DC Universe Presents 12: Kid Flash

Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing DC Universe Presents 12: Kid Flash, originally released August 15th, 2012.

Patrick: There’s always a risk when you pick up a new title. You never really know if the characters or the creative teams are going to meet your expectations. DC Universe Presents frequently shifts its focus, filling in gaps in the line-up and employing various creatives. I sort of have a hard time imagining that this title has a regular readership. I assume readers drift over to it when they see one of their favorite characters on the cover. Drew and I are enormous fans of the current run of The Flash and we’ve bemoaned the fact that there really aren’t other Flash books for us to read. So as this anthology series offers us a Kid Flash story, did we get what we wanted?

This issue opens on direct address from Bart Allen. He places the events of this story into the context of the on-going Teen Titans series. But he also makes a point to say “Continuity doesn’t really matter! Clarity is overrated! Let the fun begin!” Now, never mind that this is all within an inch of an editor’s note telling where exactly I can explore the other events in this continuity, I’ll take Kid Flash (and by extension author Fabian Nicieza) at his word: I’m making no effort to understand this story outside of what’s presented in these pages.

Bart’s hot on the trial of an inter-dimensional pterodactyl-girl. Since he is the Flash, Bart’s able to catch her and bind her, basically no problem. But now he’s got to worry about her dino-person friend; Teryx. They fight a little bit before Teryx and Dac convince Bart that the real problem is their third friend (the third friend is always the problem), sending Bart on a mad-dash to find this final dino-kid. Again, Flash, so it doesn’t take Bart very long to engage the dinodude (this one is called Steg – looks nothing like a stegosaurus). The fight culminates in a roof-top exchange and Steg throwing a container of mutagenic water out over the city… OR DID HE? Kids Flash prevents the liquid from disseminating, but it turns out the threat was merely a diversion to allow Steg to escape.

I don’t like doing blow-by-blow recaps on this site. For any other series I would have described the above as “Kid Flash encounters a trio of dino-humans. One of them threatens to mutate the world and escapes” and then dug right in to the meat of the issue. But the rations here are meager, and if you wanted anything more than dismissive jokes from a hero that doesn’t really give a shit about the danger he’s in, you’ve come to the wrong place.

I get that the “teen” characters need to be smart asses. They need to be insufferable little fucks like we all were when we are 16. But this teenager voice is way off, painfully inauthentic. Does it seem strange to you that teenager in 2012 (from the 25th century, no less) would make repeated jokes about how Chinese food will make you sick? Or that his reference point for miscommunication is poh-tay-to vs. poh-tah-toh? Or how about the whole Sonic the Hedgehog attitude? His voice over awards “points for cool […] points for style.” He comments on the sexual attractiveness of a dinosaur-woman – even going so far as to correct the implication that he “does everything fast.” And in full-on head-scratcher mode, there’s this:

He’s not a kid – he’s what a 50-year old man thinks a kid sounds like. It’s a poor amalgamation of anachronistic references, misunderstood slang and bullshit non sequiturs. That last bit about Australian actors is especially strange — he thinks that Teryx should be played by an Australian if they made of movie of this event? Or he thinks Teryx is cool in the same way the phenomenon of casting Aussies to play Americans is cool? And also, if Bart is a teenager (or thereabouts), he likely doesn’t have this view of American actors — what would be his point for comparison? This is clearly a case of Nicieza remembering back to the good old days when he saw manly-men in the movies.

Not only does it make the personality hard to believe, it makes the character sorta hard to stomach. Quite literally nothing in this issue motivates him — Bart takes the action he takes because he’s the hero of the story and that’s all.

It’s not just Bart; there’s a weird anti-logic that extends to the rest of this issue. The Saurians aren’t at all on the same page about why the came to this world – their motives range from curiosity to genocide and there’s apparently no time to talk any of this over. Somehow even more logically troubling is this scene:

Steg is wrecking up the Chinese restaurant because they’re keeping chameleon’s in aquariums. You see, he views the chameleons as basically the equivalent of his siblings – they way you or I would freak out if we saw, say, a rat in a cage. But it’s not even that jump in logic that pisses me off, it’s this: what the fuck kind of Chinese joint has giant aquariums in reptiles in them? Is that a thing?

Christ.

It’s all so aggressively stupid. I was hoping to at least get a few chuckles out of this one, but Bart’s Bug Bunny-style antics seldom make me crack a smile.

