Sep 21, 2017

Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse, the First and Last Years

For Better or For Worse could be so beautifully good, you’d take it for granted. It was a surety, like Peanuts being enjoyable or chocolate generally tasting good. Smarter than Calvin and Hobbes, better characterization than Mary Worth, cooler soap than Crankshaft or Funky Winkerbean. It was just always there. Lynn Johnston would balance the true to life with the truisms, the real people with the imaginary events, and it all seemed right.

That Your Wagon Over There, Ma’am?
Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse, the First and Last Years
Travis Hedge Coke

What strikes me, looking a the 1979 strips, is how beautiful they look, how every panel counts, the balance of visuals, the line work. Johnston’s avatar in the comic, Elly, looks amazing, whether dressed to the nines, beleaguered after a day of children, housework, and worry, or panicking with a face full of mask when her husband brings home company with no warning. That’s a woman I could be. That we all can be, whether woman or man, regardless of race or class. She’s such a genuine person, you could find yourself there.

The husband is a broader sketch. He’s a broader sketch than the main character or any of the children. The children are individuals, and so too, is he, but he’s there as something to bounce off, to react to. They’re people.

By 2008, John is a person, too. But, our heroine has become everything. “I look at my flappy arms and my droopy buns, and I say, ‘Yes, this is me!’! This is Meee This is Meee” she sings in one strip, dancing barefoot before standing, tummy sticking out, jowly, and thinks, “It still sucks to be me.” The very next strip, she’s being told that “We’ve earned our lines.” That she was a great mom and is a grandparent now. Then, the series went back to reprinting from the first year again, giving further weight to those old strips, greater gravitas.

2008 For Better or For Worse glows for me, when the new strips’ sense of age and passing reverberate new light on some of the earliest ’79 strips’ anxieties and ideologies. But, the art, too, shifting from the looser, wavy line to the short jaunting strokes and weighted curves of the new stuff, creates a friction that surpasses both. It makes it clear how home ’79 strips are, how comforting and reassuring even with their anxiousness, because of the anxiousness, really. 2008, with paunch and optimism, condescension and  fatalism, is a different beast. It’s not being able to go home again, even if home is in the very next strip and the one the week before where you are.

The magic is lost, but the loss is its own important glamour.

The words, “His doctor thinks it’s depression that makes him so… slow. I do what I can. But I can’t bring back his ability to speak or to dance or to play guitar… His cup is half full. But he thinks it’s empty —”

When someone has to say, “Elvis is not old! Charlie Chaplin is old. Flappers are old —”

When one grandmother says, “The world was on our shoulders,” and the other looks down at her widened thighs and says, “Maybe that’s why we’re shaped like this —”

The comic goes back and forth between strips from both eras, about dishwashing and chores. John, the husband, doing chores in the present, and how Elly, our window and heroine, can’t quite process it, intermixed with strips of her saying men and women should share the household duties to friends, and in private, her husband thanking her for “not telling them the truth.” She even smiles when he says that, and he holds her. It was sharp back then, but given the weight of decades… maybe I should just drift off here.

Elly’s daughter, Elizabeth, has her mother’s old smirk. The smile of someone convincing themselves that they’re smiling. But, Elizabeth has a real smile, too. A genuine smirk. And, it’s climbing up through the artifice for it that strengthens the beauty and intensity of that reality.

The younger daughter, April, never needs that. She’s neither her father nor her mother. But, the love and respect she has for her mom is awesome. She’s smart, she’s responsible. Even more than the little kid characters, April is the endgame. April is the future. Liz is getting a wedding dress, Elly is getting fed up with her husband (and throwing a glove at him in what is a pretty passive-aggressive condemnation), and April is just April. School, friends, family, running errands and most important of all things, she knows when to stay out of the way.

It begins with Elly and John. It ends with Liz and Anthony’s marriage and Elly’s father, Jim’s second wife, Iris, explaining what marriage should mean. There’s a coda and then it’s over. The son barely shows, the final year, despite dominating the first. His story had gone beyond or gone away. And, Liz is Elly at a new angle, a new model of an old reliable. But, April, born only halfway through the whole run, is the bolt that holds the pageantry and sag of the final year aloft.

