Monday, April 02, 2012

Flash is the only DC Superhero








The Flash is DC’s only superhero.

Okay, perhaps that’s a bit of an overstatement. There are scores of lesser DC superheroes, of course. But he is the only iconic superhero, the only superhero at his level (except, you know… VIBE, who is beyond rules and categorization and levels and possibly space-time).

Batman is a detective in a detective genre. It’s not the most startling observation, is it? After all… Detective #27 (and all subsequent issues), you know. Yes, he’s fought the Rainbow Beast, and saved the world from the vampirous Mad Monk, and traveled through time. But those aren’t at the center of the character; he won’t be doing any of those in a Batman movie. Look, Sherlock Holmes fights snakes but that doesn’t make him a herpetologist (although the idea of shrieking queen Jeff Corwin playing a nervous-nellie Sherlock Holmes with the imperturbably handsome Josh Bernstein as his steadfast Watson amuses me terribly). Batman fights muggers and gangsters and crooks who are trying to avoid him. He does film noir voice-overs of his own internal monologue while his adventures are happening. And, as much as I adore them all, Batman’s foes are villains, rather than “super-villains”. To the degree to which they have special “powers” (such as Poison Ivy, Mr Freeze, Killer Croc, and certainly Clayface) they distance themselves from the heart of Batman’s rogues gallery.

Superman is a science fiction character. Is there any doubt or debate about this? He’s an extraterrestrial rocketed to Earth, most of his non-sucky villains are either space aliens or mad scientists, and he’s got a miniature city in a bottle. Multi-colored kryptonite, giant gorillas, extra-dimensional pests, time-travel, exploding planets, the Legion of Frickin’ Super-Heroes; really, what more proof do you need?

Wonder Woman is a fantasy character. By that I do not mean that she is the subject of gyno-amorous readers’ fantasies. I mean, just because she’s dressed like a majorette and wears fetters of submission and ties people up with rope and comes from an all-female society and was created by a well-known professional pervert doesn’t mean she’s a sexual fantasy, for Hades’ sake! But she’s definitely a fantasy character, occupying a fantasy world. She’s a scantily clad warrior-woman who comes from the Amazons of Greek myth. She has a magic lasso. From her very beginning, she was fighting Greek godlings, Queen Atomia of a subatomic world, and dwarf who conjured up slave-phantasms out of ectoplasm. And now that she’s a demi-god, she’s even more squarely in the otherworldly realm of fantasy.

Green Lantern is a space opera character. Oh, sure, he’s got some supervillains who’ve been thrown at him over the years but, really… Sonar and Goldface? Tee-hee! When your best earthbound villains are a shark and a quadriplegic you’re not a superhero, you’re either Roy Schneider or Peter Higgs. Face it, without the space opera, Hal’s mostly distinguished by his Ability to Withstand Great Blows to the Head. Even before Hal really started hanging out with “the Corps”, the space opera was built in the character at creation, as he got his ring for a dying alien corpsmember. Ever since Hal started meeting other (non-dying) Green Lanterns, his story has been all about underage space hotties, and incompetent immortal guardians, and unpronounceable planets populated by improbably-shaped beings whose entire societies exist only so that we can say, “hey, that’s Kay-Fangz, the Green Lantern who looks like a staple remover”. There are rival conceptual factions in the “spectrum corps”, far-flung protectorate covering multiple star-systems, and soap operatic relationship among the members of the GL Corps.

Aquaman, as I have previously elaborated on, is a Western character in a frontier setting, and apparently Geoff Johns agrees.

Martian Manhunter—well, H’ronmeer alone knows what Martian Manhunter is. He’s a detective, he’s a space alien, he’s a superhero, he’s a geisha, he’s a man, he’s a little girl. But whatever he is, DC has apparently decided he’s no longer iconic. Not only have they not included him in the newly rebooted Justice League, they’ve retroactivity removed him from it (adding insult to injury). At least when that was done to Wonder Woman it was “for her own good”; it was to preserve the idea that she had just arrived in “Patriarch’s World”. But in J’onn’s case it was simply so they could lock him away like a crazy aunt in their attic (i.e., Stormwatch). Regardless how many genres J’onn has accrued to himself, hoarding them like he does bizarre superpowers, it doesn’t matter: DC has, in effect stripped J’onn of whatever pretensions to iconic status he ever had, wasting the years of decades of interest the character acquired from his post-Crisis role in the Justice League in various media versions.

