Continuing Flash Week at Collected Editions!
Undoubtedly one of the prices of a successful run for a comics writer is that your fan base expects you do to the same every time. Such must certainly be the case for Mark Waid; his Flash: Wild Wests is nothing like The Return of Barry Allen, nor should it be, even though I might have been hoping so. Wild Wests is a fair entry into the genre of superhero family stories, if there is such a thing; but unfortunately, it doesn't really distinguish itself as a Flash story nor rise much above standard superheroics.
Without a doubt, the very best thing about Waid's new foray into Flash is Wally West's children Jai and Iris. Waid ages the twins, but wisely not too old, such that they're rare adorable preteens in a DC Universe mostly populated with smarmy Damian Waynes. That Iris notes she's special because her parents say so, or Jai delights in his mother wearing a funny hat, is just plain cute, and Waid does well mining a "cute" vein that DC doesn't much else see outside Tiny Titans. Even the kids' powers are cute -- Jai bulks up to a tiny muscleman, but has to take a nap after he does so; Iris teases her brother by vibrating through him to steal his breakfast.
Under the cuteness, however, Waid addresses a problem to which many parents can likely, unfortunately, relate: how to let a sick, possibly terminal kid still have a childhood? Wally and Linda (Park) West are exactly the parents that long-time Flash readers would expect -- cool, funny, understanding, and up-for-anything, but with a significant undercurrent of constant worry about their children, who could rapidly age, even to the point of death, at any moment.
Waid does well to let Wally receive some criticism from the Justice League for putting his children in harm's way (not unlike the parents of recently-stranded sixteen-year-old sailor Abby Sunderland). Wally decides in full, after a heart-rending talk with Jai, to let his children face danger if that's what they want; it's a decision that seems obvious on the pages of a comic book, but has proved more controversial in real life, and I appreciated Waid approaching the issue.
The character moments, however, don't make up for a rather lackluster plot involving a very standard alien invasion. The aliens are bad guys all along and end the story as bad guys; as such, there's no nuance to the story, short of the children, beyond the Flash running around and punching things. To make the unfair comparison, Waid's previous Flash stories were so full of Speed Force mythology and cool speed tricks; here, Wally's speed is mostly a weakness in that the aliens make him dehydrated (of all things) faster, and not much of a boon.
Daniel Acuna's art in the first chapters has a fluidity that shows off both the West kids' powers and the aliens well, but later Freddie Williams' pages suffer from lack of detail (no one has eyes, for instance) and awkward poses that keep the story's climax from popping.
In addition, I have to pick at a production level difficulty, too. When these Flash issues came out, they had a backup story about various Flashes visiting the planet Savoth; DC collects those backup stories all together at the end of the book. Only thing is, something that happens in that story is vitally important to understanding the main story's resolution, but reading this book in order, the main story's resolution is unintelligible (out of nowhere, they're on a friendly alien planet) and lacks much of its intended weight.
(Not to mention -- if I can be really picky -- I remain entirely confused about what's meant to have happened to Wally West after Infinite Crisis. Distinctly we saw Wally go into the Speed Force with Bart Allen, Max Mercury, and Barry Allen; Bart himself recalls living on a duplicate Earth with Wally and Barry where they imprisoned Superboy-Prime; but Wild Wests would tell us Wally was never there and on Savoth instead. My hope is that Flash: Rebirth will explain all this, but I'd bet it's just an overlooked story point that'll ultimately just be ignored.)
Little of that is Mark Waid's fault, but ultimately this story doesn't have the gusto of a Flash comeback; I really wonder if the run collected in Flash: The Wild Wests was ever meant to be ongoing, or if it was instead a miniseries-posing-as-series (as, if you believe DC, Flash: Fastest Man Alive was supposed to be). I would read a West family miniseries by Waid, no doubt, but for the content of the main Flash title, this isn't quite it.
[Contains full and variant covers, brief bio page, backup story]
Coming tomorrow, the main event ... the Collected Editions review of Flash: Rebirth. Be here!