Wally West — The Fastest Man Alive!

Part Two: Acceleration

Flash 73 ended with a huge surprise for Wally and his friends. On Christmas Eve, he opened the door and came face-to-face with


Barry Allen, understandably thought dead following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, was back.

Barry remembered losing his wife, Iris West Allen, at the hands of the murderous Professor Zoom and being on trial for killing Zoom years later. (He was acquitted of manslaughter, by the way). He recalled his body reconstituting from anomalous energy in a filthy alley, shortly after Wally fought Dr. Alchemy there. What happened before that blipping back into existence, what happened after the Crisis, was a blank.

Wally had his doubts about the authenticity of his long-lost mentor, but Hal Jordan and his Green Lantern power ring swore Barry was telling the truth. That was good enough for everyone, including Jay Garrick. (Jay had also been thought dead, but had been freed, with the rest of the Justice Society of America from a mini-Ragnarok. See part one, because it’s too complicated to explain here.)

Wally, a bit overwhelmed as the youngest of three Flashes, considered relocating but was cut off by Linda, whom he now was seeing regularly. She suggested a name change, another idea that went nowhere. Wally decided he had to adjust. He was on his way to finding peace as something other than “The” Flash, when Barry seemed to lose his mind.

In 75, “Identity Crisis,” Barry edged into megalomania, willing to let Wally die in a villain’s trap so Barry would be the “real” Flash. The story revived a classic speedster and introduced a reinvented one. Johnny Chambers, the Golden Age’s Johnny Quick, had become an ultrafast Tony Robbins, selling self-esteem. At the other end of the economic spectrum, Max Mercury — “the Zen guru of speed” –was selling tokens in the subway.

Big Flashes Paste (2)Johnny Quick, JayGarrick, Max Mercury

Pressed into service, Max, Johnny and Jay had no choice but to shut Barry down. Wally, disheartened by Barry’s hatred, chose to lay low and allow Barry to think him dead. He refused to involve himself in the older men’s battle, until forced. Eventually, he told them, he would have to fight Barry. He knew that was impossible. He just didn’t have the speed to face his returned mentor.

Max said, “You keep saying you don’t want to replace Barry, but the moment you become as fast as him … that’s exactly what you’ll have done.

“Think about it.”

In the closing pages of 79, we learned more about a book Wally had found when he searched the alley where Barry had found himself when he regained consciousness. It was The Life Story of the Flash. The author was Iris Allen. The book it was published in the late 1990s. Iris Allen had been dead for years in 1994, when Wally found the tome.

Think time travel. Think yellow and red, not red and yellow.

Okay, okay. Read all about him.

Penciller Greg LaRoque left the book after finishing ‘The Return of Barry Allen.” In 80, Mike Wieringo brought a looser feel, along with a temporarily less bulky Wally. While still muscular, he more closely resembled the Flash of the classic Carmine Infantino days, with a runner’s sleeker form. Unfortunately, Wieringo’s looseness continued to loosen; before long the art was distinctly cartoony and Wally‘s chest had re-inflated. Also, Wieringo and his collaborators on the art made little attempt to use the color shading and heavy shadows that suggested Wally’s uniform was glossy. From this point on, the suit usually was a rather flat, medium red.

Wieringo’s iffy entrance was matched by the quality of Waid’s stories through much of the 80s. Only 84 was significant, and that only because of its use of foreshadowing (your clue to quality literature, as Berke Breathed taught us). As a rather lame but dangerous villain destroyed a mall in 84, Wally had to choose where to help. Told by a security guard that no one seemed to be in an area that had caught fire, Wally was able to stop a plummeting elevator containing ten people.

Wally’s inability to move fast enough both to check the fire and stop the elevator was in sharp contrast to his confidence at the end of “The Return of Barry Allen.” Heading to what he thought would be his last confrontation with the maddened Barry, Wally matched and perhaps bettered his uncle’s speed. In the mall incident, he seemed unable to move even as fast as he had when the series began.

Perhaps the close confines of the mall were an issue but, were this the case, it should have been explored. It was not. The closest thing to an explanation given was that Wally had three seconds to stop the elevator and could save “a few nanoseconds” by not searching the smoky, burning area. A nanosecond is one billionth of a second.

However, Waid’s failure to understand timekeeping allowed him to set up another stage in Wally’s development. In 88, our hero was sued for negligence by a woman hurt in the mall attack. Wally, knowing the elevator passengers suffered only bumps, was not impressed. He changed his mind at a press conference when he met the plaintiff, Allison Armitage. She had been in the smoky area Wally didn’t search. Her face was badly burned and she had lost her legs.

Unable to face Armitage, Wally ran. He halted disasters and apprehended criminals across the city as he spent his rage. He did not stop until he collapsed in Linda’s arms. In court, he fared no better. Armitage’s lawyer pushed Wally into a frenzy of paranoia and violence that led to Wally being banned from using his powers or wearing his uniform in Keystone. Even in his agitation, though, Wally recognized the hallmark of Abra Kadabara, a techno-magician from the future both Wally and Barry had faced multiple times in the past. Several speed stunts later, Kadabara was gone and the attorney was exposed as an unwilling accomplice of the villain’s.

To save face and prevent future liability, the Barry Allen Foundation, which had been backing Wally’s life as a hero, decided to settle with Armitage and cut its ties with Wally. Wally visited Armitage, seeking clarity. She asked, “You nearly flipped out over this. What happens the next time you’re not fast enough to save everybody?” Wally answered, “We’ll never know.”

Cue the speed force.

In 91, Wally coerced Johnny Chambers into explaining the use of his “speed formula” — an extraspatial construct represented by the mathematical string, “3X2(9YZ)4A” — that allowed him to draw speed energy from the fourth dimension. Wally called on it to stop what seemed an unstoppable disaster. The world froze, as it momentarily had on other occasions when Wally pushed himself to top speed. This time, it did not thaw. Wally rushed through the city, moving at near-light speed with no effort, wondering if he’d ever return to normal. Max Mercury appeared. Accompanying Wally, he pointed out problems the Flash could fix and deaths and disasters no one could have helped, no matter how fast.

Barely able to keep up, he counseled Wally, “Big things are … waiting for you just … around the corner . Move forward … to meet them. Don’t spend … the rest of your life frozen … with fear.” Overtaxed, Max himself “froze”.

Still racing, Wally admitted to himself that he’d always had to make tough choices about his activities as the Flash . He would for the rest of his life. He could only hope those choices were wise, and do what he could to make them count. Assembling a simple but unlikely solution to the seemingly unsolvable disaster, he whispered, “Go.“ The jerry-rigged rescue worked. Relieved, Wally paused to wonder what Max meant and what lay in the future.

In the future, 2995 to be specific, a time portal was opened to 1994. Fleeing the Science Police, Iris and Bart Allen jumped into the past – first buffeted, then separated, in the time stream. lris –, her history far too complex to explain here – was Wally’s aunt and Barry’s “late” wife. Bart was Iris’s grandson, born with all the speed of his grandfather Barry but none of the control. The government had fed him high-speed virtual reality to keep him sane, but didn’t care about giving him a life or curing his disorder.Two years old, he looked twelve and his growth was out of control.

Iris hoped that Wally could somehow stabilize Bart’s condition, to help the boy control his speed and his rapid aging before Bart’s hyperaccelerated constitution burned itself out. Wally and Bart solved the problem together, but not before battling the hordes of Kobra, a would-be world ruler returning from years of DC Comics obscurity. For months, Kobra’s forces had been infiltrating and destroying small fringe religions around the twin cities, as well as investigating alternative energy resources in the area. It seemed that Keystone and Central offered a wealth of wind, water, and solar possibilities, which Kobra tapped to broadcast energy to his followers’ weapons and other tech.

Meanwhile, Zero Hour started. A crazed Hal Jordan, fresh from destroying the Green Lantern Corps, wanted to destroy the post-Crisis space-time continuum and replace it with something better, cleaner, happier and altogether more decent. He would have a universe in which his home city had not been destroyed by the alien conqueror Mongol and he would not have suffered a psychotic break; where Barbara Gordon had never been shot by The Joker and paralyzed; where tragedy never had to be the spur to heroism. In the end, Jordan was defeated, but, in saving the future, Wally ran “beyond light” and, like Barry, vanished.

(Zero Hour was an attempt by DC, nearly ten years later, to clean up the mess their fictional universe had become after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Despite DC’s declarations in 1986 that the post-Crisis time line would be clear and contradictions would be eliminated or at least minimized, the aftermath wasn’t so tidy. In the absence of an Earth-DC Superboy, Paul Levitz had to devise an explanation for his existence in longstanding Legion of Super-Heroes continuity. The writers and artists of the “Five Years Later” Legion project wound up hampered rather than aided by two sets of Legionnaires — one adult and one teenage — with its own fill-ins for Crisis casualties like Supergirl. The Superman books used an alternate universe to justify the presence of Kryptonians other than Superman. It was the same “pocket universe” from which the Legion’s Superboy emerged, if memory serves, although alternate earths supposedly had been banned post-Crisis. And so on, to deal with just a few characters.)

The 0 issue of Flash followed 94 and Wally’s activities in Zero Hour. That month, Wally returned from the future, watching his life as it rewound. He bounced between the tedious and the momentous until he came to rest at a family picnic, ten years before his subjective “present.” That was the day, he remembered, when a dimly recalled relative pulled him from a funk and told him he could be everything he dreamed. For weeks before Zero Hour, he’d asked relatives who that might be. None remembered any visitor that day. Finally, Wally thought, he would learn who had changed his life.

Young Wally sulked in his bedroom. Adult Wally approached, waiting to see who would rouse the boy’s spirits. No one else was in the room. No one came. Wally saw his adult reflection in his young self’s bedroom window and knew who it was that had come to help the boy.

Time paradoxes still make my head hurt.

At peace, Wally took control of his time hops and ran home — to disaster.