Sep 19, 2017

Is Spider-Man Still Marvel's Flagship Character?

As human beings, we are always fascinated by the alpha dog.  The person that owns the room through a combination of charisma, skill, or success.  In sports, this manifests itself in endless debates over who is the best player on a team, in the league, or of all time.  In music, this is very clearly represented by the fascination with the lead singer.  The bassist doesn’t often get the interview requests.  There’s a mystique involved with being the lead character on a television show, or a bonafide movie star.  There’s an entire industry built upon following the personal exploits of these people.  In comics, a medium where fictional characters are usually the most important aspects, this phenomenon is represented in the idea of the flagship character.  For a long time, the flagship character for DC comics, and comics as a whole, was Superman.  He was the genesis of the entire genre after all.  For Marvel comics, it has been Spider-Man since the very beginning of the Marvel explosion.  He is the character that best represents the company’s entire approach to storytelling, and he literally represents them on their corporate stationary.  But in recent years, it’s become fair to ask…

Is Spider-Man Still Marvel's Flagship Character?
Ben Smith

The short answer is yes.  So, if that’s all you wanted to know, you could stop reading now, but please don’t.  The long answer is yes, because of the larger multimedia landscape.  Spider-Man still has the most merchandise, is the first and second choice for a new animated series, and has the best video games in the Marvel family.

However, the explosion in popularity of the comic book movie has put this unimpeachable status into doubt.  For whatever reason, movies still retain top status in the entertainment world.  Even with the rise of an on-demand society, and the ever-steady evolution in quality of the television show, a blockbuster movie still carries more weight than anything.  Ironically, it’s because of bad movie business deals that the title of Marvel’s flagship character is in doubt in the first place.  So, let’s break down the pros and cons of each contender.    


The argument for: Wolverine has been steadily making the climb towards Marvel’s most popular character in the comics for several decades.  One of the interesting things about the four characters I’m going to discuss is how they represent opposite ends of the spectrum from each other.  Wolverine is the complete opposite of Spider-Man as a character.  Spider-Man in many depictions represents youth, one of Wolverine’s defining characteristics is that he’s very old.  Spider-Man is steadfastly and vocally against killing, while again, Wolverine’s initial hook was all about how he was willing to kill.   Spider-Man is defined by his mistakes and his real world struggles, Wolverine is the guys that’s been around the block twice and always thinks he knows best, and usually does.

I could go on, but the basic point here is that Wolverine is more appealing to a teenage to young adult audience.  The struggles of Peter Parker works well in a printed visual medium, where the voice of the character is literally your own voice in your own head as you’re reading.  You can relate to him more, because you have to actively internalize him as a fundamental aspect of reading.  So all the mistakes and all the, let’s face it, whining isn’t as aggravating when you’re reading it in your own head.  Wolverine flat out kills people, has knives in his hands, a secret mystery spy background, fights ninjas, is unkillable, I could go on.  He’s basically every masculine trope thrown into a big pot and drawn in a cool costume.

The X-Men and Spider-Man movies basically kick-started the dominance of the comic book movie.  While I think, as a whole, the Spider-Man movies have been better over the past 17 years, the X-Men movies have one advantage that moviegoers seem to value more, consistency.  As good as Spider-Man: Homecoming was, there was still a level of eyeroll included because it’s the third version of the character since 2001.  In contrast, Hugh Jackman has been playing Wolverine since the beginning, and while I was never completely on board with him as that character, the sheer amount of time and output with him in the role has worn me down.  Going back to the coolness factor, it’s hard for Spider-Man: Homecoming to win fans over in the same year that we finally get the R-rated, noir-flavored, Wolverine finally let loose, joy that was the Logan movie.

The argument against: If the best possible representation of your character in a movie has to be R-rated, that has to count against you in terms of representing your multimedia company across all platforms.


