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Speed Kills

  The Flash: Blood Will Run

 

Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins

DC Comics, 2002

Rating: 3.9

 

 

Posted: April 2, 2002

By The Gentleman

Let's face it: Superhero comics and gritty, real-world atmosphere don't always mix. Certainly, the "grim and gritty" glut of the late '80s proved this, as countless creators took startling miscues from Watchmen and Dark Knight and churned out a succession of maladjusted, pajama-clad sociopaths. While there have been rare exceptions (The O'Neil/Cowan run on The Question comes to mind), attempts at grounding superhero characters in a milieu that readers might recognize have been spotty at best. Arguably, series like Batman and Astro City tread this terrain with some success, but the former's baroque cityscape and outlandish villains and the latter's strong whimsy factor detract from that "this could almost be my city" feel their settings set out to create.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Geoff Johns' recent work on The Flash. While he's toiled for awhile in the DC Universe (most notably on JSA), Johns seems to be making his mark on this title, and the blue-collar atmosphere of Keystone City, Flash's base of operations, is a large part of the reason why. As depicted in recent issues (including those collected in this volume), Keystone is a regular-guy, 9-to-5 kind of place, dominated by industrial mills, rail lines, neighborhood bars and fervent minor-league hockey fans.

As such, it's the perfect home for Wally West, whom Johns grounds as a down-to-earth regular-guy despite having been a professional super-powered crime-fighter since puberty. Here, the Flash is on friendly, we're-all-in-this-together terms with his city's working-stiff police force, and goes out of his way to avoid being painted as an idol or glory-hound. It's a credit to Johns that West's salt-of-the-earth personality is fully believable, even as he stays true to less-than-savory aspects of West's portrayal in different hands over the decades. The progression from the troubled, hot-tempered Kid Flash of the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans to the slightly full-of-himself, immature early-twenty-something of the early days of his solo Flash title to today's seasoned, well-balanced and responsible citizen fleshes out West's character nicely. Johns also manages to integrate some of West's bad-boy past into the book, in a subplot involving a former flame (whom West dumped in rather ungentlemanly fashion) and a question of paternity.

Oh, yes, the plot. Blood Will Run is a rather gruesome tale for a mainstream superhero comic, involving as it does a brainwashed cult that goes about murdering innocents whom the Flash has saved at one time or another. It's a bit jarring watching characters get stabbed to death, or seeing Flash react in shock as he enters a morgue full of victims targeted solely because he once saved their lives. But it works, up to a point, because of the consistent, grime-under-your-fingertips feel of the series and its setting. (Credit where it's due department: Props, as it were, must be paid to penciler Scott Kolins and colorist James Sinclair, in particular, for rendering Keystone as a dingy, slightly-drab analog to Pittsburgh or Detroit, a monochromatic hub of industry where the colorful costumes and actions of Flash and his cohorts stand out in sharp contrast.)

What works less well is the resolution of this grim tale: While Cicada, the enigmatic cult leader, starts out as an intriguing addition to Flash's villain roster, his rationale for his grisly actions is slimmer than Calista Flockhart, and doesn't hold up. The second tale of the collection, involving the aforementioned paternity issue, is decent, although it's nothing that previous Flash scribes like Mark Waid or William Messner-Loebs couldn't have done just as well.

But if the stories themselves ultimately prove to be little more than well-done genre standard, it's the details of West's character and his adopted city that make Blood Will Run a winner. Touches like villain Captain Cold attending a Keystone Combines hockey game (decked out in a team jersey and with a hooker on his arm) and Kolins' expertly evocative renderings of a precinct house and automotive plant -- along with some promising new supporting players (including a grizzled beat cop and a smug, self-congratulatory detective) -- serve to make Blood Will Run a satisfying and promising foundation for future stories, and mark Johns as a writer to watch.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: Breaks new ground
 4.0-4.9: First-rate
 3.0-3.9: Solid
 2.0-2.9: Mediocre
 1.1-1.9: Bad
 0.0-1.0: The worst

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