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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: "THE HUMAN RACE" (THE FLASH #138-140, 1998)

One of the most memorable "proverbs of hell" in William Blake's MARRIAGE OF HEAVEN AND HELL states that, "Eternity is in love with the productions of time." While I am not a Blake expert, I tend to believe that Blake used this epigram to explain why the denizens of any eternal realm-- be they gods, devils, or angels-- should be mindful of mortal human beings.

Of course, no one can prove what Eternity feels, and I've often thought that it's easier to prove the converse: that human beings, possibly the only self-aware "productions of time," are undoubtedly in love with Whatever They Consider Eternal. Grant Morrison's 1998 FLASH continuity-- which puns upon the idea of "race" as a unity of humans and "race" as a running-contest-- meditates on a similar set of questions: what happens when humans love the universe that isn't part of their everyday world, and whether or not that universe can in any way love them back.

(Note: according to credits, Mark Millar shares co-scripting credit with Morrison. But given that in 1998 Morrison was the more celebrated of the two writers, and that Morrison is better known for stories about wild flights of imagination, I think it probable that Morrison supplied the principal plot and Millar mostly filled in some blanks.)



HUMAN RACE is, to borrow again from Blake, all about the conflict between the "innocence" of childhood, with its tender-minded desire to feel empathy with the world around him, and the world of adult "experience," which teaches one to be "tough minded" and wary of the cold, cruel world. Wally West-- the Flash of Nineties DC-- inherited the mantle of his Silver Age mentor after a long apprenticeship as "Kid Flash" in various TITANS titles. RACE, however, begins by telling the reader that in Wally's middle school years, he was a ham-radio buff. Long before becoming a superhero capable of running faster than light, Wally reached out to the cosmos, seeking confirmation of "life out there." He makes contact with Krakkl, a creature from a world inhabited by living radio-waves. But as Wally gets older, he loses contact with Krakkl and comes to believe that he merely made up an imaginary friend.




Fast forward to Wally's adulthood in the 1990s. As the Flash, he had "experience" with more than his fair share of alien life. This time, Earth is treated to a particularly unpleasant visitation.by aliens so powerful than none of the planet's many superheroes can withstand them. Much in the vein of Lee and Kirby's Galactus, who came to Earth only to devour the planet, the two extraterrestrials known as "the Cosmic Gamblers" care nothing about human beings, except for holding them as ransom to make Flash to do their bidding. And what the Gamblers want is for Flash to race another super-speedster across the universe, just so one or the other of them can win a bet. As a further irony, Wally's opponent is none other than his "imaginary friend," Krakkl, another super-speedster fighting for his own world.



This SF-trope of the "cosmic ransom" was not new even in the Silver Age, but Morrison conceives a new take on it. Usually, when super-powerful aliens force Earthmen to fight other, less powerful aliens for purposes of instruction or amusement, it's a one-shot deal, and the big bad aliens let the Earthmen go afterward. In this story, any time the Gamblers choose racers for their games, they keep said racers under their thumbs, essentially running them to death. While Wally speeds across the universe, his former friend Krakkl says that he's already defeated numerous opponents who perished, along with their worlds. More, Kraakl expects that sooner or later he will be run to death, and that the same fate will befall Wally, even if he wins this race.



I won't discuss in detail the ingenious means used by the hero to circumvent the Gamblers' no-win scenario, though it naturally involves a different contest of speed. What's interesting is that on one hand Morrison gives the reader a vivid picture of the infinite cosmos, with Flash racing through black holes and witnessing the prehistoric incarnations of the Guardians of Oa. while on the other, the author continually grounds the hero's resolve in his affection for his home world, which is in turn mirrored by the protective instincts of his friendly opponent Krakkl. In addition, for once the hero fights for the survival of his friend's world as well as his own, and Morrison even manages a new take on the old chestnut of "all people on Earth send their energy to help the hero," perhaps best known from franchises like DRAGONBALL and X-MEN.



The art of this three-issue arc--by Paul Ryan in #138, and Rob Wagner in #139/140-- is agreeable but not outstanding.


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