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Friday, August 5, 2016

How the Flash Helped Me Get Back into Comics

I first got into comics when I was a kid. The very first comic book I picked up was a single issue out of the Darkwing Duck Mini series in 1991. It was a comic adaption of the series premier, Darkly Dawns the Duck. I'd read it and looked through it so many times that if I still had the thing, it would probably get lower than a 2.0 grade.

The second comic book I would come across was Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog, issue #2 in 1993. I looked through my friend's copy and I just had to have my own and soon after, I did. Sonic the Hedgehog would be the first comic book series I would read on a regular basis. It had some elements from the video games, but by and large, the comics were largely different from the games.

In 1994, I begun reading buying Spider-Man and X-Men comics. I had always been fascinated by Spider-Man ever since I was exposed to Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends in the 1980s. The 1994 Spider-Man series sparked my interest in the character even further so picking up the comics seemed only natural. Ditto for the X-Men series that was airing at the same time.

Sometime in 1996, I would stop buying Spider-Man and X-Men comics and before that, I had already stopped purchasing Sonic the Hedgehog. It wasn't that I thought the comics had gotten dull. My first love, gaming was becoming even bigger. I was reading GamePro cover to cover and the N64 was set to release that year. I would still flip through issues of Sonic the Hedgehog and the numerous Spider-Man comics at the time to see what was going on, but they didn't get my money. 

My relationship with comics has been estranged for almost a decade and there were a number of contributing factors to this. 

After the Avengers: Disassembled story, I thought comic book events were the bees knee. But then came House of M, Civil War and World War Hulk. House of M was in 2005 Civil War in 2006 and World War Hulk in 2007. Event fatigue had hit me hard. Since I had an on again, off again relationship with comics, I wasn't aware that events were a yearly thing. By 2008, I didn't want anything to do with these huge, cataclysmic events that would "forever change the fabric of the !" How many times have we been told in comics that "Things will never be the same!" only for the status quo to eventually undo whatever mess was made? While Civil War did have a huge impact on the Marvel universe, the story had to have some of the key characters do things that were way out of character, like Spider-Man unmasking to the entire world, to name a few. When I heard Civil War was going to be the third Captain America movie, I was worried that the characters were going to do some repeat performances of their boneheaded moments from the comic, but from what I hear, the film is actually better than the comic it is based off of, leaving the idiot moments on paper.

In 2007, I read one of the most horrific Spider-Man stories I've ever read, One More Day. This train wreck of a story was devised so Marvel could have Spidey be single again and have things be "just like the good old days." Not only did Peter lose his loving wife, he lost most of, if not all of his common sense, becoming a huge imbecile, making stupid, rookie mistakes just about every single freaking issue. I hadn't picked up Amazing Spider-Man since One More Day and from 2008 and on, I would Byrne Steal it. There was no reason to undo decades of character development and make Peter a wifeless loser just because old comic book farts in power have a hard on for the days when Spidey wasn't married. They even started talking all this youth crap, saying that's what Spider-Man was all about. Spider-Man may has always been about responsibility and if the brass at Marvel couldn't see that when they were reading the books, they must not have been paying attention. 

Oh but the wife drops didn't end with Spidey, oh no. When DC relaunched their entire comic line, dubbing it The New 52, Superman was no longer married to Lois Lane and instead hooked up with Wonder Woman. Keep in mind, Supes has loved Lois since 1938. Pairing him with Wonder Woman just because she's a super heroin and also insanely strong is just stupid. The Flash also had his marriage to Iris Allen removed because according to DC, he's fast enough for all the ladies. Make of that what you will, but during this time of sweeping changes, it seemed as if anyone with a long history of comic book marriage was not safe unless your names are Reed and Sue Richards.

And then you've got comic book death. I'd just call it death, but then that would imply that dying in a comic book actually sticks and well, anyone that's read comics for a while knows better. Whenever someone in a comic book, hero or villain kicked the bucket, you're just counting the days until they come back. Comic book characters come back to life more times than the zombies in a Ghost 'n Goblins game and I want so much for writers to stop relying on comic book deaths to tell a story.

I was thrilled to hear about the revival of Darkwing Duck in comic book form in 2010 and I picked up a some of the trades in 2012, but my comic book purchases would sit on an extremely small scale for years with Sonic the Hedgehog and Archie Comics Mega Man being my main buys.

Then in 2015, something amazing happened. OK, actually it was in 2014, because that's when the show began airing, but I didn't start watching it until the following year. My father and sister watched the Flash and would frequently discuss it. Knowing how much I enjoyed super heroes, they would ask if I started watching it and always, my answer would be no. They told me that the first few episodes were up on Hulu and that they would air the entire first season to prepare for the coming second season. One night, I finally decided that it was time to sit down and start watching the Flash. My father and sister had hyped it up so much and I figured the only way to get them off my back was to see what it was all about.

Now I'm no stranger to the character that is Flash. the DC Animated Universe is among my favorite shows and I have all of the Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond and Justice League animated series that make up the universe. I thought Justice League and Justice League Unlimited's version of the Flash was a good, fun character and I was always delighted to see him in an episode. I liked Flash, but not enough to start buying comic books like I did Sonic, Spider-Man and Mega Man. The live action Flash TV show changed that in more ways than I can imagine.

I thought I would watch maybe an episode or two of Flash since the run time for a single episode was over 40 minutes. But before I knew it, I was hooked like a sea bass. The writing was intelligent, the way the show portrayed Barry's speed, that ultra cool lightning effect, it was all awesome. When the next episode ended, I ecstatic to watch the next one. I ended up watching the first six episodes in one night and continued to watch the rest of season one as more episodes were uploaded each week.

