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IT’s Mourning in America: Modern Cinema’s End of the Eighties…

IT and Atomic Blonde touch on an intriguing (and renewed) interest in the end of the eighties.

There are a number of other examples scattered across contemporary pop culture. Halt and Catch Fire recently jumped several years in the gap between its penultimate and final seasons, straddling the end of the eighties and exploring the existential chaos of the early nineties. Mindhorn finds its central character unable to escape the shadow of a beloved cult television show that was retired in 1989, his fame ending with that decade. Although the true story that inspired it unfolded in the mid-nineties, Gold is set in the late eighties.

Part of this undoubtedly simple nostalgia. After all, the current generation of cinema audiences most likely came of age in the late eighties and grew in the nineties. This explains the wave of eighties and nineties nostalgia sweeping through popular culture, from the relaunches of shows like Twin Peaks and The X-Files to belated sequels like Independence Day: Resurgence and Jurassic World. People tend to be nostalgic towards their own childhoods, and this explains the pull of pop art like Stranger Things to modern audiences.

At the same time, it is interesting to wonder whether there is something deeper at work in all of this, if this very focused fascination with the end of the eighties is in some way intended as a commentary or reflection on the contemporary world, whether these films are trying to make sense of the modern climate through the framework of the transition from the late eighties into the nineties.

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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…

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The Flash (1987-2009) #7-8 – Red Trinity/Purple Haze (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.

Red Trinity and Purple Haze are at least plotted a bit more tightly than Mike Baron’s earlier issues of The Flash.

Baron’s first two two-part stories on The Flash had seen Wally West literally running into trouble – encountering both Vandal Savage and the Kilg%re by chance while running across the country. Speed McGee was only slightly more subtle, revealing that Wally was now dating a woman whose husband just happened to be working on attempts to generate super-speed. Wally seemed to spend the first six months of The Flash randomly bumping into trouble that seemed tailor-made for him.

... And we're off!

… And we’re off!

While the plotting of Red Trinity is hardly elegant, it at least makes a bit more sense. Baron builds off the events of Speed McGee to present a story that flows relatively logically – well, according to comic book logic. Instead of conveniently crossing paths with a problem tailored to his abilities, Wally instead sets out specifically to find the problem at the heart of this issue. His encounter with the eponymous trio is as part of his attempts to help find a cure for the self-titled “Speed Demon”, Jerry McGee.

Inevitably, this brings him into conflict with more new opponents perfectly suited to do battle with The Flash.

Trio of terror?

Trio of terror?

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The Flash (1987-2009) #5-6 – Speed McGee/Super Nature (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.

Half-way through its first year, The Flash is still a mess.

It’s easy enough to see what writer Mike Baron is trying to do, but nothing is really gelling together. In theory, The Flash is the story of a twenty-year-old kid who is trying to fill his mentor’s shoes. It’s about a hero who has only just passed from his teenage years into adulthood, and trying to navigate all the problems that come with that. The intent is quite obvious here – to draw in readers who had been alienated by the somewhat generic (and perhaps even “dull”) perception of Barry Allen.

"Hm. This is always much more atmospheric when Batman does it."

“Hm. This is always much more atmospheric when Batman does it.”

This is an approach that clearly owes a lot to Marvel’s reinvention of the superhero genre, and it’s fairly easy to read Mike Baron’s Wally West as an attempt to update the superhero archetype established by Peter Parker for the eighties. Wally is a bit more grounded and real than his predecessor, with a bit of an edge. He finds himself navigating issues and personal problems that Barry Allen never had to worry about.

Unfortunately, the series can’t quite make this work. For every step forwards, there is an awkward step backwards. Every time it seems like The Flash might have a good personal hook into the world of Wally West, it falls back on generic superhero clichés that seem to have been ad-libbed into the script.

"Talk about an explosive relationship."

“Talk about an explosive relationship.”

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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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Non-Review Review: Brick Mansions

Brick Mansions is an incredibly stupid film. It’s a movie that doesn’t make any real sense. It hinges on a series of set-ups and reversals that don’t even hold together while watching the movie. Anybody expecting an action movie that makes any semblance of sense is probably best advised to look elsewhere. And yet, despite this, there’s a point where the sheer unrelenting absurdity of Brick Mansions becomes fun in a grindhouse “this is probably great fun at 2am” sort of way.

At its heart, Brick Mansions feels like a throwback to a very particular style of eighties science-fiction cinema. It’s an action movie with the faintest trace of a social conscience that really exists just to justify ridiculous plot developments and excuse a central story that makes absolutely no sense. Lacking the awareness or intelligence that defined the best of the socially-conscious eighties science-fiction action films, Brick Mansions feels a lot like the kind of guilty pleasure that eats up the airwaves at the most unsocial broadcast hours.

You don't need that to make out the plot holes...

You don’t need that to make out the plot holes…

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The Amazing Spider-Man – The Gauntlet: The Juggernaut – Something Can Stop the Juggernaut (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Something Can Stop the Juggernaut is a bit of an oddity in the grand scheme of The Gauntlet, if not the larger scheme of Brand New Day. One of the stated goals of Brand New Day was to present readers with a thoroughly modernised version of Spider-Man, an iteration of the character who had been distilled to his purest essence, unburdened by the weight of decades of character development and continuity.

As the “new” in Brand New Day suggests, a large part of the editorial stance on Brand New Day was the opportunity to do something novel with The Amazing Spider-Man. It was a conscious break with the old, and an attempt to push the character in new directions. After all, the early issues made an effort to shuffle new characters into the established ensemble and to feature new villains and threats for our hero to face.

Leaping into action...

Leaping into action…

(To the point where the emphasis on classic foes was one of the selling points of The Gauntlet – a sense that the comics were finally trying to bring many of these iconic baddies into the twenty-first century alongside a reinvigorated and re-energised Spider-Man. Indeed, it’s interesting how much of The Gauntlet makes a point to reference or mirror Peter’s continuity reset into Brand New Day. Much like Peter in One More Day, many of his classic foes lose their new-found families to reset them to villainy, except without the benefit of a magical reset button at the end.)

So drawing back in celebrated creator Roger Stern to craft a sequel to a beloved eighties Amazing Spider-Man story feels rather surreal. The three-part Something Can Stop the Juggernaut exists as an explicit to Stern’s deservedly beloved classic Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut, right down to classic flashbacks to the comic, follow-up references to various characters, and the fact that events spiral from that story.

Spidey is a little tied up...

Spidey is a little tied up…

Something Can Stop the Juggernaut is crafted as a celebration of vintage Spider-Man, which works very well in the context of The Gauntlet. As the on-going epic spirals towards its climax in Shed and Grim Hunt, it’s nice to hace a reminder of a classic Spider-Man story. After all, Grim Hunt makes a point to stress the perfection of another classic Spider-Man story, albeit in a very different way.

Something Can Stop the Juggernaut seems to exists to assure readers that the legacy and history of Spider-Man is still valid and meaningful, not rendered moot by the continuity-tinkering shennanigans of One More Day.

The Juggernaut who fell to Earth...

The Juggernaut who fell to Earth…

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