Monday, September 03, 2007

Least Likely to Change: Flash

On the one the one hand, the Flash has pretty much the same schtick he's always had: he's fast.

On the other hand...

Let's start with one basic fact: the modern Flash is not the same person as the Golden Age Flash. That, in my book, automatically disqualifies a character from being "least changed", as long as people like Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, and Diana from Paradise Island are still around. The modern Flash is a different person that the Golden Age one. Other than becoming a villain, I'd be hard pressed to think of a bigger change then, well, WHO YOU ARE.

Some will pooh-pooh my position as needlessly conservative. The character is "the hero who's the Fastest Person Alive", they'll say, and whether it's Pietro Maximoff or Johnny Chambers doesn't make a big difference. I understand their position; it's rooted in a view of the heroes as instantiations of mythostructural archetypes. But my reply remains "Piffel!"

Their position is based on the idea that it's the hero identity, not the private one, that matters. That the costume is what matters, not the person in it. Call me old school if you like. But I do not, and have not wavered one iota in my position that Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, Hal Jordan, et al.-- those are their real identities. Those are actual people (um, I mean, "actual people in the comic books", of course!) who choose to put on costumes to fight crime and protect others.

If I hear one more person regurgitate the post-modern pap that "Bruce Wayne died when his parents were killed" or "Kal-El wishes to blend in with earthlings out of loneliness", I'm going to slap him. Real people have parents, develop crushes, go to school, pay bills, have sex; just like Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent, et al. We don't identify with Batman and Superman; we identify with "normal" people (!) like Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent and then thrill when they don their costumes to become Batman and Superman. Golden Age writers understood that; most modern writers don't.

Batman and Superman didn't decided to become Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent; it's the other way around. They had a choice of what to do with their powers and circumstances, and they made it. Don't deny them that humanity, that nobility. Without it, they aren't heroes, no matter what they can do, just emotionally crippled nutcases. Do that to your Marvel heroes, if you want, but leave your filthy deconstructionist paws off the DC heroes. Don't make Baby Adam West cry.


So...

The Golden Age Flash was Jay Garrick, a happy-go-lucky chemist and college grad, who acquired his powers as a result of an accident when he was performing an experiment.

The Modern Flash is Wally West, the nephew by marriage of Jay's unrelated successor. Wally isn't a college grad. Last I heard, he was a mechanic, although for most of his career (including right now), his money just seems to come from nowhere, or maybe the Speed Force. Like it forms into his costume, maybe the Speed Force magically fills up Wally's bank account, as if it were Zephraim Cochran's Companion. Wally, at least as he's been written outside the JLU, is anything but "happy-go-lucky".

The Golden Age Flash wore a jogging outfit and a shiny Mercury hat; he did everything with a smile. The Modern Flash wears skin-tight Speed Force (tm) brand spandex that covers his head and his hands, and a cowl with wings over the ears; he does nothing with a smile.

The Golden Age Flash, still pretty much unchanged and in great shape, continues to fight crime as a member of the Justice Society, having new adventures, still smiling and serving as an example to the younger generation of heroes. In fact, he served as a mentor to Kid Flash, when the Modern Age Flash, rather than mentor the kid, shipped him off to be raised by an elderly dynastic relative. I mean, the second time the Modern Age Flash, rather than mentor the kid, shipped him off to be raised by an elderly dynastic relative.

The Modern Flash, who's famous for stories that get nowhere fast or that run in circles, was so tapped out as a character that they killed him off and brought him back, and almost nobody noticed. Now, desperate for something to do with the guy, they've made him the head of a thinly disguised Incredibles knock-off, so that if we're not interested in him, maybe we'll at least be interested in his kids.

And, like most parents, he doesn't smile a lot.

The Golden Age Flash's powers came from science. Yes, really really bad, absurdly inaccurate science. But science nonetheless.

The Modern Flash's powers come from a New Age mystical source, called ...
  • the Green?
  • The Lady of the Lake?
  • The Morphogenic Field?
  • The Red?
  • The Ether?
  • The Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth?
  • The Clear?
Gosh, why can't I remember it, it's something really clever like, oh, yeah:

"the Speed Force".

