Posted by Don MacPherson on August 21st, 2007
The Flash #231
“The Wild Wests, Part One: Growing Up Fast”
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Daniel Acuna
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Cover artists: Acuna/Doug Braithwaite
Editor: Joan Hilty
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.65 CAN
Mark Waid’s return to this title and to the protagonist he molded into a fan favorite in the 1990s thankfully doesn’t result in a return to the same kinds of stories he told before with the help of such artists as Greg Laroque, Salvador Larroca, Paul Pelletier and the late, great Mike Wieringo. No, he’s opted to explore a completely different kind of dynamic with this turning point in the character’s four-color life. When Wally West took over the mantle of the Flash at first in the 1980s, the storytelling in this title revolved around him learning to be a man, bridging the divide between adolescence and adulthood. With Waid’s previous run on the book, we can assume Wally is well into his 20s and he’s learning to be a good man. Now, we have Wally in his 30s, learning to be a father. It’s a natural progression for the character (and for the readership, I would imagine), consistent with previous canon while providing a fresh take, distinct from previous incarnations.
It’s been a year since the streets of Keystone City saw a familiar red-and-yellow streak rush past bystanders, a year since the city’s hero patrolled and protected its citizens. But now, as a ferry disaster threatens lives, colorful blurs herald the arrival of help. It’s not just the return of the Flash but the arrival of two new heroes. As far as the public’s concerned, they’re unnamed, but Wally West and his wife Linda know who they are: Jai and Iris Allen, their twin children. The kids have inherited their dad’s speed, but the powers manifest in different ways. Jai can alter his metabolism to grant himself temporary super-strength, and Iris has mastered molecular vibration, allowing her to phase through objects. This family of super-speedsters has a mystery to solve now: who or what caused the ferry accident? The Flash expects to find evidence of a colorful criminal’s involvement, but the answer he and his kids find is completely unexpected.
I had my doubts that Daniel Acuna’s style would be appropriate for The Flash. I’ve found his characters are often pretty static, and I wondered if he’d be able convey the impossible movement that’s inherent with this character. Thanks to the rich colors he employs in his art and some computer effects, Acuna proves he’s more than equal to the task. I also love the contrast between his pristine vision of the quiet, suburban, all-American life the Wests enjoy and the dark super-techscape hidden under their home. Both make for striking visuals but are as completely divergent as one could imagine.
I wasn’t wild about Jai’s and Iris’s hero costumes when they were previewed at the end of All Flash #1 last month, and I’m still not taken with them. I realize Acuna’s aiming for a more futuristic look, but the muted colors don’t capture the characters’ energy and the Flash motif is too understated. Furthermore, Acuna seems to struggle when it comes to illustrating Jai’s facial features. His face boasts a much more cartoony look than the other characters. It looks as though the artist had trouble balancing the character’s Asian heritage with his youth.
Speaking of problems with Jai, I had to read the book through twice before I happened upon the character’s name. It’s only mentioned once that I noticed, while Iris is identified by name often. The mention of Jai’s name comes far too late in the book as well. It’s a minor quibble, but this is the character’s introduction, after all. Still, I like the name. It’s a nice acknowledgement of the Flash lineage while also serving as a nod to Linda’s Asian heritage.
Others have likened this new direction to The Incredibles, and it’s easy to see why. Both feature super-hero families struggling to balance normal lives with their extraordinary circumstances. But there’s a different dynamic at play here, and that’s the outsider in the family. Though Linda’s been included in the super-side of family life as something of a remote coach and family doc, she has no powers. From the dialogue and Acuna’s art, it’s clear that she’s not as satisfied with this new life as her loved ones are. She spends time with her kids in the lab setting, but they don’t want to be there. Waid is clearly exploring a typical dynamic of Dad as the fun one and Mom as the reluctant party pooper. I certainly hope Waid explores the divide Linda perceives between her and the rest of her family and how that impacts her relationship with her husband.
There are two corporate entities publishing super-hero comics set in the DC Universe these days. There’s Dark DC, the publisher issuing such titles as Black Adam: The Dark Age and Checkmate. And then there’s Happy DC, which boasts such books as The Brave and the Bold, Metal Men and The All-New Atom. The Flash, now restored to its original numbering, is in the latter camp. The former has a place, but I’m enjoying the more traditional, lighter approach to the genre these days. Mind you, just because there’s an old-school appeal to be found in The Flash, that doesn’t mean it’s not smart or inventive. Waid’s script boasts a couple of interesting sci-fi concepts, and more importantly, it boasts some genuine human emotions at the heart of the story. But there’s also a sense of fun and an implied suggestion that the reader shouldn’t take some plot elements too seriously. Waid balances the hero’s memory of the terror of the twins’ emerging hypermetabolism with the snicker-inducing image of super-speed diaper changing. There’s a Silver Age sensibility at play here that reminds me of the World’s Finest stories featuring the Super Sons, Superman’s and Batman’s sons from an “imaginary” continuity. Some of the more over-the-top ideas provided in the expositional flashback are hard to swallow, but the script urges the reader to just accept them and enjoy the ride.
I’m more than happy to oblige. 7/10