Saturday, November 29, 2008

Crisis on Earth-Blog: The Flash (v.2) #66

Some threats are too big for one hero to handle. Some crises encompass more than one world in the multiverse. Certain epic adventures call for a crossover!

Today, for the first time, Crimson Lightning is teaming up with the Aquaman Shrine for a comic blog crossover! Both Rob Kelly and I will be reviewing the same book, The Flash (v.2) #66, and each of our reviews will inevitably examine this twist-filled tale featuring the Flash and Aquaman from a unique fan perspective. Once you've finished reading the Crimson Lightning commentary, race on over to the Aquaman Shrine for another in-depth review. This may provide the launching point for a new feature reviewing the crimson comet's comic book appearances, and I certainly hope that it will prove to be the first in a long line of celebratory comic blog crossovers. In any case, Rob and I hope that you enjoy what we're calling "Crisis on Earth-Blog!"

The Flash (v.2) #66

Title: "Fish Story"
Cover Blurb: "The Race You Demanded! Flash vs. Aquaman. Warning! This Scene Does Not Appear in This Issue!"
Cover Price: $1.25
Date: July 1992

Writer: Mark Waid
Penciller: Michael Collins
Inker: Roy Richardson
Letterer: Ken Holewczynski
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Editor: Brian Augustyn
Cover: Michael Collins & José Marzan Jr.

Synopsis: A vacation shared by Wally West and Linda Park turns into a nightmare when their cruise ship is unexpectedly forced onto the reefs surrounding a mysterious island by a pod of sperm whales! A villainess calling herself the Marine Marauder has been using her ability to command sea life to prompt shipwrecks so that she may enslave the castaways. Her goal is the unearthing of a legendary Babylonian artifact known as the Crown of Enlil. Concerned only with the safety of the enslaved men and women around him, the Flash agrees to help the Marauder recover the crown and learns that Aquaman has been brainwashed into compliance as well! Working underwater with the king of the seven seas, the fastest man alive soon discovers a vast palace concealed beneath the island. The secrets contained therein were better left hidden, however. Both the Flash and the Marine Marauder are forced to contend with an ancient evil of unimaginable power when it becomes apparent that the Crown of Enlil has taken possession of Aquaman!

Commentary: There's nothing better than discovering a comic book in which your two favorite characters join forces. Ask any kid, they'll tell you. As my all-time favorite superheroes have always been the Flash and Aquaman, it's a joy to see any story featuring both characters in the roll call, let alone a proper team-up. In "Fish Story," written by Mark Waid, pencilled by Michael Collins, and inked by Roy Richardson, the scarlet speedster finds himself fighting both with and against the sea king in a self-contained story that's fast-paced and filled with plot twists. As a team-up tale, this issue is downright frustrating and ultimately disappointing, primarily because Arthur spends the entire story possessed by the malevolent spirit of Enlil, an ancient, vengeful god! It isn't until the issue's final page, in fact, that we're able to see Aquaman acting in character. There is some consolation to be found in the fact that the story repeatedly emphasizes his raw power as a superhero. When the Crown of Enlil takes possession of the King of Atlantis on a mysterious tropical island, even though he's being manipulated, there's a sense of tension and terror that accompanies the invoked understanding that this aquatic hero is one of the DC Universe's most uniquely empowered characters. With Arthur acting as a possessed puppet, there's never a moment in which the Flash shares the heroic spotlight. This serves to compliment the construction of Wally West, who was at this time an outright self-absorbed superhero. As always, the Mark Waid-penned narrative entertainingly explores the Flash's personality and provides him with a distinctive voice. Sadly, there are also missed opportunities aplenty in this tale. The story's villain is the Marine Marauder--a substandard supervillainess who first appeared in the pages of Adventures of the Outsiders--despite the fact that the script just screams for the presence of a more recognizable and formidable foe, perhaps the Ocean Master or Black Manta. As Wally comments snarkily, the Marine Marauder comes across "about as threatening as a Valley girl." She is capable of controlling sea life in the same manner as Aquaman, though, and this leads to a number of exciting sequences involving our finny friends. As in all of the sea king's many illustrious adventures, it's a delight to see undersea life--legions of sperm whales, swordfish, sharks, and octopi--taking part in the action. The issue's artwork is at times beautifully detailed, especially in the underwater scenes, and nicely represents our two iconic heroes. This cover has long been a favorite of mine, in part because it is easily the funniest cover of The Flash's second volume. There's some remarkable use of coloring in the issue as well, specifically in those tense moments during which Aquaman is possessed by the angry Enlil and his costume's traditional orange and green color-scheme is replaced with darker, more threatening browns and blues. Ultimately, this issue's stand-out highlights are those brief, atmospheric scenes in which we're able to watch the Flash modify his costume with scuba gear, find his sea legs, and join Aquaman in his watery realm, that beautiful but dangerous world that lies beneath the ocean waves. It's not often that the fastest man alive and the king of the seven seas are able to team-up and it's undeniably exciting to see them dive into the depths side-by-side.

