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The ’80s Revisited: The Flash (1987) #1

flash(1987)_0001Flash

Writer: Mike Baron
Penciller: Jackson Guice
Inker: Larry Mahlstedt
Letterer: Steve Haynie
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Mike Gold
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: June, 1987
Cover Price: 75 Cents

I’ve been quite aware of The Flash–particularly Wally–since my initial foray into comics back in 1989/1990…my earliest conscious exposure to the character offhand was Adventures of Superman #463. Mr. Mxyzptlk forced the two to race…and this stands out to me because of the fact of Wally constantly eating, the notion that even with the super-speed, he was still burning calories and all that (to my 8/9 year old self, the simple “have to eat to keep going” was enough). I became more aware of the character with guest-appearances here and there, and the “key” role he played at the start of Zero Hour, and as I learned more about “continuity” and such, I became aware of Barry and generally got to where the Flash was an accepted character for me.

I didn’t start picking up any issues of his actual series on any regular basis, though, until #197 (Geoff Johns, first issue of the Blitz arc) in 2003 or so, and I’ve moved forward from there. I’ve become aware of several creative teams, and it was all the positive “buzz” for Mark Waid‘s run and then the (at the time) up and coming Geoff Johns that eventually led to me trying the series. But outside of maybe a couple issues, I really have never actually gotten (around) to reading Wally’s series, particularly from this period.

So jumping into #1 here rather arbitrarily was definitely an interesting experience.

We open on Wally–now 20–at a convenience store and come to find out he’s marking time before a “surprise” party for his 20th birthday. He’s no longer a teenager (and now being The Flash and not Kid Flash, no longer a “teen” Titan). He’s “graduated” into the role, stepping into the costume previously worn by Barry Allen, and he’s got huge boots to fill. Before the party can really get rolling, Wally receives a phone call: a heart is available for a transplant…in Seattle. And conventional technology cannot get it there in time, so it’s up to Wally to race the heart to the opposite coast. He extracts some conditions, pointing out that he’s doing a favor, and these doctors are getting paid huge sums, but he (Wally) could use medical insurance (wow…30 years ago!) and such…that it’s the principle of the matter. (To say nothing of the fact that he needs the calories for such an extensive trip). Along the way Wally encounters someone who was apparently attacked by Vandal Savage, and witnesses other situations he can’t stop for…but he eventually arrives and the transplant’s a success, and (after 17 hours’ sleep) Wally gets to meet the patient, who conveniently has some knowledge of (at least the rumour of) Vandal Savage. After being returned home (via plane), Wally receives a package…with a heart–and meets Vandal Savage.

I just double-checked…and this issue is “only” 22 pages of story. So much in it, and clear to follow, and it’s all crammed into 22 pages. We meet the main character, and start off on this key day–he’s now The Flash (not Kid Flash), he’s just turned 20; we see him with friends/teammates for context; we get details about who he is, what he is, how he got here, limitations of his powers, etc; we see him in action AS the Flash; clear differences between THIS Flash and his predecessor are highlighted; immediate threats overcome and a new threat set up, and close on the introduction of a “big bad” for the upcoming issues. Basically, this is an excellent sort of first issue!

This issue looks and feels like a mid/late-’80s book…which is quite appropriate. Guice‘s art is top-notch, and I really like it here. The detail may not quite be quite the level of, say, George Perez of this time, but it’s quite good and works very well for me, with all relevant characters looking as I’d expect for my contextual knowledge of the time, they look familiar/recognizable, and the visuals never failed me as to what was going on.

Story-wise, as said, this is an excellent first issue with numerous “bullet points” touched on that I would hope and expect a first issue to do…I genuinely want to read the next issue, such that I find myself thinking I’d willingly buy the next several issues at “full back issue pricing” (up to $2-$3 per) just for the sake of immediacy on getting to read them (or $1.99 for digital; same reasoning).

I really like that we get a concrete age for Wally–I’m not sure how old I’d’ve pegged him by the early 200s (probably mid-20s at least), and concrete ages don’t often seem to be established for characters. While I get that many don’t want to nail characters down or “limit” them that way, I’m one that really likes that sort of detail, even if it comparatively “ages” other characters. I also really like that Wally seems young-ish (I’m in my mid-30s myself!) and I truly get that sense of his just now stepping up into the Flash role–I can “see” the Kid Flash there, essentially “trying on” the “real Flash” costume; he wears it but does not seem particularly comfortable in it. (And I know from other stuff I’ve read ABOUT the series that that’s something that largely continues for a number of years of stories, such that the reader gets to see Wally’s progression to where he truly comes into his own as The Flash).

I enjoyed this issue, and it was honestly a real treat to read. I know I snagged this copy from a quarter bin, and it’s absolutely worth 25 cents, or $1…as a #1 from when such things were treats and rarities, I’d say this would even be well worth getting up to $5ish. As you can get it digitally for about $2, I wouldn’t recommend going much above that, though, unless you’re particularly interested in owning this issue. It’s well worth the $2 to at least read, and I very much look forward to digging up the next few issues, either from my own collection or re-buying in some form for the immediacy.

