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Sunday Slugfest: The Flash #7

Posted: Sunday, December 12, 2010
By: Thom Young

Geoff Johns
Scott Kolins
DC Comics
As he breaks into prison on a personal mission, Captain Boomerang’s internal monologue is about his history of who he is and how he came to be.

Robert Tacopina:
Chris Kiser:
Thom Young:

Robert Tacopina:

After a rather enjoyable opening arc, the newly re-launched Flash monthly finds itself in familiar territory. Not only has Geoff Johns reunited with Scott Kolins, whom he had previously worked with on the classic Flash run from the Wally West era, but they are also using a similar formula in the telling of their stories--one that worked so well in the past.

Taking a step back from the title character and focusing on his always-entertaining rogue’s gallery, Johns & Kolins opt to place none other than the recently resurrected Captain Boomerang (Digger Harkness) in the spotlight. This particular issue (#7) serves as a nice look into Boomerang’s childhood and how he first became acquainted with the weapon that gave him his nom de guerre. However, there are certain moments in the issue that felt terribly clichéd and which were telegraphed to the reader from a mile away--most notably, the matter regarding Digger’s parentage.

The real substance are the predicaments that Geoff Johns allows the character to be placed into as he struggles to regain his identity and make sense of the fact that he has been brought back from the dead for reasons unknown to him. Desperate for a resolution, Digger breaks into Iron Heights Penitentiary where he hopes to find the answers he seeks.

Johns tells a nice origin-esque tale of Captain Boomerang. Even though part of the plot was clichéd it still was constructed well enough to stand on its own and provide an entertaining read. However, even though I enjoyed Kolins’s art, I did miss Francis Manapul’s art a great deal. Manapul’s style has grown on me so much during the first six issues of this series that it felt like an inopportune time to change things up. Still, Kolins has been here before and knows how to tell a Flash story, and what he turned in was another great Flash piece of art.

I have found myself enjoying the series, and this issue was yet another great addition to the current run. The cliffhanger has me waiting desperately to see what happens next. Flash #7 was a very fun book even though the title character was really nowhere to be found.

Chris Kiser:

Geoff Johns’s initial stint on The Flash may very well have been the writer’s magnum opus, a distinction earned in no small part due to his treatment of that series’ villains--the so-called Rogues. Crucial to the plot of nearly every arc, the Rogues were most notably featured in a scattered set of standalone origin issues that are frequently named among fans’ favorites.

Given that success, it should come as no surprise that Johns once again whips out the Rogue-centric formula for use in the latest Flash volume, this time devoting an entire issue to Captain Boomerang. While it may not be quite as moving and poignant as previous efforts, there’s no denying that at least some of the magic Johns conjured up on his first Flash run has been recaptured.

As it was back then, this issue’s narrative is crosscut between present day events and flashback scenes of Boomerang’s origin and formative moments. The goal is to establish a theme for the Rogue’s life that serves to contextualize the situation in which he currently finds himself, yet it is only partially effective.

To Johns’ credit, the boomerang-as-karma metaphor he comes up with here is fairly clever, but it fails the test of consistent application. We’re told repeatedly via Boomerang’s running narration that the bad things he has seemingly escaped at various points in life always return to him, but this idea isn’t strongly reinforced by the events of the story. There’s certainly plenty of tragedy to be had, but none of it really matches the ghosts-from-the-past motif that is suggested.

You’d think that the return of Scott Kolins, Johns’s original artist for these Rogue-based issues, would help smooth over some of the aforementioned cracks, but this isn’t the Kolins we once knew. Since he last worked on The Flash, Kolins has altered his style away from the squiggly lines and tiny details that once gave the Rogues so much of their visual charm.

Somewhat ironically, Kolins’s current choice of aesthetic quite closely matches that of this book’s regular artist, Francis Manapul, and the unavoidable comparisons don’t do the former any favors. Kolins’s shift may eventually make for a nice consistent look to his pages alongside Manapul’s in a trade collection, but there’s no denying whose work is more pleasing to the eye.

However, despite the flaws in this comic, there are a number of qualities that turn it into an overall enjoyable read. For starters, the strong and distinct voice that Johns always manages to lend to his Rogues remains intact, helping to portray Boomerang as both a scoundrel and a relatable character.

