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The Flash (1987-2009) #1-2 – Happy Birthday, Wally!/Hearts… of Stone (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 share the link love and let me know in the comments.

Like the rest of the comic book industry, DC comics went through some serious changes in the late eighties. Books like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns had re-shaped expectations of the comic book world. There was a sense that things had to change. DC was worried about its own expansive and increasingly convoluted continuity. In order to streamline that continuity, DC decided to stage a massive crossover event. Crisis on Infinite Earths was a truly epic comic that reshaped the shared universe.

It made quite the impression, providing the opportunity for a clean start for many of the characters. George Perez gave Wonder Woman a new origin and back story. John Byrne reinvented The Man of Steel, making several additions to the Superman mythos that have remained in place through to today. Frank Miller offered one of the defining Batman origin stories with Year One. There were obvious continuity issues around certain characters and franchises, but Crisis on Infinite Earths was a new beginning.

If the suit fits...

If the suit fits…

This was arguably most true for The Flash. Cary Bates had finished up a decade-long run on the title with the mammoth storyline The Trial of the Flash, where Barry Allen was accused of murdering his arch-nemesis in cold blood. Although the arc ended with Barry retiring to the distant future (comics!), the character went straight from that extended arc into Crisis on Infinite Earths, where he eventually gave his life to save the multiverse in what became an iconic death sequence.

More than that, Barry Allen stayed dead for twenty years; a phenomenal amount of time for a comic book character. In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC offered a fresh new beginning for the Flash. Wally West, the former “Kid Flash” and sidekick, stepped into the iconic role and headlined a monthly series for over two decades.

His heart might not be in it, yet...

His heart might not be in it, yet…

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Warren Ellis’ Run on Astonishing X-Men – Ghost Box, Exogenetic and Xenogenesis (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Astonishing X-Men is an interesting book. It was originally launched to allow Joss Whedon and John Cassaday to work on an X-Men title that was (mostly) free from the confines of the wider Marvel Universe at their own pace. However, when – after considerable delays – it finally finished, it seemed quite tough to figure out what to do with the book. Astonishing X-Men was selling too well to cancel outright, and Marvel had the opportunity to capitalise on its popularity and acclaim.

Assigning writer Warren Ellis to the title was quite a clever decision. While Ellis might lack the broader pop culture cache of Joss Whedon, he is a known and respected comic book writer. Allowing Warren Ellis to cut loose on a title usually results in a delightfully chaotic and exciting comic book that manages to stand apart from just about any mess of continuity that might have spawned it.

Storm warning...

Storm warning…

Ellis’ output on Astonishing X-Men is practically breathtaking. Ellis has a tendency to stay on mainstream superhero comics for relatively short runs. He worked on Secret Avengers for six months, and spent a year each on Ultimate Fantastic Four and Thunderbolts. Ellis tends to step into a superhero comic, shake things up rather brilliantly, and then walk away having made quite an impression. In many cases, Ellis’ short runs serve to define characters for years afterwards; look at Norman Osborn.

However, despite this reputation for short tenures on superhero comics, Ellis produced eighteen issues with the Astonishing X-Men brand; eleven issues of the main series, two issues of the Ghost Boxes miniseries and five issues of the Xenogenesis miniseries. That’s quite an impressive body of work. It is enough for a reasonably-sized omnibus collection. It allows Ellis a lot of room to play with his ideas, and also to make quite a mark on the central characters.

Having a blast...

Having a blast…

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Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Don Heck’s Avengers – Avengers Omnibus, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

It’s always fascinating to go back and read the original sixties Marvel comic books, to get a sense of just how influential or informative they were on the generations of writers and artists who followed. While it’s not quite as spectacular a mess as The Incredible Hulk or The X-Men, I’ll admit that I never entirely warmed to the classic version of The Avengers. I like select stories – Roy Thomas’ Kree-Skrull War, Starlin’s Infinity trilogy – but, as a whole, these classic Avengers comics never really grabbed me.

