Monday, August 20, 2007

Termite (Sequential) Art: The Flash #231

Yeah, it's a film blog. Guess what: I like comics too.

Written by Mark Waid
Illustrated by Daniel Acuna

Comic book writer Mark Waid has an uncanny knack for turning me onto characters I'd previously had no interest in or desire to read about. Waid has a legendarily encyclopedic knowledge of comic book continuity, but he applies it to his work in a way that is inviting rather than restrictive. You don't need to know as much as he does about, say, Captain America to enjoy his ludicrously good run on the book in the mid-'90s. On the contrary, he is, in some ways, the perfect writer for a neophyte reader because he brings the character to you: Waid knows what works about a concept and what is unnecessary, and he can mine those back issues for ideas that were always clever, but never properly exploited. His run on Flash in the mid-90s made a big impact on the way I looked at comics back then, opening my eyes to the idea that rather than following artists I liked or characters I thought were cool, I should really be reading stuff based on who was writing it.

This may sound incredibly obvious but cut me some slack: I was 14 and, at the time, the "cool" comics were the ones by the appropriately-named Image Comics, whose business model at the time hinged on the fact that if Jim Lee or Todd MacFarlane drew a book it didn't matter if a semi-illiterate homeless person wrote it, because nobody would care. For a good long while they were right, too.

Mark Waid was one of the first comic writers who, purely through the quality of their work and the size of their talent, taught me to see through that Image stuff. His run on The Flash was terrifically entertaining but, with the exception of his first artistic collaborator on the book, the phenomenal (and now, sadly, late) Mike Wieringo, poorly drawn. The Flash wasn't particularly fun to look at it, but it was fun to read, an important distinction as well as a good lesson to learn for a 14-year-old weened on cross-hatching.

Anyway, Waid had a long and very successful run on The Flash, before he meandered through some rough stories about one too many alternate reality Flashes (The Flash of the future! The Flash of a world gone mad! The Flash of a universe populated solely by former game show contestants!) He left the book in the hands of the capable Geoff Johns, who also contributed some very good stories before he, too, ran out of ideas. But when Johns left the book, DC killed this version of the Flash (Wally West) and replaced him with a new one (Bart Allen, a younger and, I suppose, "hipper" speedster). The fact that just one year later, DC scuttled the new Flash and brought back the old one — along with Waid back behind the word processor — tells you all you need to know about how creatively and financially successful that dunderheaded decision was.

But Waid and Wally are back and it looks like the time away has done them both good. Waid has reinvigorated the book with a fresh take on his old subject: Wally is now a husband and father dealing with a frustrated wife and two precocious and incredibly powerful rugrats. Though comics' audience have grown older and older the characters have remained, in most cases, completely static, both physically and emotionally. Waid's new twist on The Flash will hopefully give him the chance to use the language of super-hero comics to talk to his older audience about previously verboten subjects. His first issue jabs at diaper changing and home schooling are certainly steps in the right direction.

This first new issue from Waid hints at the uncharted areas the writer will explore and it also signals Daniel Acuna as one of the most talented young artists around. Just look at the work on the expressions in that big panel to the right. His style is airy, his designs are stylish and hip, and if the credits in the book are to be believed he's also his own inker and colorist which means he's also responsible for all the computer effects used to augment the depictions of The Flash's speed.

The cover reads "The Beginning" but it's really more of a return to form, for the writer (who, admittedly, has also been tearing it up lately on the new team-up seriesThe Brave and the Bold) as well as for the book. A dozen years ago, Mark Waid taught me that The Flash and smart writers were cool. Today, he's reminded me why.



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