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The ’80s Revisited: Captain Atom Annual #1

captain_atom_annual_0001The Dark Side of the Force

Writer: Cary Bates
Co-Plotter: Greg Weisman
Penciller: Pat Broderick
Inker: Bob Smith
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Letterer: Duncan Andrews
Editor: Denny O’Neil
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: 1988
Cover Price: $1.25

I’ve long been aware of Captain Atom, and have even read some issues here and there with the character. I believe he was in some Justice League (America) issues; I know he was in Armageddon 2001; I read at least most of the Captain Atom: Armageddon series he was in, blowing up the Wildstorm universe some time back; there’s the parallel with Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen…and of course, the character’s brief but pivotal role in Kingdom Come, to name a few offhand. I think I may even have read the first issue or two/few of his 1980s ongoing series at one point, though I don’t consciously remember much beyond the basic origin (so I probably read it around the time I read Watchmen back in the early 2000s).

Going through a stack of comics recently, I happened across this issue–certainly a quarter-bin find–and it struck me as interesting "in the moment" to read due to the cover proclamation: "Enter: Major Force!" I’m more familiar with Major Force as the character that killed Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend (stuffing her body in the refrigerator) back in the early days of the new direction for Green Lantern. Having briefly revisited that era recently in covering the Zero Hour crossover, I was all the more curious about how long the character had been around. This issue seems either a first appearance, or at least a post-Crisis on Infinite Earths (CoIE) first appearance. Given the character tying into Captain Atom’s origin and some guessing, I’m pretty sure this is the first appearance of the character.

The issue opens with a conspiracy-theorist radio show, the host talking about a corroborated incident of a UFO crashing in a quarry. We then move to Captain Atom arriving on the scene, and something emerges–an alien creature that the Captain winds up fighting. Meanwhile, an anonymous Major joins the scene, and we see that events are being manipulated to create an apparent origin of a new super-hero: that of a Major helping Captain Atom and being fused with an alien creature. When, in fact, this is the result of a later experiment like the one that created Captain Atom, but with different variables…and the "alien" is in fact another test subject. Due to his position and government involvement, Captain Atom goes along with things, introducing/endorsing this new guy to the public…as they get Major Force. Predictably (this comic is from 28 years ago!) Force doesn’t "work out" in the role of super-hero, as his methods are violent and don’t account for innocents/civilians. When CA tries to rein things in, the Major fights back. Captain Atom emerges from the battle victorious…though in its course he seems to have made a decision, delivering his message ("I quit!") along with the unconscious Major Force to his government handlers.

The issue has page numbers, with the story ending on a page numbered ’39’ so this is basically a double-length issue. As an Annual, it’s a ‘special’ issue, with a bigger story (but relatively self-contained) than just another issue of an ongoing series. Being from the late 1980s, and evaluating this (having read it), it seems to be an Annual from when such things "counted," and were truly a bonus or special issue along with the ongoing run, and having stuff important to the character’s ongoing status quo. In this case, the issue seems to be the point at which Captain Atom has had enough of just going with the flow and taking orders, and after seeing what the government/his handlers are up to, he can’t stick around simply accepting the status quo.

As an Annual (and a first one, at that), I figured this to be a decent sort of one-shot, though a lot of that comes from my own experience with comics, and DC history/continuity. We don’t get a lot of context/background on Captain Atom or a supporting cast in this issue, but we do get some slight references such that knowing what I do, it all fits.

I’m good with the art–it neither blows me away nor disappoints…it just "is." This looks and feels (visually and story-wise) like an ’80s comic, and something to it (such as the introduction of a character I know gets used more and in key ways years later) feels a lot LIKE the start of a new super-hero universe…which at this point, the then-current DC Universe essentially was. And I like that.

The story itself is decent, and seems to draw on existing continuity (at least from the Captain Atom series) and expects the reader to at least somewhat know what’s going on; introduces a new villain/antagonist or opposite version of the hero with an origin, background, some character/world-building, and ultimately resolution…while leaving things open for later use of the character as well as modifying the status quo (presumably, at least!) for the ongoing series. I notice that quite unrelatedly, this is the second issue in the last few days I’ve read written by Bates (the other was Action Comics #428) and am pretty sure the co-plotter (Greg Weisman) is the same who eventually did Gargoyles for Disney years after this.

For an issue that I only paid a quarter to purchase, this was definitely a good value for the time it took to read, and I enjoyed adding this piece to the puzzle–I’ve now read the introduction of Major Force and this also re-kindles a bit of my interest in the early Captain Atom series (I believe I have the first year or so of issues SOMEWHERE in my collection).

While this issue won’t hold the reader’s hand, it’s a solid piece with a nice length, and is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the title character, villain, or this period in DC‘s history. If you find it in a bargain-bin–MAYBE up to $2ish–its well worthwhile. At a higher price, I’d say you’d have to really have a specific interest in this, rather than anything casual.

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