Friday, July 29, 2011

I found a Barry Allen story I liked

On my plane ride back from Comic-Con International in San Diego on Sunday night, I re-read Mark Waid, Brian Augustyn and Mark Waid’s 12-issue JLA: Year One from 1998 in its entirety. It’s not the first time I’ve done this; JLA: Year One is one of my favorite trades I own and a story I like to revisit at least once a year for various reasons.

First, it’s wonderfully written as Waid doesn’t just turn in great work per usual, but is wonderfully complimented by Augustyn, who also helped steer his awesome Flash run as both an editor and co-writer. You won’t find many stories that better balance varied action with heartfelt character development while also throwing in resolutions and twists both clever and perfectly “comic book-y” in their fun goofiness.

Second, it’s Barry Kitson at his finest, and that’s saying a lot as I love Barry Kitson. He’s an artist who seems equally comfortable with Silver Age square-chinned heroism and bizarre sci fi flourishes as he is with modern dynamic storytelling and effects, so he’s the ideal choice to bring the tales of the original Justice League from the 1960’s into the present.

(At this point I guess I should note that JLA: Year One is the then-definitive and expanded telling of the Justice League’s first 12 months together with the post-Crisis On Infinite Earths, pre-Infinite Crisis/Final Crisis/New 52 continuity of Black Canary replacing Wonder Woman as a founding member as well as Superman and Batman’s roles having been minimized)

Third, it’s a giant Easter Egg fest with all my favorites from around the DC Universe dropping by in guest roles or cameos so Kitson can draw them, Waid and Augustyn can shoot them some dialogue, and you can get a sense where everything fits. The Justice Society, Superman, Doom Patrol and Green Arrow all get significant screen time—particularly the DP in an awesome two-parter—but there’s also nice bits for everybody from Batman to the original Blue Beetle, plus a funny little subplot with the Blackhawks and little in-jokes involving Ted Kord, Maxwell Lord and others.

Fourth and foremost (so I guess it should have been first), I love stories about super heroes coming together as allies and becoming friends along the way, putting the concept of a shared universe to full use. The five member JLA—Aquaman, Black Canary, Flash, Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter—start the series as tentative associates, but have their bonds forged, tested, broken and solidified several times over. I’ve always had a soft spot for team books in comics because I love camaraderie, and I’m a sucker for series like this or Joe Casey and Scott Kolins’ Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes where they take legendary groups that initially had pretty cut and dry “we’re teaming up to fight” origins back in the day and inject some heart and pathos.

However, this time around, I discovered yet another reason this is a great piece of work: It made me really like Barry Allen.

I think my negative feelings toward Barry Allen have become exaggerated over time, both by myself and others. I don’t hate Barry Allen, he’s just obviously not my Flash and as such I’m somewhat predisposed to look at him a bit negatively. I’m not against Barry Allen so much as I’m against anything that prevents Wally West from being the A-1 Fastest Man Alive and thus his flaws stand out to me.

My biggest knocks against Barry have always been that he was kind of bland and his heyday and also that his death was an amazing story but one that rendered him such an untouchable beacon of heroism that as a living character he becomes tough to relate to.

The first note is really a product of the period he was created in more than anything else; as the very first major hero of the Silver Age, Barry predated the more three-dimensional characters that would fill the next couple decades and thus emerged as a weird hybrid of stoic Golden Age champion and nerdy 50’s era science protagonist. He remained this way up through the 80’s and then missed out on getting reinvented the way most of his contemporaries did because he was the big Crisis sacrifice. Geoff Johns has already made inroads in updating Barry with a personality more compelling to a modern reader, but he had an uphill battle; I’m actually thinking the upcoming reboot will helps Barry perhaps more than many as being a couple years younger and having a cleaner slate could really benefit his development.

Then there’s that big Crisis sacrifice I mentioned. Barry Allen literally gave his life to save the multiverse by running so fast he destroyed the Anti-Monitor’s big ass weapon. You can’t really top that as a final act. He was perfectly cast from that point forward as the patron saint of the DC Universe; the role model Wally West can never really live up to and the hero of heroes everybody else speaks of in glowing reverential tones. It’s hard to pull a guy like that down from the heavens and have everybody treat him as just a dude again.

But in JLA: Year One, Barry Allen is years away from saving the multiverse and also anything but bland.