Sliding back into his present in 95, Wally saw something so hideous he refused to discuss it with Linda. Instead, he started training Bart, who during Zero Hour had taken the code name Impulse.

Impulse Flash 100

Bart, Wally stressed, had to be ready to take over when the unspecified disaster from his vision struck. In another battle with Kobra’s forces, Wally approached top speed while saving Bart and destroying a Kobra installation. When he returned home, he told Linda what had happened while he was away:

“I was in the 64th century. In order to get home, I hit a speed I’d never hit before. The rush .. the freedom .. it was indescribable. I broke every barrier, Linda — every one! — and when I did, everything … everything changed …

“In the moment I learned something critical … something about Uncle Barry … and about myself, too. You know how people have sometimes talked about Barry? About how no one could be as fast as he was and still be human?

“Well … they were right.”

Wally 95 Energy
“Terminal Velocity,” in 95-100, traced Wally’s introduction to the Speed Force and the consequences of tapping its energies.

Needing help to shape Bart into the next Flash, Wally assembled Max, Jay, Johnny, and Johnny’s daughter, Jesse, a nascent hero herself.


As Bart bumbled through training, Max told a story. A young Army messenger in 1838 was blessed with speed by the dying prayer of a Blackfoot shaman. As Windrunner, the messenger kept the peace on the plains until, one night, he felt a summoning. As he ran, faster than he thought possible, he felt himself pull closer and closer to something like paradise. But, as Max put it, Windrunner looked God in the eye and blinked. Heaven slammed its door. Denied his Valhalla, Windrunner paid another price – he was tossed forward in time 50 years. The plains had become a city. His loved ones were gone. After a time, with a new name – Bluestreak – the speedster tried again to run “beyond light” and enter the speed field, as it sometimes was called. Again, fear kept him from his goal. Again, he was shunted forward in time. And again, to become Quicksilver of the Golden Age and, later, Max Mercury. This was how Max had come to understand speed.

Wally and Jesse were stunned. Johnny scoffed at Max’s explanation, while Jay admitted he once had felt something pull at him. It came down to Max to put it bluntly, How could anyone run so fast, without help? No matter how much food, no matter how much sleep, nothing could explain super speed except an outside influence.

Hoping the key to deciphering Kobra’s plans lay in understanding the energies he used, Wally pushed light-speed to affect a red-shift, revealing a power net surrounding the city. He told the others what he’d seen when he returned from the future. Wally would pass light-speed while Kobra destroyed the city. At that moment, Wally would enter the speed force. He wouldn’t come back; the force was the end of a speedster’s race.

In 98, the running men (and woman and boy) destroyed most of Kobra’s Keystone power facilities, forcing him into an offensive game; the power net was increased to raise a force field around Keystone. Only Wally and Jesse made it into the city. Bart and Max were trapped outside. Jay had been inside when the field was raised, but lacked the raw speed to face the task. Johnny, never as fast or durable as the Flashes, had run himself out . Despairing, Wally told Jesse what he had really seen at the end of his time jaunt. Yes, he would move into the Speed Force, but it would happen as he failed to save Linda from a Kobra weapon. Only Bart was fast enough to save Linda once Wally merged with the Speed Force.

They’d have to make do.

Kobra activated his primary weapon, a device that induced an earthquake and tapped its energy (pretty fancy, no?). The force field channeled the energy to a receiver satellite that broadcast power to hundreds of followers around the country. They would terrorize the nation and, somehow, lead to Kobra’s taking control of the United States. (Waid never explained that bit.)

As Wally and Jesse searched the city, Linda, Iris and the Piper traced the energies of Kobra’s weapon and came under attack. They blocked the villain’s teleporter, leaving him trapped in a crumbling city. As Wally approached, Kobra’s laser locked on its target and fired. Wally moved to intercept the beam and so save Linda. Jesse tackled Wally, seriously injuring her leg as the laser struck.

In that moment, the not-always-too-bright Wally realized he was Kobra’s actual target; Linda would have been a collateral loss. He sped off, the laser tracking him. He was drawn to the speed force, trying to fight it but pulled towards its embrace. Bart, having finally vibrated past the force field, reached Wally’s side and split off. The laser, programmed to follow a speeding object and unable to track them both, shut down. Linda was safe, the city was whole, and Wally was still in this world.

Again the laser fired, this time at the woman Kobra thought had brought him down (he was always a bit of a misogynist). Wally realized he’d been a fool. He moved to save Linda, reaching light-speed as he pushed her from harm’s way. Transmuting, merging with the speed force, Wally wanted only enough time to say farewell. He whispered: “3X2(9YZ)4A,” and the world froze. In the briefest of moments, almost too small to measure, Wally took Linda’s hand. He said, “goodbye.” Then, in a crack of thunder and a blinding light, he was gone.

Bart leaped forward to face Kobra, who blasted him with a weapon that set Bart afire and knocked him from a roof to the ground. Kobra gloated as induced temblors shook Keystone. He broadcast the quake’s power to his followers, who created havoc nationwide. At last, Kobra would rule the world.

So ended Flash 99.

As issue 100 opened, Piper rallied Linda to protect themselves from Kobra’s minions. Linda decided to fight back. Buildings fell. Jay pushed through his fatigue to evacuate a hospital, collapsing as he brought out the last of the patients. Rescue services were there but stuck at ground zero of an earthquake. With great effort, Max used super-speed vibrations to open a fissure through which panicked Keystone residents could leave the city.

Bart, though badly shaken, was still in the game. Most speedsters heal quickly. He, Linda and the Piper attacked Kobra with the Piper’s sonic weapons and whatever firepower they could steal from fallen Kobra troops. Jesse, using her secondary power of flight, did what she was able. One by one they fell, until only Linda remained. Kobra’s assistants teleported to safety. Their king stayed to deal with one remaining problem. He stalked Linda, finally standing over her, ready for the kill.

A crackling energy touched the exhausted Jay, crippled Jesse, unconscious Bart, and Linda, who wore Wally’s ring, emblazoned with his symbol. Kobra pulled it from her hand. It glowed in his grasp. Thunder roared. A figure appeared between Linda and Kobra — Wally, as if carved from lightning.

fsmall light
He shrugged off Kobra’s attack and tossed the would-be conqueror far away, reclaiming the ring for Linda. Then he ran to the device controlling the quake. Circling faster and faster, he mirrored Barry Allen’s last moments in the Crisis, striking an unstoppable machine in a frenzy of blows and kicks made nearly invisible by their speed. The device exploded.

Linda cried out to Wally, but no one was there.

Max had finally arrived. Linda wailed that she had to find Wally. Max told her Wally was gone. “Then what … what did we see?” Bart asked. Always the philosopher, Max speculated that perhaps the group, at death’s door, had seen a ghostly vision. Perhaps they’d hallucinated during the machine’s collapse. “Or maybe … just maybe, for all he did in his time on earth … for all those who loved him … Wally West earned a chance to put things right … one last time.”

Jesse’s leg was healed. Bart, run ragged and nearly dead only minutes before, was recharged. Max hardly seemed as if he’d exhausted himself opening the earth. It was as if they’d all tapped into … “something primal,” Max said. He drew Jesse and Bart aside and began the next step of their education in speed, going over their responsibilities in Wally’s absence.

Linda’s ring glowed once more. In tears, she ran blindly, her grimace becoming a smile as she raced into Wally’s arms. “Took you long enough to get over here,” he joked. He’d been blown free by the explosion, he said, too fast for even the speedsters to see.

What Wally had experienced in the speed force, what he was beginning to understand, he said he couldn’t describe. But he had changed. He wasn’t just in touch with the speed anymore; now he had a direct line to it. His abilities were evolving.

But, Linda asked, how could Wally return? Max said no one comes back. Max doesn’t know everything, Wally replied. Linda couldn’t understand. Why come back from heaven? It had all the answers! It had everything!

“True,” he said. “But you weren’t there.”

100finalboldTo be continued, eventually.

Next: It’s the End of Comics Books As I Know Them

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Wally West — The Fastest Man Alive!

Part One: Fleet Feet

Who was Wally West? Let’s start at the beginning, and then skip a lot of inconvenient stuff.

Barry Allen, the second Flash, debuted in DC’s Showcase 4 in 1956. A brilliant but slow-moving Central City “police scientist,” he stood one night before a neatly organized cabinet of chemicals when a lightning bolt struck, electrifying the chemicals as they spilled over him. For reasons known only in comic books, this endowed him with amazing speed. He could move so quickly that the rest of the world seemed to freeze; catch bullets, run up walls and across water, and vibrate his individual molecules so that he could pass through solid objects without damage.

Showcase 4 also introduced Iris West, Barry’s girlfriend and a reporter for Central City Picture News. Her job took her into all sorts of dangerous circumstances, prompting Barry to exercise his new abilities.

(It was put forth in Secret Origins Annual 2 ((1988)) that Barry was involved in a time loop. At the moment his body disintegrated during the Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was transformed into a sentient energy form, related to tachyons, that traveled back to the moment of Barry’s lab accident. There, the younger Barry was offered the choice of gaining speed and living a short life or remaining as he was and letting Iris die in a hostage situation. How much of this is valid in the post Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis timeline is unknown, years later, and largely mooted by DC’s New 52 reboot of 2011.)

Barry graduated to his own title in 1959; his first issue was 105, continuing the numbering of the Golden Age series Flash Comics, canceled in 1949. In The Flash 110, Iris West’s nephew, Wally, came to visit Central City. Wally was the president (and sole member) of the Blue Valley, Nebraska, Flash fan club, and was thrilled to be visiting his favorite aunt and the home of the Flash.

He was less than thrilled to be handed off to Iris’s poky boyfriend when Iris headed to work. Barry, however, told Wally that the Flash sometimes stopped at his apartment and was waiting in the next room. As Wally opened the door, Barry whizzed by and changed into uniform. (They’re not costumes, damn it. When filming the 1950s Superman TV series, everyone on set was required to refer to the long johns as Superman’s uniform.) The two talked as Flash demonstrated his powers, poor Barry forgotten as he supposedly waited in the other room.

