Saturday, October 27, 2012

Of the Essence

A mix of greatest hits awaited me on the third Wednesday of October, 2012. Nothing overtly brilliant in the lot, mind you, just standard greatness deserving a bend of the nerdy knee. From Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato is The Flash, entering his second year as one of DC's hotly relaunched New 52 titles.

These caffeinated creators put forensic cop Barry Allen through his paces as the Scarlet Speedster, pitting him against not only the ethically-challenged Rogues (Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, Heat Wave and Glider), but also an army of super-intelligent gorillas. The twist here is that Gorilla Grodd (their super-sized king) doesn't merely want Central City or the world, but access to Barry's source of power, the Speed Force. Cue the classically gonzo multitasking that Geoff Johns tortured Wally West with about ten years ago when he shot The Flash with fresh electricity.

Barry's world, as usual, is a painterly wonderland. Softly-colored backgrounds allow brightly-costumed principles to command our attention (and quicken the narrative) effortlessly. Also, Manapul's layouts here are noticeably more widescreen than in the first story arc. Micro-panels no longer persist (that we might follow Barry's thoughts), and the gorilla army possesses terrifying girth. The final page, revealing Grodd to be prehistorically huge and crackling with energy, is a stunner.

As is the last issue of Marvel's FF, written by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Nick Dragotta. By FF, we mean the Future Foundation, the big-brained Reed Richard's motley assortment of undisciplined geniuses that includes Alex Power, Dragon Man, Leech, Artie, a few of Mole Man's underlings, and his own two children, Franklin and Valeria. For now, only these last two need concern us, since the appearance of their adult selves from the future is a bulging back o' treats all by itself.

"Intelligence without imagination is pretty much useless," says adult Franklin to his child self. "Creating is harder than knowing." This adaptation of Einstein's words carries the funereal tone of parting wisdom, for the bearded time-traveler is about to exit the present stage, having spent a few years helping young Franklin deal with the emergence of his awesome power. The lad, born of heroes Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman, is a mutant. He can alter reality and has been practicing his abilities in a pocket universe inside his bedroom closet.

Can you tell Hickman's got kids? Reading FF (and companion title Fantastic Four) during his reign of clever, you realize the scripts are odes to parenting. Here, in bittersweet blowout, older Franklin tells the younger that they're going to perform every last adventure they've ever dreamed up (and written on scraps of paper).

Nick Dragotta, an artist of sweeping emotional prowess, offers one bouncing tableau after another, featuring: vegetarian werewolves, space chickens, vampire school teachers, jell-o-knights- all met by the ferociously adventurous Franklin, Franklin and Leech. Then, after the boy is tuckered out and placed in bed, adult Franklin bids his parents farewell. Susan Richards, channeling her fretfully intellectual husband (and Hickman himself), says, "Being a parent, having children... it's a constant war between uncertainty and hope. So you live in fear, and you have these doubts..." Reed, adopting his wife's centered soulfulness, asks, "Did we do a good job, son?" Before fizzling away, he says, "A perfect one. I love you guys." It's hard for us not to as well.

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