Thursday, March 15, 2012

Arming The Villain With The Hero’s Powers, Flash: Dead Heat Tells A Typical Superhero Story.

The Good: Cool villain, Decent character development
The Bad: Plot is surprisingly standard, Very erratic artwork, The premise keeps changing.
The Basics: Flash: Dead Heat finds the Speedsters of the DC Universe in peril from a powerful villain, with only Wally West – the last Speedster Savitar needs to crush – standing between hope and destruction!

There is something very refreshing about actually having adequate materials to immerse myself in a single superhero’s story each year. This is my Flash Year and unlike last year’s somewhat disastrous Daredevil Year, where I could not get in enough books to actually keep up with my reviewing, this year, I seem to have gotten just enough to keep on top of my research on The Flash. The latest book to come my way from The Flash is Flash: Dead Heat and while I generally enjoyed it, it suffers from some unfortunate problems.

I think the foremost problem with Flash: Dead Heat, and this might just be because I have finally read enough Flash books to realize this, is that DC Comics does not seem to have much faith in the Wally West character. In most of the Flash books that I have read to date that feature Wally West – a character who I am a fan of, as it turns out – Wally is surrounded by other Speedsters, people who have a special relationship with the powerful Speed Force, just as Wally does. As a result, many of the books like Flash: Dead Heat end of being collaborative adventures and Wally West is not given enough of a chance to learn, grow and develop on his own as a character.

Flash: Dead Heat is not bad, though, despite the mid-1990s artwork. Flash: Dead Heat introduces readers to a compelling new villain who creates a small army of ninja speedsters of his own. But by tapping into the Speed Force, the villain Savitar quickly realizes that he needs more power and must become the sole Speedster using the powerful field. With that in mind, Flash: Dead Heat creates a story that threatens all of the Speedsters. In other words, there is a more organic reason for all of the fast-running folks in Flash: Dead Heat.

Appearing for his acolytes who have awaited his coming, Savitar, emerges from the Speed Force, somewhat insane and ready to take on the Speeedsters. This takes the unfortunate immediate effect of robbing the Speed Force from Jay Garrick and Jesse Chambers, as well as a fast courier who falls to his death. When Jay and Jesse confront Wally West about the loss of the Speed Force, Wally becomes convinced there is a problem and he takes them to make sure Bart is safe. Unfortunately, Bart is under attack by ninja acolytes of Savitar who want to rob him of his connection to the Speed Force . . . and his life.

The origin of Savitar, is explained following Bart and Wally stopping the ninjas. Wally tries to discover the relationship between the ninjas and Savitar and discovers that Savitar has a way of keeping his acolytes in line; he hyper-ages them before they can give Wally West any details! With an understanding of Savitar and his goal, which is to become the sole master of the Speed Force, Wally West is isolated in order to protect the Speed Force. While a weakened Bart Allen, Max Mercury, Jesse Chambers, Jay Garrick, a mysterious stranger from the 31rst Century and John Chambers work to protect the Speed Force and citizens of Keystone City with diminished powers, Wally West must figure out how to stop Savitar. That mission is complicated when Wally and Jesse discover Savitar’s hideout, complete with ninjas, Lady Savage and more threats than either predicted!

To its credit, Flash: Dead Heat builds upon the existing Flash storyline well. In the prior storyline, Terminal Velocity, Wally West had temporarily made Jesse Quick his successor. In Flash: Dead Heat, the psych-out that that promotion actually represented has repercussions. Jesse is fairly pissy to Wally and it is hard to blame her. So, despite Savitar being a pretty typical villain “type,” (villains who simply look to appropriate the power of the hero are very common in comic books) Flash: Dead Heat has a decent sense of conflict, much of it is within the Speedsters. Moreover, it is easy to feel Jesse’s anger at being used and that reads as very organic and true.

Writer Mark Waid is not without a strong sense of humor or irony in Flash: Dead Heat, though, so the book does not read as a ridiculously simple comic book story, either. As Wally West and Linda Park move toward their inevitable marriage, Flash: Dead Heat has a great scene where both try to avoid proposing to one another. It is one of the more charming scenes in contemporary comic books.

Flash: Dead Heat does rely upon some knowledge not found within this particular book. Fortunately, Mark Waid seems to understand that he is alluding to characters and stories the reader may not have known about before and as a result, he does a decent job of filling in the blanks for the reader. Unfortunately, one of the big character moments for Jesse Chambers is robbed because she seems to be along for the run, as it were, with Wally West simply for exposition. I enjoyed the fact that ultimately, Flash: Dead Heat had some long-range consequences, something I had not realized until I re-read the Flash section of Blackest Night: Black Lantern Corps – Volume 2 (reviewed here!).

As for the artwork, Flash: Dead Heat is unfortunately erratic. On one hand, that cannot be easily helped. Flash: Dead Heat combines stories from Flash and Impulse comic books. Both have their own artistic teams and as a result, when the chapters that focus on Bart Allen’s Impulse come up, the book looks and feels very different. The more simplistic and cartoonish animation is abrupt and different in the book, making it less cohesive than I would usually like. That said, even many of the standard panels from the Flash comics in Flash: Dead Heat suffer from an unfortunate lack of detailing. Indeed, the reappearance of Savitar makes no sense visually; it only be comes comprehensible what occurred on the page several chapters later! The coloring in Flash: Dead Heat lacks any realistic sense of depth or shading and is hardly to be considered one of the most detailed books on the market.

Ultimately, Flash: Dead Heat is just engaging enough to recommend, but it leaves the reader wishing it were better rendered for a story with such a good initial concept.

For other Flash graphic novels, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Born To Run
The Return Of Barry Allen
The Secret Of Barry Allen
Terminal Velocity
Flash: Rebirth


For other book reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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