The cast in JLA: Year One is roughly analogous to the cast of a high school movie/TV show; Green Lantern is the cocky jock, Black Canary is the hot girl with an attitude, and Aquaman and Martian Manhunter represent the two stereotypes of foreign exchange student: brooding loner and well-meaning outcast. Barry Allen is the nice guy who lacks the bluster of GL, but is more confident than J’onn and more comfortable than Aquaman; Black Canary shows a romantic interest in him because he’s clearly the most well-adjusted and likeable of her options. If JLA: Year One were The Breakfast Club, Barry would be about halfway between Emilio Estevez and Anthony Michael Hall, which happens to be exactly where I think most readers—certainly myself—would identify themselves (Hal Jordan is halfway between Estevez and Judd Nelson).

Waid and Augustyn retain the heart of Barry’s Silver Age incarnation by showing his work life and having him display his scientific knowledge, but they don’t let his—for lack of a better term—nerd side define him. It’s not hard to figure out why a bombshell like Iris West is interested in him as while he may be chronically tardy, he is demonstratively caring and considerate toward her, not closed off and cerebral with a love interest just because the formula dictated it. Likewise, the dynamic between Barry and Hal makes sense; they may have different personalities, but they also have a starting commonality in this super hero life and look out for one another. I like the scene where Barry super speed paints a machine Hal needs to move yellow to blue so GL won’t be embarrassed that his ring won’t work on it, not because he’s trying to win the cool guy’s affection but because he’s a nice guy and they’re genuinely becoming friends; it’s a little thing, but it makes him more human.

The romantic subplot between Flash and Black Canary is one I enjoy as well. For one, the cool girl gravitating towards the soft spoken gentleman as opposed to the bombastic loudmouth will always be a winner with the geek crowd. But Barry’s end does a lot to flesh him out as well. Of course he’s attracted to the gorgeous girl he can talk to about the things he needs to hide from his fiancĂ©e and who is expressing interest in him over the more obvious choices; again, he’s only human. That he weakens, that they share a kiss, builds the drama but also adds a layer of vulnerability and flaw to him that he never had in his original incarnation; that he ultimately chooses Iris makes him a guy we still look up to.

But without a doubt my favorite scene really in the entire series is when the entire team is on the verge of breaking up despite the threat of an alien invasion looming because they feel like they can’t trust each other, as they’re going their separate ways Flash pulls off his mask and then it flips to a full splash page close-up of his face with him saying “My name is Barry Allen. I’m a forensic scientist with the Central City Police Department.” The rest follow suit, revealing their identities, and then the Justice League charge off to save the day.

It’s not running to his death on a treadmill of doom to save countless universes, but it’s still the turning point moment and it’s still The Flash who gets it done.

Barry steps up in that moment because he is the leader of the team, though that’s a fact they’ve only just acknowledged. He’s the leader not because he’s the loudest, the most confident or the most powerful, but because they trust him. Because he’s a good guy. He’s not the token scientist or the guy who gives his life to save reality; he’s just a good, solid guy doing his best.

That’s a Barry Allen I’m very interested in reading more about.

Upcoming in September, a new era begins for The Flash and there’s great potential we could be following the adventures of a Barry Allen more along these lines. He’s going to be younger. Hopefully he’ll be a bit more at ease with himself as he was in this series. Hopefully he won’t have the Crisis sacrifice hanging over his head like a Sword of Damocles forcing everybody around to walk on eggshells around him. Francis Manapul seems like he’s got great enthusiasm for the character so I’m excited to see where he takes him.

And I implore him to check out JLA: Year One.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Art Attack: October 2011's Coolest Covers

Ah, what better way to push past the post Comic-Con hangover than with some sweet covers for Halloween time...

-Travel Foreman's Animal Man covers are super unsettling. That's a good thing because I notice them.

-More "retro" Black Panther covers from Francesco Francavilla please!

-Four months, still not a bad Daredevil cover.

-Ryan Sook's cover for DC Comics Presents #2 captures the essence of what I see Deadman as being about as a character and strip if that makes sense.

-Simon Bisley is such a strange choice for Deathstroke cover artist--I dig it.

-Hot skullhead-on-skullhead action by Adam Kubert on the cover to Ghost Rider #4! HOT!

-I love the way Doug Mahnke draws Sinestro Corps members, especially the double header dude.

-More Juan Doe: Always a good thing.

-By virtue of that Black Panther cover and his Pigs image, I decree Francesco Francavilla my cover artist of the month (David Aja in close second).