Finally, Wally asked how the man in red gained his powers. Flash described the chemical accident as he and Wally examined the small laboratory Flash kept at Barry’s apartment, to use in emergencies. Wally was enthralled. He stood before a neatly organized cabinet of chemicals.

wally lightning bolt

A lightning bolt crashed through the window, destroying the cabinet and soaking Wally in electrified chemicals. He quickly demonstrated most of Barry’s abilities. Barry took the kid under his wing; they made a kid-sized version of Barry’s Flash uniform and, at summer’s end, sent the boy home. In Blue Valley, Wally saved the day in a few small-town, 1950s sorts of crises, such as rounding up escaped zoo animals.

(Wally’s origin was embellished many years later to include the idea that Barry was no longer completely human and affected his surroundings in unknown fashion. This was used to explain the phenomenal coincidence of Barry’s and Wally’s origins and Wally’s periodic slowdowns, especially when he was not in regular contact with Barry. Another, less fanciful explanation was put forth in number 78 of Wally’s title.)

As Wally grew, distinguishing Flash from Kid became difficult as they rushed across the pages. The answer was a new uniform for Wally. In 1963’s Flash 135, an alien mind-over-matter device transformed Wally’s Flash-clone suit into the sleeker, hair-revealing togs he’d wear for the next 22 years.


Kid Flash

A year later, in The Brave & The Bold 54, Wally joined Robin and Aqualad for an adventure. In 1965, Wonder Girl joined them to form the Teen Titans. The Titans got their own title soon after, which had two runs between 1966 and 1978. From 1980 to 1984, the title was revived as New Teen Titans.

By the mid-1980s Wally was no longer a happy teen sidekick. He became disenchanted with crime fighting when he learned the Titan empath, Raven, had manipulated his emotions in order to get Wally to join the New Titans. His aunt Iris was murdered by Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash. Barry later killed Zoom to protect another woman. Also, Wally’s speed was killing him. He’d been slowing down sporadically for a while, and now his health deteriorated each time he used his abilities.

Nonetheless, Wally was shamed back into harness for Crisis on Infinite Earths, the 1985-1986 miniseries that slimmed down DC’s reality from a multiverse to a single universe. Barry Allen died stopping the villain’s antimatter cannon, either beginning or continuing the time loop mentioned earlier. Time paradoxes make my head hurt. Wally was struck by a blast of energy from the villainous Anti-Monitor. Rather than killing him, it saved his life– but his powers were reduced from near-godlike to Marvel mutant level, his top speed around Mach 1. To honor his uncle, Wally pulled on the red uniform again.

The next year, everything changed. Wally was now the Flash. He got his own book. And he upshifted from somewhat difficult to complete jackass.

The 1987 Flash revival came from Mike Baron, a former journalist from Madison, Wisconsin. Two of his early comics creations, Nexus and The Badger, lost their homes when Capital Comics of Wisconsin folded. Baron landed on his feet at First Comics with editor Mike Gold. They formed a solid relationship and, when Gold moved to DC, he successfully pitched Baron as the new Flash writer.

Jackson (formerly Butch) Guice was starting penciller. His tendency to elongate legs was interesting on Wally but seemed out of place on the other characters. Guice didn’t last long — Mike Collins replaced him on issue 10 and was replaced himself by Greg Laroque at number 15.

From the beginning, the editors made it plain that The Flash was Wally’s book. Barry is dead, they said. Barry is not coming back. Wally is the Flash and will remain the Flash. It didn’t play well with some fans, but any major decision will anger a certain number of devotees.

Mike Baron quickly established his take on the character. Wally expended so much energy while speeding that he needed immense amounts of food and usually long periods of sleep following any extended use of his powers. Without the financial support of the Teen Titans, and with no useful skills, he became something of a mercenary. When asked to run a heart across country for a transplant, he requested a health insurance policy that would cover him for some months, air tickets home to New York, and a guarantee of food and a place to crash upon arrival.

Wally’s life changed drastically before the end of the first issue. He won the New York state lottery and Vandal Savage left a human heart (not the one Wally couriered) on Wally’s dining table.

Baron’s first story established Savage as a continuing antagonist. This Savage was just that – he seemed as much the caveman he once had been as the sophisticated villain seen in other titles. Dropping from sight after issue 2, he would lie in wait. Issue 3 introduced the annoyingly named Kilg%re, an alien electromechanical intelligence that had destroyed its home world and, having found Earth, hoped to settle down. Fleet feet and the assistance of fellow Teen Titan Cyborg seemingly put the Kilg%re away.

My first published LOC (letter of comment) was in 5. Editor Mike Gold cut it down to a one-sentence joke. Nice guy, good editor, utter bastard.

In 8, Wally’s father was revealed as a Manhunter agent during the Millennium crossover. I don’t have the space to explain them. Check the links if you’re interested.

Baron stayed until 14 and introduced a number of new speedsters. Red Trinity and Blue Trinity were Soviet wards of the state subjected to genetic, chemical and technological enhancement to create superhumans. Red Trinity defected to enjoy the fruits of capitalism. Blue was sent after Red, to no avail. Later, Blue Trinity was captured by the Manhunters , then sold to Vandal Savage. One member of Blue Trinity was Christina, a woman so indoctrinated by her Soviet masters that she had only what identity was imposed upon her by her superiors and, to a lesser degree, her peers. The identity itself was not so important to her.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tina McGee of S.T.A.R. Labs was involved in a study of Wally’s speed. Her estranged husband, Jerry, conducted speed research of his own, using steroids and bioelectronics to make himself not only fast but strong and mean. As the Speed Demon, he nearly killed Tina, who had become involved romantically with Wally.

Then there was Velocity-9! A designer street drug, it gave ordinary humans temporary super speed but was instantly addictive and wasted addicts’ bodies each time they used it. Wally encountered dozens of V-9 junkies before he learned Savage was behind the drug. In the process, Wally was injected, causing him to lose his speed. Savage was injected as well. At the time, he showed no positive nor ill effects.

As if this weren’t enough, Wally was pressed to move from his new home because local officials thought his presence would attract crime. Then, presaging the 1989 real world collapse, the DC-USA stock market crashed and Wally was broke again. It was a big exit for Mike Baron, who later said he enjoyed writing the book but never felt he had a handle on Wally’s story.

William Messner-Loebs (sometimes credited as Bill Loebs) took over writing with 15. Best known for writing and drawing Journey, the story of a frontiersman in the early 19th century, Messner-Loebs worked steadily in mainstream comics for some years after leaving The Flash, writing Wonder Woman, Johnny Quest, and the Flash spin-off Impulse.. He created Epicurus the Sage for DC’s Piranha Press line..

His Wally, though still self-centered and a bit of a jerk, was not so callous as Baron’s. Wally still failed to understand why people weren’t always interested in his problems and showed little interest in anyone else’s needs. This had been understandable in a child, but Wally was now 20 and had responsibilities. He had to grow, or the title would be mired in self-pity.

Wally’s speed returned in 17, only to blip out again in 20 and return in 21. 20 also introduced readers to the philanthropic activities of Barry Allen’s former rogue, The Pied Piper. Issues 21 to 23 were tie-ins to Invasion!, that year’s DC crossover event. A number of alien races believed Earth’s many superpowered meta-humans posed a threat to the galaxy. They invaded (thus, Invasion!), seeking to gain control of the metas. One of their scientists, gone rogue, developed a gene bomb meant to strip metas of their abilities. When the bomb went off – you guessed it — Wally lost his powers again.

In 24, a reunited Jerry and Tina McGee recreated the conditions that first gave Wally his powers. After a chemical soak and a bit of an electrical shock, he was ready. Asked to run, he moved so quickly, without control, that the ground fused beneath his feet. He couldn’t stop until he’d traveled thousands of miles in just a few seconds. Refusing to believe Wally was dead, as others claimed, Tina and Jerry took to the road, following Wally’s burn scar across America. In the southwest they found the delirious “Porcupine Man.” Wally was badly injured and in serious emotional shock. Fortunately, proper treatment brought him back to both physical and mental health.

porcupine smaller

In the following issues, Wally seemed to grow up a bit, even wishing the McGees well in their future as they planned a move to California. In 28, he met a harsh TV reporter, Linda Park, who had reported on Wally’s cross-country wipe-out. Wally accused Linda of building her career on disasters and people’s misfortunes. Linda objected, but she gained no ground with Wally.

In 32, Wally moved to Keystone City, the more blue-collar town across the river from Barry’s home of Central City. Keystone, we were told, had until recently been hidden from all detection by villains who made the world forget the city was even there. In Keystone, Wally fought The Turtle and Turtle Man, Golden and Silver Age villains who had fought their respective Flashes with slowness — always without success. He also cemented his friendship with Joan Garrick, wife of the “late” Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick.

(For those of you too young to know about the DC multiverse, a quick note on the various Flashes. On Earth-1, on which DC’s Silver Age comics were set beginning in 1956, the Jay Garrick Flash existed only as a comic-book character. In Flash 123, Barry Allen vibrated off Earth-1 into Earth-2, where both Garrick and Keystone City were real. Following the compression of the DC multiverse into the DC universe in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Keystone was established as always having been on the new Earth-DC. Jay Garrick was “late” because he and most of the Golden Age superhero team the Justice Society of America were thought to be dead. Actually, they were caught in a miniature version of the legendary Ragnarok, fighting Loki and the evils of Asgard to save the universe — over and over and over and over and over. It wasn’t that interesting to most fans, but it kept the JSA from being summarily destroyed post-Crisis. Eventually, the JSA was rescued from its plight, allowing Jay to rejoin the world of Flashes.)

In what seemed an unfortunate turn for Wally, Linda Park left her position as a roving network correspondent to settle in the Twin Cities as a local news anchor. He came to her aid during her undercover investigation of a New Age cult; they grew to accept one another’s brands of arrogance, eventually forming a tight friendship. During the cult investigation, Linda began to channel the spirit of an 800-year-old Irish bard, Seamus O’Relkig, a more seemingly genuine spirit than the one “channeled” by the cult’s leader, who used special effects to bring in the suckers.

Kilg%re raised its head in 42, invading Tina McGee’s lab and infesting her coworkers with little tiny Kilg%res. (She and Jerry had unexpectedly taken positions at Central University.) Wally thought everything was under control — he could smash the little bastards quickly enough. He didn’t know they were a diversion; Kilg%re was in the university’s central computer and sucked everyone into “virtual space,“ which appeared to have been a full-spectrum VR experience. “Seamus” emerged and knocked Kilg%re on its virtual behind.

Wally thought it was too easy to be real. He was right. “Seamus” had always been a bit of Kilg%re inside Linda, though when it got there was not explained. “O’Relkig” was a rough anagram of “Kilg%re.” The machine intelligence thought if it appeared in an obvious way and seemed to have been destroyed, it would be able to wander the electronics of the world, unmolested. Though Wally learned its plan, Kilg%re went on its way, dissolving into the ether. What could Wally do, anyway? As the Kilg%re pointed out, it was too powerful to destroy and too powerful to catch. Before leaving, Kilg%re made Wally swallow a small object that, it said, would aid Wally when he most needed it.

Through this period, Wally’s confidence grew, as did his speed. While he could not approach the near-luminal velocities of his teenage years, he was faster than he had been since before the Crisis. He seemed no longer to need the long naps he’d once depended upon, but his appetite remained massive.

Issues 45-47 featured Grodd (a particularly super ape among the super-apes of Gorilla City, established early in Barry’s run) using the Mind Force to control and increase the intelligence of small animals throughout Keystone. Number 46 included the first modern appearance of Rex, the Wonder Dog, who described himself as “The dog at the heart of the world, the dog for whom the universe has waited.” Sounds a bit like something Grant Morrison would have dreamed up.

Messner-Loebs’s finest work may have been 48-50, which took Wally to the next level as a speedster and an adult.

Vandal Savage was dying, a victim of the Velocity-9 injection he received in 14. He moved no more quickly, but his body aged rapidly. Though Savage had lived 10,000 years, he had remained vital. That was over. In a final fever, he worked to monopolize the drug trade in the United States and drove prices into the basement. More addicts would overdose, the mob would tear itself apart, and society would reap the benefits, he said. Vandal really was a man of vision. At his side was Blue Trinity’s Christina, now called Lady Savage — a V-9 addict and Savage’s toy.

Savage kidnapped all of Wally’s loved ones (including his dog) and challenged Wally to a duel of sorts. With his friends booby-trapped with explosives, Wally was forced to stand on an energy-leeching plate that reduced him to normal speed. A short distance away stood Savage, with a pistol. Wally needed only to run a few steps to regain his speed. When he reached Savage, the hostages would be freed.

Savage gave the signal and raised his gun. Wally ran. His feet hit the sand. Savage’s bullet tore through Wally’s heart. End of issue 49.

As issue 50 opened, Wally lay like a man crucified, resting on metal, surrounded by metal, machinery deep in his chest. The Immortal One,  a powerful young mystic who had replaced the Immortal Man post-Crisis,  arrived and recognized the technology as alien, at which point Wally woke from an extended hallucination and screamed, “Kilg%re!” Keeping the promise made in its last appearance, Kilg%re had come to Wally in the moment of his greatest need. Having repaired Wally’s body, Kilg%re collapsed into itself and disappeared in puff of smoke and crackling electricity, never to be seen again (I hope).

Being “dead,” Wally took advantage of his situation. With the help of the Immortal One, he appeared before Savage and challenged him to another duel – all of Savage’s weapons and minions against one man who ran very, very fast.

Wally’s home had been looted, his uniforms stolen and the materials he used to create them destroyed. Coming to his aid, Tina McGee and her colleagues constructed a high-tech suit (inspired by the Dave Stevens-designed suit from the 1990-91 TV series) that would allow Wally to take full advantage of his speed. The uniform featured a larger chest emblem and an altered lightning-bolt “belt” that pointed down at front and rear. It dropped the wings on the boots. It was shiny. And it gave Wally white eyes like Batman. It was cool.

two flashes
At Savage’s compound, Wally tore through everything he faced, sand fusing to glass beneath his feet. Ordered to kill Wally, Lady Flash (Christina, in a stolen uniform and yet another imposed ID) found the strength to turn on Savage, who shot her at point blank range. It looked that way, at least. Wally, from a dead stop twenty feet away, had caught the bullets. “I could’ve stopped them fifty feet away … two miles away … ten miles away! I can always stop you, Savage … even if you live another ten thousand years.”

Savage revealed a vest of explosives but was taken by the Immortal One. The two vanished in a traditional flash of light. Returning with his mom to their humble apartment, Wally was told by lawyer Ben Hayes that he was rich – again.

Through the next half-dozen issues, Wally learned that he was an heir to the estate of the Golden and Silver Ages villain, The Icicle (Joar Mahkent) – or, at least, “The Flash” was. Since Mahkent had battled both Jay Garrick and Barry Allen, it was obvious he knew there was more than one Flash and there could be others – or so Hayes argued. Mahkent’s relatives took exception. In time, Mahkent’s granddaughter told Wally she wouldn’t surrender the estate but would cancel his debts, which Wally considered a fair deal.

Issue 54 featured an outstanding story, “Nobody Dies,” in which Wally jumped from an airliner to rescue a flight attendant who was sucked out of the cabin after an explosion. Power Girl visited in 59, wearing the worst uniform of her career. I don’t say that because everything was covered but her head. It was just ugly. In Messner-Loebs’s closing bow, the last page of 61 showed Wally, dejected at the lack of romance in his life, getting the merest hint of a flirt from Linda Park.

62 test
Mark Waid arrived with 62. He had moved from comics fan to comics journalist as the editor of Fantagraphics’ Amazing Heroes, then to comics pro as an editor at DC, where he worked on Legion of Super-Heroes and Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol. In 1990, he left editorial work and became a freelance writer. In 1992, he pushed The Flash in a whole new direction. Put plainly, Waid revved things up. Over the course of just a few stories, Wally stopped being a speedster and became a student of speed. Waid also brought a new narrative voice to the book. Nearly every issue Waid wrote was narrated by Wally.

“Year One: Born to Run” expanded on Wally’s origin and explored the idea that Barry may have been more than human, or at least different. After that the book was pretty standard hero/villain stuff until 73, which was a traditional comics Christmas story with some action and “good will to all” sentiment.

On the last page, Wally answered the door to see Barry Allen, in full uniform, very pleased to be back.

Next: Acceleration

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Suit Up! 5

Part Five: The Present, the Past, the Future

2014: “You’re gonna fight a war, you’ve gotta have a uniform.”

Captain America: The Winter Soldier didn’t just tone down the stars and stripes. It went from the vaguely gaudy to the unarguably subdued. Cap is a covert agent in his latest film appearance, working for S.H.I.E.L.D. full-time, and he’s in stealth mode when we see first see him on the job.

compare caps avengers and ws

Gone are the bold colors and American flag motif, the overly busy belt and fasteners, the bullet-head helmet. Instead, it’s a dull blue-and-nickel on the body, with brown leather accents. On Steve’s right upper arm is a S.H.I.E.L.D. eagle. There is an American flag on his left upper arm, if you look hard for it, but it’s hidden as part of the stripes and rendered in the same colors as the rest of the suit. This is in keeping with military use of flag patches on camouflage or other stealthy clothing.

Cap Evans Winter helmet

The helmet, back to following the contours of Evans’s skull, finally shows Cap’s ears, and a new strap configuration firms up the weak-jaw problem seen when his neck was covered in The Avengers. The helmet straps, belt, harness, boots and gloves are plain, brown leather. The gloves, for reasons not obvious to me, are fingerless.

Although we only see the variant paint job during a mission early in the film, even his shield gets dusted-down for the job.

Cap Evans dull shield

Again, many individual panels make up the torso of the new uniform; in this case, they outline some faux-musculature, a continuing motif of Steve’s uniforms across three movies. The heavier material is interrupted by cut-outs up the length of the abdomen and under the arms, as well as down the front of the trousers. I can only guess that this improves Cap’s range of motion. Think of them as crumple zones. I won’t begin to speculate why they’re shaped like barbells.

Cap Evans crumple zones

Cap has some light armor, once again, mostly on the knees, elbows, and shoulders. Padding around his clavicles and scapulae helps support his shield harness. It’s a simple but effective replacement for the WWII suspenders, not dependent upon the many straps of the older system.

evans ws shoulders
Although a casual viewing suggests that Cap’s suit is all blue and nickel, there are small panels of red on the torso and legs.

red side

After Cap has to abandon his S.H.I.E.L.D. suit, he’s forced to steal a World War II uniform from a display at the Smithsonian Institution. We’re never told if this is supposed to be one of Cap’s original suits or a recreation, but it bears only superficial resemblance to the costume from The First Avenger.

WS compare

Most obviously, the red torso straps are spread further apart and a non-strap red stripe runs up the center of the abdominal armor. The armor itself has a different configuration The harness anchors on the chest and arms are very different, both in color and shape, and they don’t attach to the original overshirt’s leather straps under the arms. That portion of the original design is not found on the Smithsonian suit. The gray strap at the base of the overshirt, directly below the star, is also absent. The gloves, boots, and belt are a plain brown, rather than having the reddish tint seen in The First Avenger.