High-Speed Highlight: Aboard the cruise ship S.S. Metropolis Spirit, Wally West tries to instruct the lovely Linda Park on the tennis court but is quickly caught-up in his own show of bravado, playing a fast-paced round of tennis against himself at superspeed!

Quotable: "We were a shipwreck waiting to happen... I started to black out, but not before catching a glimpse of the guy responsible for this catastrophe--as I was about to tell Linda, the only man I know who's fluent in whalespeak." --The Flash discovers that the one and only Aquaman may be involved in the shipwrecks surrounding a mysterious island

Comic Blog Crossover: On the occassion of our first comic blog crossover, special thanks go out to our good friend Rob Kelly. I've long been waiting for the chance to join forces with Rob and his blog. To read more about this uncommon team-up between two of the DC Universe's greatest heroes, don't forget to visit the Aquaman Shrine!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fast Talk: Principles of Quantum Mechanics

Principles of Quantum Mechanics: This one is a Fast Talk jackpot. This mind-numbing showcase of layered technobabble, which simultaneously attempts to address a number of plot complications relating to the ever-indefinable speed force and the complexities of time travel, speaks for itself. The evil clone Inertia has utilized 30th century technology to build a contraption designed to rob Bart Allen of his connection to the speed force. Dedicated to foiling that sinister scheme, Iris Allen attempts to aid Valerie Perez--and, by extension, the head-scratching reader--by offering a simple simile comparing the current state of the timestream to a roadway in a state of disrepair. Fortunately, the S.T.A.R. Labs intern seems to be up on her studies in theoretical quantum mechanics. I'll leave her incomprehensible mathematical formula--something along the lines of "(5x)-YV(=V)-(123)*(>)"--to you to decipher!

Issue: The Flash (v.3) #13 (August 2007)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Monday, November 24, 2008

Flash Facts: Lightning Discharges

"Although a stroke of lightning appears to be a single continuous discharge, it is actually a series of about 20 discharges, each following the other in rapid succession, spaced up to about one-half second apart."

Illustration: "Artificial lightning produced in the General Electric plant by a discharge of about two million volts."

Issue: The Flash #113 (June-July 1960)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Live Action: "Deadly Nightshade"

“Deadly Nightshade” (March 30, 1991)

Writers: Howard Chaykin & John Francis Moore
Director: Bruce Bilson
Editor: Lawrence J. Gleason

Synopsis: A murderous vigilante proclaiming himself the Deadly Nightshade prowls Central City’s underworld, killing criminals in pursuit of a personal vendetta. The masked madman’s crusade of personal justice prompts a panic-stricken public to question the role played by their resident superheroes, foremost the Flash! Dr. Desmond Powell, the man who once operated as the city's original costumed crimefighter, dons the legendary identity of the Nightshade once more to join the scarlet speedster in an effort to end this upstart imitator's reign of terror.

