Friday, January 01, 2016

A Flash of the Lightning! (DC)
Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 When: November 1985 Why: Marv Wolfman How: George Perez

The Story So Far...
Ten billion years ago, a mad act of godlike impetuousness set into motion events that would threaten all of reality! The Oan scientist Krona dared to witness the creation of the universe and in doing so triggered the existence of a second, mirrored duplicate: the Anti-Matter Universe!

In this reality of darkness and evil there would be born a creature on the planet Qward known as The Anti-Monitor. Through his many meditations he would come to notice his counterpart born simultaneously in the world of positive matter. Sensing this existence he sought to snuff it out -- igniting a perfectly matched war with his brother that sent both into dormancy with the strike of a final powerful blow!

Billions of years later, another seeking the secrets of the origin of all things unleashes chaos anew. In exposing his matter universe to anti-matter he condemned it to total destruction! This Pariah watches on as The Anti-Monitor reawakens and draws his plans against an entire Multiverse!

Worlds will live. Worlds will die. Great heroes will fight to defend their world and the worlds of others. Those that fall may never come to realize the true threat they faced. Reaching out from beyond space Anti-Monitor faces few. The Flash will witness this face of evil and the weapons he assembles. The Flash will fight.

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Anti-Monitor 7 (Omnipotent)
Intelligence: Anti-Monitor 6 (Genius)
Speed: Flash 7 (Lightspeed)
Stamina: Anti-Monitor 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Flash 2 (Average)
Fighting: Flash 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Anti-Monitor 7 (Cosmic Power)

Oh, boy! Flash -- what have you got yourself into this time?...

It's not often The Comic Book Fight Club features an inanimate object, but that's the target in today's classic fight! The Anti-Matter Cannon is, of course, a tool of the Anti-Monitor: a being of immense cosmic power who needs to be evaded if our hero is to be successful. Since quantifying the machine would be a little on the underwhelming side, our Tale of the Tape demonstrates the threat posed by its master -- who looms nearby with the home field advantage!

If anyone can reach a target before being detected -- it's the Flash!
He moves as quick as his namesake -- applying his skills in more ways than just moving quickly between Point A and Point B! As well as reaching speeds beyond sight; Flash can vibrate his molecules with enough intensity to allow them to pass through solid matter! It's all thanks to the lab accident he suffered in his career as police forensics scientist Barry Allen. This put him in touch with the phenomena known as the speed force! The rest is a red blur of comics history.

We've only seen a small slice of Barry Allen's adventures as the scarlet speedster on The Comic Book Fight Club, but he's come up against some impressive foes along the way! When the alien Appelaxians arrived on Earth, Flash took out Fire Giant and Wood King in a double header that launched the Justice League [Secret Origins #32]! He also outran Superman [Flash: Rebirth #3], and helped Batman rough him up in The Dark Knight Strikes Again #1! Even Green Lantern couldn't keep up - his ring just too slow when Flash was tricked into attacking in Green Lantern #44!

Of course, when it comes to demonstrations of power it's hard to top Anti-Monitor! His only previous appearance on the site had him at the center of a cosmic war, where it took The Guardians of the Universe to stop him [Green Lantern #25]!

In today's battle: Flash has taken the precaution of keeping Anti-Monitor pre-occupied by cajoling Psycho-Pirate into turning The Thunderers of Qward against their master! This leaves Flash alone with their creation -- the Anti-Matter Cannon: a machine harnessing concentrated anti-matter. His goal is to infiltrate the core and reverse the energies until they overloard. A gambit that will very likely kill him, even if he succeeds. Lets see how he did.

The Tape: Anti-Monitor Ranking: Flash (#15)

What Went Down...
Qwardian Thunderers shower an already damaged Anti-Monitor with bolts of lightning. All part of a distraction plan hatched by The Flash! With the threat neutralized, he races toward the smooth metallic shell of the Anti-Matter Cannon! Vibrating at intense speeds he phases into the core chamber and stands in awe of its power source: concentrated anti-matter!

At close proximity, Flash feels his energy draining. He knows if he doesn't act quickly he'll be too weak to save the universe -- but if he does act, it will very likely mean his life! With so much at stake, the hero has no choice.

Flash does what he does best and begins to run. He contemplates all the things he's fighting to save. His loved ones, the present, the future - the universe! He feels his legs grow heavy and tired, but still he pushes harder. Faster!

As he rushes against the flow of anti-matter his mind wanders - or does it sharpen? He thinks of loving parents. Of his nephew, the Kid Flash Wally West. His beloved Iris. Of friends: Ralph & Sue Dibny, Hal Jordan. Of the people he knows he must leave behind. He hopes they'll understand his sacrifice as pain sears through him. Still he runs faster!

The Anti-Monitor senses the disturbance. He knows the cause. The Flash has already succeeded in destroying the cannon's outer casing. Its energy blasts out, rendering the machine useless! Anti-Monitor curses the speedster. What can even he do to a deadman? Faster and faster - The Flash runs!

Was it the Anti-Monitor opening a temporal portal, or merely the intensity of The Flash's speed that dislodged him in time? He feels himself slipping backward. He witnesses events that have already occurred - Kid Flash, The Joker, Batman!

Flash's face begins to wrinkle and wither. There's no stopping now! The Flash has run at speeds never before reached! His body is failing! Still he runs!