The shoulder and arm padding are part of the main shirt, rather than attached to the harness. The rear suspender strap is gone, replaced by a triangular patch sewn into a portion of the overshirt that’s hard to pin down. Where does it attach? No matter the case, it’s definitely not the harness of the WWII uniform.

no suspenders

Generally, the design of the main shirt and overshirt have been simplified and more modern-looking materials used to construction the new uniform. I suspect this made the arrangement easier to move in for Evans and the stunt men.

The finished product actually looks closer to the classic comics version than the First Avenger costume but somehow lacks the period charm of the original. It feels like an attempt to make modern, high-tech fabrics look old. In The First Avenger, the uniform looked, to me at least, like some kooky, futuristic thing the government and Howard Stark actually created in the ’40s. But it remains a strong look.. Here’s the movie’s hero shot of Steve in the  fake WWII suit as he steps into a lovely Virginia glade.

hero shot

Isn’t that pretty?

2015: Relevant dialogue available in May

All right, let’s wrap this sucker up.

Next year, The Avengers: Age of Ultron will feature an all-new uniform inspired by most of those that have already appeared. It includes the red, white, and blue torso stripes of the traditional uniforms in The First Avenger and The Avengers. More contemporary elements from the Winter Soldier suit are also present — barbell-shaped crumple zones, cut-outs extending under the arms, and the return to military-looking accessories.

ultron cap 3

There are large, patch pockets on both thighs and several pouches on each side of his leather belt. It, along with gloves and boots, are once again a plain brown. The gloves are half-fingered and include gauntlets that protect Cap’s forearms. The design of the boots is hard to pin down; they’re covered by leather guards that extend nearly to his knees, and feature what look like red leather fasteners to keep the guards in place.


Here, the crumple zones have become the red vertical stripes on the torso. The star on the chest is now surrounded with darker blue, then a red color feature around the side points that extend up to Cap’s shoulders. The white half sleeves of the WWII suit have been replaced by a narrow red stripe just below the shoulder, then a wider white stripe, followed by blue below. Once again, there are red panels on the legs. The simpler shield harness is back, an excellent idea.


Shoulders, elbows, and knees are protected with rigid plates. The gloves have padding in the gauntlets and along the backs of the hands. Both elbow and glove armor include metallic protrusions — perhaps for offensive blows? The helmet looks tougher and more resistant to damage, although I can’t explain why. Overall, this is the hardest, most-armored look Cap has had, and the most abstract in its general design. It looks modern, but classic.

With the dissolution of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers are now on their own. Cap no longer has a star, a flag, or any other governmental symbol on his shoulders. Instead, he’s rocking the big “A.”

Next May can’t come soon enough, at least for me.

Postscript note: If you’ve ever wondered how Cap’s pants and shirt stay in place during all of his rough-and-tumble activities, here’s the answer. They button together. It keeps the whole arrangement neat and is cleverly hidden by the wide, leather belt.

evenas ultron buttons











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Part One: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/suit-up-1/

Part Two: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/suit-up-2/

Part Three: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/suit-up-3/

Part Four: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/suit-up-4/

Part Five: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/suit-up-5/

Posted in comic books, movies, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Suit Up! 4

Part Four: Putting Together the Pieces

2012 – A Dialogue

S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson: We made some modifications to the uniform. I had a little design input.

Steve Rogers: The uniform? Aren’t the stars and stripes a little old-fashioned?

Coulson: With everything that’s happened, things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned.

From that exchange, we can take away two things. First, Phil Coulson is, himself, an old-fashioned guy with old-fashioned values, as we see later in The Avengers. Second, Phil Coulson won’t be on Project Runway any time soon.. In The Avengers, the filmmakers try very, very hard to make Steve Rogers look like he does in the comic books. Unfortunately, he comes out looking closer to a Mego eight-inch soft figure from the ’70s.

doll and evan

It may be telling that our first view of the Captain America uniform is in a locker on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier. It’s difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of a costume when it’s on hangers.

uniform in locker

We didn’t get enough of a look at the uniform in that scene to form an opinion. It’s on screen for only a fraction of a second. When it appears on Cap’s body, 41 minutes into the film, it’s somewhat obscured by darkness in Cap’s first two scenes in costume. Shadows can hide a multitude of sins that even a little bit of light make obvious. For instance:

germany dark and light

On the left, in flat, low light, Cap leaps into view, saving a defiant man from Loki. Cap’s looking cool and determined. Except for the chevrons on his shoulders, he appears to be the hero we’re familiar with from the comics. On the right, a few seconds later in direct, strong light, the costume already begins to fall apart. On first view, the fabric is crumpling. It looks rumpled around the neck and shoulders, rather than smooth and sleek. It’s covered with zippers, clasps, and pouches — lots and lots of small accessories.

Also, the helmet makes Chris Evans’s head look freakishly long. Where the helmet in The First Avenger curved smoothly above the hero’s skull, the Avengers helmet has lots of extra headroom. It features a built-up brow ridge, destroying the clean lines of the original helmet.

cap dual helmets

It also lacks a chin strap, instead featuring ear covers that appear to clamp the helmet to Cap’s head. Those, along with a mass of fabric covering Evans’s neck and the angle of his jawline, make the Avenger look like he has a weak chin and a huge forehead. In addition, the look of the Avengers material is cheap. While the original helmet probably was made of plastic, it looked like leather over metal. The Avengers helmet looks like plastic without any solid underpinning.

cap head bowed

This photo is a good place to start discussing the costume as a whole. I see at least three different shades of blue in the costume, maybe four if you include the helmet. Why? Perhaps they wanted to avoid having a huge swath of one shade across most of Cap’s body. Maybe it needed to be broken up, and they decided multiple panels of different shades would do the job. And yet, they dropped the white half sleeves, which would have differentiated Cap’s arms from the rest of his body. Instead, Cap’s costume features light gray panels on the insides of his upper arms.

cap full

Here, ready for action, the suit looks pretty good, in spite of the helmet. Getting back on track with the idea of protective gear, we see that Cap has some hardened areas of his uniform, including padding on the knees, but none of the shoulders, this time around. His boots and gloves are much brighter than in The First Avenger, and they’re heavily protected with strap-on gauntlets and leg covers. Guess Cap learned about Velcro quickly.

Things start to get silly with some elements that are meant to be functional but seem more aimed at making action figures look good. Slash pockets on skin-tight pants? A utility belt with eight to ten pouches too small to hold anything bigger than flash drives, bubble gum, or condoms? Cap’s leather belt in The First Avenger was functional, but this one seems goofy.

The decorative touches are a bit iffy, as well. The star on the front of the jacket is riveted at its points but still appears in danger of wobbling loose; the star in The First Avenger, which was of similar construction, seemed fastened more securely. The “A” on the helmet is immense, which is fitting for the size of the helmet, I suppose. What’s with the silver chevrons on Cap’s shoulders, though? They are mirrored by silver highlights on the boot and glove guards, and don’t seem to have any function. If the shoulder chevrons were doubled, they’d at least be a modest nod to Steve’s military rank.

cap avengers tunic fiddly

The jacket is impressive and cheesy at once. Unlike the shirt in The First Avenger, this is definitely a piece of outerwear; we see Cap otherwise in uniform but without it, and in those scenes he is wearing a blue full-length knit shirt. Although the jacket closes securely up the abdominal armor with a zipper, the top portion hangs slightly loose, the flap tacked down at a couple of key points rather than for its full length.

cap tunic flap

At the wrong angle, the flap moves freely and the look is less superhero than a $50 costume from the Hallowe’en store.

Cap Avengers fullAs bad as the uniform can look, and sometimes it looks quite bad

Avengers Cap bad

it really has its moments. Any time the helmet is off, Evans looks less foolish. Surprisingly, the more beat up the costume gets, the easier it is to take. By the time the last battle against the Chitauri begins, Cap is dirty, torn, bloodied and once again battle-hardened. He looks great. With a better helmet, he probably could have looked great for most of the film.

big cap dirtyPostscript: Fiddly Bits and Suspenders

I’ve spoken of the busyness of the costume. Let’s talk a bit more specifically. You’ve seen how piecemeal the construction of the jacket is. The hood and helmet base, for reasons I won’t claim to understand, are likewise made up of many small pieces of fabric. The hood, even though it’s never on display, even has wings on the sides.

three hood views

The red gloves, constructed of mostly smooth leather, have gripping surfaces on the inside of palm, thumb, and first two fingers. It’s an excellent idea, but why are the gripping stripes blue?

Rather than continue along this line endlessly, I’ll refer you to this good page of photos from the 2011 San Diego ComicCon, where the uniform locker was available for view. The detailed pics show just how much (possibly unjustified) work shows up under close scrutiny.


Last, and quickly, tell me what’s missing from this picture.

Cap Evans rear

If you said, “a star,” you are correct. Give yourself a big, ugly stuffed animal from a sleazy carnival. In spite of all the extraneous detail seen elsewhere in the uniform, Cap is denied both his star and some of his abdominal stripes at the rear. You would think the star would be absent so that Cap would have a harness, as in The First Avenger, that allows him to quickly stow his shield out of the way and pull it free easily when he needs it. Nope. Whedon and crew denied the Captain that very useful piece of suspender hardware, this time around.

We’ll see that the brothers Russo saw a flaw in that.

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Next: “I Thought You Were More Than A Shield”

Part One: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/suit-up-1/

Part Two: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/suit-up-2/

Part Three: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/suit-up-3/

Part Four: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/suit-up-4/

Part Five: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/suit-up-5/

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Suit Up! 3

Part 3: The First Avenger

2011 — “I Had Some Ideas About the Uniform.”

Twenty-one years later, the embarrassment of the Albert Pyun cheapie erased from the memories of all but the hardest core of comics fandom, Captain America finally got some respect. Following a years-long court battle between Joe Simon and Marvel Comics over ownership of the Captain America copyrights, producers were free once again to develop the character for a movie.

