Sunday, April 26, 2020
Made In DC and How I Learned To Heart The 90's
(Removes the cellophane and cracks open a CD case, inhaling the plastic-y, chemical whiff)
And now, I am ready to write about DC Comics in the 90's. Specifically, the three heroes that defined a shift in the way I came to love DC Comics.
Today, I have returned to stately Seven Hells! Manor via my personal underground subway to express my sincere appreciation (and to gather stacks of one dollar bills for later. *wink*) to Wally West, Dick Grayson and Kyle Rayner for making my late teens to early thirties comics experience the absolute best.
Picture it, the early 90's: a young Devon, fresh from practicing that Kid-N-Play "grab-your-foot-move-your-ankle-to-your-knee-jump-while-holding-your-foot-and-try-and-not-die" thing and not really feeling DC Comics the way he did back in the early 80's. If there wasn't an "X," an Image Comics logo or a She-Hulk on the cover, it wasn't really his thing.
As he walked into the local comics shop, swimming past a sea of variant covers and lingerie and swimsuit issues featuring our comic book girlfriends, there was it was: Flash #80 featuring Wally
West. It was shiny. Seriously. It was literally shiny. It sported a shiny cover drawn by Alan Davis, one of, if not my favorite artist of the time. It had something else, though, at the time, I had no idea how great it was. Issue 80 featured the debut of new Flash artist, Mike Wieringo. I can still remember the feeling. It was like the first time I'd walked into my local drug store and saw John Byrne's Man of Steel or the first time I saw Arthur Adams' Longshot. I knew comics had changed.
I'd read Flash before. I knew Wally had been Kid Flash before. I got that his taking over the mantle of The Flash was a big deal to comics. I knew that he was the first sidekick to graduate, so to speak. I hadn't really followed anything he'd done for a while, though. I just kinda didn't care. I was happy that he took the mantle because, to me, all Barry Allen ever was was the guy who raced Superman from time-to-time. Wally was different. Wally had a little bit of swag. He dated around. He won the lottery once. He had problems. He wasn't as fast as Barry so he had to work harder. He even bothered to get to know some of his Rogue's Gallery a little better and won their respect but somewhere along the line, I just lost touch.
Until that issue.
Thanks to writer, Mark Waid, Wally was still there but the art was more kinetic. The writing spoke to how hard it was to honor a legacy while trying to find your own way. Over time, Waid introduced this thing: The Speed Force, a supreme manifestation of velocity; a thing only a select few could access and the deeper you went within, the easier it was to over take you. Twenty-something Devon understood: "Wait, The Flashes are like speed Jedi? This is "The Force. They're not just "runs fast" anymore? Got it."
Wally went on to stand side-by-side with the heroes his Uncle Barry had to have told him tales of. We got to see the awe in his eyes as he watched Superman wrestled a war angel while The Martian Manhunter and Wonder Woman held back a crashing, flaming ark literally plummeting from the heavens. Flash #80 was the beginning of Wally West becoming my Flash. This was where I truly became a fan of DC Comics.
I wanted in. I wanted to be made.
My money was not long in anyway during the 90's. Money that was earmarked for the Houses of Idea and Image was soon reallocated towards rediscovering The DC Universe and a new generation that was ready to step in and up.
In the pages of Batman, Bruce Wayne's back was literally broken by fan wishes that in-continuity Batman become more like the never-meant-to-be-continuity-Dark Knight Returns-Batman. In a grand experiment, their fetish was rewarded with The Knightfall Saga and a newer, angrier, armor-ier Batman in Jean-Paul Valley, who would kill. And it didn't go so well for anyone. Except for maybe former Batman sidekick, Dick Grayson who, at the time, IIRC, had been Nightwing for a while but hadn't really done much more than declare every other issue that he wasn't Robin anymore. You'd think that Dick would've been the one to take over the Batman mantle but nah. Didn't happen. DC needed to make a point that Batman shouldn't kill so... (shrug) no Nightwing.
When this whole backbreaking thing ended, Dick did come back and took on the Batman mantle for a bit and for a weird thing happened. I think we kinda got the Nightwing we all were hoping for: a man with the teeth to truly be Batman but had so good of a heart that we wouldn't want him to have to carry that burden.
With the 1996 Nightwing series, we finally saw the post-Crisis Dick Grayson/Nightwing come into his own.
In the pages of Green Lantern, to me, Hal Jordan was pretty much nothing more than a cool costume. There were other Green Lanterns but eh, they were just more space cops with different heads and limbs attached. So, when Hal Jordan killed the entire freakin' GL Corps in an attempt to become God and reboot continuity, we were left with no more of those awesome Green Lantern costumes. Pity. They looked great.
Enter Kyle Rayner, a young twenty-something who had zero interest in becoming a hero, much less the final wielder of The Power Ring, a weapon with roots steeped within the dawn of creation. Kyle was a Kyle and no offense to Kyles but the words, "Kyle cured cancer yesterday" will never come out of anyone's mouth. This Kyle was gifted, though. He was a comic book artist. He liked Nine Inch Nails. Again, Kyles will never cure cancer and as the Green Lantern Corps came to a shocking and bloody end, the final ring went out. Normally, the ring, upon the death of a Lantern, would go out to the bravest in any particular sector of space. This time, it just sorta went out and a comic book loving dude standing in an alleyway became THE Green Lantern. No one to show him the ropes. There wasn't even a damn training manual for the dang ring or its energy source, the power battery. He was what would happen if one of the DC Universe's greatest weapons were slipped upon our finger. He was out of his depth, alone, bound to make mistakes, anxious, trying to juggle his commitments and dealing with impostor syndrome.
Kyle Rayner was many of us in our twenties and I will forever love him for that.
I wrote this about Kyle back in '06:
"When Batman openly questioned Kyle's ability to do the job, Kyle quietly carried on the tradition of having a Green Lantern within The Justice League.
He did all of this for no other reason than someone had to do it. Kyle Rayner had no Guardians of The Universe to guide his hand. He had no Corps to back his play when and if he fell.
Today is another matter entirely, The Green Lantern Corps have returned in their own series, no less, stronger than ever. Hal Jordan and The Guardians of The Universe are back, better than ever.
There will be a Green Lantern in the upcoming Justice League of America title.
Kyle Rayner. Armed with nothing more than a weapon and a sense of right and wrong, Kyle held the f*ckin' line until something greater than himself could emerge.
Not Hal Jordan. Not Guy Gardner. Not John Stewart.
(Just) Kyle Rayner."
Kyle Rayner ultimately became who we'd hoped we'd be in our twenties. He simply became better.
These are my memories of DC Comics' 90's output and I recall them with fondness. These are the heroes I chose.
Wally West will always be my Flash. Kyle is my Green Lantern and Nightwing? When I think about what he is, he's a hero who still smiles.
These are the heroes that I will forever associate with my favorite period in comics. I am made.