Commentary: Just because The Flash was largely dissociated from the comic book mythology that inspired the television series doesn’t mean that it lacked a sense of legacy. “Deadly Nightshade” serves as a follow-up to “Ghost in the Machine,” one of the show's greatest adventures, resurrecting the Nightshade for yet another on-screen team-up bringing together two generations of Central City crimefighters. Though the resulting storyline simply cannot compete with its conceptual forerunner, this episode is nevertheless a satisfying installment. The interplay between the Flash and the Nightshade is endlessly entertaining, in part because of the considerable differences in style and skill that separate the two heroes. An uncertain Barry Allen seeks out Dr. Desmond Powell because of his years of experience as an anonymous, costumed public defender and the combination of characters adds a number of rich layers to the storytelling. Indeed, the episode's greatest asset is its vast cast of supporting characters. Familiar guest stars such as Mike Genovese, Dick Miller, and Richard Belzer are joined by such genre regulars as Richard Burgi, Denise Crosby, and Jeri Ryan. Miller and Belzer help to deliver a sense of believable liveliness to the setting, as always, and a subplot involving Crosby as a clinical psychologist intent on challenging the masked vigilantes of Central City proves to be more intriguing than it is irritating. The narrative maintains a brisk pace and tosses in plenty of twists and turns along the way. Shirley Walker's score is stirring, alternating between bold variations on the Flash's theme and a distinctive theme developed for the Nightshade. Costume designer Le Dawson also deserves praise, along with Greg Cannom and Larry Odien, designers of the Deadly Nightshade's electronic exoskeleton. Unfortunately, the final battle involving this technological plot device, fought between the Flash and the Deadly Nightshade at high-speed on the streets of Central City, is something of an anticlimax in spite of its originality. Whether the cause lies in the show's creative restrictions or its budgetary limitations, The Flash's strengths were always in plot and character development rather than action or superhero spectacle and “Deadly Nightshade” is one of those memorable stories that succeeds in part by recognizing this from the start.

High-Speed Highlight: Curtis Bohannan, the Deadly Nightshade, dons a computer-controlled exoskeleton designed to enhance his reflexes and hasten his response times in order to battle the Flash at his own astonishingly rapid pace!

Quotable: “Whatever his extraordinary speed, the Flash is playing out a macho adolescent fantasy… With all its problems, does Central City really need a self-appointed guardian angel, a masked man who should be under observation, not on the streets?” --Dr. Rebecca Frost psychoanalyzes the fastest man alive

Special Thanks: Thanks, as always, go out to Kelson Vibber for the screen captures featured here. Visit Those Who Ride the Lightning for an overview of The Flash television series, complete with character profiles!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fast Talk: 64th Century Science

64th Century Science: One of the most brilliant and endearing traits of those Silver Age stories featuring the scarlet speedster was their adamant approach to scientific problem solving. In the pages of The Flash, technobabble and imaginative science were capable of explaining any feat or phenomenon regardless of its strangeness or complexity. This is the reason I feature Fast Talk each Wednesday. What's important is the fact that the series was never vague or misleading regarding the stark difference between science and magic, even if the two were all-but indistinguishable in effect. The ultimate example of this policy, of course, is Abra Kadabra, that theatrical convict from the future whose technology masqueraded in the modern day as magic. In this panel, Doctor Fate himself experiences some momentary confusion when one of his "counter-magic" spells fails to work against the supervillain's sinister tricks because, as the editor explains, "Abra Kadabra was using 64th science to make his feats seem like magic--he wasn't really using magic at all!" Let this be a lesson to all conjurers and mystics preparing to head into battle against technologically advanced foes! Don't stories featuring the fastest man alive always manage to leave you feeling Darn Clever?

Issue: The Flash #170 (May 1967)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On Sale: The Flash #246

On sale tomorrow from DC Comics is The Flash (v.2) #246, the penultimate issue of the current series. With dramatic changes in store for the Flash family, the fate of Wally West has yet to be revealed but, as usual, the publisher's rundown would have us believe that the end is nigh!

