Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mediocre Origins, Impulse: Reckless Youth Tells The Origins Of Bart Allen!

The Good: Moments of humor, Decent pace of character development
The Bad: Stories have abrupt resolutions, Implausible origins
The Basics: Impulse: Reckless Youth provides the origins of Bart Allen and his earliest adventures as Impulse in Alabama.

When DC Comics began its “New 52” strategy, I knew it would, ultimately, be a failure. It takes a special form of arrogance for a company to reorganize itself during a recession with a new strategy to put out fifty-two comic books a month. The most ridiculous aspect of the strategy was that it only works so long as all fifty-two publications are being produced, before it becomes some macabre commentary on overreaching ambition. As the first “New 52” titles that are getting the ax have been announced, I cannot help but feel a little smug. After all, it was an entirely foreseeable thing that not all of the titles would survive and putting the number of titles in the jingly little reboot name was hubristic. Moreover, DC Comics should have known better; at one point their ambition exceeded their grasp and comic books like Impulse were produced.

Actually, I should not knock Impulse too much, as I came into Impulse: Reckless Youth as part of my Flash Year actually liking Bart Allen. Of course, most of my enjoyment of the character came from the resolution to his arc that came the second time he had a comic book of his own. At the point when Bart Allen was Impulse, he as a wisecracking secondary character in The Flash and, frankly, there was enough of him in the background role to satisfy me. Impulse: Reckless Youth was, in many ways, an unnecessary volume for me in my Flash Year.

That said, Impulse: Reckless Youth finally provided me with the introduction of Bart Allen, so it is hard to complain too much. Split into two essential parts, Impulse: Reckless Youth gives the origin story of Bart Allen, the speedster from the future, and – after an extensive summary of the storyline he had in The Flash - provides his first adventures with Max Mercury in Alabama following Wally West’s return after defeating Kobra.

When Wally West and Linda Park move into a place outside of town, Linda is deep into research on the disappearance of several obscure religious cults. Her investigative reporting could not come at a worse time as Wally soon finds himself distracted by the sudden reappearance of his aunt, Joan Allen, in normal time and space. Joan did not come alone: she brought her grandson, Bart Allen. Bart is a speedster who is only two years old, but has the body of a twelve year-old because he is tapped into the Speed Force. Raised in a virtual reality simulation, Bart Allen is unused to the real world, so Barry must chase him down and realign his metabolism before the boy ages himself to death! While Wally tries to do that, Linda comes under attack from the footsoldiers of Kobra, with only the Pied Piper to protect her!

This first section features some artwork that looks more akin to Archie Comics than what one expects from a DC Comics title. However, the sections from The Flash provide the initial framework for the Bart Allen story, as preposterous as it may be. It is problematic only in that the story is deeply ingrained with the rising action of a long character and plot arc involving one of Wally West’s great, unique to him, adversaries, Kobra. Because this volume is the only one that has those key chapters, it annoyingly becomes essential to readers of The Flash, but given how it is diluted by the Bart Allen introduction, it does not seem as vital or as important as it becomes. So, it is a catch-22. Those who want only the Bart Allen story are likely to be annoyed by the major plot developing (unresolved) in Impulse: Reckless Youth and those who want to read the origins of the Kobra plot will be irked by how much space is devoted to exposition on Bart Allen’s hard-to-swallow origin story.

The second section of Impulse: Reckless Youth is the first six issues of the Impulse title. This is more of a series of vignettes than it is a strongly serialized storyline and it was actually originally surprisingly engaging. Finding himself stuck in Manchester, Alabama as the charge of Max Mercury, Bart Allen works to blend in. This is not easy for him as he does not have much interaction with actual people, late-20th Century technology, or reality in general. It is further complicated by the fact that he starts his tenure in Alabama running onto a missile testing ground. When he interrupts a missile launch that is aimed at a prototype hovertank, he and Max are intrigued by the fact that the testing range was in the opposite direction as the official testing ground for the tank. They quickly reason that someone is out to destroy the prototype and they work to discover who . . . before lives and jobs are lost.

Following that incident, Max instructs Bart to make some friends and in annoying his peers, Bart Allen sets off a schoolwide brawl that he manages to walk away from unscathed. Bart’s predilection to do things without planning ahead finds him poorly infiltrating the gang of White Lightning, a spoiled girl who is causing mayhem and is drawn like a hooker who is entirely age inappropriate for the twelve year-old protagonist of this book. The volume finishes on a story of child abuse where one of Bart Allen’s friends, an aspiring filmmaker, may be being abused by his father. Asked by the school’s assistant principal, Bart befriends him to find out what is going on.

The first and final stories in the Bart Allen section of Impulse: Reckless Youth are actually surprisingly good, despite artwork that continues to give Bart disproportionately larger feet and hair. They are, however, not enough to contain the interest through the ridiculous second and third stories. The second story feels like a reimagining of Tom Sawyer using his peers to whitewash the fence, but Bart Allen’s version does not produce anything (save videos that one of the students sells). The White Lightning plot has decent development for the relationship between Max and Bart, but for as smart as it is for such things as Max Mercury’s level of thought on the importance of preserving the car that Bart takes over the edge of a cliff (instead of just focusing on the people in it), it never addresses how White Lightning actually manages to get away. She is not a speedster and while Bart is seen preoccupied with getting all of her accomplices rounded up, it fails to address how he manages to do that at superspeed, but not catch the villainess.

Despite what the back cover to Impulse: Reckless Youth indicates, the artwork in this book is hardly top-notch. Instead, it is troublingly simple, with most of the panels looking more like a comic strip than a well-written and well-presented comic book or graphic novel.

Outside the fans of the whole Flash Saga or franchise, it is hard to see who might pick up Impulse: Reckless Youth and want to read more of this character.

For other works where Bart Allen is significant, check out my reviews of:
The Flash: Terminal Velocity
The Flash – The Fastest Man Alive: Lightning In A Bottle
The Flash – The Fastest Man Alive: Full Throttle


For other book reviews, please visit my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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