From Book 1 of the Usagi Yojimbo Saga.

I always thought the Reverse Flash was a pretty sinister villain from watching Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, but season one of the Flash sold me on Barry's arch nemesis even more. Yeah, hes grand scheme ultimately failed but the way he played everyone for nearly an entire season was brilliant. It helped that the writers let us know early on that there was more of Dr. Wells than what it seemed since he wasn't paralyzed from the waist down and he kept talking about the future as if he'd live there and seen some of it, which the Reverse Flash, of course, has.

It wasn't just Reverse Flash that made the show great in terms of villains. Captain Cold is another character I really came to enjoy seeing. I liked that he was a criminal but he had a strict code that he stuck to. He didn't believe in doing anything unnecessary and even thought he knew who Flash was behind the mask, he told no one.

Coming in to the the show late was actually a blessing for me because this meant that I didn't have to wait long before season two started airing. And man, season two was awesome! Arguably better than the first season! We got Zoom, more unexcpted plot twists, Earth-2 and the multiverse, Wally West and so much more.

Throughout season two and after it condluded, I found myself buying more and more graphic novels, both online and in my Barns & Nobles. I bought the first three books of the Usagi Yojimbo Saga. I haven't started reading them yet, but I've peeked at a few pages in each one and I'll be picking up the series as the books get released. I also bought Batman: The Long Halloween and the follow up store, Batman: Dark Victory, both of which are some of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's best work. I finally got around to buying DC: The New Frontier, a comic I have always wanted to read after watching the animated film back in 2008. I bought the first two volumes of Marv Wolfman and George Perez's New Teen Titans. I'm a little bummed that these New Teen Titans books aren't getting the same treatment as DC's other trades, but I'm just happy I can get my hands on these babies at an affordable price. Can't wait for the volumes contain the Judas Contract to drop.

From The Return of Barry Allen. Three against one?
That's so unfair. The three of them are totally outmatched.

The trades that most have my attention, however, are Flash trades. The Flash show made me a die hard fan. After watching so many outstanding episodes, I have to read about the adventures of the scarlet speedster. I picked up Grant Morrision and Mark Millar's Flash trade and from what I've gathered, there are some pretty crazy stories in this one, plus it introduces the Black Flash. DC has started reprinting Geoff Johns Flash run, which lasted five years. It looks like a year's worth of material is in a single book and I've got the first two books in my collection. I also have Flash: Rebirth, and since Flashpoint Paradox is one of my favorite DC animated films and season three of the show will have its own version of Flashpoint, I grabbed the Flashpoint graphic novel.

A story every Flash fanatic has heard or red about is The Return of Barry Allen. This tale came to my attention while I was making my way through season one of the show and it sounded like a really interesting story. I did some searching on Amazon and the prices are what initially kept me from picking it up. With Flash being so hot over the last few years, you'd think DC would capitalize on it by re-releasing this story. I mean, the Death of Superman gets re-released on a regular basis. Same for Dark Knight Returns. But early 1990s Flash stuff? Nope. So including shipping, I spent over $46 on Return of Barry Allen. I hated myself a little for doing so, but after reading it, the book was worth every penny. Return of Barry Allen is the first of Mark Waid's Flash work I've been exposed to so the bar has been set astronomically high. We got some great character development for Wally, we got to see Jay Garrick, Johnny Quick and Max Mercury all take on who they thought was a wacko Barry Allen and we get the origin of the Reverse Flash. The art was pretty impressive as well. I was slightly annoyed to find out DC will start reprinting Mark Waid's run on Flash later this year, so Return of Barry Allen will get reprinted on better paper, but its nice to have an original copy of the first trade in my possession. I cannot wait to read more of Waid's run on Flash in December.

Wally West dishing out some truth to the
Reverse Flash.

The Flash is on the way to becoming my favorite super hero, I haven't been this much into a super hero since Spider-Man, who just might be getting put in second place. Yeah, I still love Spidey, and Marvel has put out a few Spider-Man trades I want to pick up but with the first six volumes of The New 52 Flash books,  The Flash: The Silver Age Vol. 1 and The Flash: A Celebration of 75 Years, I'm fare more interested in the Flash.

It wasn't until I got back into comics again that I took a good, hard look at the things that got me out of it. Cheap deaths, events, reboots and so forth. As angry as those things make me, they are, for better or for worse, a part of the comic book industry. I'm not even sure how many times the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics have been rebooted. There are always going to be bad stories and really stupid decision making behind the scenes in comics but it isn't like all the good material will suddenly dry up. It's like with gaming or anything you enjoy: you take the good with the bad. The crappy video games I played, never made me stop gaming. Why should I let the usual comic industry woes ruin comics for me?

1 comment:

DS90Gamer said...

I can definitely relate to a lot of your gripes with comics. I read the big run of Marvel events straight through to the end of Secret Invasion and - like you - felt tired by the end of it all. I much prefer standalone character stories. I loved Spiderman throughout the 90's and early 2000's with Howard Mackie and J Michael Straczynski's (might have spelt that wrong!) runs but once Spiderman joined the New Avengers, it all went downhill. The 'Sins Past' storyline was such an awful idea!

I did actually like Brand New Day because while I agree with you on what made it poor, it DID ditch a load of baggage, especially when the post-Civil War Spidey comics were so depressing and miserable throughout the 'Back in Black' run.

Nowadays I tend to go for older early 90's comics such as the '91> Ghostrider run or standalone, lesser known characters such as Shanna the She Devil. I just don't want to get back into modern comics. A lot has changed and I'm honestly more a fan of 70's, 80's and 90's stuff overall.