Written by Alan Burnett; Art by Carlo Barberi and Drew Geraci; Cover by Brian Stelfreeze. As Queen Bee circles in closer for the kill, everything the Flash holds dear starts slipping away from him. His powers, his wife – what's next to go? DC Universe. 32pg. Color. $2.99 US. On Sale November 19, 2008.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Flash Facts: Shortfin Mako Shark

Here's a Flash Fact that evokes both of my favorite comic book superheroes, a scientific tidbit appropriate for either a Flash or an Aquaman adventure! New Scientist is reporting that the shortfin mako shark, capable of swimming through the ocean at up to 50 miles per hour, may owe its incredible speed to the texture of its skin. "The sharks can raise their scales to create tiny wells across the surface of their skin, reducing drag like the dimples on a golf ball. The minute scales--just 200 micrometers long--are made from tough enamel, such as that found on teeth, giving the skin a rough texture like sandpaper. Lying flat, they had previously been found to reduce drag as the shark swims." Surely those distinctive orange scales on Aquaman's tunic accomplish a similar feat! Visit New Scientist for details on how a team at the University of Alabama investigated the phenomenon.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sight and Sound: "The New Frontier"

Justice League: The New Frontier, a direct-to-video animated adaptation of Darwyn Cooke's award-winning limited series, was released on 26 February 2008, the second in a line of DC Universe original animated movies from Warner Premiere and Warner Bros. Animation. The film features the voice of actor Neil Patrick Harris as Barry Allen. In this action-packed clip introducing the Flash, the fastest man alive faces off against Captain Cold in downtown Las Vegas. The scene showcases the relationship between Barry and Iris rather nicely, emphasizing the driving sense of romance inherent to the construction of all of those characters who have donned the costume of the scarlet speedster. Of course, there's plenty of stunning, high-speed stunts on display as well!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fast Talk: The Fourth Quadrangle of Space

The Fourth Quadrangle of Space: Serious astronomers, look away now. While recently enjoying this story--"The Man Who Claimed the Earth!" by John Broome and Carmine Infantino--I must have paused to read the first panel here at least five times in a row, and each time that I attempted to absorb the information presented in that narrative box it amused me more than the last. The scene is apparently set in "the galactic universe of Olimpus in the fourth quadrangle of space." If that blatantly invented technobabble isn't specific enough for you, you'll have to consult an upside-down star chart or a drunken astrophysicist. And this is to say nothing of the fact that this little story swiftly establishes that all of mankind is but an offshoot of an ancient alien race before casually brushing that history-shattering fact aside and blatantly ignoring it forevermore! Somehow, I feel certain that I could get a few more posts out of this tale...

Issue: The Flash #113 (June-July 1960)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Find the Flash: Wizard World Texas

Wizard has posted a photographic walk-through of Saturday's events at Wizard World Texas. Among the costumed fans caught on camera was this pint-sized duo straight from the cover of The Brave and the Bold, a young Flash and Green Lantern. Judging by the heroic stance assumed by L'il Lantern, these boys seem like they would be a superpowered force to be reckoned with--that is, once they've grow into those masks of theirs!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Flash Facts: 100-Yard Dash

"The average speed of 20.4 miles an hour in the record-making 100-yard run is less than the 22.1 mi/hr average speed for the record-making 220-yard run! The lower average speed for the 100-yard dash is due to the fact that the time lost in getting up speed counts for much more in a short race than in a longer one..."

Issue: The Flash #106 (April-May 1959)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Live Action: "Fast Forward"

“Fast Forward” (February 27, 1991)

Writer: Gail Morgan Hickman
Director: Gus Trikonis
Editor: Greg Wong

Synopsis: Nicholas Pike, the vicious gang leader responsible for the murder of Jay Allen, has been released from custody on a legal technicality and his first act as a free man is to mastermind the assassination of the Flash! As the fastest man alive fails to outrun a high-tech missile programmed to obliterate him, he is suddenly thrown through time and finds himself in a dystopian future Central City where Nicholas Pike is mayor, oppression rules, and the mere mention of the Flash's name is illegal!