Even better is the way in which the story’s climax, involving Boomerang’s reason for breaking into prison, sets up promise for this book’s future in ways that its introductory story arc did not. After six issues of a time travel caper that didn’t capitalize well on the strengths of the character’s mythos, I’m finally excited to pick up the next issue of The Flash--which is why I’ll be sticking with this book for the foreseeable future.

It’s likely that Johns’ best days writing the Scarlet Speedster are behind him, but The Flash #7 is a high point for a series that seemed deserving of being cast aside just a few months prior.

Thom Young:

Dating back to the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, DC’s history is filled with iconic heroes that have had either explicit or implicit connections to one or more of the world’s mythologies--not just the so-called Trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but also the second-tier heroes of Green Lantern (the Aladdin and the Genie myth), Flash (Hermes), and Hawkman (Horus) have always stood out as distinct superheroes.

However, for all of the company’s success at creating iconic heroes, the villains for these heroes have mostly lagged behind in the iconic status. Superman had Lex Luthor in 1940, but then had to wait 18 years for Brainiac to show up in 1958 (and that second-greatest Superman villain didn’t actually become a popular villain until 1961). Batman, on the other hand, had two iconic villains show up in Batman #1 in 1940--The Joker, who appeared in five stories during his first year of existence, and Catwoman, who appeared in three stories during her first year (all in Batman at a time when that series was a quarterly).

Tellingly, the Joker appeared in 10 of the first 13 issues of Batman. Additionally, Batman has Two-Face, and an argument could be made for the Golden Age Penguin and Scarecrow to join the ranks of those great Batman villains, but I won’t make that case. Instead, I’ll add Ra’s al Ghul from 1971 to the list of DC’s iconic villains. However, beyond that list--Luthor, Brainiac, Joker, Catwoman, Two-Face, and Al Ghul--there aren’t any great villains for DC’s other iconic heroes. Fans of the Cheetah may disagree, but the third member of DC’s Trinity doesn’t really have an iconic villain.

However, there have been some iconic villains among the second-tier villains. Yet, despite the sense that Vandal Savage and Solomon Grundy are iconic villains that date back to the Golden Age, they only appeared in two and four Golden Age Green Lantern stories, respectively. Of course, the Silver Age Green Lantern had better luck with an iconic villain with Sinestro.

However, then the list of DC’s big name villains falls short until we consider those characters who were created with no particular iconic hero in mind--Eclipso (whose star has faded), Kobra (whose star began to fade as soon as Jack Kirby left the character after the first issue), and Darkseid (whose star has been growing considerably brighter this year with the re-release of The Great Darkness Saga, the character’s television appearances on both Smallville and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and recent flashback appearances in several DC series during the past few months.

So, what does all of this have to do with Flash #7? Well, with the possible exception of Gorilla Grodd, the Scarlet Speedster (in all of the character’s various incarnations from the Golden Age to the Resurrection Age) has never had a singular “iconic” villain. Instead, the Flash has always had his Rogue’s Gallery of second-tier villains--with the idea of the Gallery being the iconic aspect of the mythos rather than the individual rogues who make up that gallery.

Of course, when Geoff Johns took over the character’s mythos in 2000, one of the things he set out to do is upgrade the individual rogues to something akin to iconic status. To some extent he succeeded, but his real success was in increasing the iconic sense of the Gallery rather than elevate the individual rogues (though a case could be made that Captain Cold has become more important in the post-Johns version of the Rogues Gallery).

With issue #7 of the current iteration of The Flash, Johns has turned his attention to Captain Boomerang, who was always one of my favorites when I was a kid--probably because I had a wooden boomerang toy that I could never manage to come back to me whenever I threw it in my backyard. While the first six issues of this series did not excite me (though neither did they drive me away from the series), I thoroughly enjoyed this month’s issue.

To some extent I wish the regular penciler, Francis Manapul, could have drawn it, but Scott Kolins does an admirable job in imitating Manapul’s style in the flashback scenes while using his own recent style in the contemporary scenes. I am eager to keep reading this series, and I halfway hope Johns gets around to updating Barry Allen’s oldest villain--Turtle Man, who has appeared in only two stories after his initial appearance in Showcase #4. If any Flash villain deserves to be the speedster’s iconic nemesis it’s Turtle Man.

As they are wont to say here in Maryland, “Fear the Turtle!”

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