-Is Erik Larsen's Bin Laden cover for Savage Dragon controversial? I don't know, but it got my attention.

-Lovely to see Tony Harris drawing The Shade again.

-The cover to Spider-Island: Cloak & Dagger #3 is trippy. The way Emma Rios' mind works fascinates me.

-Perhaps putting the 20th Anniversary Edition of X-Men #1's cover on here is a cheat, but Thomas Mason's re-coloring job is that good.

ANIMAL MAN #2 by Travel Foreman
AQUAMAN #2 by Ivan Reis
BATMAN AND ROBIN #2 by Patrick Gleason
BLUE ESTATE #6 by Viktor Kalvachev
BOMB QUEEN VII: QUEEN'S WORLD #3 by Jimmie Robinson
CHEW #23 by Rob Guillory
DAREDEVIL #5 by Marcos Martin
DEATHSTROKE #2 by Simon Bisley
DETECTIVE COMICS #2 by Tony Daniel
THE FLASH #2 by Francis Manapul
GENERATION HOPE #12 by Rodin Escuejo
GHOST RIDER #4 by Adam Kubert
GREEN LANTERN #2 by Doug Mahnke
JOURNEY OF MYSTERY #629 by Stephanie Hans
PIGS #2 by Francesco Francavilla
RED SKULL #4 by David Aja
THE RED WING #4 by Nick Pitarra
SAVAGE DRAGON #177 by Erik Larsen
SECRET AVENGERS #18 by David Aja
THE SHADE #1 by Tony Harris
S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 by Gerard Parel
THUNDERBOLTS #164 by Joe Quinones
THE UNEXPECTED #1 cover by Rafael Grampa
VENGEANCE #4 cover by Gabrielle Dell'Otto
X-FACTOR #226 by David Yardin
X-MEN 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION #1 by Jim Lee & Thomas Mason
X-MEN LEGACY #257 by Mico Suayan
X-MEN: REGENESIS #1 by Morry Hollowell

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Off to San Diego (2011 edition)!

Sorry for the lack of posting of late, but we've all been busy preparing as the monolithic comics brouhaha known as Comic-Con International, she does approach. I myself am headed out west bright and early tomorrow morning, so this is likely the last you shall hear from me on this blog until at least next week.


You can follow my live streaming adventures all week long with Live, providing full coverage of Comic-Con with great guests, up to the minute news, yada yada yada. I'll also be liveblogging and posting stories at Classic.

Kiel will be doing his thing as well over at Comic Book Resources, so swing by there as well.

See you in seven!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

2011 Emmy Nominees Snap Reactions

The nominees for the 2011 Emmy Awards were announced today, and as both a self-proclaimed pop culture tastemaker and person who watches television, it is my obligation to now offer some fairly off-the-cuff commentary on said nominees.

I feel like for Friday Night Lights, just finally getting a nomination here for their fifth and final season is a victory, but I’m greedy and want more; it’s probably my favorite television show I’ve watched since Arrested Development went off the air, and I don’t think you’ll find a more heartfelt, compelling body of work near anywhere else. On the flipside, while FNL is a triumph of heart and performances, Game of Thrones is about the best example of craft I’ve seen in years, with every technical aspect being honed and perfected for a world that looks, feels and plays gorgeous (and the acting ain’t too shabby either). I’d be happy to see either of those shows take home the win—more for FNL—but I think Mad Men has a better shot coming off a solid season where they reinvented just about every dynamic and had that incredible Don-Peggy episode in the middle. I don’t watch any of the other shows nominated, but I feel like Boardwalk Empire has perhaps the best odds of getting the statue. I’ll also say Grey’s Anatomy brought itself back from life support this year and should have gotten some love here.

30 Rock had its worst season to date—Matt Damon aside—with tired plots and a seeming lack of effort to keep pushing forward; the background bits were consistently funnier than the A-plots. I reached my breaking point with The Office—a show I never loved but tolerated because my wife liked it—and jumped off as the characters just kept getting more and more unlikable. I don’t even want to get started on Glee. I’m catching up with both Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory on DVD, and presuming the stuff from this past season is up to what I’m watching now, they both deserve to be up there. Contrary to its Thursday night NBC brethren, Parks and Recreation just kept getting better, with no weak links in the cast, the tremendous additions of Adam Scott and Rob Lowe, plus heartfelt character arcs that make you care—it deserves to win. I’m a bit surprised and disappointed that How I Met Your Mother—which bounced back from an off year with a terrific blend of comedy and drama—and Community—the most boundary-pushing comedy on TV (that I watch)—both got snubbed. Heart says Parks and Rec, head says it may be Modern Family.

