Whirlwind Adventures with a lot of Fun

May 19, 2004

Flash: Crossfire TPB
Publisher: DC comics
Writer: Geoff Johns
Artists: Scott Kolins, Rick Burchett

By Avi Green

I had once written about the Crossfire story arc two years ago, and now, here's a special TPB review of the story to accompany it that's more thought out.

Tributes to times like the Golden and Silver Age can be a wonderful thing, and with Flash: Crossfire, which compiles issues #183-191 of the second volume, Geoff Johns, the current writer of the Scarlet Speedster’s series, has put together a wonderful tribute to that fondly remembered era in comics for today’s excitement-seeking audience.

When Mark Waid was the writer of the Flash, he had Wally West battle plenty of enjoyable adversaries. However, the difference from when uncle Barry Allen was the Flash was that most of them were akin to futuristic creatures and modern day gangsters, or just pale copies of older villains like Captain Cold, such as Chillblaine, and with the exception of Abra Kadabra, who was the closest thing to an archvillain for Wally during the 1990’s, the Rogues’ Gallery of the yesteryear was used very little, mostly because some of them had either retired or just gone part time in being criminals.

With Geoff Johns at the helm, several of Barry’s adversaries returned to the spotlight, such as the Weather Wizard, Mirror Master and Captain Cold, and a whole bundle of new villains, including Blacksmith, Plunder, Murmur, Girder, and even a new Trickster, Axel Walker, was introduced to take the place of the old one, James Jesse, who’d reformed some time earlier. Plus, Frances “Magenta” Kane, the erstwhile girlfriend of Wally’s who first appeared in The New Teen Titans back in 1982, joined up with them after a brief stint with the criminal mastermind Cicada in the Blood Will Run story arc.

The Crossfire story arc of 2002 is by far the greatest revitalization of villains who were first used during the Silver Age, and introducing new ones from within a similar vein. Johns had been building up to an enjoyable suspense story within the past year involving the forming and unition of a new Rogues’ Gallery in Keystone and Central City, all plotting to bring down the current Flash, Wally West, which would enable them to take over and loot the cities without opposition. They’ve even managed to take sneaky steps to get some of Wally’s allies, including Jay Garrick, the first Flash, and Jesse Quick, the beautiful daughter of the late speedster Johnny Quick, too busy to help him out and too far away, before moving in to corner him and bring him down.

However, it looks like they’re to be challenged for the control of Keystone and Central City by one of Jay Garrick’s old nemeses, the Thinker, Clifford Devoe, a corrupt district attorney who was later turned into an electronic entity that took to dwelling within Keystone’s computer networks. Now he’s out to take over every living man, woman and child in the city so he can have room – to think! And aside from wanting to take over the brains of the Rogues’ as well, Wally is his main quarry, since he sees his mind as being the most powerful and useful for his plans.

One of the best things about this story is how it succeeds in presenting the new Rogues’ as an effective and convincing menace to Wally, enough to make him feel worried as hell about what to do and how to stop them. And it’s always been facinating to wonder how the Mirror Master’s crafty gadgets work, including how he can turn a pane of glass into a temporary teleportation device, one of the things he does here. And another thing I’m impressed with here is how Captain Cold is depicted as a crook who walks the fence between good and evil. No, he’s not joining up with the other Rogues’ in the scheme they plot here under Blacksmith’s leadership, and he was otherwise only in town to avenge the death of his late sister Lisa Snart, the Golden Glider. Nowadays, Barry Allen’s first regular adversary when he first debuted in the Silver Age really does strike me as being more a good guy at heart than a baddie today, and here he even helps lend a hand to the good guys side in bringing down the villains. And the ending showdown really made me feel proud.

Scott Kolins’ artwork can be a bit of an aquired taste to some, I’m sure, but it’s perfect here for depicting Keystone as a city that’s a wonderful hometown to the blue collar/working class society of America. And Doug Hazelwood’s coloring was certainly a plus. And I liked the interaction between supporting cast members like police detectives Fred Chyre and Jared Morillo, who’re almost like some of those characters you see in buddy cop TV shows and movies like Starsky and Hutch and Lethal Weapon, in which the partners look out for one another, and work together as good teammates. Johns, having worked with director Richard Donner on movies like Lethal Weapon, certainly seems to have learned a thing or two from his experience on such films, and it shows here too.

The next two parts involve what could be called an intermission, in which the characters get to take a rest between the action scenes, with Wally paying visits to some of his friends and relatives like grandpa Ira West and aunt Iris West Allen, to Jay and Joan Garrick, who’re now the guardians of his teen cousin Bart, now the new Kid Flash, and to Jesse and Vic “Cyborg” Stone, his former partner in the Titans back in the 1980’s. Then, there’s a story focusing on Hartley Rathaway, the former Pied Piper, who’s fled from Iron Heights to Chicago, and which tells his back story and how he’d become a Rogue in his time, to when he reformed later on. These parts are drawn by Rick Burchett, who does a surprisingly good nod to the quirky artwork of Carmine Infantino from the 1960’s, with the funny character angles and expressions. Both are good stories, and are pleasant on the one and engrossing on the other.

Finally, there’s the part with Flash and Hawkman, the only other character to appear alongside with first Flash Jay Garrick in his own book when they debuted in the Golden Age, teaming up to rescue Wally's wife Linda Park West from the clutches of the villainous Brother Grimm, a creature from a fairy tale-ish land called Eastwynd, who first appeared in Johns first story arc, Wonderland. As a teamup in the classic mold, this too is a pretty enjoyable story, and the part where Carter Hall told Wally that he’d make his uncle proud made me smile.

This is a real treat for anyone who likes some enjoyable escapism, and a loving tribute to the fun and excitement of the Silver Age.

This review is dedicated to the memory of DC’s legendary EIC Julius Schwartz (1915-2004), who passed away on February 7, 2004. He will be sorely missed.

2010 update: as of this writing, I no longer stand by this review. I have since changed my opinion and written this off as garbage, as explained over here.

Copyright 2004 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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