The argument for: Captain America has had the strongest film series out of the Avengers group.  Superheroes are one of the great American inventions, and there’s nobody that epitomizes that more than the character that wears the American flag as part of his costume.  He represents the best of us and is the moral compass of the universe.  Chris Evans might actually be Captain America in real life.  He’s arguably the purest representation of a hero that deserved to be powerful before he became powerful.  He’s very much a perfected amalgamation of the “greatest generation” that fought for and saved the world in WWII.  More on that later when I discuss our next contender.

The argument against: Captain America may have had the best film series, but only because he had help from the rest of the established Avengers team.  Black Widow played a significant role in The Winter Soldier, and Civil War was for all intents and purposes an Avengers film.  Captain America may be the ultimate American superhero, but for a medium that has for a long time expanded into a worldwide phenomenon, that’s not necessarily a good thing.  I can imagine it’s harder for your favorite Marvel character to be Captain America when you’re growing up in Japan, or Australia.  For the moral compass of the universe, Steve Rogers was essentially in the wrong for all of the Civil War movie.  He had good reasons for resisting registration, but everything he did in the story was based solely on his loyalty toward his childhood friend.  He just so happened to be right in the end, because there was a larger conspiracy in play, but that was purely by accident.  He very much operates on the same side of the spectrum of “too righteous to be interesting” that Spider-Man and Superman occupy.  

(Quick tangent, like I said before, Superman was unquestionably the flagship of DC comics for several decades.  I don’t think it’s even an argument that Batman now holds that title.  Batman combines the cool factor of Wolverine with the marketability and righteousness of Spider-Man, the competency of Captain America, and the technical savvy of Iron Man.  No matter what, Batman will always be the top dog when it comes to superheroes from this point on.) (Ugh. -Duy)


The argument for: I mentioned before that the diminishing status of Spider-Man was partly Marvel’s own fault.  Before they became their own movie studio, they licensed out the movie rights for Spider-Man to Sony, and the X-Men to Fox.  You could argue the only reason Marvel even made Avengers movies, is that when they decided to finance and produce their own films, the Avengers were the top characters they had left available to them.  It’s because they are definitively so much better at it than both Sony and Fox, that Wolverine and Spider-Man are now suffering because of it.  Marvel may have been forced to use the Avengers, but what nobody could have foreseen is that Iron Man happened to be the perfect hero for our modern age.  

Iron Man being discussed as a viable contender to be Marvel’s flagship character is absolutely inexplicable for longtime comic book fans.  Iron Man’s continued relevance over the years was based solely on his status as one of the original Marvel heroes, a Stan and Jack creation, and a founding Avenger.  He was replaced as Iron Man for several years, back before that was a regular thing, and his most notable storyline for the first 40 plus years of his publication history involved him being an alcoholic.  Which isn’t exactly a rip-roaring action-packed good time.

What changed was a perfect combination of factors working in his favor.  First, Marvel had no access to their “best” characters, so they had to use the Avengers to start their movie franchise, and they coincidentally started with Iron Man.  Next, our technology as a species is expanding at an exponential rate, and nobody taps into that better than Tony Stark.  (This places him as a direct opposite to Captain America, the physical embodiment of an analog generation.  The morally perfect manly-men that saved the world, vs the tech-savvy emotionally flawed generation of today.  Civil War seemed so natural for a reason.)  Lastly, they got the perfect actor to play Stark in the form of Robert Downey Jr.  He has become the perfect centerpiece for this ever-expanding film universe that is dominating the movie industry.  Even though Iron Man 2 and 3 are heavily flawed films, they remain entertaining solely thanks to the charisma of RDJ.

The argument against: Which is where the problem begins.  Will Iron Man be able to maintain this level of success after Robert Downey Jr. inevitable no longer inhabits the role of Tony Stark?  The larger public’s increasingly tepid response to each successive Spider-Man (even though I personally think each iteration has only gotten better) suggests this is going to be a major obstacle for the MCU going forward.

