Hello, again, Internet! I want to thank everybody who stopped by last time. It was a real treat. Hell, I even got feedback from someone on Reddit. Now, I don’t really “reddit,” and so I was unable to reply back to “Ra’s al Cool,” so I decided to do it here!
Ra’s was a bit annoyed with me for bad-mouthing modern (specifically DC) comics, and well, I guess I have to cop to that. I don’t like most of the mainstream, modern books I have read. This might be some sort of knee-jerk, old-man, get-off-my-lawn thing—it really might. But I don’t think so; and just the other day I read a comic that really drove that home.
Impulse #50. “First Fool’s.” So. Much. Fun.
Impulse, the hyperactive, time-tossed grandson of the Post-Crisis Barry Allen, was created by Mark Waid in the 1990’s as a counterpoint to the ever-maturing Wally West. Wally, as Kid Flash, began his stories as a youth run wild, complete with an active avoidance of serious responsibility. After Barry gave up his life to save the universe, Wally went from living out a perfect escapist fantasy, to being thrown into a responsibility weighed down by grief. We watched and read as the red-haired Nebraska boy struggled with his own selfishness, foolishness and the gravity of maturity. And we cheered Wally took the final steps toward owning his own fate. It was in the denouement of this great journey that Wally’s cousin appeared.
Bart Allen was super-speed 12-year old for whom thought is deed–and they called him Impulse. In many ways, Impulse was a re-imagining of the idea of Kid Flash. With the latter, Barry played surrogate father to a troubled kid with all kinds of hang ups. But with the former, Wally was a different mentor, just as Bart was a different youth. There was a simplicity and a purity to Bart and to his thought process. It was a distillation of the spirit of Peter Pan—all the impetuousness of youth without the dark tinge of dominance and manipulation that Barre folded into his famed creation. But on to the Comic!
Bart’s story finds him fostered by recycled GA Speedster Max Mercury , and Max’s daughter and foil of normalcy, Dr. Helen Clairborne. And so Issue #50, written by Todd Dezago with pencils by Ethan Van Sciver, begins with Helen setting up the old rubber-band-on-the-sink-sprayer gag to introduce Bart to April Fool’s Day. A day of pranks? How delightful!
Seeing the perfect opportunity to punk-out his Young Justice pals, Bart races off to Gotham City to find as many practical jokes as he can at Smith Johnson Gag Factory. But what he finds is a police standoff. It appears that the Joker has taken the novelty gag factory hostage, and is threatening to blow the whole thing up if Batman gets too close. Impulse approaches the Dark Knight, and Batman tells impulse to get lost; but not before the Joker spots Impulse and demands that he joins the fun. Batman reluctantly agrees giving Bart a few tips for staying alive.
Inside, The Clown Prince then sends Impulse on a worldwide scavenger hunt for some of the weirdest things I could have ever imagined. Included on the list are a dinosaur head, Elvis Presley’s casket, a Dunkin’ Donuts sign, and Crow T. Robot. While all this is going on, Batman is sneaking around deactivating all Jokers bombs until the final knock-down-drag-out fight, were Joker still seems to get the upper hand! That is, of course, until Bart saves the day, but I’m not going to spoil it as to how.
Now looking back on this story, I am really put in the mind of why I love 90’s comics. The story is serious, and true to the characters of involved. But at the same time, it is drop-dead funny. Joker’s one-liners are funny. Batman’s sardonic exhaustion and matter of fact manner is hilarious. And Bart’s naivete and earnestness is moth amusing and endearing. All these things overlap and combine into a whole package that is both a serious hostage story AND a wacky adventure tale. And both at the same time.
The story of addresses several deep continuity issues, but keeps them accessible for new and old readers alike. This was the DC Universe I grew up reading–one with Booster Gold and the Blue Beatles zany wacky schemes in the pages of JLA and JLI and serious moral quandaries in the pages of Vigilante. There was high magic in Sandman or Constantine, and there was popcorn fun in Superman and Batman. It was a universe that had something for everyone, and still it all worked together to tell a macro-narrative of hope and action and victory. And I just don’t see that in comics of the last few years. Thankfully, even if TPTB never see things my way, I’ll always have the Quarterbin.