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Wally West takes centerstage, not quite the Avengers, and Bullet Train 1987
The Flash #1, Firestorm #60, Justice League #2, Vigilante #42, Wonder Woman #5
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The Flash #1 by Mike Baron and Jackson Guice
When Crisis of Infinite Earths ended, it seemed to make clear that Wally West had inherited Barry Allen’s legacy as the Flash. As a reader who didn’t pick up an issue of Wally’s series until nearly issue one hundred, I was one of many people who had a particular view of the character and the series. Wally West’s run as the Flash defined the post-Crisis era in many ways.
It’s crazy it took fourteen months from the end of Crisis until the first issue of Wally’s series. Like Man of Steel or Suicide Squad, it seemed clear DC editorial looked outside their regular players to find the creative team. At this point in his career, writer Mike Baron’s only DC work was years earlier on the final issues of Atari Force. Like John Ostrander, he was known for his work at First Comics, specifically on Nexus and Badger, and still months away from his launch of the Punisher ongoing at Marvel. Penciler Jackson Guice was a Marvel guy, with work on X-Factor and New Mutants before taking on the Flash. Unlike those aforementioned titles, neither creator would stick around all that long. Guice won’t last out the first year, while Baron didn’t stick around too much after his departure.
The first issue of the book does a lot to show us why that might be. The one thing neither writer nor artist seem to have here is a good grasp on who Wally West is, or who they want him to be. They have the redefinition of his power left from his run on Titans, where he’s able to run only around Mach One, and any exertion of his powers leaves him ravenously hungry. But they don’t do a lot to give us who he is. Heck, he goes to a party held by the other Titans and his girlfriend Frances Kane, and barely acknowledges any of their identities. (Frances even gets misnamed Francine here!)
The basic plot is a story used by DC a few times before and since. A heart needs to be taken cross country as fast as possible. This isn’t the easy task it would be for his late mentor at his new speed. But he’s not going to say no. He is going to insist on free healthcare in exchange for his work though. This Flash doesn’t do anything for free in a true Luke Cage fashion.
He takes the heart to its new home, but along the way, he interrupts a murder. He can’t stop the crime, nor can he pursue the criminal — a man he recognizes but can’t quite place. He doesn’t have time to stop him though and heads back out to carry the heart to its destination.
He flies back from the West Coast (stopping a terrorist on the plane in the process) and finds no one waiting for him after over a day away. He sits down in front of the television… and learns he’s won the lottery. He doesn’t have time to celebrate at home, as he finds a package containing a human heart… and the murderer waiting for him, one Vandal Savage.
The choice of villain for the Flash’s return is an interesting one. Originally a golden age Green Lantern villain, he was revived as a rival for Barry Allen and Jay Garrick to team up and face. Of course in this post-Crisis era, those fights didn’t evolve any dimensional travel. Savage has always existed in this single reality and is none too happy to see the new Flash in his business. Much like Black Adam, our view of the importance of Vandal Savage over the years is greatly different than the actual scope of his use in pre-Crisis comics. Despite everything done to make him a Justice League-level threat later on, this is only about his eighteenth appearance ever in comics history.
The first year of this title remains infamous for an incredibly rocky start. But despite Wally’s lack of purpose and limited personality, the first issue of the book has its charms. I’m certainly curious to see where the creative team will take the title over the months ahead.
Fury of Firestorm #60 by John Ostrander & Joe Brozowski
After months of Legends tie-ins and a battle with Parasite, it’s time for the Ostrander era of Fury of Firestorm to really kick into high gear. This issue is closure for the younger days of Ronnie Raymond, even as Martin Stein starts to come to terms with his own mortality.
At the end of the last issue, Robbie and Professor Stein decided to take some time away from Firestorm in order to fix the messes their lives have become. Ronnie’s first priority is his long-term girlfriend Doreen Day. Doreen is none too happy with Ronnie’s constant disappearances and terrible excuses. This leaves Ronnie to chase off after her, but the two instead stumble onto a dangerous scene. As the weather worsens, a lone figure stands ready to plunge off the top of one of the campus’s tallest buildings.
Standing next to Doreen as the man jumps, Ronnie has no choice but to change directly in front of her. Stein isn’t too happy that Robbie broke the promise to not form Firestorm until he learns the nature of the emergency. Firestorm flies up to break the fall of the man. He’s beyond disgusted when he realizes the man he saved is none other than his long-time rival Cliff Carmichael. The police take Carmichael into custody. Ronnie has to track down Doreen once again.
