Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Geoff's Revenge

I imagine that writing serial characters who don't belong to you can be challenging. You put your heart and soul into a character, then you move on to another book and some hack comes along and screws with your baby.

Geoff Johns hasn't had to deal with this problem all that much. He's been writing for DC for about ten years now, and he has a tendency to stick with a character for a long time. He introduced Stargirl Courtney Whitmore in her shortlived series in 1999 and has been writing her in JSA and then Justice Society of America since then. He brought Hal Jordan back to life in 2004 and looks to be writing the character for the foreseeable future. He had a solid five-year run on The Flash, remarkable in how well-received it became, considering that the title was still in the shadow of Mark Waid's then-recent run that had lasted even longer. Johns's run certainly did justice to the character of Wally West, but it's even more memorable for the way he redefined the Flash's rogues gallery. He put a lot into establishing who these characters were, what motivated them, and what rules they lived by.

And then other writers came along and screwed with his babies. The Rogues did all sorts of things Geoff Johns would never write them doing, most notably teaming up with kid psychopath Inertia to kill the then-current Flash, Bart Allen--a character who, ironically, had been made unrecognizable to creator Mark Waid when Geoff Johns recast him as Kid Flash in Teen Titans; Waid has stated that he's since made peace with Johns over this fact. Johns is not so forgiving.

Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge, while just as enjoyable as every other Johns-penned story I've read, is fairly transparent in its metatextual motivations. This is Johns coming back to his Rogues and undoing the harm other writers have done to them. The premise of the story is that the Rogues are pissed off over the crappy year they've had (among other things, they spent a while on a prison planet) and they regret having broken their number one rule: Never kill a Flash. Because the Johns-written Rogues would never have done this, it's made clear that the person responsible for the murder is Inertia, that somehow he talked them into doing something they wouldn't normally do. In other words, Inertia is the two-dimensional effigy representing all the writers who have blasphemed Johns's sacred Rogues. And like any good effigy, Inertia gets the burning he deserves. The moment I saw Inertia's smoking corpse was when I realized what a vengeful bastard Geoff Johns is. You do NOT mess with his characters.

The cherry on this sundae of writer's revenge actually came before Inertia's death. In his final moments, Inertia puts an end to two of Johns's original contributions to the Flash mythos: first he blows up Weather Wizard's baby, introduced in one of Johns's earlier stories, and then he reverts Johns-created villain Zoom back into a wheelchair-bound Hunter Zolomon. As if Johns, having learned not to trust other writers to treat his characters well, is simply taking his toys out of the sandbox and going home.

I'm not sure that last bit was necessary, though. It seems Johns has concluded that if you want a job done right you'd better do it yourself, and has decided to come back to The Flash, after all. As much as I distrust the idea of bringing Barry Allen back, you can count on me buying Rebirth. Spiteful or not, Geoff Johns writes good stories. At the end of the day, that's all I care about.

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