The 90s were a weird time for comics, especially for DC’s heroes.. Batman had his back broken by a Luchadore on steroids. Superman died, came back and briefly turned in two red and blue electric variants of himself. Green Lantern got possessed by the yellow entity of fear, killed the entire Green Lantern Corps and the last Green Lantern ring was left to some artist in Los Angeles. Wonder Woman… actually, I don’t know what Wonder Woman was doing in the 90s. And Aquaman was doing whatever the hell this is.
The Flash, meanwhile? Well, The Flash was living the dream.
Written by Grant Morrison & Mark Millar
Illustrated by Paul Ryan
At last, DC collects the fast-paced 1990s epic by Grant Morrison (FINAL CRISIS) and Mark Millar (Civil War) from THE FLASH #130-135! Confined to a wheelchair after a run-in with the mystery villain known only as The Suit, how can The Flash protect Keystone City from evil run amok?
The thing we need to get out of the way right off the bat is that, by all rights, The Flash shouldn’t work as a comic book character. I mean, think about it. The defining characteristic of The Flash is that he has superspeed. What’s the one thing comic books can’t show: true movement. All we see in a comic is the implication of movement between panels. It’s a format that, really, shouldn’t work for the character. And yet it does. The Flash has had some of the best storylines in comics throughout history and has been one of the most iconic characters to come out of a comics book. And one of the best storylines The Flash has been involved in was ‘Emergency Stop’ in “The Flash” #130, #131 and #132 by Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Paul Ryan.
‘Emergency Stop’ came at the end of Mark Waid’s run as the writer of “The Flash” and introduced Grant Morrison and Mark Millar as the writers of the series with artist Paul Ryan remaining on the book. What that means is, for all the baggage that the storyline was carrying after Waid’s years long run as a writer, this storyline is basically a clean start for introducing Wally West’s time as The Flash. In only three issues Morrison, Millar and Ryan are able to break down everything that makes Wally’s time as the Scarlet Speester great and distill it into a storyline that touches on every element and brings a brand new, entirely unique element to the character that touches on the Silver Age science fiction history of the character.
The core concept of ‘Emergency Stop’ comes from the simple question: what happens when your speedster hero can’t run anymore? It’s a fantastic high concept for a story and a perfect conundrum for The Flash to think his way out of and he does it in a way that only Grant Morrison, Mark Millar and Paul Ryan could deliver. Harkening back to the grand Silver Age science fiction epics, the team creates a self-contained story that could be handed to any reader and could easily make them a Flash fan by combining all of the best elements of the character: his heart, his ingenuity and his ability to make even the most out-there science fiction concept the core of a heart-stopping finale.
However, the thing that makes ‘Emergency Stop’ so great isn’t just how much of a great Wally West story it is, it’s how great of a Flash story it is. You don’t just get Wally here, you’re getting Jay Garrick, Impulse and Max Mercury (who obviously didn’t have the staying power as any of the other three, but is still a worthwhile addition to the story) and Morrison and Millar do a great job of showing each of their distinct personalities throughout the story. Wally is obviously the heart and soul of the story, but that’s juxtaposed with Garrick’s world-weariness, Impulse’s youth and brashness and Mercury’s stoic grace. In just three issues, Morrison and Millar can make you fall in love with these characters and want to seek out more of them.
It’s not just the writing you’ll fall in love with, though. In a time where Marvel and DC’s house style was being dominated by over the top, hyper muscular parodies of superheroes, Paul Ryan’s pencils paired that down to a much more refined and classic style. Reading it today, it does have that quintessential 90s feel to it, but Ryan’s style feels even more like a callback to the Silver Age style now when juxtaposed to the extreme style of the book’s peers. It feels like a style out of time, like some long lost Carmine Infantino comic got dug up in 1997 and that feels perfectly in sync with the style of the writing.Continued below
What’s great about Ryan’s artwork is how he was able to crack that eternal problem of making an action scene in a comic exciting when your main characters all have superspeed. When your characters could, by all rights, fix every problem in the space between panels, how do you keep things interesting? Sure, the purple prose of Wally’s narration helps (and with Grant Morrison as one of the writers there’s a lot of that), but the art has to pull its weight to. Ryan keeps the layouts simple and clean through, keeping the storytelling crisp and clear so that the visual are at the forefront and he can use the panel transitions to show the effect of the superspeed. A great example of this is in the second issue of the arc, #131, which shows Garrick, Impulse and Mercury tackling the villain, The Suit, in their own manner. Impulse’s attempt involves destabilising the molecules of a bridge and Ryan captures the increasing instability of the bridge perfectly from panel to panel.
At it’s heart, ‘Emergency Stop’ is a murder mystery crossed with a ghost story with a little bit science fiction sprinkled in and a whole lot of superhero heart. This was only the first story Grant Morrison and Mark Millar wrote together on “The Flash” and they had a running start with this one. Being able to draw on Paul Ryan’s familiarity with the character and raw talent meant that even at its most physics-defying ‘Emergency Stop’ remained an exhilarating superhero epic.
This is the kind of comic you put in the hands of someone who knows nothing about the character so you can watch them fall in love.