Thursday, April 3, 2014

Flash #91

Out of Time

Mark Waid / Story
Mike Wieringo / Pencils
Jose Marzan, Jr. / Inks
Gaspar / Letterer
Gina Going / Colorist
Ruben Diaz / Asst. Editor
Brian Augustyn / Editor

Our story begins on the Keystone-Central Bridge, where a large flatbed truck has cut off an armored car hauling a half-million in microchips. One of the guys from the truck blasts open the armored car with a rocket launcher. The thieves then grab the Wayne Tech chips and load them in a jet-propelled sled that the flatbed was carrying. A Keystone Police Department helicopter arrives at the scene, and so does Wally West, the Flash.

As the rocket sled takes off, all the citizens on the bridge abandon their cars and start running away. Flash stops for a second to save a woman with her child. But this quick diversion pulled him away from the thieves, who are now on a collision course with the police helicopter. To try to buy some more time, Flash decides to use Johnny Quick's speed formula — 3x2(9yz)4a.

For those who may not know, Johnny Quick was an old speedster during World War II alongside the original Flash, Jay Garrick. But instead of being naturally quick like other speedsters, Johnny had to say his formula to make him go faster. Johnny is now semi-retired, and the Flash sought him out and asked him to teach him the speed formula, since he feels he just isn't fast enough. Johnny was hesitant, not knowing what that added boost of speed would do to someone as naturally fast as the Flash, but he eventually agreed, warning Flash to only use it in emergencies. Well, seeing this rocket sled about to crash into a helicopter over a bridge full of people seems like a big enough emergency to the Flash.

Flash says the formula, and he does move faster, but he was too late. The sled is now too high for him to reach. As Flash stands on the top of the bridge, he then realizes that it appears time has frozen. The copter and sled are suspended motionless in air and all the people are stuck in place on the bridge. By saying the formula, Flash has caused himself to move so fast, it looks like nothing is moving at all. And he can't slow down. And to make matters worse, even with time frozen, Flash still can't save those three men in the helicopter.

Worried and depressed, Flash walks off the bridge and wanders around the frozen city, trying to get the burn to wear off. But it won't. Normally, when Wally expends a lot of energy, he starves and has to eat enormous amounts of food. But not now. He feels no hunger or fatigue. And as the terror of being stuck in this state forever sets in, he's suddenly approached by Max Mercury.

Max Mercury is another older speedster like Johnny Quick, but he's a lot more mysterious. His origin will be revealed a few issues later, but at this point, he's only known as the Zen Master of Speed. He randomly pops up at crucial moments for speedsters, offering sage, if vague, advice.

Wally is happy to be able to talk to somebody else, but he doesn't particularly appreciate Max's teaching style. Wally asks if his condition is permanent, and Max says that's for him to decide. To prove his point, he takes Wally on a tour of the city, showing him a fatal car crash that Wally was unable to prevent. Max then takes Wally to an apartment fire, where firefighters are already rescuing the people inside. Wally asks Max if he's trying to teach him that he can't be everywhere — that life and death go on without his help — but Max won't hold himself to that.

Wally then remembers being visited by a mysterious stranger when he was a kid. The stranger appeared to Wally at a particularly rough time in his life and gave him the encouragement to keep going and pursue his dreams. Max, however, says he was not that visitor. Returning the conversation back to Wally's predicament, Wally realizes that it wasn't the formula that's put him in this state, but his own anxiety. Those men in the helicopter have one second to live, and as long as Wally holds on, that second belongs to him.

Max asks him if he can act on that possibility, but Wally asks how long he can avoid making the call. Max says he can avoid it indefinitely, since Johnny's formula has formed a temporary power-link — his first taste of an energy-force that's going to change his life ... and soon. Hearing talk of the "Speed Force" angers Wally, and he says that his uncle, Barry Allen, never mentioned anything about it. But Max thinks Barry learned about it when he died.

Max then grows fatigued after keeping up with the Flash for so long, and before he slows down, he warns him that big things are waiting for him just around the corner and he can't spend the rest of his life frozen with fear. With that, Max becomes another frozen person in Keystone City, and Flash gets an idea. He finds some steel cable and uses it climb up to the helicopter. He then wraps the cable around the copter and connects it to the rocket sled. After jumping back down to the bridge, Flash whispers, "Go."

Time starts moving again, and Flash's plan works perfectly. The rocket sled was able to pull the helicopter away from crashing into the bridge, but unable to break free of the copter. Its jets soon died out, and the damaged helicopter still had enough life in it to take the tethered sled and its thieves to the police department. And Wally begins to realize that Max may be right about the whole Speed Force thing.

We then cut to June 12, 2995, where Iris Allen and her parents, Eric and Fran Russell, are debating how to help a mysterious young man. Iris wants to take him back in time, but Eric tells her that chronal fluctuations are at an all-time high — unlike when he sent Iris back as a baby. (Yeah, that's right. In a bit of Silver Age goofiness, Iris was actually born in the 30th century, then sent back in time to a less oppressive time, where she was adopted by the Wests, grew up, married Barry Allen, then returned to the future. If that confuses you too much, don't worry about it.)

Anyway, Iris says the situation is so dire, and since the corrupt Earthgov won't help them, they have to take drastic measures. Their hand is forced when the Science Police arrive to arrest Iris. So to evade them, Iris and the mysterious boy jump into the time machine, headed for May 12, 1994.

Although we don't find out in this issue, I will spoil it a bit to say that the mysterious youth in question is none other than Bart Allen, whom this blog is dedicated to. We don't see his face, but we do get a brief glimpse of his red-and-white outfit.

So that's our first official appearance of Bart. It's a very quiet, subdued appearance, but fairly exciting all the same. This issue has a publication date of June 1994, so that means it likely hit the stands in April that year. I'm writing this in April 2014, so it's more or less the 20th anniversary of Bart Allen. Happy birthday, Bart!

For the sake of this blog, I think it's nice to be able to ease into the story of Bart Allen. There were some very important characters and ideas established in this issue, notably Max Mercury and the concept of the Speed Force. Coming at this issue 20 years later, it feels odd to see Flash talking about the Speed Force in vague, theoretical terms. That concept has become such a key element to all the Flashes over the past two decades — it's as inseparable from the Flash as his red costume. But this is where it all began, thanks to Mark Waid. As we go through the next few Flash issues, we'll see that he did an excellent job of setting things up and following through in the future.

Waid also deserves credit for finding a unique way to challenge the Flash. As the fastest man alive, and one of the most powerful DC heroes, it can be tough work to come up with a legitimate threat for him. Waid explored the psychological aspect of Wally West to great effect, and having time freeze relative to him is a cool — and frightening — prospect. In 2003, the Justice League cartoon used this idea in the episode "Only a Dream." In it, Doctor Destiny trapped the heroes in their nightmares, and Flash's nightmare was this very idea.

And of course I can't neglect Mike Wieringo's art. It is very neat, clean, consistent and dynamic. I must admit that he draws the Flash a bit bulkier than I would like, but considering how muscled-out all comic book characters were in this era, I'd say the Flash is downright slim by comparison. But Wieringo's style is very good, and I understand he was quite popular in his day. When he leaves this series, which will be unfortunately too soon, I will sorely miss him.

This comic is available to download through Comixology, and I only have the digital version. When I own the print version, I'll go over the highlights from the letter columns and ads because I think it's fun to be reminded of what life was like when these stories came out.

Next time, we'll cover Flash #92 from July 1994.

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