Devotees of my podcast will know I have something of a reputation on our show of being “The DC Guy”, and specifically as “The Flash Guy”. That mostly came about as when I was in college, my Marvel reading had all but fallen off the face of the Earth, while I started getting seriously into DC for the first time ever. I was entering DC in the era of Geoff Johns’ Flash (and his JSA, for that matter,), Judd Winick’s Green Lantern, Peter David’s Young Justice, and Chuck Dixon’s Robin. Those were the every-week pulls of my DC era, and Johns’ Flash stands out to me as the best of the lot. Ask me what some of my absolute top-of-the-mountain comic runs are, and I offer back Bendis on Ultimate Spider-Man, Whedon on Astonishing X-Men, and Johns on Flash. That was some great stuff.
So it dawned on me that I should talk about some of it, right? But what parts? The Rogues War? The creepy Cicada story arc? There are a lot of good stories, but one… one just seemed more prominent than any other. By a hair, though. All of it is so good. Love that run. Ha! “Run”. On The Flash. That’s almost a pun.
TITLE: Flash: Blitz
Writer and Artist: Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins
Protagonists: Wally West, the one true only Flash that matters.
I think everything Johns did while writing the Flash was great. So of course, I’m going to start off discussing the art.
Scott Kolins’ art is a god damn treat. I’ve read precious few other books he has ever worked on, but that’s not because I’m avoiding them; he’s just not a guy that gets ton of press when he starts a new project, unfortunately. His work is cartoonish and bright and so, so expressive. Characters convey so much emotion in Kolins’ facial art, and even though it is sometimes a bit comically overdone, you are never left wondering about if a character is having the appropriate reaction to something. His pages are also exceptionally kinetic and full of energy; his action sets are glorious and vicious. And while his art is, as I mentioned, bright and colorful and cartoonish, he can simultaneously achieve that looks and make characters like Grodd out to be the nightmarish monsters they have every right to be. Kolins’ Grodd—with a blood-drenched mouth—will always be what I instantly recall when I picture that beast.
So aside from how much I adore the art, Blitz is the telling of how Flash’s one-time ally, Hunter Zolomon, became one of his most dangerous foes. Having just been crippled by the aforementioned Grodd, Hunter begs Flash to use the Cosmic Treadmill to go back in time and fix Hunter’s many mistakes. It’s not entirely a selfish act by Solomon either, as his tragic life story is revealed. It turns out that Hunter used to be a prominent criminal profiler (you know… like this guys on Criminal Minds. I bet he solved all his cases by asking people to close their eyes), and he worked on a task squad with his wife and father-in-law. They were tracking down a Joker-wannabe named The Clown, and Hunter insisted that, based on the profile he came up with, The Clown would not be armed. So they broke in, The Clown actually was, and Hunter’s father-in-law was killed. This was the first of many dominoes that fell in Hunter’s life, and he figured Wally could help right everything by fixing this moment. But Wally refuses, so Zolomon tries it himself. The Treadmill goes boom, and we get a new Zoom.
Zoom as a villain is interesting. He’s not abjectly evil, but neither is he the kind of villain who does wrong for warped reasons wherein he thinks he is in the right. Solomon knows he is doing evil as Zoom, but his rationale is that he needs to do it—he needs to give Wally tragedy to experience—so that The Flash can be the best hero he can be. So he’s given these abilities, but he doesn’t use them to be a hero… he uses them to put the hero through hell so that the hero comes out the other side in a superior fashion. It’s depressing because it means Hunter knows he isn’t the hero of his own story, but he’s not a crazy psychopath either; he thinks so little of himself that he feels his best use is as a tool in Wally West’s life. This actually fits with Hunter’s character, especially after the reveal of his backstory, because he’s so scarred by what happened to his father-in-law, that he knows he isn’t ultimately responsible enough himself.
Zoom delivers the tragedy to Wally, too, over the course of four issues: the battle against Zoom renders Jesse Quick powerless, he pummels and humiliates Bart Allen, and with a snap his fingers, he creates a sonic boom that causes Linda West to miscarry her and Wally’s twins. Even in the face of this, Wally uses as much mercy as he can muster and defeats Zolomon without killing him, instead trapping him in a timeloop. There are repercussions to this story, too, when Flash goes to The Spectre and wishes to have all of the Flashes’ identities stricken from public memory (a weird side effect to this sees Wally and Linda themselves forget he is The Flash temporarily).
All in all, it’s a high quality story from Johns to lead into Flash #200. Hunter Solomon is a sad and pathetic, yet dangerously powerful figure who is given the power to make amends for his own mistakes but is too broken to take advantage of it. Wally faces a terrible loss, but from that, meets with Barry Allen again and makes a life-altering decision. And all of the existing Flash family—Wally, Jay Garrick, Bart, and Jesse—have to unite to face down the new iteration of Zoom. This story really cemented that Johns was the right choice to handle The Flash after Mark Waid left.
Talking Point: That last bit there… Johns put together a legendary run on Flash right after Mark Waid left from his own epic run. Those are two fantastic bodies of work on one title back-to-back. So what other examples of that in comic history are you a fan of?
Johns’ stretch on Wally West’ life is a 10/10, but for this sage, I knocked it down just a hair because there’s something missing… no rogues! Geoff breathed new life into Captain Cold, Mirror Master, The Trickster, and others, and any time they are M.I.A., things lose just a touch of their charm. This is still a high recommendation, though!