Much like my tour through the works of John Carpenter, my look at Grant Morrison’s DC Comics work came to a screeching halt last year. After writing about Animal Man, the first Doom Patrol collection (which doesn’t really count) and Aztek I intended to move on to the run on Flash he did with Mark Millar, but just didn’t get to it. I want to get back in action, so here we go!
The Flash: Emergency Stop (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, drawn by Paul Ryan
Collects Flash #130-135
Okay, so TECHNICALLY, Morrison launched JLA before he and Millar started working on Flash, but since this is a smaller run, I’m tackling it first. To be even more accurate, he had already finished up Aztek and done a year of JLA issues when Flash finally hit. This is actually pretty clear in the story because Wally west specifically mentions the time he and the gang fought the Key in JLA #7-9. I only mention that because part of doing these posts is to look at how connected all of Morrison’s DC books are.
Before getting into the actual stories, I just have to say how much I love this era of Flash. I came to know him as a horn dog jokester in Justice League Europe and saw him grow and mature into a family man over the years. I know he’s a fictional character, but seeing that kind of growth and depth doesn’t come often. At one point I had a subscription to Flash and tried to keep up on his adventures. These Morrison and Millar issues come right in the middle of Mark Waid’s epic run on the book (which he would pick up after they were done). It was a fun time to watch a good hero, do amazing things.
Going back to the story itself, this one starts off with a story about a killer supervillain suit, moves into the return of Mirror Master (who Grant introduced in Animal Man), a Jay Garrick solo story and the third part of a crossover with Green Lantern and Green Arrow. The first two are a lot of fun that take Silver Age-like stories and tell them in a more modern manner. They both also introduce countdown elements that quicken your pace as you read through the book, a nice trick if you can get it to work. The Jay one is a pure love letter not just to Golden Age heroes, but to amazing parent/grandparent figures (if you don’t want Jay Garrick as a mentor after reading this issue, you’re just not well) and the last gets into that very Grant headspace that looks at how a world filled with superheroes would actually work. In this case, we’re talking about law and the court system. I can’t be 100% sure because it’s been so long, but it felt like he hit on some of these themes later in the Seven Soldiers Bulletwoman story, but I’ll let you know when I get there.
The first time I read the Suit story — actually back when these issues came out circa 1997 — I thought it was a little corny. But, looking back now, I realize I was missing the context. Morrison and Millar were clearly going for a horror movie theme put on top of a superhero story. Once I latched onto that idea, I had a lot more fun with it. This story also breaks the Flash’s legs which means he wraps himself in Speed Force to create a new sort that he eventually makes look like his usual suit (though I liked the yellow one myself).
Flash: The Human Race (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, drawn by Paul Ryan, Ron Wagner, Pop Mahn, Joshua Hood & Mike Parobeck
Collects Flash #136-141, Secret Origins #50
This second book was only half co-written by Morrison, but it continues many of the themes and ideas established in the first and is generally a solid read. The first story, “The Human Race,” finds Wally racing his imaginary friend from childhood to keep the Earth from being destroyed. After playing along for a trip through time that shows us the destruction of Kyrpton and caveman Guardians of the Galaxy, Flash uses his brains instead of his feet to figure out a way to save the day. The second features the first appearance of The Black Flash (the Grim Reaper for Speedsters) who takes someone important to Wally, but comes back for more later on. Both stories continue that Silver Age-but-updated feel that takes seemingly bonkers ideas and puts weight behind them because we’ve come to care about these characters so much.
Alright, let’s get into themes. Morrison loves legacy heroes and that shows on just about every page of these books. Back in the 90s, Wally West was always hanging out with a group of younger and older heroes making him the center of a super cool, super family that also included his awesome girlfriend/fiance/wife Linda Park (I actually squealed when she appeared on The Flash this season). I loved this element and it’s clear that the writers did as well. But the legacy aspect also carries through with the villains as well with new guys picking up the old weapons and making themselves Rogues. These new relationships also showcase how different things are from when Barry was alive and the bad guys didn’t seem so bad. The idea of what makes heroes and villains chose their paths is also a constant. Why is Flash a hero? Why does Mirror Master do what he does? Why can’t Jay let the Thinker pass away? We don’t get the answers laid out for us, but through actions we get an idea of why.
Morrison is also known for putting himself in his stories. He actually appears in Animal Man and has said he modeled Invisibles‘ King Mob after himself, but he’s a little less obvious this time around. I posit that the very Scottish Mirror Master is a stand in for the writer (or possibly both writers). Why? Well, first off, no one understands Scots like Scots. But also because this villain appears to put the hero through his paces without really saying why and isn’t that the whole point of writing corporately owned superhero comics?
I mentioned above that I read this book before JLA because it’s shorter, but after finishing, I’m glad I did it this way for another reason. First off, I’ll be able to keep an eye out for any ideas that cross pollinate (like the costume I also mentioned above). It’s also nice to see how he handles two very different kinds of teams. The Flash group is a family, while the JLA is a professional group of heroes. He got to play in both of those sandboxes at the same time which must have been gratifying. It’s also nice to see him be able to take one of the characters he played with in the widesweeping super-opera that was JLA and drill down more into the character. He’d go on to do this to great effect with Superman and Batman so it’s cool to see this earlier experiment in action. Now? On to JLA!