As I said in the beginning, I believe Spider-Man remains Marvel’s flagship character almost by default.  The success of the Avengers films has carried over into the comic book world, where that franchise has replaced the X-Men as the dominant franchise at the company.  Spider-Man has had more than his fair share of fan controversies this millennium, fair or not, so there’s an unknown percentage of his audience that still feels alienated as a result (I argue it’s small, but there’s no denying a percentage exists).  Fox still owns the license for the X-Men, so it’s only natural to believe that Marvel isn’t pushing their mutants as hard as they used to, both in comics and multimedia.  There’s no telling what kind of media legs Captain America and Iron Man will have once Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. move on, respectively.  The only character that has a proven track record of success across all platforms over the course of decades, is Spider-Man.

But his lead is shrinking.  It will be interesting to see if he has a figurative Batman ready to surpass him, like the actual Batman did to Superman.  Maybe it’s Deadpool.  I like Deadpool.  

All images in this column courtesy of the greatest multimedia artist in comics history, Bill Sienkiewicz.

Sep 18, 2017

EC Comics' Judgment Day - Simultaneously Outdated and Still Relevant

If ever you're feeling bad about the racial dynamics of the world today, and if ever at the same time, you want to read some classic quality comics, take a trip back to 1953 and EC Comics' "Judgment Day." Originally published in Weird Fantasy #18 and written by Al Feldstein and drawn by Joe Orlando, it is one of the most important comics stories that's ever been published

This seven-page futuristic story revolves around an Earthman named Tarlton landing on Cybrinia, the Planet of Mechanical Life, one of Earth's colonies. He's greeted by a bunch of orange robots, and is quickly shown how they are mass produced and made, from construction to sheathing to being placed in the "educator," where their mechanical brains are endowed with all knowledge available to society.

All is well and good until Tarlton realizes that the orange robots and the blue robots are treated differently.

He asks to be shown where the blue robots are made, and he makes a point.

At the end of the story, he takes his helmet off.

That's it. That's the twist ending. In an era in a company known for ironic twist endings, "Judgment Day" ends with the revelation that the main character is black. It's impossible to feel the full impact of it now, but in 1953, this was huge.  It's almost definite that anyone reading it defaulted to Tarlton being a white guy. In an era where Ebony White was seen by some as an advancement for portrayals of black people, Tarlton is important.

So we've got a long way to go, but I think the fact that this particular twist ending wouldn't have the same impact today shows we've come quite a way. The arguments are different now. The institutional racism that Tarlton talks about in this story still exists, but now we know that when a minority holds any positon of power, it shouldn't come as such a surprise.

To aspiring creators, I hope this also exemplifies how you can use science fiction to talk about contemporary issues.

Here's the story in full. Click to enlarge and read this story that would undoubtedly be called SJW propaganda if it came out today.

Sep 15, 2017

Archie and The Art of Character Design

September, 1947, Pep Comics #63, a gag short called The Mix-Up. This is old big-teeth Archie, but he's not quite as grotesque a caricature as early Archie Andrews can be. He's not an everyman, either. You could pick this dude out of a lineup easy. And, that's important, it's part of what helps Archie last decade after decade.

Archie and The Art of Character Design
Travis Hedge Coke

 "Sharp as a gumdrop," Archie may be, with his bowtie and idiosyncratic pants, but it's more important, to me, that whatever the expression meant back then, if anything, it fits now, too. He looks like a guy who thinks gumdrops are sharp.

His dad, too, is both individual and clearly his dad, without even needing to glance at the dialogue. He has a dad look, but also the expression of a man with a full and taxing life.

 And, Mama Andrews! That is a marvel of a design. Her face holds a new expression every panel, for her husband's one hangdog look, but the cut of her collar, her décolletage also communicates with an expressiveness. Seriously, The same collar is angry, is surprised.

Clothes, body language, body type, and faces all play strong roles in making these people, not types.

Note, when a salesman comes into play, while he has some of Archie's dopiness, the clothes set him immediately apart. The vertical lines of his suit do as much as his lack of chin to make this a particular man.

At the shop, the two workers are set apart by age but also by the style of cartooning. The older man, his head slightly oversized, is a caricature, while the younger is a cartoon so generic he could be the common man avatar of a thousand hopeful submissions bucking for a syndicated strip.