Call me old-fashioned, but I'll take Bad Science over Bad Mysticism any day.

In short, the only thing about the Flash that's remained the same since the Golden Age is the name of the hero and the fact that he runs fast. I guess for some people, that's enough; I'm just not one of them.


How much do YOU think the Flash has changed?

28 comments:

Action Ranger Timmy said...

Wally West's money was a result of lotto winnings, then inheriting a lot of money when a villian left it to him in a will, and now... actually now I have no idea.

Scipio said...

Yes, I remember both of those.

They prove the point: Wally's so much as cipher aside from the suit, that no one can even image him having a job, so they keep having to dump money on him through Soap Opera Plot Devices.

StocDred said...

I really don't see the kids as permanent additions... I'm sure they will continue their super-fast aging and get sent off to the future or something. Or they'll be revealed to have been some kind of Speed Force creation in the first place, and they'll meet a suitably dramatic end.

bad wolf said...

Thanks for pointing out, among other things, the absurdity of the 'Speed Force.' It rankles my scientist hide more than most pseudo-scientific explanations. That's saying something in the DCU!

Anonymous said...

AT one time Wally was a courier for Medical Supplies (i.e. parts) like Hearts and Livers.

I think he did this for CA$H as well as the humanity factor.

And yes, there were there was the lottery win (gone in a Flash!) and an inheritance (from ??? I forget).

Wally needed cash badly at one time because prior to the Speed Force he was buying a lot of food to supply his speed powers.

a dumb idea---like a Super Hero needing to plug in his armor to a wall outlet to live [just as the bad guy attacks)
[Ha--I remember one time when a broke or desperate Tony Stark got a hit of juice from a car battery!]

Alan
JettBlackBerryX@yahoo.com

Matthew said...

But... couldn't it be argued that the Flash (Jay Garrick) IS the least changed? I know the concept of the Flash has changed over the years with Barry, Wally and Bart... but Jay is still alive and fighting the good fight. The Golden Age Flash remains very unchanged regardless of the guys that have followed.

Since your argument is that what matters is the guy behind the mask, not the suit or powers, you have to ask, "is Jay Garrick (including HIS Flash persona) less changed than, say, Bruce Wayne (and his Batman persona)?"

Seems like you kind of prove your own argument that way. :)

Scipio said...

"But... couldn't it be argued that the Flash (Jay Garrick) IS the least changed?"

Yes, that's true. And Jay is probably the least changed of all the Golden Age characters. But that's not exactly the question I was asking... .

The question I originally posed is, "Which of the modern versions of the following list of heroes is least changed from its golden age version?" Jay Garrick isn't the modern version of the Flash; Wally West is. The same holds true for Alan Scott.

But when people say, "The Flash", they mean the current "reigning" one, Wally West. Jay Garrick is still called Flash, but he isn't THE Flash. Most readers, I think, just call him Jay Garrick. Wally West is THE Flash. At least, until Barry comes back.

So I'm comparing the Modern versions of a hero to the Golden Age versions. In the cases of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Plastic Man, and (debatably)Black Canary, (until recently) Aquaman, it's the same person. In the case of Green Lantern and the Flash, it isn't.

Bill Reed said...

Wally West? A cipher? He's probably the most fleshed out character DC's ever had.

David Lawson said...

How about this for a change?

In the first Golden Age Flash stories, Jay Garrick didn't really have a secret identity.

Jay was constantly using his powers in public. Heck, he blatantly used his powers to get on the US Olympic Team! And even when he wasn't being obvious, Joan just couldn't keep quiet about how her boyfriend was really the Flash.

It wasn't until later that the whole "he vibrates his face at super-speed" thing went into effect. But every incarnation after Jay has at one point or another had a secret identity

Jason said...

As for Wally West's money, I think it's fannon that West is actually being paid by tax dollars from Keystone City, who basically set up a "Flash Fund" to keep his family fed. Which is kind of a keen idea, I just don't know if it's actual CANON.