But Flash?

The Flash is an actual superhero. An otherwise regular guy who gains superpowers and fight crime with them. He fights villains who are mostly normal people with superpowers or the technological equivalent thereof. It’s cops and robbers but on the superheroic level. Francis Manapul is working Barry’s status as DC’s only iconic superhero for all its worth, building up the identity of his contextualizing city, fleshing out his supporting cast, refreshing and expanding his rogues gallery. Sure, he has lots of sci-fi elements, but they aren’t the core of his world; they are just the added elements that take him and his world from the mundane to the “super”. Manapul is helping keep the bizarre sci-fi in Flash grounded by linking it with real-world consequences (like Barry’s overuse of the speed force, and the actual ramifications of an enormous EMP pulse in an American metropolis).

Flash-fans, be proud; YOU are the only real DC superhero fans.

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Comments:
Oh God, it's true. I was going to say...what about Green Arrow? But really, he's just a low-rent Batman with a less gloomy color scheme.

But dang it...I do miss Martian Manhunter. I TRIED to read Stormwatch...just for him, but I just can't do it.
 
Insightful as ever. You had me at the analysis, but quoting Berlin lyrics? You are my hero.
 
The Flash also got a lot of love in The Physics of Superheroes, especially when he created huge ruts while trying to stop.

Then, of course, it was revealed his power was basically "Speed Force" magic. No more analysis.

Just one question: What about the Atom? Would he be a science-hero who uses obscure technology to get his powers?
 
Ray Palmer *was* a super hero, at least in his non Sword or Teen days. Now he's a supporting character in Frankenstein and the Cereal Box Commandos.

If I may expound a bit on a character I'm reading currently:

Batwoman is a *super-spy* modernized from the Steryanko Nick Fury/ Rucka King and Country mold. She hunts down and fights crime cults using technology and intel from rich benefactors (her dad, Batman, Mr. Bones). She spends her days having dysfunctional relationships with women who have dark fates (yes Bette is her cousin and we don't know what happened to Montoya, but give the series more time). She uses cutting edge tech to outway the numerical superiority of her foes (see her recent "bulletproof" moment).
 
Yes, she is a superspy; but she fights only weird supernatural-ish stuff. She's the "Dark Shadows" of espionage lit.
 
"When your best earthbound villains are a shark and a quadriplegic..."

Excuse me?
 
The way you describe the current Flash book, makes it sound almost like the Robinson Starman...

Wonder if I should check it out.
 
Um, you see, Doc....

I don't consider you a Green Lantern villain. I mean, you're well above THAT. I think of you as a, a universal supervillain, like a JLA-level threat, you know?

So please don't hurt me...
 
Nice recovery there, Scipio!
 
Have to disagree with you here, Scipio. Superman may have some of the trappings of sci-fi, but he's completely devoid of actual science. But who does do actual science fiction?

Barry Allen. I'm sure somewhere along the line I would've learned that objects grow more massive as they approach the speed of light, that a hurricane can drive straw through steel, what the Doppler effect does to light and sound, and that you could uniquely identify someone by their voice, but Barry taught me first. He also taught me what a cyclotron is, how rotational momentum worked, how low-pressure systems cause storms, what absolute zero is, and why Australian toy manufacturers shouldn't recruit stereotypical white guys to sell their wares. And his stories had all these things not just as details; they were key plot points. Science. Fiction.

Flash Fact.

– Jack of Spades
 
You are forgiven.
 
He meant to say "a shark, a paraplegic, and a third-rate Magneto".

I say that with love, of course.
 
I had to look up who Peter Higgs is, but once I did, I totally got the joke. Thanks.
 
Jack: strong arguments!
Ronald: Heh, sorry, Higgs jokes are pretty common among my circle of friends.
 
"he's completely devoid of actual science."

Are you telling me that if I circle the Earth at FTL speeds a sufficient number of times, I won't be able to time travel? I was just about to apply for a grant to research this, but now I'm having second thoughts.
 
Heh. Superman puts the "Fie!' in sci-fi.
 
A lot of Marvel heroes fit this 'normal guy who gets powers' mold (not all, like the Fantastic Four, who are explorers and adventurers more than superheroes), but with his iconic status, colorful costume, 'dysfunctional' supporting cast, and wacky Rogues Gallery, I guess that makes... SPIDER-MAN the Marvel equivalent of the Flash?!
 
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