What’d you think of this one, Drew? I was really looking forward to some quality time with the Flash family, but like so much family-time, I was mostly just disappointed.

Drew: Wow. My reactions couldn’t really be more different. That is to say, we agree on the weaknesses of the issue — I won’t really debate any of what you pointed out — but where you found it grating and unbelievable, I found it charming. Bart’s narration really is contrived and artificial, but I actually saw that as an asset — he’s more caricature than character here, anyway, so why not have some fun with it?

“It’s too dumb to not be dumb” isn’t exactly a strong defense, but having that attitude did allow me to enjoy this issue, which may be a key difference between how we read this. Bart is a spunky, sarcastic joker (who I imagine sounds like Jason Marsden [Snapper Carr from Bruce Timm’s Justice League, for anyone unwilling to click that link]), and I’m willing to accept some perhaps-too-broadly written lines as long as they convey that idea. (I also enjoyed his addressing the camera directly, Zack Morris-style.) It probably sounds like I’m being oddly generous with my goodwill here, but I suspect our expectations had a lot to do with our different reactions.

Patrick, you suggest that your Flash fandom brought you to this title, but expecting this title to behave anything like The Flash seems fundamentally flawed. There are a lot of things we like about that title (the distinctive art, the earnest characters, the meta-textual themes), but they’re all so specific to Barry Allen — or even that particular creative team — that the assumption that we’ll like anything with the word “Flash” in the title strikes me as unreasonable.

And this issue is very different from The Flash. As you point out, the hero’s motivations here don’t seem to go beyond “that’s what heroes do,” and he mostly comes off as grating — two things that could never be said of Barry — but I think that totally fits with Bart. It’s kind of tough to talk about Bart in the New 52 when so little is known about his past, but if any of his history is intact, superheroing wasn’t so much a choice in his life as a foregone conclusion. He was born with these abilities, and it was just kind of assumed he would follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. I’m not sure he has a motivation beyond doing whatever seems heroic.

But I’m not sure this issue really needs to justify itself at all — yes it’s dumb, but it’s also fun. The artificial tone reminds me of Recess, a show that I think may highlight our age difference here, Patrick. Those kids talked in equally bizarre, artificial ways, but it made for a snarky, immersive universe. I’ve built up a bit of a tolerance for that kind of writing, so the general tone-deafness writers seem to have for teenage characters only bothers me when they assume all young people are also idiots. This issue doesn’t really make that mistake, so I was mostly okay with it.

I didn’t mind Bart’s interest in Dac — Bart is 16, and exists in a universe where aliens are boning humans on the regular, so a reptile girl doesn’t really seem that out there. Moreover, I’m not totally convinced she is a reptile.

Her wings look stitched together, and she has a human face in the mouth of her dinosaur face. It looks like a costume to me. Her friends have scales and tails, but she might just be wearing a dinosaur suit. None of the dialogue in this issue validates this theory, but — as the ending makes clear — this isn’t the end of the story. I suspect Dac’s non-nativeness will play out in the back-up of Teen Titans, where Steg will reject her for not being a true reptile. Or come to appreciate non-reptiles.

The only question is if we’re willing to follow the story back onto the pages of Teen Titans. Given Patrick’s reaction, my guess is that he isn’t interested. I may be a little more inclined, but I’m not sure this issue reached the critical mass of interest to keep me coming back. I enjoyed myself, but with a pull list already ballooning past 25 titles, that simply isn’t enough. It was fun, but that’s about it.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

15 comments on “DC Universe Presents 12: Kid Flash

    • Yeah, I mean, they all have hair, too. These creatures don’t exactly hold up to biological classification, which is maybe more frustrating than I realized. Shoddily explained quasi-science is way more irritating than just writing shit off as magic.

      • Every universe has to have rules; they can be super loose and magic-based, but they gotta be there. Even Dial H has it’s own weird set of rules.

        • And I wouldn’t mind the fact that these Dinosaur people have hair and breasts if they didn’t call attention to the fact that Bart is different from them because he’s a mammal.

        • I mean, he’s certainly different somehow. That said, there’s no way you answer this “what are they?” question in a way that isn’t dumb. This issue’s strategy is to ignore the question altogether (which is only marginally less dumb), but as Patrick points out, they then call attention to the question with the whole “mammal” business.