As for the secret identity thing - I think it's based on the individual character. Bruce Wayne didn't "die" when his parents were killed. Rather, he sort of developed another "Bruce Wayne" persona to hide the real Bruce Wayne - which later became Batman. It's not so much that Batman is the real Bruce as when in public, he puts on another persona, another "Bruce". It's almost like he's got three layers - the false "Public Relations" Bruce Wayne, beneath that, Batman, and beneath that - the actual Bruce Wayne. It'd odd, but then again - he IS Batman.

The whole speech in Kill Bill II about Superman really bothered me, though. Because Superman is the costume, while Clark Kent is the person. It's true of most superheroes.

Martin Wisse said...

No, no, no, the Siegel and Shuster Superman dressed up as Clark Kent; haven't you seen that wry smile he had on whenever he let Lois Lane slap him around?

Jason said...

Yeah, but that was also the same Superman who crushed the cars of people who pissed him off a bit for fun. Not even criminals, either. I'm not even sure if he'd count as a superHERO so much as . . . well, a superdick. Making the lives of criminals miserable is one thing. Smashing someone's car because they insulted you in front of your date is just being a total ass with superpowers.

Scipio said...

"No, no, no", Martin Wisse.

Clark Kent dressed up as Superman. Clark Kent also acted more "mild-mannered" than he might have otherwise in order to help protect his secret identity as Superman.

But it was Clark Kent, kid raised on a farm, who became a reporter as an adult, who did all of that.

I see that you remain as gratuitously, petulantly, and baselessly contrarian as ever.

Gyuss Baaltar said...

I gotta agree with Martin and against ya Scip.

Pansy Clark is the costume. I know since Man of Steel it's now "used to play football Clark" but for the longest time Clark was the play acting. When Superman changed in the phone booth, he was liberating his true self.

Look at strong jawed George Reeves or Christopher Reeve playing the man in and out of costume. You can't watch Christopher Reeve fumbling so perfectly as Clark and say "that's the real guy!"

Anonymous said...

Look at strong jawed George Reeves or Christopher Reeve playing the man in and out of costume. You can't watch Christopher Reeve fumbling so perfectly as Clark and say "that's the real guy!"

George Reeves did a great Clark: skilled at his job, respected by his coworkers (despite his apparent distaste for danger), jokey and confident without being arrogant or disrespectful. Actually his Superman was much the same, except he didn't mind occasionally showing off to intimidate criminals. Clark was Superman and Superman was Clark, as it should be.

But Chris's Clark Kent ... I tell ya whut, he ruined the movie for me. He wasn't just a caricature, he was a caricature so forced and unbelievable as to utterly fail as a disguise.

Gyuss Baaltar said...

I'm reading a stack of 60's Adventure Comics right now. They're full of instances of Clark pretending to be clumsy. Disguise.

Jason said...

Yeah, and Peter Parker's let himself get kicked in the ass to maintain his identity, and feels obviously liberated and wisecracking as Spider-Man - but for some reason no one suggests that he's really Spider-Man and Peter Parker is a disguise where he petends to be a lame loser.

Derek said...

"they've made him the head of a thinly disguised Incredibles knock-off"

I can't believe I didn't notice that until now.

*thinks about it some more*

I can't believe I didn't notice that.

"Call me old-fashioned, but I'll take Bad Science over Bad Mysticism any day."

I dunno. I've kind of alway thought the Speed Force as more scientific than mystical. It's just such an ancient and complex force that we can't yet understand it and maybe never will...

... I sound just like one of those Intelligent Design morons, don't I?

Touché, Mr. Garling. You win this round.

SallyP said...

Well...Wally USED to be happy-go-lucky, back in Justice League International and JL Europe. Of course EVERYONE was more or less funnier in those days.

*sigh*

But I agree that Barry hasn't changed a bit. Being dead will do that to you.

Anonymous said...

