Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Geoff Johns' Flash, Part 2: "Blood Will Run"

As Jim Roeg pointed out in the last installment's comments, Geoff Johns was tapped to write "Wonderland" before becoming regular Flash writer. Therefore, "Blood Will Run" (Flash #s 170-73, March-June 2001) may be more representative of his tenure.

"BWR" also marked the start of new regular penciller Scott Kolins (inked by Doug Hazlewood). Kolins' work is crisp and detailed, with just a hint of stylization. This really complemented Johns' straightforward scripting. Kolins' backgrounds also brought life to the kind of "shabby urban decay" Johns envisioned for Keystone City. My only quibble with Kolins' work was that he tended to have lightning engulf Wally's winged earpieces. For me this futzed with the proportions of Wally's head, at least subliminally.

"BWR" has three basic components: Cicada, a new villain who runs a strange cult devoted equally to serial killing and worshiping the Flash; Magenta, Wally's grown-up Blue Valley College flame Frances Kane; and Chyre & Morillo, mismatched buddy cops. The story's McGuffin is Officer Julie Jackam, Chyre's partner and an old (and apparently heretofore unseen) flame of Wally's from the wild days of his early 20s. After Wally saves Julie and Chyre from a rampaging killer, Julie is murdered by the Cicada cult. The killer uses a lightning-bolt-shaped knife which crackles with energy when it stabs her. Soon it's discovered that the cultists are killing everyone who has been saved by the Flash, so that Cicada himself can somehow steal the Flash's energy and use it to re-animate his dead wife. Turns out Cicada has recruited Magenta, and from there the carnage escalates.

Before that, though, a brief digression for Flash #170's nascent subplots. First, Wally's trying to groom Jesse Quick to take over his role in the then-current Titans group, but she's too busy running her own company. Second, Wally sees Captain Cold in the crowd at a hockey game. Third, Pied Piper gets a cryptic message about a favor he owes his dad. Fourth, the new union commissioner is Keith Kenyon, a/k/a Goldface, who fought Green Lantern back in the day. Fifth, Julie's new baby may or may not be Wally's. Of these, only the first has a bearing on "BWR," but they will all pay off eventually.

Kolins also packs a lot of visual information into this issue. The first page is a good sepia-toned sequence introducing both the speeding Wally and the city itself. Like I said, Kolins does good backgrounds; and James Sinclair and Digital Chameleon on colors use an almost pastel-shaded palette to separate them from the deeper-shaded figures. (Chyre also looks a lot like Marv from Sin City, but I don't know enough about the latter to say whether Kolins and Hazelwood were influenced by it.) Again, the art is consistently effective throughout the issues.

Back to the plot. Part 2 (Flash #171 (April 2001)) opens with a rash of murders similar to Julie's. Det. Morillo explains to Flash the victims' common denominator. Meanwhile, Magenta's been arrested for previous crimes against Keystone City property, and Linda's being stalked by a cultist. When Julie's body is discovered, it sends Chyre into a rage, because her grandfather was also his first partner, and how dare anyone try to stop him from finding her killer? Later, Wally visits Frances in jail and tries to apologize for the way their relationship ended, but she blasts him and reveals she's one of the Children of Cicada.

Flash #172 (May 2001) begins with Chyre punching Morillo, the object of the aforementioned rage. Their bonding-through-violence is interrupted by Magenta's rampage through the police station. She uses her magnetic powers to grab a metal key which had been buried under the building, and carries an unconscious Flash to Cicada's temple. There he's held motionless in a magnetic bottle while being worshiped by the Cicadites. Cicada himself then reveals his secret origin. Years ago, his wife's murder drove him to the brink of suicide, but before he could kill himself he was struck by lightning. That apparently gave him a reason for living -- namely, a vision of immortality for himself and those who join his cause.

Cicada doesn't explain further just yet, except to say that it requires murder and sacrifice. He unlocks his wife's energy-laden tomb, and stabs Flash with one of the lightning-bolt knives. The wife's corpse starts to crackle as well.

In Flash #173 (June 2001), Linda's finally gotten ahold of Jesse Quick, just in time for Jesse to save her from a Cicada cultist blowing up Casa West. The bomber hasn't gotten far, but he kills himself before Jesse and Linda can learn anything from him.

