of Rage – Batman & Robin

Prince – Batdance

Jim’s Big Ego – The Ballad of Barry Allen

Black Lips — Spidey’s Curse

Dashboard Confessional – Vindicated

Black Sabbath – Iron Man

3 Doors Down – Kryptonite

Crash Test Dummies – Superman’s Song

Five for Fighting – Superman

Spin Doctors – Jimmy Olsen’s Blues

Weezer – In the Garage

Drowning Pool – The Man Without Fear

Method Man – The Riddler

Big Head Todd and the Monsters – Resignation Superman

Lemon Demon – The Ultimate Showdown for Ultimate Destiny

The Kinks – Catch Me Now I’m Falling

Me’shell Ndegeocell – Poison Ivy

Suicide – Ghost Rider

Saving Jane – Supergirl

Dangerdoom – Space Ho’s

moe. – Captain America

The Traits – Nobody Loves The Hulk

Sufjan Stevens – The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts

Rancid – Side Kick

Rush – Ghost Rider

Remy Zero – Save Me

Panic! at the Disco – Mercenary

Bow Wow – Batman

Anthrax – I Am the Law

Black Lab – Learn to Crawl

R.E.M. – Superman

The Brunettes – Hulk is Hulk

They Might Be Giants – Particle Man

Laverne Baker – Batman to the Rescue

The Ramones – Spider-Man

[Author’s note: Yes, yes, I crossed the streams. Sue me. But you know in a perfect world Spider-Man and Batman would be oddly fantastic friends. Anyway, Happy (slightly belated) Thanksgiving, everyone! And I hope I’ve maybe added a bit to your nerdy playlists this week. Servo Lectio!]




Martha Thomases: Don’t Try To Dig What We All Say

In my daily perusing of the Internets, I came across this post. A short post, it says (with one little snip):

“Dear Old People (and this includes me), the kids today are not hip to your cultural references. This is not a failure of education. Things change. The end.”

It’s not about comics or the movies or television. If anything it’s about Baby Boomers and how insufferable we can be. The popular art that moved us must move you, or you’re ignorant.

This is not a new attitude. My mother, for example, loved E. Nesbitt and J. D. Salinger, so she thought I should read them. My high school English teacher thought that Fitzgerald and Hemingway were the greatest writers of the 20th Century, and skewed their curricula accordingly.

None of this was as insufferable as my generation has been.

In Hollywood, my generation has minded the television shows of our youth into (for the most part) wretched movies. Car 54, Where Are You?, which was an entertaining glimpse of the 1950s Bronx, was made into a terrible movie that abused my beloved David Johansen. See also: McHale’s Navy (here and here), I Spy (here and here), and more. Exception: The Addams Family was genius, and so was equally transgressive movie.

We also made smug jokes. Do you know Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings? These days, if someone tells that joke, that person must explain what Wings was.

In comics, the insidious influence of the Boomers is even worse. Every attempt to reboot a character for a modern audience is eventually derailed by continuity geeks who insist that everything fall in line with the way it was when they were kids. Sometimes, I’m like this myself. I liked the Supergirl who hid her robot in a tree. I liked super pets. I think they made the world a better place.

You know what else made the world a better place? Me, being young and cute and hopeful.

We need to get over ourselves. The Flash doesn’t have to be Barry Allen (that re-reboot robbed my adult son of the Flash he grew up with). Superman doesn’t have to be in love with Lois Lane, nor Peter Parker with either Mary Jane or Gwen Stacy. Those stories exist, and we can read them whenever we like.

In the meantime, there’s lots of terrific new entertainment that us old farts could learn from. Off the top of my head, there’s Sherlock, a brilliant new way to look at a classic character. There’s Copper on BBC America, a blueprint for the way the GOP wants to rebuild American society. There’s Cosmopolis, a movie that analyzes modern life from the interior of a stretch limo. And, love him or hate him, Mark Millar is taking major risks as he creates his media empire.

Now, excuse me. I have to go and watch Nashville again.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman, Rob Liefeld, Scoot Snyder, and Burning Down The House