Sure, the actual character of the Flash has changed, for all the reasons you cited. But the CONCEPT of the Flash has not changed, in my opinion. Regular guy, married, maybe has some kids, holds down a regular job, gets powers from bizarre accident, becomes fleet-footed hero. This description can apply to Jay, Barry, and Wally.

webrunner said...

here's the flip side: Martian Manhunter. He decided to become John Jones.

totaltoyz said...

and an inheritance (from ??? I forget).

The Icicle (Joar Makent, the original).

In that early-90s story there was a whole Makent family who contested the will. The Icicle from Infinity Inc (who had not yet been "revealed" as the original's son, but that was no surprise) was nowhere to be seen in this story; and I don't believe the Makent family has ever appeared again, despite Icicle Jr's many appearances in the revived JSA.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Scipio.

Superman didn't grow up Kal-El of Krypton who created Clark Kent as a critique of mankind. He was raised as Clark in Smallville and that's who he was until he was Superman. Clark then played up some phony bits to throw people off, but that doesn't constitute the entire identity being phony.

However... Diana Prince (besides being a paid-for identity) was Wonder Woman's critique of Man's World girls. Wonder Woman grew up as Princess Diana of Paradise Island and then became Diana Prince, the plain girl sitting behind the desk, working for a man and hiding behind "so much material!" in her clothes.

In fact, this is why they got away with removing Diana Prince from the Wonder Woman mythos for so long, she was just a disguise. They could never get rid of Clark Kent...

Jason said...

Yeah the whole secret identity thing seems to clash more with Wonder Woman's concept than anything, really.

Gokitalo said...

Baby Adam West would make for an awesome custom Heroclix. Just sayin'.

Anywho, while I like Wally and the intent behind the Speed Force, I agree that it's an awfully convenient plot device. I mean, what are the odds of there being an "extradimensional energy source" specifically for speedsters?

I think I'd prefer it if the Speed Force had an actual origin. Maybe it was created way back when by a bunch of speedsters somewhere in the unvierse in an attempt to solve the dangers of running at superhuman speeds. Or something.

I was going to comment on the Superman/Clark Kent thing too, but I think this post is long enough already ;)

MaGnUs said...

Scipio said "If I hear one more person regurgitate the post-modern pap that "Bruce Wayne died when his parents were killed" or "Kal-El wishes to blend in with earthlings out of loneliness", I'm going to slap him. (...) Batman and Superman didn't decided to become Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent; it's the other way around."

And I'll help you slap them.

Scipio said "Ishipped him off to be raised by an elderly dynastic relative."

Relative? Max Mercury is a relative of the Allens?

Alan said "[Ha--I remember one time when a broke or desperate Tony Stark got a hit of juice from a car battery!]"

And drank the battery fluid...

Jason said "It's almost like he's got three layers - the false "Public Relations" Bruce Wayne, beneath that, Batman, and beneath that - the actual Bruce Wayne. It'd odd, but then again - he IS Batman."

Yes, exactly. And Scipio, yes, prior to John Byrne, Clark was always the disguise. Before Byrne, the Kents had died when he was very young, probably in his late teens, so he didn't grow up to manhood with them guiding him to be human; plus he had much more access to Kryptonian technology and records of Jor-El to teach him "the propper way".

Anonymous said...

The "Speed Force" is a major reason I have come to HATE modern DC comics.

It's a part of the company's plan to reduce its entire library to nothing but costumes, powers, and logos. And then expand their library by creating infinite multiples of every franchise.

This DILUTES the very heroes the DCU is built upon. Superman isn't at all unique, not with a dozen other "Super--" characters running around. We were told that COIE would clean some of this up. Instead, it only encouraged more.

The "Speed Force" is just a lame derivative of Lucas's "The Force" in Star Wars (which wasn't very original then, either). This allowed DC to keep creating faux "new" characters that were nothing more than the Flash in a new costume.

DC = Diluted Concepts

Harvey Jerkwater said...

It's weird to see Wally West portrayed as grim. The Flash was my favorite DC book for most of the nineties, in large part because Wally was, if not happy-go-lucky, a regular human being. And, unlike most heroes, he reveled in his powers--because his powers are awesome and he knew it. The Waid run, up to about #100 (or something like that, I forget), was good fun stuff.