Here we are, beginning my quest to discipline and hone the way I read and think about comics. This would normally be the part where I give you a little bit of my comics reading background - an origin story, if you will - but that just doesn’t seem necessary. Long story short, though: I’ve been reading comics for about a decade, though I’ve often been without the money to pursue it seriously. I’ve hit many of the key points, but I want to dig deeper, and so I’ve begun a kind of journal to help me do that.
So, we begin with one of the most acclaimed superhero runs of the 1990s: the first issue of Mark Waid’s run on The Flash.
Flash #62 (May, 1992)
Writer: Mark Waid
Penciller: Greg LaRocque
Inker: Jose Marzan, Jr.
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Tim Harkins
We’re starting off with a bit of an easy one for me, as I’ve read this particular comic about five times (three times in the last two days). It’s easily one of the best first issues of a run I’ve ever read, and it includes what is, for me, one of the best opening sequences of any superhero comic. Greg LaRocque’s one-panel page of Wally West barreling toward us at full speed the minute you open the book is a classic Flash moment.
I said that there would be no predictable way in which I approached these comics when I started this thing, so while I will say that I dig the art (right down to the lettering and coloring) in this issue, what I really want to talk about is Waid, because this is a textbook issue. Seriously, he knew exactly how to begin, and he nailed every page of this thing.
Flash #62 is the first issue of the “Born to Run” storyline, part of a larger branding as FLASH: YEAR ONE, an attempt to revisit the origin story of Wally West, the third Flash (and quite possibly the best Flash). So it’s not just another issue of a comic. It’s a return to Wally West’s origin, the story of how he became first Kid Flash and then The Flash. Waid is keenly aware of these events. He’s famous for his continuity expertise, but he’s also famous for using old details of a character’s life in new ways. So, rather than retell Wally’s origin story in a straightforward (and possibly ultimately boring) way, he structures it as a frame story in which an adult Wally looks back on how he became the reigning Fastest Man Alive.
The opening sequence I was talking about earlier features Wally trying to find a soon-to-explode bomb in a massive airport, and it’s a textbook example of how to place a superhero in the midst of an absolute action moment while still telling us so much about him. The structure of these pages - which we have both Waid and LaRocque to thank for - is always, always, always conveying motion, and Waid’s monologue from inside Wally’s head is perfect. It’s perfect because he fills it with plot points but also constantly references just who Wally is. The rest of the issue is just like that.
Even as we find ourselves taking a trip down Memory Lane with Wally to the time he first met his aunt Iris’ boyfriend - the then-Flash, Barry Allen - we keep getting clues about who Wally is. He fidgets when his grandfather drives too slow. He’s starving after a particularly exhausting bout of Running Really Damn Fast (that might be my favorite little insight into Flash’s powers in this issue), he tells himself to “put it in neutral” when he feels like he’s thinking too much. Though the story is masterfully structured, it’s these things that are the real gems. These are the things that made Mark Waid a great Flash writer, and Wally West a great character.