Review: Flash: Wonderland trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

I've been waiting for the collection of Geoff Johns' first Flash story, Wonderland, for quite a while now. Reading it, of course, it's easy to see why DC Comics chose to start the Johns Flash collections with Blood Will Run. Wonderland is a more stand-alone story than the others in Johns' run, and with art by Angel Unzueta, it's also a bit rougher than what we've come to expect from Johns. In that way, Flash: Wonderland stands as not just a Flash story, but as something of an interesting historical record of those early days of the modern DC era, when it wouldn't be uncommon to hear someone say, "Geoff who?"

Wonderland finds Flash Wally West waking up in a topsy-turvey universe where lightning never struck any of the Flashes; I don't spoil much by mentioning that Mirror Master turns out to be involved, and also Captain Cold. As a precursor to the rest of Geoff Johns' Flash run, a number of the thematic elements are present here, including the ways in which Wally's relationship with the Rogues differs from Barry Allen's, and how Wally and Captain Cold are in ways more alike than different. Wally's concern at finding himself a school teacher rather than a super-hero is also pointed, in light of his later regaining of his secret identity. In this way, and in light of the fantastic Flash run that follows, Wonderland is worth Flash fans checking out.

At the same time, Wonderland reads unquestionably like the fill-in issues it was meant to be, making no real changes to the Flash character or continuity. The beats of the story are somewhat heavy-handed -- the final villain's beef with Wally regards Wally's choice to follow Barry Allen's legacy, and Wally must protest, for the umpteenth time, that he's his own man. Johns is following here very carefully in the footprints left by Mark Waid, without his trademark take on his heroes' cities and supporting casts, and his Flash story won't really begin to take flight until the next trade. Unzueta's artwork, as well, is functional but not ground-breaking, and one wonders (only briefly) just how much a role the next Flash artist, Scott Kollins, had in bringing to Johns' writing the attention it deserved.

It's notable also that while Flash: Wonderland appears rooted in Flash history -- the villain here is supposedly someone Barry and Wally fought as Flash and Kid Flash -- the history instead comes just from Johns' imagination. This is a change from the deeply continuity-wrought JSA and Infinite Crisis that Johns will write later, and again suggests Johns' position at that time as a writer finding his feet. Flash: Wonderland isn't a perfect story, but it is one worthy of being collected, and I'm glad regardless to finally have the volume in my hands.

[Contains full covers.]


A little more Flash on the way, and we'll see what we tackle from there. Any suggestions?
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3 comments:

  1. Ah, I'd always wondered if that character was a retcon or not - thanks for pointing it out!

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  2. Good review - I would agree that overall this story was not as strong as when Johns was given full-reign on the title, and Scott Kolins joined him to make magic. However, I've always been a sucker for "mirror-universe" tales so I remember having a soft spot for this one.

    However - I would argue that this story is somewhat important reading. The "mirror" Morillo here is the one that crosses over into later stories as the sharpshooting villain Plunder. Though it's possible to understand that villain, I think Wonderland gives some nice depth to that later character that is otherwise lost.

    Man, your review is making me think I should get out the ol' Johns Flash run again. Good stuff.

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  3. Matthew and Colin -- Thanks for the comments and compliments. Colin's right that Wonderland introduces Morillo/Plunder, as well as setting up Brother Grimm's small return later in the series.

    If you liked this flashback, you might also like our retrospective of Geoff Johns' Flash run. Thanks!

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