After outstanding business with Iron Man and Iron Man 2, as well as a strong showing by The Incredible Hulk, Marvel took what was, in retrospect, a significant risk by making a period piece infused with old-fashioned warmth and gentle comedy instead of the sarcastic humor that had become typical in action movies, including superhero films. The script, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley, and the direction by Joe Johnston, demonstrate a fondness for the “simpler” time of World War II and the honest patriotism engendered by the conflict.

Chris Evans gives an impressive physical performance throughout, surprisingly so in the early sequences. The frail, skinny Steve is only sometimes a body double with Evans’s face pasted on. At other times, Evans’s impressive physique was reduced with green screen techniques, the actor looking up into the faces of his co-stars, controlling his movements so as not to overreach the smaller body he pretended to have.

His emotional work is equally good. With a history of portraying cocky jerks, Evans here plays against type as a quiet man who only wants to help end a horrible war and thinks that collecting scrap metal and plane spotting just aren’t enough. For Steve, it’s not about “killing Nazis,” as Dr. Erskine, the creator of the super-soldier process, suggests. “I don’t want to kill anyone,” Steve tells the scientist. “I don’t like bullies. I don’t care where they’re from.” It’s a far cry from his flippant Johnny Storm. Evans oozes sincerity as Steve strives to be selected for the Super Soldier experiment. When the transformation finally comes, it’s hidden inside a sarcophagus infusing Steve with vita-rays, but Evans’s voice acting is impressive. Steve’s seeming surprise at his new physique and its possibilities is charming. Asked how he feels after stepping out of the treatment chamber, he says, “Taller.”

Forty-eight minutes into the picture, Steve finally becomes Captain America. Again, kind of. America’s only super soldier, considered too valuable to put into combat, is turned into a war bonds salesman. He struts before audiences and movie cameras, signs autographs, and kisses babies. Eventually, he’s sent overseas to entertain Allied troops. It’s a ridiculous life. While Steve is popular back home and even seems to enjoy his fame, seeing troops in the field makes him reconsider. He’s in a situation he now finds humiliating, comparing himself in a notebook sketch to a circus monkey atop a unicycle.

The show costume looks almost exactly like the original suit from the comic books, designed in 1940 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. The classic elements are all present – white half-sleeves, buccaneer boots, gloves with flared gauntlets. It even has the tiny wings on the cowl. The cowl is separate from the rest of the costume and has large eye openings (which only makes sense), plus the stars on the front and rear of the shirt are raised,. Otherwise it’s classic Cap, down to the original, triangular shield.

Captain-America-The-First-Avenger-USO-ShowHe even knocks out Hitler! (Over 200 times, as he later tells the Howling Commandos.)

cap-punches-hitlerThe suit does look slightly ridiculous on a human in a realistic setting. In spite of that, it looks right. This is the Sentinel of Liberty, embodied in the form of Chris Evans. How could things get any better? By making a suit that functions in the real world.

When Steve goes AWOL to rescue his childhood friend Bucky Barnes from a Hydra research facility, he throws on some standard uniform pants and boots, tosses a leather jacket over his star-spangled shirt, and wisely dons a helmet borrowed from a member of his USO chorus line. Loaded down with a whole lot of ammo, he breaks into the Hydra base. There, he stalls The Red Skull and Arnim Zola long enough to bring home Bucky and 200 other Allied prisoners.

cap and bucky rescue Later, when Bucky jokingly asks if Steve is going to keep the suit for combat, Steve admits that it’s growing on him. With Howard Stark’s assistance, Steve creates a uniform that says “soldier” instead of “circus monkey.”

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Cap Evans FA trapIt’s a departure from past movie Captains and from other superhero costumes. The normally white areas of the shield are left bare instead, polished metal catching the light. The trousers, a subdued blue, incorporate knee pads and some useful pockets. The boots and gloves are a dark red-brown. And Cap is loaded for bear, with an automatic on his hip and a shotgun holstered on his souped-up motorcycle.

The white shirt has some unnecessary faux muscles around the abdomen, goodness knows why. The blue half shirt also features some padding, but it makes sense to pad the shoulders. Red stripes on the shirt were questionable, according to director Johnston. They worried how to make them seem a reasonable part of the costume until it was decided that they would be straps.

The upper half of the uniform is covered with straps. Why so many? They were visually interesting, but I didn’t see the need for them. While they help attach the blue half shirt to the undershirt, and provide attachment points for some of the armor built into the shoulders, they seem rather superfluous.. The rest of the costume was very practical, so there had to be some thought behind the bloody straps!

I don’t have the best eye for detail while I’m in the middle of watching a movie, so it took me three years, several DVD viewings of The First Avenger, and a good look at The Winter Soldier for the obvious to penetrate my thick skull.

evans harnessThe good Captain is wearing something like suspenders. But they don’t hold his pants up. In addition to keeping his half-shirt and shoulder pads in place, they harness a star-shaped hunk of metal between Cap’s shoulders. That metallic star replaces the cloth star from the classic costume and is also the anchor point for his shield.

evans harness backIn the comics, when Cap puts the shield on his back, he slips his arms through the carrying straps. In the real world, that doesn’t work. Not only are the straps not spaced properly to fit both forearm and shoulders, but pulling the shield on and off would be a slow and complicated process. The anchor, on the other hand – whatever it’s made of and however it works — allows Cap to stow his shield on his back and pull it free for action with almost no effort.

In place of the cloth cowl from the performing-monkey costume, a molded helmet protects Cap’s head. It (and a couple of minor touches in the uniform) appears to have been – one might politely say, “borrowed” – from the helmet that artist Bryan Hitch designed for Marvel Comics’ miniseries The Ultimates 2.

FA helmet sideA helmet makes a lot of sense for Captain America. Besides taking the knocking-about that otherwise would tear up his head, it connects with the military theme of the character. It’s also easier to handle than soft head wear; cloth or leather over a rigid base retains its shape without a lot of fuss. A helmet doesn’t need to be adjusted when the actor’s hair gets bunched up. It can be molded over the nose, to avoid the dreaded tenting effect that stretches eye holes out of line.

The Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher Batman films used cast rubber headgear, and 2003’s Daredevil design may have inspired the helmet-cowls used in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. It all started in 1966, though. One has to wonder why it took 40 years of Batman reruns for costume designers to think, “That just might work.”

Batman 66 cowlPostscript: A note on Bucky Barnes

In the comics, James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes ias Steve Rogers’s teen sidekick and faithful companion throughout WW II. He serves with the Captain until his (supposed) untimely death in 1945, in the same incident that leads to Cap’s decades of suspended animation. However, until 2011, no version of Bucky ever appears in a Captain America movie. Rather than make Bucky a camp follower who becomes Steve’s kid partner, the creators of The First Avenger take a different road with the character. This Bucky is Steve’s childhood friend and protector, who spends the early scenes of the movie encouraging the frail Steve, but also urging him to be realistic about his chances of joining the military.

Following Steve’s rescue of the Hydra POWs, a small group of hand-picked soldiers becomes the Howling Commandos, Steve’s field team. Bucky takes on the role of Steve’s second in the field. Rather than wear fatigues, he adopts an outfit not unlike the superhero tights worn by Bucky in the 1940s comics.

comparison cap and buckyIt’s a small thing, but it’s a nice nod to the traditional version of the sidekick.

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Next: “I had a little design input.”

Part One: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/suit-up-1/

Part Two: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/suit-up-2/

Part Three: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/suit-up-3/

Part Four: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/suit-up-4/

Part Five: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/suit-up-5/


Posted in comic books, movies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Suit Up! 2

Part Two: Super Soldiers

1979 (I) – “Sensational!”

Somewhere around 1975, Marvel started pushing its characters hard to the CBS television network. In 1977, The Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man aired well-received pilots that led to regular series for both characters. The Incredible Hulk ran for five seasons and was revived in the late ’80s for a trio of TV movies. Its stars, Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, became beloved figures among comic book fans. The Amazing Spider-Man and its stars, Nicholas Hammond, Michael Pataki, and Robert F. Simon, did not become beloved; the show lasted only 13 episodes. However, it has its fans and the clunky Spider-Man costume and its accessories hold a bit of primitive charm

1978 brought Dr. Strange, starring soap-opera refugee Peter Hooten. It featured a special appearance by Sir John Mills, as a Caucasian Ancient One fill-in, and the luscious (even today) Jessica Walters as the seductive villain, Morgan le Fay. While it had strong moments, Dr. Strange lacked the ratings or a solid enough vision to pull a series pickup. Airing against Roots didn’t help, and the Sorcerer Supreme disappeared from live action, although Marvel Studios supposedly intends to make a theatrical feature with the character.

Better-received was Captain America, in 1979. It performed well-enough to rate a sequel, Captain America: Death Too Soon, later the same year. Both telefilms starred Reb Brown, a former college football star who today may best be known for appearing in the South African cheapie Space Mutiny/Mutiny in Space, which was nicely savaged by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew.

For a third time, there was no World War II setting, or even a direct military connection. However, Captain America was finally named Steve Rogers. Steve here was a well-meaning lunkhead, a former Marine-motorcycle racer-surf bum-painter just looking to travel the roads of America, work on his art, and find himself.

In the movie, Steve is called to a secure laboratory by Simon Mills, a former student of Steve’s late father. Simon explains that the elder Rogers developed a “super hormone” that he called “Full Latent Ability Gain” – yes, FLAG. It allowed an animal to exploit all of its physical potential. But the research is stalled. The test animals, while granted great strength and speed, “slowly madden and die.” Rogers, senior, based his work on his own adrenal gland, and it won’t take with the test animals. The hormone worked on his father, however, and dad in his younger days chose to right wrongs as a “super crime fighter” his enemies derisively nicknamed “Captain America.” Steve, genetically similar to his father, can offer hope for perfecting FLAG.