In an interesting storytelling decision, Ostrander doesn’t take any of the normal tropes of a secret identity with Doreen. Instead, she reacts like any long-time significant other would react if their love interest kept a secret that large from them. She’s livid that even after years as Firestorm and years of dating, Ronnie would never confess the reality of his powers to his loved ones. She’s as outraged that his father still isn’t aware, even though his new stepmother does. (That stepmother is Felicity Smoak — a woman known far more as an Arrow love interest in recent years than for anything involving the Firestorm property.)
Their fight is interrupted, as the local police wish for both of them to come to the station to hear accusations made by Cliff. Cliff admits that he cut the strap of a helmet that his cousin wore, hoping to cause injury to Ronnie instead. That cousin ended up paralyzed and that’s why Cliff wished to die. This leads to a sociopathic rant about Ronnie’s worthlessness and that his attempts to woo Doreen for all those years were just a point of conquest he wished to achieve rather than an actual romantic interest. They leave as the police plan to remit Cliff for mental treatment.
Doreen breaks up with Ronnie and tells him he needs to tell his father his secret sooner rather than later. Ronnie and Professor Stein walk off together, both now in a dark place in their lives.
Ostrander took Firestorm into directions never imagined by original creator Gerry Conway. This issue is the first step in that process as Firestorm and his component secret identities take very different routes in their lives. Some people hated the changes. Some people loved them. But the Spider-Man parallels for the character will soon be a thing of the past as Firestorm moves into the post-Crisis DCU.
Justice League #2 by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis, and Kevin Maguire
Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis hop right back into the second issue of Justice League not long after the end of the first. The team is back inside their headquarters, but Batman and Martian Manhunter are quite concerned about where Doctor Light got her Justice League signal device. (A device that uses better tech than their own outdated ones.)
They’re interrupted by Blue Beetle, who shows everyone a less-than-stellar review of their new team by Jack Ryder’s news program. In his office complex, a mysteriously be-suited man — that we of course know as Maxwell Lord after numerous appearances over the years — watches the same news program with a hint of annoyance.
Doctor Fate visits a mysterious gray-haired man. He and Fate know one another and it’s clear he’s another figure in the ongoing battle between the Lords of Order and Chaos.
Then we finally meet the issue’s new foes, three costumed vigilantes attacking a missile-holding facility in Bialya. Wadjina, Bluejay, and Silver Sorceress (whose costume notably features no silver) destroy their missiles. It’s part of a larger quest to end the proliferation of nuclear weapons entirely. It’s a very noble 80s-era goal, but they have the powers to literally rip away these weapons. They also pay a passing resemblance to Marvel’s Thor, Scarlet Witch, and Yellowjacket, which is definitely not by accident.
These three heroes appeared once before, way back in December of 1970. That month in Justice League of America #87, the team fought the Champions of Angor, while in Avengers #85, four members of the team end up on the world of the Squadron Supreme. The two stories play out very similarly, a coy attempt at a crossover by writers Mike Friedrich and Roy Thomas. With Marvel having wrapped a Squadron Supreme limited series just a year earlier, it seemed Giffen and DeMatteis thought it was time to bring the Champions back as well.
The leader of Bialya, Colonel Rumaan Hajarvti, recruits them as allies rather than enemies. He’s clearly looking to use them as his own national hero team, but they are willing to listen to him in order to accomplish their goals.
We also learn why they’re so angry about the danger of nuclear weapons. It seemed their world was now destroyed, wiped out by a nuclear apocalypse that killed everyone. But their threat to several countries’ nuclear supplies also make them incredibly dangerous. The Justice League moves to intercept, but before they can even deliver more than a couple blows, the Bialyan military makes it clear they are not welcome in the country.
The issue ends with the Justice League apparently backing down as Hajarvti recommends the Champions’ next target should be Russia.
This issue is jam-packed with story, aided and abetted by Kevin Maguire’s natural ability to show emotion and expression in a way many comic artists cannot match. But it’s also a second issue that is just about setting up things to come. We have three mysteries occurring at once without any resolution of anything. It offers some intriguing possibilities but gives very little to really hold on to in the issue itself. The trademark humor of the book is started to develop though, right down to a quip from Maxwell Lord that he has Jack Ryder’s file listed under “C.” (The Creeper was only a few months away from his first in-costume post-Crisis appearance in a Giffen-drawn Secret Origins.)
Ultimately, while beautiful, the Justice League still isn’t as strong a book as DC’s other recent debuts. If I was buying it back in 1987, I’m not sure I’d stay aboard after this. In 2023, I’m well aware that the series will get infinitely better in the months ahead, but it’s still not quite there yet.