Don’t get me wrong. These are massively iconic and influential books, and they’re well constructed, laying down a blueprint for decades of adventures to follow. There’s a sense of wry self-awareness here, and there’s no denying that these are vitally important classic superhero comics books. However, I could just never bring myself to love them.

Holding it all together...

Holding it all together…

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Flashpoint: Project Superman (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

I actually quite liked Flashpoint. I can accept that the event had its flaws. It was a less than ideal set up for a radical shift in the status quo and a significant proportion of its tie-ins were absolutely terrible, but these are problems that seem inherent to any big “universe-altering comic book event.” However, despite that, I liked the idea of viewing the DC universe “through a glass, darkly.” Seeing familiar, but distorted reflections of DC icons cast as terrifyingly cynical nineties anti-heroes.

By positing that any world inhabiting these grim anti-heroic substitutes was severely broken, Geoff Johns was able to reaffirm the idealism of the Silver Age. Contrasting DC’s stable of iconic heroes to their darkened reflections allows us to take stock of what is really essential to them as characters. Project Superman provides a glimpse at an alternate version of Superman, one raised under very different circumstances. It dares to ask what is the essential ingredient in making Superman the character we know and love.

It’s a deeply flawed three-issue story, and can’t measure up to Brian Azzarello’s superb Batman: Knight of Vengeance, but it’s still a fascinating look at what makes Superman into Superman.

A broken world...

A broken world…

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Doctor Who: Vincent and the Doctor (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Vincent and the Doctor originally aired in 2010.

But you’re not armed.

I am.

What with?

Overconfidence, this, and a small screwdriver. I’m absolutely sorted.

– Vincent and the Doctor

One of the strengths of the revived series has been a willingness to engage with a variety of writers. While Andrew Cartmel may have tried in vain to convince Alan Moore to write for the final years of the classic show, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat have managed to draw a wealth of diverse talent to write for the revived series. Sometimes this didn’t always work out (Life on Mars creator Matthew Graham wrote Fear Her), but it did mean that the series could boasts scripts from figures as diverse as Neil Gaiman and Richard Curtis.

There’s something to be said for the diversity the format of the show allows. Vincent and the Doctor is really unlike any other story the show has ever tried to tell, but it still manages to feel like Doctor Who. Which is something pretty spectacular, and worth celebrating. Doctor Who works best as a vehicle for any and all kinds of stories, where the audience isn’t always exactly sure what it is going to get.

An artist's eyes...

An artist’s eyes…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 23 (Review/Retrospective)

You know that The Spirit is in a state of declining health when even the back cover concedes that, “by the second half of 1951, The Spirit was winding down.” Still, having read the collection from cover-to-cover, I find it quite difficult to disagree. The Spirit Archives, Vol. 23 provides an interesting study of a comic strip coming to terms with its own mortality, but there’s also a sad sense that the magic is slowly evaporating from Will Eisner’s iconic creation. We are no longer watching a beloved comic strip missing a few steps. Instead, we’re watching a slow and painful deterioration.

I gather, from the look on his face, he has read the strips...

I gather, from the look on his face, he has read the strips…

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The Spirit Archives, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

Join us the December as we take a dive into the weird and wonderful Will Eisner Spirit Archives, the DC collections of the comic strip that helped define the medium.

It’s hard to overstate the impact that Will Eisner had on comic books as a medium. The writer, entrepreneur and artist is known as “the father of the graphic novel”, with A Contract With God regard as one of te very first examples of the format. Eisner made massive in-roads into developing comics as a medium that merited discussion and attention, trying frantically to break out of the ghetto where the artform is so frequently trapped. While he has made countless pivotal contributions, arguably Eisner’s largest and most influential body of work can be found in The Spirit, the weekly comic strip that the author syndicated across America. Packaged with any number of respected newspapers, it was among the most widely-read comic strips in the country, but it also allowed Eisner the freedom to expand and develop his craft.

DC have collected the bulk of the character’s history in a series of their superb “Archive Editions”, from the first strip published through to Eisner’s last work on the title (with a supplementary volume published by Dark Horse). Here, in the first volume, we can see the artist honing his craft and developing the series into one of the most important in comic book history.

That’s his name!

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