Not wanting to be a guinea pig, Steve politely rejects Simon’s proposal and goes on his way. When a friend is killed and the friend’s daughter endangered, Steve steps in to investigate. It’s a dumb move – the criminals run Steve’s motorcycle off a cliff, leaving him critically injured. Simon comes to the rescue with FLAG. Brown was hauling a lot of muscle from his football and boxing days, so there would be no scrawny-into-beefy transformation. Steve’s new abilities are soon tested when he’s kidnapped by the criminals who killed his friend, and he reluctantly decides to help Simon.

They fit out Steve with a rocket-assisted motorcycle housed in what used to be his van’s sink and oven cupboards. It’s presumptuous, and Steve’s left nowhere to make his scrambled eggs Sunday mornings! He also gets a plastic shield, clear with red concentric circles and a blue star at the center – “rather a deadly weapon,” Simon says. Even when Steve throws it with his FLAG strength, it travels a good deal slower than a hard-tossed Frisbee. They dress the hero in an Evel Knievel-style spandex suit based on a sketch of Steve’s that Simon declares “sensational!” Top that off with a motorcycle helmet painted with the “A” and surprisingly silly wings, and it’s the least faithful Captain America costume of all.


Cap ’79 Mark I wears no mask, preferring to disguise his identity (barely) with a pair of motorcyclist’s goggles. Under his helmet is a cowl emblazoned with the famous “A,” although we never see it in the movie.

Cap Brown skullcap

None of the silliness is mitigated by the facts that Brown was a very bad actor and that he didn’t look at all bright.

Cap Brown I radio

Throughout, we get a fine introduction to Brown’s genitals. This, friends, is why Captain America of the comics often wears trunks over his tights.

Cap Brown batch

When Steve has saved the west coast from a neutron bomb, he agrees to become Captain America full time. The movie originally ended there, with a happy-all-around moment. If you saw it when it aired for the first time, you might have been confused when Steve donned a completely different costume later in the year. When the first installment was repeated, a badly dubbed transition led to Steve expressing his wishes to be the Captain America his father had been, to look like him.

That didn’t make any damned sense, because we’d been told that “Captain America” was merely a slur criminals used against the elder Rogers. He wasn’t a superhero in the traditional sense, but more a Six Million Dollar Man type, using his gifts while in civvies. But CBS wanted the kiddies to understand why Captain America had a new costume, so we got a quick sequence with Steve showing off for Simon.

cap II long

1979 (II): “Magnificent!”

Simon having declared the new costume “magnificent!” in the transitional scene that now ends the first movie, Steve dives right into Death Too Soon – a plot by a slumming Christopher Lee to extort millions from the federal government by threatening to kill an entire city with a drug that speeds up aging. You read that correctly; Christopher Lee agreed to appear in an American superhero TV movie.

The new suit is, surprisingly, the most comics-accurate costume to that point, with buccaneer boots, white half-sleeves and even sculpted wings on Cap’s headgear – though still, I must sadly say, on his motorcycle helmet. They look ridiculous, but it’s more attractive than the odd, painted wings from last time around. Steve has trunks on over the tights, thank all that’s good and pure, so there’s much less peekaboo with the little captain. On the negative side, Steve’s mask under the helmet appears to be made of thick vinyl and looks very uncomfortable. And the suit is, again, shiny spandex, that being the best option for stretch material at the time.

Cap Brown II close

Steve is still atop the Honda cycle, and the slowly spinning shield actually seems to have become more ridiculous. It’s bulletproof, supposedly, but attack dogs can bend it. Hardly mighty. None of this is helped by Brown’s junior high school acting class performance, but at least he looks half-acceptable.

Cap Brown II stance

1990: “That Crazy Fireproof Uniform”

As Cap’s 50th anniversary approached, there was pressure within the Golan-Globus film production company, which then held the rights, to have a movie ready before 1991. A story was created by TV writer Stephen Tolkin and novelist Lawrence Block, with a script by Tolkin. Tolkin admitted at the time that he had never read a Captain America comic. Perhaps no one else involved had, either; it might explain why the both Cap and the Red Skull were created by a female, Italian scientist, Dr. Vaselli. Or why the Skull was a 10-year-old Italian kidnapped in 1936 by Il Duce and forced to undergo the super soldier process before Dr. Vaselli escaped to America and refined the technique that was used on Steve Rogers.

A lot of things might be explained by Tokin’s unfamiliarity with the character. Others appear to have been the casualties of a slashed budget and rushed production after the project moved to 21st Century Film Corporation, when Golan-Globus split. Still others seem related to director Albert Pyun’s less-than-spectacular skills. While hardly incompetent, Pyun was used to working on a smaller scale. He planned big and failed. But while this is not a good movie, neither is it terrible. It’s very genuine in its emotions and ideas. It is not interested in jingoism, in spite of some rah-rah moments. It believes there is a reason good people do good things and some less-good people do bad things. Not all of its conflict is based in right vs. wrong. I almost like it.

For the first time, the movie makers attempted a transformation from frail Steve to well-muscled Cap, without a lot of success. Matt Salinger, who played Steve, was in good shape and somewhat muscular, but not bulging. He didn’t have the build for either pre-transformation Steve or post-transformation Cap. So they cheated. Steve’s relative frailty was explained away by childhood polio. He was thin, but had kept himself in shape as much as possible.

The imaginative people behind the movie did this by first putting Salinger in oversize civilian clothes and using makeup to hollow out his cheeks and eyes. It was mildly successful but mitigated by the fact that, in 1943, most young men wore looser-fitting shirts and jackets.

Cap Salinger Civvies

The actual transformation was handled similarly. Salinger lay down in the treatment chair in a large medical smock. The process was conducted largely in darkness, with shifting lights used to suggest the growth of Salinger’s calves and forearms. He got out of the chair in a smaller, tighter-fitting smock, wearing standard hero movie makeup. While simple and not very convincing, the Project: Rebirth scene at least gave the audience an attempt at a significant part of the origin story.

Conceptually, the costume is great, incorporating all the famous characteristics of the comic-book suit. It has buccaneer boots, flared gloves, red and white stripes, wings on the cowl, and a big star. The designers, however, still faced the problem of the star’s physique not being comic-book perfect. The “crazy fireproof uniform” Vaselli had made for Steve fits Salinger less like a glove and more like a suit borrowed from a larger friend.

The designers, though, found comfort in latex and plastic. Can’t see Salinger’s abdominal muscles through the stretched rubber? Build them into a half-shirt. Unfortunately, the half-shirt isn’t supposed to be Batman-style body armor. The rubber doesn’t move like muscles, and the sculptor takes the “abs” almost as high as Salinger’s nipples.

Cap Salinger great costume

The chest star and the “A” on the cowl are thick rubber, obviously glued-on. The wings, larger than in many comics, are a bit startling. The ears are fake; Salinger’s skin chafed badly when the cowl was glued down around his ears, so they fabricated some plastic copies that, unfortunately, took a beating during filming. Here, poor Cap looks determined, but his ears are buckling as if they’d been chewed upon.

Cap Salinger fake ears

In some shots, the costume’s weaknesses combine to show us a Cap who looks like he’d shrunk during his time in the ice. No matter how beaten and tired, Cap should never seem as if he’s still wearing his Hallowee’en costume after a weekend as hard as the one in “The Hangover.”

Cap Salinger tired

So it went. Salinger wasn’t big enough to fill the suit. The latex creases badly. The fake abs and ears often look fake, and Cap once again suffers from mask-tenting disease that pulls the cowl’s eye holes out of line and make him look cross-eyed.

Cap Salinger mask

Surprisingly, the more battered and dirty the suit gets, the more believable it seems. When things work, mostly in battles with the Red Skull – when the lighting is right, when Salinger holds himself properly, and especially when the fight choreography is good – it looks like Captain America was on the screen. The shield, though obviously made of plastic and oddly ribbed on its top side, flew fast, repels bullets convincingly, and ricochets hard off walls when it isn’t a distracting visual effect.

The people behind Captain America 1990 may not have been great talents, but they wanted to make a good movie, and they worked hard at it. The hard work shows.

Cap Salinger hero fight


The Red Skull, like Cap, spends a lot of time in the movie out of costume, in a way. Only in the 1943 sequence does the Skull show anything resembling his traditional visage. Perhaps finding the character too silly, the writers had the Skull’s face altered by plastic surgery so that he appears reasonably normal, though badly scarred, in the scenes set in 1993. I found it a poor idea at the time, though it makes sense in the story. The Skull clearly hates being a deformed victim of his government, so he moves beyond the identity imposed upon him. It’s a shame, though, because Scott Paulin’s makeup is more interesting and believable than the very literal version seen in The First Avenger.

Cap Salinger Red Skull

Next: “I Had Some Ideas About the Uniform”

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Part One: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/suit-up-1/

Part Two: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/suit-up-2/

Part Three: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/suit-up-3/

Part Four: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/suit-up-4/

Part Five: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/suit-up-5/


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Suit Up! 1

Captain America: You got a suit?
Hawkeye: Yeah. [he nods]
Captain America: Then suit up.
(The Avengers, 2012)

Let’s talk about tights and boots and gloves – and helmets! – in those Old Glory colors and patterns. Be prepared for strangeness.

Captain America has three recent movie appearances to his credit and another coming in 2015 with The Avengers: Age of Ultron. He’s also been name-checked in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television series, more than once. All of the movies brought new clothes for the captain. Never say that Marvel doesn’t know a good merchandising opportunity when it sees one. Masks! Action figures! Cosplayers giving the movie free publicity! As a result, people who’ve never read a comic book know his name, his stars-and-stripes costume, and his matching shield.

The costume designers for the Marvel movies have done a fine job, mostly. But there were 67 years of Captain America movies before Chris Evans put on his first version of the costume, and the wardrobes weren’t all as successful.

