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The Flash (1987-2009) #9-11 – The Chunk/Chunk in the Void/Chunk Barges In (Review)

So, I’m considering reviewing this season of The Flash, because the pilot looks interesting and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Scarlet Speedster. I’m also considering taking a storyline-by-storyline trek through the 1987-2009 Flash on-going series as a companion piece. If you are interested in reading either of these, please let me know in the comments.

While writing The Flash, Mike Baron tended to avoid established villains.

While appearances from Vandal Savage bookend the run, most of the character’s iconic rogues are completely missing from the first year of the title. There is no Reverse-Flash, no Captain Cold, no Weather Wizard, no Heatwave, no Captain Boomerang, no Trickster. Instead, Baron tended to create his own antagonists for Wally West. To be fair, his creatures tended to pop up here and there over the years, but none of them really broke through into the character’s regular supporting cast.

It's the end of the world as we know it...

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

Perhaps Chunk came closest. Chester Runk is the most memorable and well-defined new character to appear during Baron’s run on the title. The character would never become a regular fixture of The Flash, but he would pop up time and again over the years. It is easy to see that might be the case. He is rather distinct from most of the other baddies to debut under Baron’s pen. He looks visually distinctive, has a nice character hook, and fits quite comfortably in the world of The Flash. He’s a nice adversary.

Sadly, his debut story is not a good story.

The big man...

The big man…

Interestingly, the first issue in this three-arc story is labelled as another tie-in to Millennium, the gigantic line-crossing event that was unfolding in DC comics. The prior issue had included a point of intersection between Wally West and the secret Manhunter invasion of Earth. It turned out Wally’s father was a secret villain. However, the ties between this story and Millennium feel tangential at best. The issue opens with Wally briefly reminiscing about his father, only to quickly get involved in a standard comic book plot.

It is a rather cynical crossover, the kind of calculated tie-in designed to move units. This is no more connected to Millennium than those infamous “red skies crossovers” were connected to Crisis on Infinite Earths a few years earlier. However, slapping the label on the cover probably helped boost sales – in the same way that Baron’s attempts to give Wally a more central role in the main story probably helped to give the character a higher profile.

Change of pace...

Change of pace…

With this three-part story, we are squarely in Mike Baron’s comfort zone. The comic is a rough collection of ingredients that feel like they were vaguely topic at the end of the eighties, slapped together with a rather convenient inciting incident and a whole host of pulpy superhero tropes. There is no sense of depth or sophistication here. Baron is simply trying to write a quick and efficient late-eighties Flash story.

As with a lot of Baron’s Flash comics, the whole thing is held together by a fairly contrived coincidence. Wally seems to stumble upon his stories, with few developing organically or logically from the status quo established by Baron. Here, both of Wally’s confrontations with Chunk are the result of random chance. Chunk just happens to rob the jewelry store near Wally’s therapist. The Art Centre right next to Wally’s Town Council just happens to have a Platinum exhibit on so Chunk can rob it.

Just popping out...

Just popping out…

There is something very lazy about this set-up and execution. It feels like this is only a Flash story by coincidence, rather than by design. There is nothing specific to this story that lends it to Wally West. If Mike baron had been on another book, Chunk could just as easily have been a d-list Batman villain, a b-list Green Lantern foe or a c-list Superman adversary. These stories are related to the Flash not because of who he is or what he does, but because he happened to be nearby by sheer chance.

Still, the clumsy beginning might be forgivable if the rest of the story held up. Sadly, The Chunk quickly degenerates into tired cliché. It feels like Baron was watching one too many eighties post-apocalyptic movies, with Wally West getting sucked into such a landscape inside his adversary. As such, Wally soon finds himself helping a bunch of survivors endure against hordes of hungry cannibals. It feels like a collection of stock end-of-the-world archetypes, with no nuance or development.

"Feed me!"

“Feed me!”

It doesn’t help that there’s an uncomfortably sense of sexism about this post-apocalyptic wasteland. The female characters in this wasteland seem to exist primarily as potential love interests for the men. We only meet two female characters in this wasteland, and both were kidnapped by Chunk for reasons related to sex and gender. “I turned the creep down for a date,” Karin Preus explains. “I asked him not to stare at my breasts,” Lois recalls.

The men wind up imprisoned here for a variety of reasons. Some said mean things to Chunk, one cut him off at an intersection, one has terrible taste in shirts. However, both of the named female prisoners are sexualised immediately. It doesn’t get any better once they are inside. It is suggested that this community has fallen back on stereotypical gender roles. While the men hunt and gather, the women stay home and tend to their children or to other duties.

Flash dance!

Flash dance!

Once Wally West arrives, Karin immediately tries to sleep with him to secure her position. Although she is the most developed female character in the story, it is suggested that she is dependent on the men around her to protect and care for her. When she stands up to Eric Gunderson, he quickly puts her back in her place by reminding her what she owes to him. “Well excuse me, Miss High and Mighty Preus! I didn’t hear any objections when I brought you dinner.”

There’s something quite uncomfortable about this. It seems like the book doesn’t trust female characters to fend for themselves, or to fill important roles in the community; instead, they are relegated to trophies to be won and collected. “Women are at a premium here,” Karin advises Wally. “I shudder to think of what happened to some of the others.” Wally initially tries to dismiss this as crazy talk, but concedes to himself, “Karin has arrived at a pragmatic and realistic assessment of our situation. She’s right.”

Awkward!

Awkward!

This is an incredibly unfortunate and regressive attitude for a major comic book published in the late eighties. The comic never challenges these observations or suggestions. It presents them as unpleasant and unwholesome, but it never suggests they are unfounded or unjustifiable. Why couldn’t Karin be able to hunt for herself? Why couldn’t she have survival training? Why couldn’t she be qualified in an area that made her useful to the community beyond her uterus? It is an abyssmal scripting decision.

