Today’s Super Comics — Flash #80-83 (1993)

flash_v-2_80I know too much pointless trivia. I’m watching the latest episode of The Flash on TV, a new character is referred to as “Frankie,” and I instantly realize, “Oh, that’s obviously supposed to be Frankie Kane, a.k.a. Magenta, ex-girlfriend of Wally West back when he was Kid Flash and hanging out with the Teen Titans.” The TV version has a different backstory, of course, but yeah, the show captured the spirit of the character well.

I first came across the character from her guest appearances in Flash #80-83, the last three issues of which also feature guest appearances by Nightwing (Dick Grayson) and Starfire. It was a nice partial reunion of the greatest Teen Titans team, a good reminder about the longtime friendship between the original Robin and the original Kid Flash, and an excellent way to infuse some tension in the relationship between Wally West and Linda Park (whom we also met a version of in the TV show a while back).

Wally and Frankie were childhood friends and teenage sweethearts, and in #80 Frankie unexpectedly arrives in town, her magnetic powers wreaking havoc on her psyche (as they had since her debut in The New Teen Titans 11 years earlier). Between a super-powered ex, an alien princess, and a guy who grew up with Batman, Linda begins wondering how her ordinary self fits among Wally’s Superfriends. Meanwhile, Flash tries to help his old best friend through a crisis of confidence.

It’s a solid storyline of love, friendship, and action that raises the stakes at the end with a literal ticking clock.

Also, this is artist Mike Wieringo’s first storyline on the title, and his clean, kinetic style is a perfect fit for the character right from the start.

Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Mike Wieringo

Inker: Jose Marzaz, Jr.

Covers: Alan Davis & Mark Farmer

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The Flash #182 (2002)

flash_v-2_182Let’s continue the super-villain streak, shall we?

One of writer Geoff Johns’s big contributions during his tenure on The Flash was taking the time to flesh out each of the Rogues. Previously, most of Flash’s recurring enemies had been little more than recognizable nonentities. Their gimmicks would pose interesting obstacles for a speedster to overcome, but that was about it.

Johns devoted the occasional issue to one Rogue at a time, and #182 starred Captain Cold, who has since become rather prominent in DC’s television universe. The issue nicely balances expositional backstory with a modern-day plot that has personal stakes for the character. It’s also a Flash-free plot.

While we learn about Lenny Snart’s miserable childhood, in which the only two people he truly cared for were his grandfather and little sister, we watch the present-day Captain Cold on a revenge mission. There had been a cheap Captain Cold knockoff running around in earlier issues, another nonentity named Chillblaine. But Cold’s revenge isn’t about the guy copying his gimmick. No—this guy killed his sister, so Snart must avenge her.

Cold’s focus on a loved one humanizes him, and by the end of the issue, we view him as something more than Flash’s parka-wearing Mr. Freeze copycat.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Penciler: Scott Kolins

Inker: Dan Panosian

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; included in The Flash by Geoff Johns Book 2 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 11 and up

Today’s Super Comics — The Flash #201-206 (2003-04)

flash-201Nothing wrong with a change of pace once in a while, and that’s exactly what this Flash storyline is.

This Flash (Wally West) hadn’t kept his identity a secret since he took over his uncle’s mantle, but following tragic events in the previous storyline, a powerful being magically erased everyone’s knowledge of the Flash’s true name…including Wally’s. This sets the stage for a story of rediscovery (it’s almost Flash meets Hook, but far less upbeat).

The tone is darker than that of most Flash stories, and so is the color palette. Though the Flash is typically one of DC’s sunnier superheroes, Wally now works the overnight shift as a mechanic for the Keystone Police, thereby minimizing his exposure to daylight. Meanwhile, a new villain starts killing cops and framing Captain Cold for the murders. Alberto Dose’s art, particularly at the beginning, is pretty bleak and might make readers think they grabbed a Vertigo book by mistake.

Definitely not a typical Flash story—and I would never want this to be—but it works because it provides a sharp contrast to our usual expectations of a Flash story. And when that bright red streak starts cutting through the darkness, we remember why we love the character.

Writer: Geoff Johns

Artist: Alberto Dose

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Flash: Ignition (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 12 and up

Today’s Super Comic — The New Teen Titans #20 (1982)

New_Teen_Titans_Vol_1_20DC Comics’ best series in the early ‘80s was The New Teen Titans.

The Teen Titans debuted in 1964 as a way of teaming up the various teenage sidekicks, allowing them to shine outside their mentors’ shadows. Their series was cancelled twice in the ‘70s, and then they received the X-Men treatment.

Writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez reinvigorated the Titans franchise when they created The New Teen Titans, bringing together three old-school Titans from the classic sidekick mold (Robin, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl), a reworked Doom Patrol kid (Beast Boy, now Changeling), and three new characters (Raven, Starfire, and Cyborg). Like the X-Men, much of the series’ fun came from the interactions of its diverse cast of well-developed, interesting characters, each coming from a unique background. And the superhero action was pretty great, too.

Issue #20 serves as a good introduction to everyone. Ironically, the story is told from the point of view of perhaps the blandest character in the lineup, the one with the most straightforward, least interesting backstory—Kid Flash (Wally West, several years before he became the Flash for a long time). Wally is a reasonably well-adjusted 19-year-old who comes from a good home and has had the opportunity to be his hero’s sidekick. Not a fountain of angst there, just some basic indecision about what path to take in life and the standard-issue romantic confusion involving a teammate who once controlled his mind.

Wally writes a letter to his parents, and that frames the entire issue. In it, he details the Titans’ encounter with a young villain who is desperately trying to win his father’s love, and along the way we see how Wally is growing up a bit, realizing that whatever problems he has, other people, whether friends or foes, have it worse.