One last style change lies in wait to shake us up. The appearance of Veronica is like lightning. She's sexy, sure, she's our first young, and codedly available woman, but she also, simply, is not laid out like the others. The dysmorphic cartooning that gets you get lines lies not in parallel but in full stop.

Compare the elder Andrews ' silhouettes to Veronica's. While other characters are blown up for caricature or distended into broadness, she is tightened down, lifted up. And, here is where I remind you that this is a high school girl. Because, it is. She's a hypersexualized full stop, and she's a teenage kid. The design does not invite us to consider both simultaneously, downplaying any kid aspect. That's a little creepy, but it also is supremely necessary if these characters are to last as long as they have and will.

Sep 12, 2017

Reclaiming History: Len Wein

Len Wein passed away yesterday, at the age of 69. Len was one of the first comics personalities I was aware of, but when I racked my brain for stories that stuck out to me, I found I could barely think of any. Len was one of the writers at the forefront of the Bronze Age of Comics, which is stylistically and fundamentally my favorite era of superhero comics. But if not specific stories, what did make Len stick out to me? Let's count the ways...

How Len Wein Changed Comics
by Duy

The age of writers in comics, not counting writer/artists like Will Eisner and Jack Kirby and Carl Barks, can be clearly demarcated by one man: Alan Moore. Prior to Alan, the focus both commercially and creatively tended to be on artists. Even Stan Lee's most acclaimed works during the Silver Age were correlated to having Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko (you know, the two greatest artists of the Silver Age) being the main storytellers. Moore was the first superstar writer and paved the way for comics that tended to be more writer-focused, such as those by Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman.

As such, it's really easy to overlook the contributions of the writers prior to Moore and that wave of writers. I think Roger Stern is better than any of them at telling a straight-up superhero story, for example, but those guys break the rules and challenge conventions so much that it's hard to convince fans, hardcore or casual, for the most part of that. The writers prior to the British Invasion worked with the creative constraints placed upon them by commercial needs, and as such what you have is a group of writers who knew what worked within the rules and exercised them as well as they could. And within that structure, Len Wein did the following things.

Len Wein co-created Wolverine. That alone should have been enough to get him into the Hall of Fame, which he did in 2008. Wolverine is the first character not created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, or Steve Ditko to be a bonafide megastar in Marvel Comics. In fact, if we counted both DC and Marvel, he's the first bonafide icon post-1970, and he was the only one until maybe Deadpool showed up nearly two decades later. Wolverine was the perfect hero for the 1970s: someone who questioned the establishment, took no crap, and was ready to fight.

He would eventually under later writers become one of Marvel's most complex characters, a hero who embodied the issue of controlling anger in a more subtle and arguably more effective manner than the Hulk. But Wolverine wasn't a star off the bat. Created to be a Hulk antagonist and not much more, Len had too much faith in him and used him when....

Len Wein revitalized the X-Men and introduced a bunch of diversity. With artist Dave Cockrum, Len took a dying, failing franchise and breathed life into it. The All-New, All-Different X-Men was all of a sudden multiracial, including Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Storm.

Quite frankly, I think the diversity was really the missing piece from the X-Men. This was a title that centered around persecution and oppression. Inasmuch as being a mutant was meant to be a stand-in for being a minority, the diverse cast really drove that point home. Anyone can be different — and anyone can be born that way. Under later writers, the X-Men would become the biggest Marvel title, and the sales driver when the company finally overtook DC Comics as the market leader. What's more, think about this. The first X-Men movie is a turning point in Hollywood, to which a lot of today's film landscape can be traced. And that basically owes its success to Wolverine. Who was created by Len Wein.

(Fun fact: Did you know Storm is only the third female X-Man? This is a franchise known for diversity and it took them 13 years to introduce three women.)

Len Wein wrote the most beloved era of Justice League of America pre-Crisis. The first several years of Justice League of America were, to be frank, not very good. The art was rushed, the stories were too simplistic, and it was just flat-out boring. Len was not the first writer to take over and improve on the quality of writing, but he did take over by issue #100, stayed on for 15 issues, and wrote some beloved stories, including The Unknown Soldier of Victory, teaming up the JLA and the JSA with the Seven Soldiers of Victory; Crisis on Earth-X, which teams them up with the Freedom Fighters, characters bought from Quality Comics; and the introduction of the Injustice Gang.