There is also something just a little too trite about the characterisation of Chunk. Chunk is an obese young man who is portrayed as hyper-sensitive about his weight. He is characterised as excessively nerdy, with a green jacket and bow-tie. He has an incredible resentment for other people, and has responded to bullying and abuse by being hyper-sensitive and aggressive himself. He is selfish and self-centred, emotionally immature. “Stay away from my things,” he warns Wally after abducting him.

Fun-loving cannibals...

Fun-loving cannibals…

He is introduced rambling to himself about the people held up in the jewelry store. “Look at you, so smooth, so popular, so thin, the kind of people I hate I should send you all away send you where I sent the others…” There is an incredibly and palpable resentment there. (Chunk is fond of accusing people of being “smooth” and “popular”, as if those are terrible adjectives.) In many ways, Chunk feels like a rather shallow pastiche of nerd culture – one with little nuance or sophistication.

Of course, this isn’t the only shallow aspect of The Chunk. Mike Baron’s run feels like a late eighties comic, fascinated as it is with the difficulties of being a member of the nouveau riche in upstate New York. One of the subplots here involves Wally trying to deal with the local town council, who are not happy about how his superheroics affect their insurance premiums. It feels like Baron is trying to make Wally West a compelling fantasy figure, but there’s a reason that films about playboys rarely focus on the resulting bureaucracy.

Digesting what happened...

Digesting what happened…

The eighties feeling is only compounded by the portrayal of psychotherapists. It seems that Baron has little time for the industry. Wally is introduced talking to a psychotherapist who is more interested talking about himself than he is in helping his patient. During one early meeting, he advises Wally, “You should be born of Jewish-Italian parents!” Later on, wearing shoes that help him seem taller, he asks, “You don’t think these shoes are too obvious?”

When Wally suggests trying to help Chunk, Chunk points out that his therapist tried to help him. Wally is dismissive. “Not with psychiatric bull! Scientifically! With the matter transmitter! That’s what counts.” It seems like Baron has little time for psychiatry as a profession, making all manner of lazy cheap shots about the profession. Indeed, he is reluctant to label Chunk as a bad guy, even after Chunk intentionally eats said therapist. (Also, after Chunk eats hordes of cannibalistic “criminals.”)

Gotta run!

Gotta run!

Wally doesn’t seem too bothered by Chunk’s appetites and violence. He cracks jokes about G. Gordon Liddy and Henry Kissinger, but it seems like he genuinely isn’t concerned about the people who Chunk consumed. The implication is that none of these characters were particularly important, or sympathetic enough to make Chunk’s murder of them seem unforgivable. There is a very weird dissonance to the whole thing.

(It does initially seem like Wally is trying to manipulate Chunk, staying on his good side until they all get back to the real world. However, even after they return, Wally seems to advocate for Chunk in a way that glosses over the huge amount of pain and suffering that he has caused – in a way that was often pre-meditated and occasionally malicious. “Chunk, if you keep absorbing people, we’re going to have trouble wedging you back into society.” And that’s really all that we say about that.)

"Hurry! My patented back massage technique won't hold him for long!"

“Hurry! My patented back massage technique won’t hold him for long!”

Still, despite all this, Chunk is an interesting character in his own right. So far, Baron has struggled to create bad guys that fit comfortably with the Flash. The Kilg%re is a generic eighties comic book bad guy – it could just as easily have fought the Suicide Squad or Booster Gold. In contrast, the Speed Demon and the Blue Trinity are rather generic adversaries tailor-made for the Flash. They are super-speedsters that will never really measure up to the Reverse-Flash when it comes to comic book villainy.

In contrast, Chunk works quite well as an enemy for the Flash. He appears quite rotund and inelegant. He does not look like he could compete with Wally West in terms of speed, so there’s an immediate visual contrast there. However, despite the fact that he is not particularly agile or nimble, the character can still move quick quickly and still cause a great deal of frustration. With his power over “black holes” – that really seem more like “wormholes” – the character can move without actually moving.

Chewing it over...

Chewing it over…

This is a rather novel twist for a Flash bad guy, one that allows the character to keep up with Wally West without falling back on the stock super-speed power. It also provides a nice contrast to the Flash, much like Geoff Johns’ take on the Reverse-Flash. Hunter Zoloman cannot move fast, but he can slow down time. He has the same broad abilities, with a very sharp twist. Similarly, Chunk can cover a great deal of distance without ever actually moving himself.

Although Baron doesn’t hit on the idea here, there are a lot of fun possibilities in Chunk as an adversary for the Flash. Given his power over black holes and gravity, the character may also have the ability to manipulate time using the theory of relativity. In theory, not only could Chunk transport himself great distances in short periods of time, but he could also slow Wally West down. Using gravity, he could effectively counter the Flash’s super-speed.

Swinging into action...

Swinging into action…

The Chunk never really broaches this possibility. After all, Baron doesn’t seem too interested in the implications of super-speed. After all, Baron has made a conscious effort to power Wally down. In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC comics seemed to accept the argument that their heroes were too powerful and so began to impose heavy limitations on characters like the Flash and Superman. With those limitations in place, it seems unlikely that Baron was going to play with general relativity.

Still, it is a rather interesting premise – on that marks Chunk as a character with a great deal of potential that might be used by later writers. Sadly, The Chunk delivers on very little of this potential, instead feeling like a stock and ill-judged post-apocalyptic adventure.

You might be interested in our reviews of The Flash:

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