The Anti-Matter Cannon explodes! The Flash fades to nothing, The world is saved -- for now, at least. The Flash will run no more. Barry Allen is dead.

The Hammer...
So -- who won? We've deliberated over results similar to this one in the past. The Flash clearly destroyed the Anti-Matter Cannon, but he died doing so. Can he therefore really be called a winner? The ruling here is: yes. It may not be pretty, but in this circumstance, self-sacrifice was a valid and successful winning tactic. For his role in constructing the life or death scenario, the record will show Anti-Monitor credited with Flash's death, even though he was not directly involved.

Quite the way to start the new year - no?

Tackling the Death of Superman last week [Superman #74] inspired me to come back to one of superhero comics' earliest examples of an event driven character death. For a quarter of a century, the consequences of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 managed to stick! When they killed Barry Allen they meant it -- and the impact of his heroic demise was second only to its legacy.

In some ways, I think this is a rare example where today's fight log makes the actual event look a bit more impressive than it actually was. What you see above takes place over all of four pages. There's some set-up early on, and perfunctory action immediately preceding, but it all boils down to a small moment for such a beloved character's end. Of course, that is part of the point. Barry Allen is alone and there's no logical way any of his loved ones will know what happened, or why. There's emotional gravitas in that, but George Perez is also packing so much into his layouts, the drama is a little bit removed.

I mentioned the importance of legacy. Over the years that followed Crisis on Infinite Earths - this moment in particular would become a touchstone of DC Comics mythology! The sacrifice of Barry Allen was epic in its importance! Sure, he saved the day, but that happens every month. The reverence subsequent stories paid elevated four pages into the most important moment in modern comics history. Which is probably why it managed to stick for twenty-four years!

The passing of the torch to Wally West -- The Flash from 1985 to 2010 -- was an obviously important part of keeping the story alive. Wally West's graduation from Kid Flash to red suited new generation made a world of sense, and always felt in tribute to the hero whose stories spanned the Silver Age: 1956-1985.

For me, some of the greatest myth building around The Flash's death came from a retellifng in Secret Origins Annual #2 (1988). There, the mythic drama was heightened in every sense! The late great Carmine Infantino drew a speeding Flash leaving his material body -- becoming an abstracting ghost of energy.

In the Secret Origins version, Flash is chasing the Anti-Matter Cannon's true power -- a tachyon moving at many hundred times the speed of light! Visualized dditions like these better quantified The Flash's objective and transforming reality. As in Crisis, his speed becomes so great he starts to move backward through time, re-experiencing his life in reverse, until he's pure energy -- a living lightning bolt! Which, as fate could only have it, strikes a police forensics lab and a man called Barry Allen.

As myth building goes, I always loved the idea that the moment of Flash's death could simultaneously be the genesis of the lightning bolt that sparked his origin! It's an optional extra from a fantastic story: written by Robert Loren Fleming, and vitally depicted by Infantino.

As to whether or not it was worth tearing this mythology down to bring the Barry Allen Flash back in Final Crisis and Flash: Rebirth -- I'm torn.

Wally West was The Flash when I started Secret Wars on Infinite Earths ten years ago. At that time, the only comic book deaths you could count on were: Bruce & Martha Wayne, Uncle Ben Parker, Gwen Stacy, Bucky, Jason Todd and Barry Allen. All characters who've been exhumed in one fashion or another, with perhaps the exception of Uncle Ben.

The negative of undoing The Flash Crisis death is the simple loss of an amazing moment, and a shining example of how our heroes of yesterday can graduate to become the legends of today. Of course, I'm the first person to lament the loss of The JSA and other classic characters. In fact - one of the strange ironies of life after Barry Allen was the solidification of the "Speed Force" mythology and the strengthening of Jay Garrick's generational influence as the first Flash.

As a reader of less than thirty years, Wally West was The Flash throughout most of my lifetime, but reprints and back issues meant Barry Allen was The Flash I knew best. In that respect, he's still the definitive article - a cut above the new kid. So, I can understand the appeal of bringing him back. Especially when the issue is the Green Lantern equivalent, where Hal Jordan was never surpassed by the otherwise serviceable Kyle Rayner. Restoring the iconic Silver Age version there was a no brainer! Aren't both things equal?

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is everything that came after Flash's return.

Eighties maxi-series events like Crisis (and Secret Wars) canonized the infliction of the modern comics crossover. The nineties burnt it out with tangled webs, only for the double-ohs to dig it up and find a more measured approach. Years of event based storytelling broke the camel's back and started a diminishing cycle of meaningless temporary deaths, and clumsy high-concept reboots. The Death of Superman arguably has more to answer for that -- the proverbial "Pandor's box" -- but it's all inter-connected. Or at least, it used to be.

In 2009, Flash was ultimately a harbinger for another Crisis-like catastrophe -- the much less interesting and read Flashpoint. Which, like Crisis, rebooted the DC Universe as "The New 52" -- but unlike Crisis, further complicated the DC reality and interrupted iconic versions of the character already refined by post-Crisis reordering. Now everything is an event - and nothing is an event.

I hope everyone is having a happy new year! If you've enjoyed the return of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths I hope you'll help get the word out that we're back and fighting in 2016!

Winner: Flash
(+2) #13 Flash
(--) #489 Anti-Monitor [+1 kill]

No comments: