Friday, October 29, 2010

Showcase Presents The Flash Volume One

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Showcase Presents The Flash Volume One (DC, 2007).

So 150 pages in this book, something remarkable happens. Barry Allen, a police scientist who pretends to be slow and methodical, is actually the superhero the Flash, fastest man alive. His best friend - in a fashion that would be common to episodic fiction through at least the late '70s - has never been mentioned before and would never be mentioned again. He's an actor who has spent the last three years playing to sellout crowds in bustling Central City in the headlining role of an ape in the dramatic tragedy The Great Gorilla. There's not a town in America outside New York for the last fifty years that hasn't had every culture writer decrying the dearth of theater audiences, and Central City's sold out three years of a one-man show with a guy in a gorilla costume stomping around a living room grunting.

This is all important because, in what might be the most convoluted story that I have ever read in my entire life, the actor had lost consciousness one night and Grodd, a super-intelligent mind-controlling gorilla from a secret, unknown African city of super-apes, did the show in his place. It is never explained precisely why it's necessary for Grodd to take the stage, but somehow it is part of a plan that also involves a third ape, Solivar, who surrendered to big game zookeepers in Africa and, now caged in Central City Zoo, has been playing dumb ever since, lest humanity learn the secret of their hidden city. Half a million people bought this comic every month.

In the book's defense, it was drawn very well by Carmine Infantino and featured an amusing cast of colorful super-villains. In every issue, one of the baddies comes up with the most astonishingly complicated super-scientific (well, not really, but we'll pretend) way to either rob a bank or get rid of the Flash. The villain will spend several pages narrating to himself before springing his ridiculous trap, which he'll also talk through, and the Flash will do something outlandish and absurd and mention "air currents," "reflections" or "gravity" to con young readers into thinking there's any evidence that this would actually work somewhere in his forest of thought balloons, before punching the baddie's lights out. Barry Allen has no friends other than the ones who pop up to somehow get a plot started, except a girlfriend named Iris who is the most insufferably unlikeable person in fiction.

At one point, we meet a villain called Mr. Element who has a gun that can transmute elements from one to another. In jail, and with his gun confiscated, he somehow manages to meet a guy who has hidden away the legendary Philosopher's Stone, a magic item that accomplishes the same thing, so in his second appearance, he attacks the Flash again with the rock and a new identity of Dr. Alchemy. Two things strike me. First, man, what are the odds?! And second, about fifty years ago, DC Comics were confident that young readers were literate enough to understand what the hell a Philosopher's Stone was. Many years later, the American publishers of the Harry Potter books had no such conviction.

Actually, a third thing strikes me. For some damn reason, I fooled myself into thinking that I needed all three books in this idiot series. Not recommended for anybody.

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