All of these guys would go on to inspire a young man in Scotland named Grant Morrison, who would go on to become one of the most acclaimed writers ever. Morrison's modular magnum opus, Seven Soldiers, is in many ways a tribute to Len Wein, even arguably moreso than it was a tribute to Jack Kirby. That's some rarefied air, there.

Len Wein created Swamp Thing. He wrote a bunch of comics, and some of them were horror comics, such as The Phantom Stranger and his own co-creation, Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing is Alec Holland, a man who was turned into a plant monster, and one of the greatest horror characters in the superhero genre.

So if you're keeping tabs, Len Wein created Wolverine, Storm, Swamp Thing, Colossus, and Nightcrawler, and revitalized both the X-Men and the Justice League. If someone today had that kind of resume, he'd be a superstar writer and Hollywood would be knocking on his door. Back then, they did comics. And in the process, maybe, inspired more future comics creators.

Len Wein brought the British in. Early in the 1980s, Len Wein placed a call to Northampton, England, and asked Alan Moore how he'd like to work on Swamp Thing. After several minutes of Moore not believing that it was Len Wein for real on the phone (Alan Moore was starstruck by Len Wein. Think about that.), Moore took the job, and the rest is history. His biggest work, Watchmen, was even edited by Len.

Moore's success on Swamp Thing led to DC contacting more British writers, including Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman. These writers would form the foundation of Vertigo, DC's mature readers' imprint. Comics celebrated the writer more, and as a result, writers from prior to that invasion were somewhat overlooked. There's more than a little bit of dramatic irony there, but I'm not so sure Len really cared. He stepped aside on his own creation and gave it to someone who took it apart the moment he got it, and in the process raised the level of quality expected from comics.

I can only think of one Len Wein story off the top of my head. Everything else, I have to check to see if it's him and not another writer from that era. I can't really tell his work apart from many of the others who worked back then, which is not a bad sign because that was generally a good time for short self-contained stories. But what I remember is Len setting things up and letting people run with it. He created many characters that later writers would run with and make their name on. He wrote stories that later writers would play off of and pay homage to. He brought in the biggest influx of writing talent in the business, leading to his own work being overshadowed, even overlooked, except for the fans who were there.

Len Wein for the most part made it so that other people were in a position to succeed. I think that's his biggest contribution to comics. And there's something to be said about that.

Rest in peace, Len Wein.

Sep 8, 2017

Mike Baron's The Flash: The Effects of Realism in Superhero Comics

I remember reading Robert Kirkman once say that cutting Rick’s hand off in his hit comic series The Walking Dead was one of the worst decisions he could have made. In the world he had created, there was no way to fix that, so as a writer it was an unnecessary constraint he placed on his character that he would always have to address, and never be able to undo. In superhero comics, characters lose limbs or die or get new powers all the time, so there’s less weight on any new limitation a writer might want to establish, but that doesn’t make it less interesting to examine if those decisions help or hurt the storytelling process.

Mike Baron's The Flash: The Effects of Realism in Superhero Comics
Ben Smith

Following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wally West took over the mantle of the Flash from his dead mentor Barry Allen. The series was restarted with a brand new number one issue, and Mike Baron and Jackson Guice took over as the new writer and artist. Baron obviously was interested in exploring how a speedster would operate in the real world, and established several new limitations on the character to achieve that effect. It’s pretty much the perfect test case for how realistic constraints can help or hinder a superhero character.


For most of us in the real world, money is an ever present and pressing concern. In fiction, this is often not the case. Batman is the best example of how you can completely sidestep the need to ever address money, because he is a billionaire. Spider-Man is on the opposite end of that spectrum, or at least he used to be until he became the billionaire head of a technology empire. The point is, if you want to ignore boring real world concerns like money, make your character a billionaire. That’s exactly what Mike Baron did to Wally, by having him win the lottery. I’m perfectly fine with not having to hear about money problems in my entertainment, so I’m declaring this a good decision on his part. It even adds a few good story bits as Wally adjusts to his new life of wealth.


