Monday, December 12, 2022

A Shade of Doubt

Having watched the final episode of Stargirl, I was left with few questions, since great effort was made to wrap up all the plot threads (including ones not even introduced yet, thanks to its non-renewal for an anticipated fourth season). Even Mike (whom they quickly had to GIVE an unresolved plot thread, just so they could resolve it and give him An Emotional Arc) and Jakeem (if "finally realizing he should stop letting himself be bossed around by his objectively stupider friend, the one who was too bad at using the Thunderbolt to keep it in the first place" counts as an emotional arc).  

The dei were FLYING ex their machinis (except for that falling car, which was, I suppose more machina de deo than deus ex machina) to wrap up loose ends I didn't even know we had.

I certainly didn't see THAT coming. I assumed that part of next season's journey would be Rick and Cameron finally, ya know, working out The Big Thing Between Them.
And I don't mean Grundy.

I had completely forgotten about The Search for Becky, but Courtney didn't because she's a better than I am (and, you know, than just everybody).  Courtney didn't get told "you shit marble" by anybody and finally was able to say "Hey, I shit marble!" herself, which I suppose was her character arc.  The arcs were full of pairs during the finale as Everyone Got to Face Off with whoever they needed to, and I was most satisfied by Beth and Sofus simply going, "Can we just NOT fight? Great."

As for me, well, I got to see Joel McHale strapped down half-naked to a table with Neil Jackson whispering in his ear.

Dreams CAN come true.

Even Sir Justin, the janitor from Season 1, was not forgotten, since the "recap of the future" let's us know that the JSA eventually rescued the missing Soldiers of Victory from the Nebula Man.  

Imagine Stephen Amell and Colton Haynes in even ONE SCENE
 dressed up as the Golden Age shelf-elves. 

But the final scene, between Jay "The Flash" Garrick and The Shade, was the real mystery.

John Wesley Shipp played a superhero when that was the hardest thing to do on screen and deserves every resultant perq in perpetuity.

I don't mean Jay's reference to "some adventure we all need to do!"  I mean Jay semi-ironically calling the Shade "old friend".  Because that's when it hit me: the idea that the Shade was a recurring Flash villain in the Golden Age had been repeated again and again and again in continuity since 1961.  And I knew immediately that, therefore, it must be completely false. Why else would it be so often repeated but the stories never re-printed or any of their conflicts used a seed for a modern plot?

Do ever get the feeling that you're slowly but surely turning into...
Speed Saunders?

This idea is (of course) regurgitated endlessly on the internet.  Whoever those people who write the internet are, they will believe ANYTHING they read in a comic book (or elsewhere on the internet).  So, just like with Hippasus of Metaponum, I decided to check, this time with help from the DCU Guide's Chronology of all the Shade's appearances (which must be correct, since it's on the internet).

Naturally, just like a Golden Age Hero, my hunch was correct. The Shade appears in exactly ONE story in the Golden Age, which I then read at Speed Saunders' library after donning some appropriate bracelets.

I mean, how many people own ALL the issues of Detective Comics before Batman debuted?

The Golden Age Shade is different from his later versions, and his story is just as terrible as most Jay Garrick stories.  I don't have the patience to 'read' it with you (nor do you deserve such punishment). But I will share some of what I learned from "The Man Who Commanded the Night!"

The Shade wears normal, if old-fashioned, black clothing. As opposed to his hilarious "beano with top hat" outfit from the Silver Age.

How many years was it before The Shade finally said,
"Look, I'm just going to wear my pajamas from now on. It's not as if anyone SEES me."

The Shade is pure (comic book) science; he brings darkness to the city with a machine (more on that later). That darkness has a scientific antidote: cosmic ray–based flashlights called "cosmoray guns".  

Cosmo Raygun? "Cosmo Reagan" would be a great pseudonym. Anyway, it's the Starman Era and "cosmic rays" were still pretty mysterious, so comics writers enjoyed the opportunity to use them as plot devices.

But the Shade is not up against Starman (who would clearly kick his hinder and give him a lecture about the responsible use of cosmic rays and ridiculous headgear); he's up against Jay "The Flash" Garrick. Who's a lunatic.

Allow me to clarify.  MOST of your impressions of Jay Garrick from post-Golden Age comics are pretty consistent with his actual portrayals in the Golden Age.  Friendly guy, science-smart, DILF-y vibe, unflappable and light-hearted in his heroics, happy with his knowing bombshell girlfriend.  What you DON'T know without reading original Jay Garrick stories is:

Jay Garrick was not only 10 times more light-hearted than Barry Allen but 100 times more savage.

10 times more light-hearted.

100 times more savage.

Yes. Read it again.  Jay could – and did – uses his vibrational powers (which the writers didn't know how to name) to embed those men's bodies into solid objects. And then make them PAY for it. Jay may not sweat when he runs, but he exudes nightmare fuel.

I think Geoff Johns is wrong...

if there is hero who clearly should NOT have had kids, it was Jay Garrick.

Imagine having your head embedded in a spouting fire hydrant. But Jay always played such horrors for laughs. Jay spent a lot of energy using his powers to humiliate his (criminal) victims, because, as we have discussed, humiliation was a highly favored tactic in Golden Age crime-fighing. And the Flash was a light-hearted (Golden Age style) series, so light-hearted it's CRUSHED under the weight of frequent comedy-relief characters and passages. The Shade gets less screen time in his own story than the Happy Drunk who winds up being Jay's unintentional partner in Shade's defeat.

Guy never gets a name.  I bet it's "Cosmo Reagan", because comic book irony.

Jay, being a scientist, deduces that The Shade is generating darkness by... removing dust.

