Monday, June 30, 2008

The Future of the Flash, Part IV: How Things Run From Here

That's the point of comics – they don't have to die, because they're fictional creations... We can do anything with them, and we can make them come back and make them defy death... And that's why people read comics, to get away from the way life works, which is quite cruel and unheroic and ends in death.
Grant Morrison

I am writing this under the assumption that Barry Allen is returning for good. This could all be proven wrong at the end of Final Crisis #7 if Barry makes another spectacular sacrifice to save the universe but… well, I think only the permanent return of Barry Allen would warrant enough “buzz” to make it into the New York Daily News.

With that out of the way…

Bringing back Barry Allen to revitalize the Flash franchise is a financial no-brainer for DC Comics. The return of the “classic” versions of Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Hawkman worked very well for the company, rejuvenating concepts that had, in some ways, lost their way. As shown by the spectacular debut issue of Flash: The Fastest Man Alive, there is plenty of interest in the Flash property. Also, as the late 90s/early 00s have proven, the Flash characters are one of the cornerstones of the DC Universe and can support several titles and team books.

With that in mind…

Here are five major moves DC needs to make to ensure a successful re-launch, or there is a very real chance that fan apathy and ever-dropping sales will result in DC not having an ongoing Flash title for the first time since 1959, something that is really inexcusable for one of their top half-dozen franchise characters.

  1. Do not kill off Wally. This one goes without saying. DC had three Flashes (Jay Garrick, Barry, and Wally) at the same time for two decades before Crisis on Infinite Earths and during Waid’s run on Flash there were as many as a half-dozen speedsters running around the title at any time. With four “main” Green Lanterns (and thousands more throughout the universe) there is really no reason why the DC Universe could not have multiple Flashes. If nothing else, it certainly opens up many new storyline possibilities. Clearly many fans were not happy with the sudden death of Bart Allen to clear the deck for Wally’s return, and redoing that for Barry’s sake would probably lead to the same criticism.
  2. Do not kill off Wally’s children. Yes, it is obvious that they are not popular and the “domestic direction” of the book is killing sales. But again, while it was a quick sales boost, Bart’s death seemed to be an unpopular decision and I sincerely doubt that the deaths of Wally’s infant children (no matter how rapidly they age) would go over any better. Stick them in a “paradise dimension,” have them lose their powers, de-age them back to infants , have Norman Osborne steal them and then hide them in Europe – whatever the writer deems best – but simply killing them off smells of a lack of creativity and would probably generate more negative buzz than the Flash property can afford at this point.
  3. Get a high-profile creative team who has a long-term commitment to the book. As I pointed out in Part III, Flash has always performed best with a strong writer committed to the success of the book. High-profile writers and artists almost always boost sales, which Flash desperately needs at this point.
  4. Have a direction and stick to it. The Green Lantern franchise has benefited tremendously by the build and success of the “Sinestro Corps War” and now the slow build to “The Blackest Night.” Geoff Johns was able to pull off similar success (though to a lesser extent) during his last Flash storyline, “Rogue War” (issues #220-225), proving that the Flash is just as capable of building to and executing a successful event. Now it is time to raise the stakes.
  5. Promote it, preferably with honesty. The New York Daily News is a good start, but what DC really needs to do as a goodwill gesture to fans is to be upfront with the new direction – that there will not be anymore quick death fixes, that there will be a clear direction that will not be rapidly changed, and that the creative team will stick around for the long-term. Admit that mistakes have been made with the franchise but the company is making every attempt to get it back on track at a level of quality it deserves (and thus sell at the level it should be selling).

Of course, there are a thousand other suggestions – particularly story related – however I feel that the above five are broad enough to get Flash selling like it should. For the most part they are pretty general in terms of launching a new book in this market, but DC Comics owes it to themselves to get Flash selling among their top ten or twelve titles, and if the last few years have taught us anything it is that a quick fix will not cut it. The best chance they have is with Barry Allen, but DC Comics has to do it right because a character deemed “too dull” over twenty years ago cannot do it on his own.

Even if he did save the universe.

(I would appreciate any feedback on this series – I plan to follow it up in a few months to see how the Flash franchise is recovering. And please keep visiting for other commentaries!)


Anonymous said...

I haven't bought a comic book in about 15 years, but the return of Barry Allen got me interested again. I'll be waiting to see what their plans are for him.

Anonymous said...

Terrific and well-thought out series of articles. If Geoff Johns isn't writing it I hope he's at least consulted on whatever new direction they've got planned. Barry clearly can't be the same character as he was under Cary Bates. Johns or even Grant Morrison, if not writing a new Barry Allen book, could at least help frame and shepherd the new direction and purpose of a Barry Allen Flash. As you suggest, there needs to be a clear and compelling rationale for a new Barry Allen book besides Silver Age nostalgia and this needs to be thought out well before the book is solicited. Such nostalgia can be nice in spots and can be incorporated tonally into the new book but the thrill of seeing Barry again won't on its own ensure the long-term success of the book.

garnet said...

Frankly, I'd prefer that the title lay fallow for a bit until someone has a really good idea for the Flash. I think it helped with Thor. And if it must be Barry for the new run, can they give him a bit more personality this time?

running42k said...

Excellent analysis on the state of the Flash franchise. One point to consider is who does the world think Flash is? Like you, I think they killed Bart off too soon. But they brought back Wally and not Barry. I have thought because due to the success of the JLA cartoon series, an entire generation think Wally is the Flash, the true Flash, and don't even think of Barry within the equation.

kelson said...

I personally don't think it's necessary to re-focus the franchise around Barry, though I've come to recognize the PR value. But I absolutely agree with all five of your points, whether they make the book about Barry, Wally, or the entire Flash Brigade.

#1 and (to a lesser extent) #2 are critical to avoid alienating current readers. #3 and #5 are critical to bring in new readers. #4 is critical to keep people after the relaunch.

Back to #2, I've been seeing a lot of "I'm finally starting to like the twins" on various boards. There are still plenty of people who would happily throw them under a bus, but it seems the audience is warming up to them.