January 24th & 25th
Ah, the 1980’s. MTV, Ronald Reagan, Rocky Balboa, The Terminator, Freddy Krueger, buddy cop movies, Pee Wee Herman, Jason Voorhees, Ollie North, contras. Sting, singing Russians. I could go on but I won’t, because boy the 80’s sucked but the decade did produce some great comics. Thus, when Comixology had their annual end of the year sale, I picked up a copy of this book. I read some – not all – of the issues back in the day, and wanted a complete collection. The writer, Mike Baron, wrote a number of quality comics in the 80’s – Nexus, Badger, The Punisher – and of course The Flash.
First things first: this is a very different Flash. Barry Allen, temporarily dead, is replaced by his youthful sidekick Wally West. Wally has been depowered– he can’t break the sound barrier, has to eat two or three times the amount of a normal person, and passes out after he uses his super speed.
Wally himself is written like a 20-year old. An immensely privileged, stupid lucky 20-year old. He buys a lottery ticket and becomes a multi-millionaire. His mom moves in with him and he can’t bring himself to throw her out. His girlfriend is a decade older than him. She’s also married, and when her husband finds out he injects himself with a steroid that gives him super strength and speed and tries to kill Wally. As happens in superhero comics.
Other standout villains in this volume include Vandal Savage, a caveman who dresses like a French lord and designs a highly addictive drug that grants its users super speed. The Chunk is a human event singularity who must consume 47x his weight or implode. The people Chunk consumes are transported to an apocalyptic hellhole. Despite this, Chunk isn’t exactly Doctor Doom, and is written more as a misguided soul than a villain.
This is a nice run by Mike Baron, who only stuck around for 14 issues plus an annual. The issues move fast, pun intended, and there’s an endearing weirdness to the stories, most of which are inspired by the 1980’s – Max Headroom, drug epidemics, the Cold War, ‘roid rage. Wally himself isn’t portrayed in a very heroic light, whether he’s having an affair with a married woman, puttering around his Long Island mansion, or going to parties hosted by Mafia Dons. He’s written as materialistic and horny, a man incapable of saying no to any woman. Unsurprisingly, most of his relationships are shallow and dysfunctional. This was all part of DC’s grand experiment of giving their heroes personalities. It didn’t go on long, but it sure was interesting while it lasted.
I recommend this graphic novel. The first comic book I ever bought was an issue of The Flash, back in 1978 when Barry Allen wore the scarlet tights. I’ve read a lot of Flash since then, and I am here to say that Wally is a more interesting character than Barry Allen ever was. The powers that be might have brought Barry back, but Wally will always be my Flash.