Commentary: “Fast Forward” is best thought of as The Flash's stab at presenting an alternate history story, a sort of televised Elseworlds adventure. Strictly speaking, the central premise of the episode is preposterous; it's unthinkable that a major modern American metropolis such as Central City could ever be transformed into such a nightmarish dystopia in the span of a single decade. It doesn't help that, as we watch these episodes on DVD, the futuristic setting of the story—March of 2001—has long since passed! We're clearly in the realm of temporal fantasy and a healthy suspension of disbelief is a requirement. It's a fairly standard alternate history nightmare at that, featuring the expected dictatorship, secret police, underground resistance movement, and all of the associated stylistic trappings. “Fast Forward” sports more noteworthy flaws as well. Early in the episode, Barry Allen loses faith in the strength and integrity of the legal infrastructure he works tirelessly to support and decides to run away. The episode sadly follows his lead by outright ignoring the legal quandaries that are presented to us up front. As Michael Nader's Nicholas Pike is a returning villain whose role in the show's pilot episode was pivotal, it's unforgivable that this script fails to elaborate on the circumstances of the villain’s miraculous release from prison. This only serves to contribute to the construction of Pike as a ridiculously two-dimensional villain. If the character had a mustache he'd be twirling it all the while and, unfortunately, the antagonist isn't all that engaging or entertaining. Nevertheless, there are also more than a few moments to relish in this fast-moving adventure, particularly a subplot in which we discover that the underground resistance movement of the future Central City has clung to the legendary scarlet speedster as an icon of justice and liberation even in his absence. It's undeniably satisfying to watch our troubled hero rediscover his faith in justice and become reborn as the protector of his hometown.

High-Speed Highlight: The Flash pushes himself through the uppermost limits of his astonish super-speed powers in a desperate bid to outrun a heat-seeking missile and, when the device detonates at his back, the superhero is tossed through time!

Quotable: “Someone once told me the Flash would be forgotten in a few years. I never thought he'd end up in a museum. All those people out there, waiting for me to save them. I don't know if I can be what they want me to be.” --An uncertain Barry Allen questions his legacy

Special Thanks: Thanks, as always, go out to Kelson Vibber for the screen captures featured here. Visit Those Who Ride the Lightning for an overview of The Flash television series.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Fast Talk: Circulatory Lightning-Shot

Circulatory Lightning-Shot: It's clear that the Weather Wizard has access to some truly astonishing technology. What's more astonishing is the recklessness with which he sometimes wields that technology. Here, using some sort of reflector emitting "strange radition," the Weather Wizard has paralyzed both Kid Flash and the Elongated Man with a so-called lightning-shot, the effects of which are "to stop your circulation!" To anyone with even a passing familiarity with human biology it should be clear that Wally and Ralph are facing far more dire consequences than temporary paralysis! If I could pass along some advice to poor misguided Mark Mardon I'd suggest that, however desperate he might be, he stop short of using his meteorological mastery to tamper with the organ systems of his arch-enemy's sidekicks.

Issue: The Flash #130 (August 1962)

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

Today is Election Day in the United States of America and citizens everywhere are headed to the polls to cast their ballot for president. The Flash and his good friend 30th Century Android Lincoln remind you of your civic duty. You carry the spirit of the American way. The fate of a nation rests in your hands. Get out there and vote!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Flash Facts: 1,000mph on Land

The BBC is reporting that the team that established a land-speed record by breaking the sound barrier with a car is preparing for another high-speed endeavor by constructing a car that will be capable of traveling faster than a speeding bullet--literally. "RAF pilot Andy Green made history in 1997 when he drove the Thrust SSC jet-powered vehicle at 763mph (1,228km/h). Now he intends to get behind the wheel of a car that is capable of reaching 1,000mph (1,610km/h). Known as Bloodhound, the new car will be powered by a rocket bolted to a Eurofighter-Typhoon jet engine. The team-members have been working on the concept for the past 18 months and expect to be ready to make their new record attempt in 2011."