It’s an excellent lesson in empathy, and merely one of many great Titans issues from the Wolfman/Perez era.

Writer: Marv Wolfman

Penciler: George Perez

Inker: Romeo Tanghal

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; The New Teen Titans vol. 3 (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comics — JLA: Year One #1-12 (1998)

JLA_Year_One_1I loved this miniseries when it first came out, and it still holds up excellently. Written by Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn, JLA: Year One chronicles the formative days of the Justice League of America, when five novice superheroes—each destined for greatness—were learning how to be a team.

The Justice League tends to fall into a certain trap from time to time, one laid not by any super-villain but by its stars’ respective ongoing titles. Any major developments in Superman’s life, for example, should ideally happen in Superman’s solo books, and the Justice League title merely gets to borrow him at whatever his current status quo is. Nothing wrong with that necessarily; there is plenty of fun to be had in seeing DC’s greatest characters teaming-up and interacting in character as they save the world. Many a thrilling JLA story has followed the blockbuster format to superb effect.

But JLA: Year One enjoys the best of both worlds. It stars five great DC characters—the Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Black Canary, Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter. They’re all portrayed perfectly in character, but the series takes place in the past, minimizing the need to coordinate and share with other books. Sure, they can’t contradict their present-day counterparts, and you know none of them are going to die (because some are scheduled to die later), but they have no competing contemporary versions—hardly even in back issues either, thanks to DC’s mid-‘80s continuity reboot.

Thus, the characters are free to drive the story, and over the course of a year we get to watch them grow and develop as heroes. The big world-shaking events are still there, of course, but the characters come first. And they are terrific, classic characters indeed.

If this had been an ongoing series, I would’ve kept reading it.

Writers: Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn

Artist: Barry Kitson

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; JLA: Year One (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comics — Flash #74-79 (1993)

Flash_v.2_74I originally read Flash’s “The Return of Barry Allen” storyline back when it was just coming out and I was 9 years old, not long after I started reading comics in the first place. And it was the first comic book storyline to truly wow me—it may have made the difference between comics being a passing fad and something I’d still be reading nearly 25 years later.

At this point or shortly beforehand, I learned that the Flash I had just started reading, Wally West, wasn’t the original. Rather, he was the former sidekick Kid Flash all grown up and carrying on the legacy of his uncle Barry Allen, who died saving the universe several years earlier.

And in this storyline, Barry has apparently returned from the grave, which should be a dream come true for Wally. But Barry seems…different.

This isn’t some basic good vs. evil struggle. It’s about the balance between idolizing your hero and becoming your own person, about the importance of protecting a legacy, and about how it feels when your role model doesn’t live up to your expectations. The story may be called “The Return of Barry Allen,” but it’s really about Wally West growing up a little bit more.

With these issues, I learned that comic books could be so much stronger than Saturday morning cartoons.

Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Greg Larocque

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology; Flash: The Return of Barry Allen (TPB)

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up

Today’s Super Comic — Flash #102 (1995)

Flash_v.2_102Flash #102 may be just two super-powered dudes fighting each other for an issue, but once in a while, when done right, that kind of thing can provide plenty of good dumb fun. And this is absolutely done right.

The rationale for this extended fight scene is to showcase the Flash’s enhanced powers following the events of the previous storyline. So he’s pitted against Mongul, a powerful alien in Superman’s weight class. That’s an excellent choice on writer Mark Waid’s part, as it allows the Flash to play the underdog while showing just how far he’s come in his development as a superhero.

This kind of all-out action presents an opportunity for the artist to shine, and penciler Oscar Jimenez rises to the occasion with appropriately kinetic panels that keep the brisk story moving along at just the right speed.

It’s not deep stuff, but it sure is fun.

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Oscar Jimenez

Inker: Jose Marzan Jr.

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues; Comixology

Appropriate For: ages 10 and up

Today’s Super Comic: Flash #91 (1994)

Flash_v.2_91I’ve been a Flash fan since I was nine years old. Mark Waid’s stories in the early to mid-1990s greatly contributed to hooking me on comics for life.

So, in honor of tonight’s season finale of the CW’s often-fun Flash television series, let’s look at one of the many excellent issues from Waid’s run on the title. (People like to announce whether they intend their puns or not. I’ll let it remain a mystery for the ages.)

A recurring plot on the TV show this season has involved the Flash trying to increase his speed. In Flash #91, we see what happens when he succeeds in achieving a major boost.

This Flash isn’t Barry Allen, though. This is Wally West. I’m not spoiling anything because it was the status quo for many years, but Barry died long before this and his nephew (related through his wife Iris) graduated from being Kid Flash to the Flash. And at first, Wally was a far cry from the heroism of Barry Allen. Wally was a self-centered jerk early in post-sidekick tenure, but Waid’s stories focused on his gradual maturation.

Because of events from recent issues, Wally is determined to save everyone. No one can die because he was busy saving someone else. But when faced with the dilemma of needing to prioritize who to rescue, he employs Johnny Quick’s speed formula to enhance his powers…and winds up stuck at near-lightspeed, in a city that’s basically frozen to him.

Can the fastest man alive be everywhere at once? Really, can any of us do everything we feel we need to do? It’s a simple but surprisingly mature dilemma for the Flash, and Waid addresses it without resorting to any cynicism whatsoever. Whether you’re an adult or a kid, this is a fantastic short story that builds on what came before and tees up future plotlines.

Writer: Mark Waid

Penciler: Mike Wieringo

Inker: Joe Marzan Jr.

Publisher: DC Comics

How to Read It: back issues

Appropriate For: ages 9 and up