  1. For the record, I went back a forth a little bit before landing on hating this issue. You could make the argument (as Drew does) that Bart’s voice supports the largely surreal world in which this story plays out. But for my money, that only works if you’re charmed by the voice. Charm is one of those subjective things and this one just didn’t work for me.

    • Yeah, I was won over by the end of the first page — if Bart doesn’t have you on his side by the time the action starts, this is going to be a rough issue. Much like an actual teenager, liking Bart is an act of will (and a tough one, at that). His flaws are many, and there’s really no reason to try to look past them as hard as I did other than that I wanted to like him.

  2. One of the things I like about the idea of DC Universe Presents is that before this issue, it was showcasing characters that weren’t featured prominently in other books. With the exception of Bart, and Deadman, all the characters, if I’m not mistaken don’t appear anywhere else in the New 52. Vandal Savage, Black Lightning, Blue Devil, and the Challengers of the Unknown are all given a shot at the spotlight, and then shelved for a bit, with the potential to be reintroduced later on in a story they fit into. Now the #0 issue is going to be a collection of stories about all the characters that got the ax when the Second Wave came out. Which I’m fine with, but I feel like DC is using this book as just a way to have short, limited series stories about characters they don’t necessarily want to commit anywhere else. Same with the creative teams. It gives people like Dan Didio a chance to do some writing or drawing but don’t have time to commit to a monthly title of their own. I just don’t want DC to use the DC Universe Presents slot as a trial or try-out for people/characters.

    For the record, the Challengers of the Unknown story was really good.

    • That’s totally a philosophy I can get behind. Not every character thrives in a perpetually-being-published climate (in fact, very few do), and one-offs or short arcs are a great way to keep things fresh. It definitely requires a different reading hat than the long-form, character-driven stuff we tend to like around here, but I think there’s certainly a value to this title.

      • Oh TOTALLY. There’s definitely value in the title – especially when DC doesn’t have an on-going title like 52 or Brightest Day that’s going to tie together a bunch of loose characters for semi-related adventures. DC’s bench is too deep not to allow for something like this.

  3. I was let down by this issue as well. I’m not sure how much it had to do with Nicieza though. Bart (and Nicieza) is clearly trapped in this dino story line that Lobdell has cooked up. That being said, I’m not saying that Nicieza (man that name is hard to type) is necessarily blameless here, but I’ve seen him write Tim Drake before and I’ve absolutely loved it. Red Robin was one of my favorite books before the New 52 and Nicieza was responsible for seeing that title to it’s end. His Tim wasn’t as young as Bart is in this but he wrote Tim as a believable young character and it was a joy to read.

    Additionally, was it just me or did this issue read like Nicieza really doesn’t like the New 52 direction for this character? Patrick mentions the line on the first page “continuity doesn’t really matter, clarity is overrated.” I read that with the sense of humor I assumed was intended especially since it finishes with “let the fun begin.” But then Nicieza has Bart say “If you’re a masochist, check out TT 12 next week…” at the end of the book. Am I misunderstanding this or is he saying that you should read Teen Titans 12 only if you’re into hurting yourself?

    Maybe Nicieza did a less than stellar job with Bart’s characterization because he’s finding it difficult to support his New 52 direction? Just a theory.

    • I hadn’t considered that Bart was somehow voicing a criticism against the Teen Titans series. I was just reading it as “Kid Flash’s personality is SO EXTREME that spending any time with him is an EXTREME experience.”

      Though, that said, I think the weakness of TT’s plotting is one of those universally recognized failings of the New 52 right now. Actually, I’ve only read shitty-to-middling things about all the young justice titles – which is surprising to me because I’ve loved Lobdell’s work on Red Hood. It’s also mega-confusing because the Young Justice Animated Series seems to be chugging along nicely. Anyone have any theories as to why this corner of the Universe is suffering in quality so severely?

      • I hate to point fingers but Lobdell is pretty much the guy in charge in that corner.

        (I will say I’ve enjoyed Red Hood to a certain extent. It’s written like a 90’s book which normally I would say is a bad thing but it works for Jason and his crew.)

        That being said, Lobdell took over pretty much the bulk of the YJ books minus Legion Lost and now Superboy. I just don’t think that Lobdell’s style works with these characters. Unfortunately he’s set the tone for them in the New 52 and it’s going to take a major overhaul to get them back to where they should be.

        What’s most frustrating is that DC is doing an absolutely WONDERFUL version on the Teen Titans (and much of the rest of the DCU) in the Young Justice TV show.

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