I can’t really root against Connie Britton here, who has been brilliant since the first moment she appeared on Friday Night Lights and carried it all the way to the end with her family vs career plot this year; she is so charming and pulls off conflicted just as easily. Elisabeth Moss had that aforementioned great episode of Mad Men, but wasn’t consistently utilized. I don’t watch any of the other shows the nominated actresses work on, but based on hearsay and buzz, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mireille Enos or Julianna Marguiles win, the latter being the safer bet.

You can take everything I said about 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation as well as How I Met Your Mother and Community and apply it here. From what little I’ve seen, Melissa McCarthy is great on Mike & Molly, but I don’t think she’ll win her first time out; I’m expecting—and hoping for—an Amy Poehler victory.

Last time on this broken record, but I’d of course be ecstatic to see Kyle Chandler honored for his Friday Night Lights work here; the dude hardwires himself to the role of Coach Taylor so well that when I see him in other stuff or doing interviews I’m legit taken aback that it’s not his actual personality. I don’t think anybody else could pull off five seasons of being perpetually pissed off yet still manage to give an inspirational speech once an episode and portray a loving family man and father figure to his team so brilliantly. Jon Hamm had a pretty good season on Mad Men, exploring the even darker side of a single Don Draper and I enjoyed him opening up the character to show what it’s like when he’s not charming 24/7; I’m not sure he deserves it, but I have a feeling this could be his. Again, I don’t watch any of the other shows, but I’m sure Kiel is pulling for Timothy Olyphant and Steve Buscemi could jump in pretty easily; the removal of Bryan Cranstron certainly changes the game.

I wish I watched Louie, because I feel like I’d be rooting for Louis C.K. here. Alec Baldwin phoned it in more than anybody on 30 Rock and I’ve never liked Steve Carell on The Office. I’ve never seen Episodes and am pretty surprised to see Matt LeBlanc’s name on an Emmy ballot in 2011. Like I mentioned, I’m not up to date on The Big Bang Theory, so I’m not sure who out of Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons had a better year, but whoever did, I guess that’s my pick. I expect Charlie Sheen to rush the stage and steal the statue anyhow.

I want to say this is Peter Dinklage’s to lose—and I want him to win—but I feel like I’m quite handicapped by not watching The Good Wife. John Slattery is brilliant, but he was not at his best on Mad Men this year. Neither Walton Goggins nor Andre Braugher strike me as a spoiler.

As a recent convert to the show, it’s really cool to see Modern Family grab four of the six spots here, but it also makes me nervous they’ll split the vote and Chris Colfer will win. I respect the performances Colfer turns in on Glee and his real life commitment to his craft and character, but my disdain for the show and in particular the two-faced stance I feel they take on subjects like bullying means I have no desire to see him get this. With all the Two and a Half Men madness, I don’t think it’s Jon Cryer’s year. This is a tough one to call.

I don’t watch any of these shows except Mad Men and I don’t think Christina Hendricks did enough to win (or deserve to win). I’ll blind pick Kelly Macdonald from Boardwalk Empire because I think that’s going to win several awards.

Sofia Vergara is hysterical on what I’ve seen of Modern Family—and unfortunately for the also talented Julie Bowen, on the same show as her—so assuming she’s kept it up, she’s my pick. Cool to see Jane Krakowski make it as she was the best part of the waning 30 Rock. Jane Lynch is the best part of Glee most weeks, but that’s not saying much. This has got to be some sort of lifetime achievement nomination for Kristen Wiig, who has completely run out of steam on Saturday Night Live and should be focusing on her burgeoning film career full time.

When Beau Bridges’ turn on Brothers & Sisters is the performance I best recall here, that’s a sign to skip this category and move on.

Forcing me to choose between Matt Damon on 30 Rock and Justin Timberlake on SNL is just cruel. Since Damon had the more sustained role and brought the only real spark to that show this year, he deserves it more.

I would love to see Loretta Devine win for Grey’s Anatomy; she’s an extremely talented and chronically overlooked actress who did great work this year.

A Glee trifecta, Tina Fey getting nominated for a subpar SNL hosting gig and the waste of Elizabeth Banks on 30 Rock being recognized (in the wrong way) combines to form a giant “STAY AWAY” sign for me here.

Top Chef.