Let’s face it, it’s pretty unrealistic that a villain with a freeze ray could challenge a man that can run at the speed of light. Adding realism to the power set of a super speedster is a bit tough, so the best Baron could do was give Wally a top speed of 700 mph. 700 mph is still incredibly fast, but it’s a much more manageable number for a reader to wrap their head around. The average speed of a commercial jet is roughly 560 mph, so you can make the correlation to how fast Wally can run by comparing him to a jet in flight. It still isn’t that realistic if you really analyze it, but it provides the illusion of plausibility, so I’m fine with it as an established limitation. However, there is a downside once you tumble down the rabbit hole of super speed realism.


Just like money, eating and sleeping are everyday necessities for human beings that live in the real world. However, watching a person eat and/or sleep is one of the most boring things you can watch a person do, unless you’re creepy and weird. It actually makes sense that Wally would burn a lot of calories when he runs, all runners do. The problem is that once you establish that he needs to eat a lot of food or else he won’t have enough energy to use his powers, it’s something you can never stop addressing in the story, which Baron does constantly. It seems like Wally is referencing a need to eat on nearly every single page, and whenever he does actually use his powers he more often than not passes out from the effort. I get it, it makes him a lot less powerful if he has to regularly recharge and refuel. Realistic too, if you think of it in terms of how much sprinting long distances takes a toll on even the most well-conditioned athletes. It’s a very effective limitation in that respect, but that doesn’t make it entertaining to read about. I’m chalking this up as a mistake on his part.


When a hospital contacts the Flash to see if he can deliver a heart through a snowstorm to a transplant patient that is in desperate need of it, Wally agrees like any hero would, but on the condition that he receives something in return. In the real world, it’s reasonable to expect some form of compensation for services rendered, but in the world of comic books this is never even considered. This approach to heroism may be more pragmatic and relatable, but it also has the unfortunate side effect of making Wally look like a self-centered dick. In fiction, a character that gets paid to do good automatically looks less heroic than the character that doesn’t. (Luke Skywalker’s main concern is saving lives and saving the galaxy. Han Solo’s main concern is how much he’s going to get paid.) It may not be fair, but it’s true. Now, the result of this negotiation is that Wally gets free medical care from that hospital, which is something that a person that regularly gets into fights would need, so we can check off another real world problem that a superhero would have.

This practical approach to heroism is addressed by Wally in the comic, when he thinks about how Barry died heavily in debt, and the Justice League had to pay for him to even have a funeral. It’s reasonable for Wally to not want to have that happen to himself, but it only serves to contribute to him overall becoming a huge jerk. His Teen Titans girlfriend moves in with him when he buys a fancy big mansion, and then moves out just as quickly. Wally barely seems to notice, especially when he’s hitting on an attractive research scientist later in the same comic. It’s definitely an interesting change of pace, depicting a superhero as self-serving and borderline unlikable. It was actually one of my favorite aspects of reading these comics, which is probably a sign I’m getting older and crankier.

This selfish attitude also sets the groundwork for probably the most fully-realized character arc of any superhero in comic book history. As Wally gets older and matures, he becomes a better person and a better hero. He completes the journey from young self-centered jerk to a devoted husband and father, along the way fully supplanting Barry Allen as the Flash of the DC universe. This transformation is so effective, that it essentially provides an end to the story of Wally West, at least for entertainment purposes.

I enjoyed reading these comics again a lot more than I expected. I remembered having to force myself through them a lot more the last time. Again, probably a sign I’m getting crankier. (Incidentally, after the 1989 Batman movie briefly made me a DC fan as a kid, this Flash #1 was one of the more memorable comics I remember reading from that time. It’s no surprise the comics I keep coming back to and why.) Realism is always a slippery slope when it comes to superhero comics. The more you tug on that proverbial string, the more the whole illusion can unravel. But when it comes to these comics, they’re well worth your time, and like I said before, they’re the beginning of a fantastically satisfying run for Wally West as the Flash.

Plus, there’s Vandal Savage. Who doesn’t like immortal madmen bent on world domination?

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