Back with Cicada and Wally: although there's still stabbing going on, Wally has enough energy for an internal monologue, wondering what those funky knives steal -- Speed Force? Souls? Once the stabbing ends, Mrs. Cicada (named Elizabeth) starts walking unsteadily and groaning in zombie fashion -- and then she turns on Cicada and his followers. She incinerates some Cicadites with lightning from her eyes, and chokes Cicada, grunting "No love. Just misery."

At that point Chyre & Morillo show up, and their odd-couple pairing literally inspires Wally to mix his Speed Force aura with Magenta's magnetic powers. The combination of electrical discharge and magnetism makes Magenta "the most powerful magnet in the Midwest," and Wally quickly disarms the remaining cultists. Elizabeth has become more lucid in the meantime, revealing that Cicada killed her the first time. Cicada kills her again. Chyre pumps him full of lead, but to no avail. Wally attacks Cicada, ultimately pumping him full of Speed Force in order to overload him. Cicada goes to jail still proclaiming Flash as his personal savior.

In a denouement at the destroyed West home, Wally explains to Linda that he'd rather live more simply, now that he's matured. The lightning-bolt scar from Cicada's knife reminds him both of his connection to the Speed Force and that he's only human. Morillo and Chyre each get their own official Epilogues -- Morillo discovers that his own cultist-inflicted stab wound has given him weird auto-healing powers, and Chyre has a good idea of who Julie's baby's daddy is. (Hint: he's holding a Flash doll and his eyes are crackling with lightning.)

Obviously Johns and Kolins put more world-building into this arc than "Wonderland." The story is paced more efficiently, with the book's ongoing subplots confined largely to the first part (except for a couple of Goldface and Piper references in the second). More time is spent on Wally's relationships to Linda, to the police, and to Keystone City itself. Johns also uses Frances/Magenta to ground the long-term reader in familiar continuity -- not just with her last appearance, but also her first (in the above-linked New Teen Titans #17).

I have to admit, I didn't like Chyre or Morillo until I started re-reading this arc. I am still not a big Chyre fan, because as the gruff cop sworn to protect a daughterly-but-capable partner, he seems too cliched. His early adventures with Morillo were also familiar. On the other hand, I did like Morillo the second time around, and look forward to rediscovering how his new powers will play out.

Unfortunately, "Blood Will Run" starts falling apart once Cicada starts explaining his plan. It's just too vague. Somehow, getting struck by lightning after his wife's death made him realize he could be immortal if he collected I-don't-know-what from the Flash. Add to that several unanswered questions -- how and why his wife died; why the Flash was involved; what the lightning-bolt knives collected; why his wife was buried in a metal energy-collecting tomb; and why the key to said tomb was itself buried under the police station. The story is told in such a way that it makes perfect sense to the characters, but not to the readers. Of course, on some level all superhero stories are nonsensical, but this one shies away from testing its own logic.

Even so, I get the feeling that any more exposition might well have upset that efficient pace I praised earlier. "Blood Will Run" bounced around some intriguing ideas, along with enough plot holes to prod the next Geoff Johns into filling them.

I would leave this essay at that, except to note that Cicada is the second Johns villain in as many arcs to not only come after the Wally West Flash specifically, but also to have some misguided affection for him. Remember, Brother Grimm felt betrayed by Wally; and now Cicada ostensibly worships him. When Johns introduces his version of Professor Zoom, he'll have a similarly twisted desire to "help" Wally.

Next: Rogues old and new, plus parental issues!


Brian Cronin said...

Really disliked the concept of Blood Will Run.

Killing off everyone the Flash has ever saved?

That's kinda, well, SUPER DEPRESSING, no?

Tom Bondurant said...

Two things come to mind:

1. I would love to see the committee meeting deciding who will be the next victim. Do they go in chronological order? Do Jay, Barry, or Wally's Kid Flash saves count? What about partial saves, say where Superman or Green Lantern is also involved? Most importantly, where on the church's organizational chart is the Proposed Victim Committee?

2. It also reminds me of the alien in the Hitchhiker's Guide series who went through the universe insulting everyone in alphabetical order ("Arthur Philip Dent?"). Seems like his task was only slightly more complicated.