Vigilante #42 by Paul Kupperberg and Tod Smith
While Mike W. Barr seemed to take Outsiders backward in his last months on the book, Paul Kupperberg is clearly already planning for the future here. Ultimately, three titles would spin out of his work on the title. I have no clue how much planning was going into wrapping this series up in favor of those titles. It’s possible that Checkmate! might have simply been meant as a direct continuation of this series before the decision was made to leave Adrian Chase behind, but the seeds that would form two other series are gaining steam as this issue rolls along.
The issue opens with Valentina Vostok and Harry Stein, the two individuals building the nascent government outfit that will become Checkmate. They are immediately attacked on a Washington, D.C. street by Peacemaker. Christopher Smith is completely off his rocker here. He’s been convinced by the voices in his head that Valentina is a Russian agent and Stein is an Islamic terrorist after plastic surgery. Now he’ll stop at nothing to end them.
Stein and Vostok escape their bulletproof foe, but the attack makes television. Adrian Chase sees it back in New York and hops the first train down to the District of Columbia.
Stein learns a bit about Vostok’s past as they’re put in a secured office to protect them from another attack by Peacemaker. She reveals her history with the Doom Patrol, but not her powers. Any continued conversation is cut short as the janitor reveals himself to be Peacemaker and attacks again. Stein and Vostok manage to survive his attack long enough for security officers to arrive, but Peacemaker makes his escape.
Adrian Chase gets attacked on his train. A hired killer named Stringer attacks him, ready to collect the money on his head quite unaware that the man that put the bounty on the Vigilante’s head died the previous issue. A master at using a wire to choke his foes, Stringer’s superior size causes him to get the best of Chase initially. Chase’s will to live is enough to allow him to pull out a victory. Ultimately, he shoves Stringer out the side of the train… just as they reach an old mail hook on the side of the tracks. Stringer is impaled, never to be seen again. He takes a deep breath, lucky to have survived to continue his journey next issue.
Penciler Tod Smith and inker Rick Burchett are far stronger artists than I remember. While Smith will never be labeled as a star-quality artist, his action storytelling is excellent. Kupperberg’s script plays characters well off of one another, with Chase’s old relationship with Stein bringing him back into his old friend and foil’s radius.
Adrian Chase is still a man without any real motivation left. He’s a killer at the end of his road with nowhere left to go. But it’s easy to ignore that as the rest of the plot allows the action to continue while prepping for something more ahead. I’m still not quite sure why Vigilante lasted fifty issues, but it seems clear even Kupperberg knew Chase couldn’t continue on the same path much longer. With nearly half the issue devoted to Peacemaker, Stein, and Vostok, it seems clear he knew the focus would need to turn.
Wonder Woman #5 by George Perez with Len Wein
After last month’s battle with Decay, the disparate heroes of George Perez’s Wonder Woman have come together. The scholar Julia Kapatelis. Military man Steve Trevor and his aide Etta Candy. And another military man with ties to everyone Matthew Michaelis. It takes all of Julia’s knowledge to decipher the nature of the plan they face. And it sets them on a path to find the other half of the amulet that Wonder Woman carries. Thankfully, Diana has started to figure out English as she gets ready to go into battle with them at her side.
This leads Diana and her allies into the extraplanar realm where Phobos and Deimos have watched over things from. Phobos stays back, using his fear powers to summon each of Diana’s friends’ greatest fears. They switch foes in order to overcome them, but Wonder Woman is left in the clutches of Deimos and his snake hair and beard. It presents quite the creepy visual, which this cover does not quite capture.
With Deimos on the edge of victory, Wonder Woman does something her previous incarnation wouldn’t do. She does something that would come to define the differences between her and heroes like Superman and Batman in this post-Crisis world. Diana hurls her tiara straight through the throat of Deimos, beheading him.
Wonder Woman kills.
That plot point would come into play in major ways years later, doing so much as to turn a character just making his debut concurrently to this book in the pages of Justice League into a big enough Wonder Woman foe to appear in her second film. Of all the changes made to her with the hard reboot of Wonder Woman #1, this would be the most significant.
Similar to his character, George Perez kills it on the art. Older men and women look older. Deimos looks truly grotesque. And every page is more of a masterwork than the last. With Bruce Patterson on inks, this is some of the best George Perez work ever put to the page.
The book ends with the team finally arriving in the military base taken over by the mad General Tolliver. They make it there just in time to see the appearance of the true villain they’ve faced all along: the god of war Ares. It’s an epic finish to an ever-burgeoning story, one that looks to reach a major climax next issue.
Elsewhere in the DCU in March of 1987…
A lot of fighting, the weakest of mysteries, & that time Tintin appeared in DC Comics: Blue Beetle #13 by Len Wein and Paris Cullins; New Teen Titans #32 by Paul Levitz & Eduardo Barreto; Teen Titans Spotlight #11 by RJM Lofficier and Joe Orlando