The Flash by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar
Reprints The Flash #130-141, Green Lantern #96, Green Arrow #130
Written by Grant Morrison and Mark Millar (with Ron Marz and Chuck Dixon)
Art by Paul Ryan, Pop Mhan, John Nyberg, and Ron Wagner
Mark Waid announced in 1997 that he would be taking a year-long hiatus from The Flash comic. He cited feeling burnt out after penning almost seventy consecutive issues of the series. Waid explained he already had his next story arc planned out but that in the meantime Grant Morrison and Mark Millar would take over the writing duties. Scotland-born Morrison had quickly become a critically-acclaimed writer when he made his American debut with Animal Man. He had a penchant for taking lower tier characters and showing readers while they mattered while recontextualizing the more prominent figures as archetypal, as seen in his JLA run that was happening at this time. Mark Millar, also from Scotland, would go on to great success with his Kick-Ass franchise but at this time he was a protege of Morrison’s, making his name on the comics scene of the late 1990s.
This year-long run is mainly composed of three-story arcs, the first being Emergency Stop. Morrison and Millar’s love of Silver Age comics is apparent with the opening scene being Jay Garrick and Max Mercury’s discovery of Wally West’s dead body. As the story proceeds, we learn this is a future Wally West letting the present-day Wally realize he has a ticking clock over his head as he attempts to prevent his death. I was immediately hit with how similar this plot element was to Tom King’s Heroes in Crisis, which had a comparable scenario with double Wests. The other very Silver Age element is the introduction of the villain The Suit. The Suit is just what he sounds like, a sentient supervillain costume tailored by the man who dresses all the villains in Central City, Paul Gambi. There’s an urban legend about how The Suit came to be self-aware, possibly possessed by a death row inmate, but I enjoyed how there’s never a solid explanation. This villain exists as just another bizarre element in the Flash’s Rogues Gallery.
Some one-off issues follow this story. There’s a showdown with Mirror Master in a world where time is moving backward the faster The Flash runs. There is a fantastic one-shot all about the Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick and how he fits into the modern world where his legacy has moved on past him. We get a reasonably forgettable three-way crossover with Green Lantern and Green Arrow that is notable mainly for all three being legacy heroes, people who have taken on the mantle of these characters after the originals have passed on.
The next major arc kicks off with issue 136 and is titled “The Human Race.” There’s a trope in DC Comics of the fantasy sidekick/antagonist. Superman has Mr. Mxyzptlk, Batman had Bat-Mite, and even Aquaman has Qwisp and to some extent Kyro in the Green Lantern animated series from the 1960s. Morrison gives Wally West his analog in the form of Krakkl, a childhood imaginary friend who turns out to be real. Two imposing cosmic overlords appear on Earth and force Wally into a race for his planet against Krakkl who is also racing to save his world. There are prominent shades of Galactus here, and the resolution of the story is very Silver Age and would be reused by Morrison in his final JLA arc. There’s some twists and turns along the way, and it all comes down to Wally and Krakkl out thinking their adversaries.
The final arc of Morrison and Millar’s run is “The Black Flash,” which introduces a new antagonistic entity, the titular Black Flash. This figure is an incarnation of Death that specializes in users of the Speed Force putting Wally in a situation where he needs to outrun his own death. It’s not merely a force of nature as the Black Flash uses Linda Park as a way to bait Wally into confronting him. This story is another instance where the Flash Family is shown to be a necessary element to the series. Jay Garrick assists Wally, joined by Max Mercury, Impulse, and Jesse Quick and all of them are used in a manner I would argue it is better than what Mark Waid had done to this point. Jesse finally feels like she is becoming an actual character rather than merely a way to have a “girl Flash.”
All the toys get put back into place so that Mark Waid and co-writer Brian Augustyn can retake the helm. However, I enjoyed this more than the last few Mark Waid collections. Morrison has a different writing style than Waid, and it shows. Morrison feels more comfortable going back to classic Flash villains while Waid wants to concentrate more on original creations. Ironically enough these two viewpoints would merge in the Geoff Johns run which I’ll read once we get through all of Waid’s work.