Part One: Same Clothes, Different Reasons

1944: “That Mysterious Captain America”

From the current craze for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you might think that Timely/Marvel had exploited the potential of its characters almost since the release of Motion Picture Funnies Weekly in 1939. But the reverse is true; unlike National/DC, which jumped into the movie theater only a few years after introducing Superman, Marvel mostly failed to present its characters to the broader public. The exception came in 1944, when Republic Studios, which released the Fawcett-inspired serials The Adventures of Captain Marvel and Spy Smasher, put Captain America on screen for 15 episodes and four hours of fighting, shooting, chasing, and masked villainy.

Kind of.

Opinions vary about what happened to Cap between Timely selling the rights to the character and the filming of the serial. Some serial historians think that Republic shot an existing script, possibly for Fawcett’s Mr. Scarlet character, changing only a few details . Captain America the serial doesn’t include Steve Rogers, the super-soldier serum, a shield, a sidekick, or a war-oriented setting. There aren’t even German/Japanese spies on-hand for some good ol’ ethnocentricity and racism. Instead, it’s a mad-scientist crime story featuring district attorney Grant Gardner, who moonlights as the mysterious, masked Captain America to help bring down major criminals.

The costume was revised, most likely for simplicity. It was clearly Captain America, but with the edges sanded down. The wings on the cowl disappeared, as did the buccaneer boots, replaced by high-topped shoes. They kept the color scheme (modified for B&W photography) and patterns, for the most part, although the vertical stripes appear only on the front of the shirt. In some shots it looks quite good.


In others, the illusion is less successful. Star Dick Purcell lacked a heroic build; he was not muscular and, in fact, was a bit pudgy. In wide shots, it’s obvious that they’d cinched in his gut with his shield-buckled belt.

Image   Image

The stripes on the shirt rise quite high and the star is larger than in the comics, so that it points into to the hollow of his throat. The cowl is troublesome, too. The “A” is large enough that it curves above Purcell’s forehead. Worse, the eye holes aren’t spaced properly and angle up severely at the outside corners. Between that and the fabric tenting over the bridge of his nose, Purcell couldn’t have been able to see very well.
Image  Image

Although Purcell’s physique was unimpressive, he nevertheless engaged in typically energetic serial excitement — fistfights, running, jumping, and other strenuous activities — during the making of Captain America. This seems to have aggravated a previously unknown heart condition; Purcell died a few weeks after filming was complete, suffering a heart attack following a round of golf. He was only 35.

Cap serial color

1973: “My Special Outfit is Bulletproof”

Captain America didn’t appear on the big screen again for 29 years. Until the late ’70s, DC and Marvel were somewhat cowed by the continuing “Biff! Bam! Pow!” influence of the 1966 “Batman” TV show and movie. Old serials (including Captain America), cut down to feature length, were appearing on TV and also hitting the movie theaters in large cities, promoted as silly fun mostly to young-adult, sometimes stoned, audiences. Super heroes seemed like a dead genre at the movies.

Turkey begged to differ with Hollywood’s opinion. For nearly 50 years, the Turks have gladly appropriated popular, copyrighted characters, joyfully stealing other people’s properties to make weird, cheap, and sometimes incomprehensible unauthorized versions. Turkish Superman! Turkish Star Wars! Turkish – yep, Captain America!

But not only Captain America! 3 Dev Adam (variously translated as 3 Mighty Men or 3 Giant Men) not only features Captain America, but he fights side by side with legendary Mexican luchador El Santo – or, at least, someone wearing a mask vaguely like that of the famous wrestler. Once again, Captain America is merely a strong, acrobatic American crime fighter, not a patriotic, super-juiced hero. The third “mighty man” is none other than Spider-Man! Again, kind of. This “Spider,” as he is called, is a crime lord decked out in a green-and-red extreme variation of a Spider-Man costume. It has a spider on it, at least, and a red cowl.


Cap, played by Turkish action star Aytekin Akkaya, wears a costume similar to the one Purcell had donned three decades earlier. Again, it lacks wings on the cowl, buccaneer boots, and the shield. Again, the vertical stripes come to nipple height, causing the chest star to rise quite high. And, again, it features a wide belt with an oversize buckle.

Cap is asked by his Turkish government contact why he wears a mask and costume. “Spider is a child-minded lunatic,” Cap explains. “He always wears a mask. When he sees someone else wearing a mask, he wants to destroy them.” Almost as an afterthought, he adds. “My special outfit is bulletproof.” For ease of movement, and so that Akkaya could quickly show his movie-star face, the cowl is separate from the shirt. This is a fine idea that most superhero film makers would ignore for 35 years. They’d also forget that large eye openings may not look like the comic books, but they help an actor see a lot more clearly!


The separate cowl also let Akkaya quickly show off an incredible head of hair. Look at that mullet mop!

Cap 3 no mask

While Akkaya was not a muscle man, he at least looked more fit than poor Dick Purcell, who would only have been 64 when 3 Dev Adam was made.

cap 3 jumping

Next: Super Soldiers

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Part One: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/suit-up-1/

Part Two: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/suit-up-2/

Part Three: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/suit-up-3/

Part Four: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/suit-up-4/

Part Five: https://unlimitedvisions.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/suit-up-5/


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Deep Background

Hello. Welcome to my space. Here, when I get around to it, I’ll be discussing comics as a medium, individual comics, the place of comics in the larger artistic world, comics-based movies, and more than a few other things. A lot of what you’ll see will be original. Sometimes, I’ll run a piece that I wrote in my days as a fanzine reviewer and columnist. I hope you’ll take a look at this blog from time to time. When you do, I’ll try to entertain you. For now, an autobiographical introduction.

I bought my first comic book out of a vending machine like this one.

Comic Book Vending Machine 02

It was January, 1971, and my family had just returned from two years living on Okinawa. Mom and Dad were preparing to pack six kids, a German Shepherd dog, and a cat into a used Oldsmobile station wagon for what became a week-long drive from San Francisco to Chicopee, Massachusetts.

I was eight years old, wriggly and somewhat loud, but I loved to read. To keep me quiet, my mother gave me 15 cents for the comic book machine. I dropped the coins in and pulled a lever. My comic fell to the bottom, and I spent the next little while reading a Superman adventure. I can’t recall what the story was about, but it was the beginning of more than 40 years as a comics reader, fan, and reviewer.That time has seen me go from casual reader to fan to hard-core reader to small-time collector and back to a more relaxed position.

By 1980, I was buying a dozen or so comics every month. That August, I moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where I discovered my first direct-sales comics shop — The Comiclogue, owned by Ken King. I also discovered fanzines and small press publishing, courtesy of The Iowa Comic Book Club.

The ICBC’s humbly named It’s a Fanzine started even more humbly than its name, as a twelve-page collection of reviews and cartoons from a talented bunch of people herded by their stalwart editor, Gene Kehoe. I started by contributing a handful of brief reviews. A couple of years into  IAF‘s run, I had the gall to submit a longish piece to Gene that began by claiming to be the first installment of a continuing (if irregular) feature. Having unilaterally promoted myself to columnist, and nicking a title from a recent issue of The Avengers, I dove into longer-form comics criticism.

Gene even asked our in-group logo designer (a pleasant man with the unlikely name of the Rev. Lawrence M. “Butch” Stewart) to put something together. That’s how I came to open IAF #21 and find this.

UV original logo

Frankly, it was not what I’d had in mind. I was a pretentious college kid serious young writer at the time, and the logo seemed frivolous and playful. I may have been unintentionally frivolous, but playful was not my style. I sulked a bit until Butch took pity on me a few installments later and gave me the more sober, even moody, version of the words that I use as the header for this blog.

Once I started writing “(Un)Limited Visions,” I found myself thinking more deeply about comics. It was a good time for that. More mature themes were starting to make their way into mainstream comics. Alan Moore reached the U.S. with imports of Warrior and his early American work on Swamp Thing Frank Miller was borrowing from Asian movies and Will Eisner and Jim Steranko, but bringing his own experiences as an outsider in New York City to Daredevil. Mainstream hero comics continued to dominate, but even they were infusing their stories with stronger emotions and less-predictable plotting. “The Dark Phoenix Saga” in Uncanny X-Men had broken rules that wouldn’t ever be repaired. Something like “The Judas Contract” in The New Teen Titans couldn’t have been published without “Dark Phoenix.”

New comics publishers, working outside the Comics Code Authority and generally called the “alternatives” or “independents,” made their way into direct-sales comic book shops around the time I got to college. Pacific, First, Eclipse, Capital, Fantagraphics, Comico, and others started publishing material often inspired by classic hero/action comics but that couldn’t ever have gone out under the imprints of Marvel or DC. Without the Comics Code holding them back, titles like Love & Rockets, American Flagg!, and Sabre could tell stories about adults.

They weren’t necessarily good stories. Some of them were dominated by sex and violence just because the creators now were free to be carnal and bloody. Some of them were phatasmagorical only because the editors didn’t care how stoned the creators were. Some of the stories were thinly disguised political or economic screeds (that’s you, Mr. Ditko). They were honest, though, and they affected me in the way that good prose fiction and better movies did. By that time, comics were, truly, not just for kids.

That was the world I lived in, when I became a comics reviewer, critic, essayist, columnist, whatever you might like to call me. I only wrote ten installments of “(Un)Limited Visions” between 1983 and 1990, when IAF took a long-term break. Since Gene revived the ‘zine as an occasional item in ’96, it  has stressed older comics, historical coverage, and a bit of nostalgia. It’s a great read, but not somewhere I fit.

In 2006, I joined a media forum called “The Zone,” an offshoot of “Ain’t It Cool News.” It has a comics discussion area in addition to TV, movies, music, and other boards. Although I was never as active there as I was with IAF, I wrote occasional entries that I thought were interesting. Other people sometimes said they liked my writing, as was the case with my work for IAF. Those encouraging words have inspired me, slowly. Finally, some friends on Facebook, including Gene, prodded me until I turned my musings about a blog into what you’re reading.

Watch this space. I will try hard not to bore you.

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Dennis Morrigan McDonough

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