Trade Paperback Observations: Flash and Young X-Men

Img6523 The Flash: Wonderland

by Geoff Johns, Angel Unzueta and Doug Hazlewood

Geoff Johns was made the regular writer on Flash in the year 2000,at the same time that deconstructed story-telling and “writing for the trade” were making their entre into comic books. New writers were expected to open their tenure with a trade-friendly six-issue arc. The advantage was that it resulted in an easily packaged and promoted trade for a second revenue stream. The disadvantage was that not every story merited a six issue extravaganza and many stories were unnecessarily padded in order to achieve the extra length.

With his opening arc on The Flash, Wonderland, Geoff Johns demonstrated how to simultaneously write for the serialized single issues and for the six-issue trade. Wonderland may be labeled and promoted as a six-issue story, but it’s really three two issue stories that combine into one larger story. The arc begins with a single issue in which Wally West, the Flash, finds himself in an alternate world where the Speed Force doesn’t exist. At the end of that first issue, Wally discovers that Captain Cold is trapped in this parallel world with him. The second issue then focuses on the interaction between Captain Cold and the Flash as they alternately work with and against each other. That’s the first act of the story, evenly divided into two issues.

44242-3790-51404-1-flash_super The next act takes place in issues three and four, which bring the Mirror Master and Plunder into the story. Plunder is trying to kill Wally West. The Mirror Master is responsible for bringing them to this alternate world. There are a number of twists and turns which lead to Plunder trying to kill the Rogues as well as the Flash and which result in the Flash working with the Rogues in order to get back to their own world. At the end of issue four, they do get back only to discover that Wally’s hometown of Keystone City has been abducted.

The final act takes place in issues five and six as Wally goes to yet another parallel world where Brother Grimm has taken Keystone City. The residents have been transformed as well, believing that they belong in this Wonderland. Even Wally’s wife Linda is prone to yelling “Off with his head!” Not to spoil the ending but Wally saves the day, restores Linda to her right mind and Keystone City to its right place.

Wonderland technically takes place over six issues, telling one grand story. But it’s easily broken up into smaller acts. These separate acts dovetail into one another but they can also be viewed as individual stories in a continuing series. With Wonderland, Geoff Johns showed that “writing for the trade” didn’t have to be a hindrance or an excuse for a slow story. It’s not as big a deal now, as deconstructed story-telling has faded. But it was still interesting to see how one writer turned a potential limitation into a very effective and fast-paced story.

C112084 Young X-Men: Book of Revelations

by Marc Guggenheim, Yanick Paquette, Ben Oliver and Rafael Sandoval

The second Young X-Men trade exposed several problems. It highlighted a problem within the general world of the X-Men, another with the opening premise of this particular series and a third with comic-book writing in general. That’s a lot of bad stuff for a trade that was merely mediocre. On its own, Young X-Men was occasionally but not consistently entertaining. Yet I couldn’t keep myself from noticing and thinking about these larger issues.

The first problem is the editorially mandated decision of “No more mutants.” After the House of M story, the Marvel world’s mutant population was reduced from thousands to about 300. 198 of these mutants were known and catalogued. The decision was celebrated at the time by some of the older fans who remembered the days when mutants numbered in the dozens. I was highly skeptical. I saw it as a confining factor on future writers if it was enforced. They would, in essence, be unable to introduce new characters.

YNGXM008_cov Marc Guggenheim pretty much ignored the “no more mutants” mandate. In his first twelve issues, he introduced three new mutants: the tattoo artist, Graymalkin and the new Cipher. That kind of undoes the whole idea behind “no more mutants” in the first place. Guggenheim paid lip service to the new status quo, by having one character question the discovery of the new mutants but it only served to highlight the discrepancy rather than answer the question. I also found myself being extra critical of the new mutant characters. Other characters had lost their powers as part of the “no more mutants” mandate. And these characters were taking up a supposedly limited slot so I felt that they needed to be really great characters to deserve such a scarce position.

The second problem is with Young X-Men itself. In the first arc, the team was put back together by Donald Pierce posing as Cyclops. Of course, the characters and the readers didn’t know that at the time. The characters thought they were being recruited by Cyclops himself. And the readers were under the same impression as well, though Cyclops was written so badly that many of us speculated he was a Skrull. By this second arc, the Young X-Men have learned that they were duped by Donald Pierce and are being brought back into the fold by the real Cyclops. But that opening premise was so off-putting that many fans abandoned the series before it got to this point.

I have to give credit to Paul O’Brien. He suggested that Young X-Men should have been delayed by six months so that it could debut after the X-Men had re-established themselves instead of trying to shoehorn their new origin into a period when the X-Men had temporarily disbanded.

I also have to give a demerit to Marc Guggenheim. The idea of a fake Cyclops putting the new team together could have worked but Guggenheim needed to trust the reader. By not telling the reader that Cyclops was really Donald Pierce, most readers simply assumed that Guggenheim didn’t know how to write Cyclops. Since a few of the young X-Men were acting out of character as well, this seemed like a reasonable assumption. If Guggenheim had given the readers a clue that this wasn’t really Cyclops, other than by having him act out of character, the readers would have been intrigued. They would have been hooked into reading more, instead of being put off and put out. By this second arc, Guggenheim shows that he had a better handle on the characters than we would have thought (for example, Blindfold knew it wasn’t Cyclops but went along with it because she knew good would come of it anyway). However, by not trusting the readers, he created a situation where the readers didn’t trust him.

7f6e09098ed43e61286495b660019d98 Finally, the third problem exposed by Young X-Men is the whole deconstructed story-telling/writing for the trade issue I discussed in the Flash entry. Young X-Men clearly shows the downside of this approach. Guggenheim’s first arc wasn’t very good. But this one bad story was stretched out to six issues, giving readers lots of opportunities to abandon the title. Plus, by that point, any reader who has given up on the title is highly unlikely to come back.

In this second arc, Guggenheim has a character remind us that the original New Mutants started out under similar circumstances. One character worked for Donald Pierce before realizing the error of his ways and being added to the team. The key difference, however, is that in New Mutants that happened at the end of the first issue (admittedly, the extra-long New Mutants graphic novel) and not at the end of the sixth issue. The earlier revelation and the quicker pace gave the audience a reason to stick around. The deconstructed pace of the first Young X-Men arc had the opposite effect.

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Comment by Martin Gray on January 11, 2010 at 6:11am
What a great piece, Chris. You make a good argument - I was buying both books monthly and while I stuck with Flash, I packed in Young X-Men after one, maybe two, issues.

I'm not sure, though, why you had a problem with the introduction of the newest mutants given your remarks: After the House of M story, the Marvel world’s mutant population was reduced from thousands to about 300. 198 of these mutants were known and catalogued. Couldn't the tattoo artist, Graymalkin and the new Cipher be among the 102 unknowns/unaaccounted for?

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