Apparently, Golden Age writers didn't understand how LIGHT worked, let alone cosmic rays.

Dust; remove it and all is in darkness. Well, as hilariously, insanely wrong as that is, it is The Premise of the story. So how is The Shade–

a super-dust-filter machine, of course.

Hard to imagine, but Shade's original gimmick is way less believable than "a magic cane". 

It actually WASN'T a "magic" cane in the Silver Age, because, just as for Shade's first story, Gardner Fox was STILL the writer.  He didn't do "magic", just vague "science" that might as well be magic.  Only later writers finally gave up and retconned it:
"Yeah, this damned thing is obviously just MAGIC."

Well, the science Premise may be stupid, but the criminal Scheme is ingenious: instead of running out to loot the city during the blackout, Shade has his gang CAPTURE THE ENTIRE CITY'S POLICE FORCE, station by station.  Only afterwards do they loot.  

Bane steals all his plans from Golden Age Flash comics, because he knows no one reads them.

When Jay does eventually confront Shade & Gang, he continues his reign of speed terror/humiliation in a way that poor dull Barry Allen would never imagine.

With paper airplanes

Paper airplanes thrown so fast as become like bullets; that's both playfully humiliating and pants-wettingly terrifying.  Jay may not have regularly consorted with talking dinosaurs or been turned into a puppet, but the imagination he brought to the mundane task of fighting Guys-In-Ties was manic. The man was a lunatic performance artist and every storylines has "power-using passages" that seem lifted from the Emperor Joker storyline.

Fact is, seeing Jay use his powers simply and efficiently would be painfully boring, especially for kids, so the writers had Jay use his powers in ways that KIDS would use them, or at least would be entertained by.  But with the ten zillion speedsters, good and evil, that Flash writers have insisted on generating over the decades, not ONE of them uses their powers the way Jay did. 

ASIDE: THAT's what I would do to distinguish a speedster (maybe even Wally/Wallace).  Imagine a Flash (or another speedster) who stopped focusing on RUNNING.  

Can you imagine how terrifying the Flash would be if he just learned to use a bow and arrow?


It's been done on occasion. Remember Lieutenant Boomerang? Or the version of Zoom who'd learned to weaponize HIS FINGER-SNAPPING?  

A trick he taught the Reverse-Flash.

Imagine a speedster confined to a wheelchair!

Nah, that would never seem threatening.

None of these stories 

ever confronts the actual issue

of what Flash or another speedster could / would do

if the condition were actually permanent.


Jay Garrick appears in only three panels with Shade, depicting the traditional three-stage final face-off between a Golden Age hero and villain: 
    1. the Intro ("I've come to punch your face repeatedly"), 
    2. the Fight ("Here's a joke about punching your face repeatedly"), and
    3. the Remanding ("Now that his face has been punched repeatedly, take him away, officer.").




Congratulations; with those three panels you have now experienced the totality of Jay Garrick and the Shade's ACTUAL INTERACTION in the pre-Silver Age comics. Realize that everything else is just modern retcon to make the character usable or interesting.

I learned some other things from the rest of Flash Comics #33, but I'll save those for another day. Now that this matter has prompted me to (finally) learn to edit Wikipedia, I have to make sure there's no wrong information on the internet. Plus, thanks to Wikipedia's automatic suggestions, I don't have to patrol Wiki City; Commissioner Crowdsource just asks for my help with a Scipio-signal and is telling me a hero needs my help!

I mean, how hard could it be?


Jonathan Hendry said...

"Apparently, Golden Age writers didn't understand how LIGHT worked, let alone cosmic rays."

Perhaps they were writing about a world lit only by disco lasers.

Bryan L said...

I forgot to mention in my last sad farewell to Stargirl how much I was going to miss the Shade. Both the character and the actor were great. I'd happily watch a Shade series.

Scipio said...

Jonathan, I believe you're thinking of BRONZE Age writers. :-)

Scipio said...

Bryan, he really did NAIL it, didn't he?

cybrid said...

"No silencer works on a tommygun"

I *did* not know that...

Bryan L said...

"Bryan, he really did NAIL it, didn't he?"

Absolutely. I loved the show, but it automatically got 50% better when he was in an episode.

Anonymous said...

Jay is looking Norm MacDonaldy as usual. I imagine that, when he's making his dad jokes like every other Golden Age hero, he's bombing intentionally.

cybrid said...

I wonder why (comparatively) "modern" writers decided to, in effect, make the Shade a completely different character when there were any number of golden age villains who had appeared in two or more stories. Oh well.

Like the fish vendor said, just for the halibut, some of Jay Garrick's more exotic enemies included soldiers from a fictional nation, aliens from at least three separate worlds, an extradimensional monarch, and a criminal from the year 6946. He also fought lots and lots of organized crime gangs, enough to imply that Keystone City was nearly as infested with mobsters as Gotham City. And Now You Know. ;-)

Scipio said...

I think it's because the Shade is an ideal (non-speedster) foe for a speedster. Super-speed isn't much help if you can't see where you are going.

Anonymous said...

Scipio, right there you explained why the Flash TV show has never been able to engage me: the show always seems to follow a model of "oh no the bad guy is faster than me!" / "gotta get faster!" / "ha ha now I am the fastest man alive again!" Honestly, I can't think of a duller thing to do super-speed as a motif. Come up with villains who foil super-speed any number of ways that require interesting applications of speed (or even of other talents of barry's) to overcome.

Maybe the show does that a lot and I have simply been unlucky enough to keep catching the episodes where it's Eobard Thawne or Savitar or Godspeed. If so, then I apologize to the show.

- HJF1

Anonymous said...

I wonder why live-action never completely seems to get comic books correctly?