Saturday, September 29, 2007

Death Of Bart Allen: Flash Backward

The big reveal everyone’s been talking about finally hits stands as Bart Allen, the latest Scarlet Speedster, heads for that big marathon in the skies in The Flash: Fastest Man Alive #13. Rest in Peace, Bart Allen. It was inevitable that you would succumb to Didio’s killstick of death.

Remember those innocent days in the 1990s? People like to wholesale-bash the 90s as the comic book era of mega-crossovers, holographic covers, all-style-no-substance comics. But that’s rubbish. Spider-clone sagas aside, the 1990s brought us the Death of Superman, a brand-new Superboy, a retooled Legion of Superheroes, the wonder of Ordway’s Power of Shazam, Conner Hawke, the Birds of Prey, Morrison’s JLA run, Kyle Rayner, the joy of Young Justice, Waid’s classic run on the Flash and – last but not least - the infectious exuberance of a certain young speedster named Impulse. Not bad for a much-maligned era in comics. But these days, anything in the 1990s seems disposable at DC Comics.

When Dan Didio took over DC, there was a dramatic shift in tone that started with Identity Crisis. The new DC seemed to be intent on telling darker stories, while – ironically – changing many characters back to their Pre-Crisis, Superfriends-era constructs. All the changes wrought in the 90s (both good and bad, mind you) were undone. It sorta reads like Challenge of the Superfriends with an NC-17 rating. So, naturally, the light breezy fun of Young Justice and Impulse would need to be replaced in this new order. Geoff Johns re-imaged the Young Justice characters in a new Teen Titans series, with Bart emerging as the new Kid Flash. In Didio’s new DCDark, it seemed something had to be done with a character using emoticon thought balloons. Geoff Johns – to his credit - smartly retained a lot of Bart’s core personality and set him on a new ‘hero’s journey’ to start growing up in a new heroic identity.

Then came Infinite Crisis.

I won’t get into a whole critique of the series here, but there seemed to be a great desire to evoke a lot of the story beats of the first Crisis. Now, homages are all well and good. And certainly, the first Crisis has become a milestone, with certain panels and sequences that have been burned into the brains of fanboys far and wide. But some some of the story choices didn’t seem to be completely thought out. Exhibit A: Bart Allen becomes the Flash.

Now, wisely, DC didn’t kill Wally West; They merely took him ‘offstage’ for awhile. Poor Bart, though, was hyper-aged and brought make to evoke Wally’s sequence in Crisis on Infinite Earths #12, where he assumes the Flash mantle (a panel-by-panel recreation). The parallels are obvious. First Crisis: The 20-year old Wally West gives up his Kid Flash identity to assume the mantle of his fallen mentor, the Flash, and rockets into his ongoing (and successful) series. Infinite Crisis: The 20-year old Bart Allen gives up his Kid Flash identity to assume the mantle of his fallen mentor, the Flash, and rockets into his ongoing (and unsuccessful) series. Oops.

Flash: The Fastest Man Alive seemed like it had the success formula. Two Hollywood writers (comic book companies seem to hire anyone with a SAG card) and a ‘hot’ artist. Yet fans balked. Sure, sales were higher than the previous series, but that’s always the case with a new #1. The decline started immediately and that’s when it seems Bart was a marked man. But instead of trying to back-peddle and somehow restore the Bart fans liked to begin with... Well, death is the new order of the day at DCDark.

It’s a shame and a waste of a once-great character. Bart-as-Flash bore little resemblance to the Impulse character or even the Bart-as-Kid-Flash character in Teen Titans. By slowly stripping away his unique character traits, Bart became a DCDark character; The fun was sucked right out of him. And the sadder part is, as much as you may want to think it’s part of DC’s great master plan, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

In Didio’s analysis of the Countdown preview image, he mentions: “And then we also did one other bit, which may have been too subtle for the picture, and that was Flash having one foot on the statue and one foot off the statue, which meant that particular Flash, at that moment, had one foot in the grave.” Except, when you look at the picture... Neither of Flash’s feet are on the ground. Both are on the statue, According to Didio’s logic, that should keep Flash safe.

Then there’s something else... In this oh-so-meticulously crafted preview image, Flash’s eyes are blue. Bart’s eyes are yellowish-brown (consistently colored as yellowish-brown in both Teen Titans and Flash: The Fastest Man Alive). He's in Barry's costume. Barry has blue eyes. I don't believe that was Bart in that image-- but his series wasn't successful enough and they decided to kill him. And then also this: "Dan Didio inadvertently answered that the Flash in the teaser image released several weeks ago is Barry Allen and Red Robin is Jason Todd.." Hmmm...

Bart didn’t truly die at the hands of the Rogues. His death was the result of DC’s “act first and figure it out later” current editorial regime. It was more important to echo a segment in the first Crisis than to serve a mainstay character for the next ten years. It’s like they barely thought Bart-as-Flash through, and then just arbitrarily discarded him once they were done changing him beyond recognition. There’s a lot of talk about creators merely being “keepers” of these characters while they are working on them. Looks like someone needs to call Nanny 911.

I thought things were supposed to be brighter after Infinite Crisis. But I guess we are still stuck with DCDark, where character death is equated with “powerful storytelling.” Where old stories have to be ret-conned as “dark thrillers” with rape, death and gore we didn’t see that happened in-between those too-innocent panels. Where once-fun characters have to be changed into brooding heroes with psychological issue to be taken seriously.

Hey, isn’t THAT what we REALLY didn’t like about the 1990s?

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