Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Flash in the Pan

On his weblog, comics store employee Mike Sterling comments on DC Comics' unexpected cancellation of their Flash: The Fastest Man Alive title and makes a point that's largely been overlooked so far, but may prove significant to retailers. Sterling suggests that, due to the property's history, retailers may have expected a long-lasting series, stocking up on early issues of The Fastest Man Alive accordingly, in order to give any latecomers the chance to catch up.

Now that both the series and its title character are being replaced again after a mere thirteen issues, however, Sterling fears that The Fastest Man Alive will be quickly written off by fans as an inconsequential interim run and forgotten about, leaving those early backissues to collect dust. Mind you, considering that the series launched with estimated orders of 120,404 units back in June 2006 and dropped to 47,809 by May 2007, that's probably going to be a whole lot of dust, so it's easy to see where Sterling is coming from.

On a related note, Sterling suspects that DC intended Flash: The Fastest Man Alive to be a limited series from the start. As he says, some comments made by DC Comics representatives certainly seem to have hinted at it, in retrospect. Back in January 2006, DC Comics executive editor Dan Didio cryptically remarked to Newsarama that fans "may not want to get too attached" to the protagonist of The Fastest Man Alive. "You’re going to see a hero giving 150% to carry the Flash mantle against pretty bad odds," another Newsarama article quotes Flash editor Joan Hilty shortly after. "After that, [initial Flash: The Fastest Man Alive writers] Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo are going to turn the story completely on its head."

While this indeed suggests that DC were planning for a major plot twist at the time, I'm skeptical whether it's the one that's being executed right now. First up, Hilty clearly expected Bilson and DeMeo to be on board for more than eight issues. The subsequent departure of the book's much-hyped initial writing team doesn't give the impression that some long-term plan was being followed, especially viewed in the context of the book's swiftly declining sales and the largely unfavorable audience reaction. Second, it plainly makes no sense to launch a high-profile revamp of a major property only to reverse it a year later.

And then there are the comments made by various DC Comics writers involved in the story. "It's been in the works for nearly a year," new Flash writer Mark Waid recently told Newsarama, referring to the book's latest reboot. This suggests that the decision to cancel Flash: The Fastest Man Alive was made immediately after the book had debuted. In another recent Newsarama piece, writers Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns, whose current crossover storyline "The Lightning Saga" ties in with the revamp, reinforce suspicions of a hasty overhaul. "To give you a sense of timeline, Geoff and I pitched all of 'The Lightning Saga' well before either of us ever knew that [the protagonist of The Fastest Man Alive] was being killed," Meltzer said. Johns agreed, seeming to recall that "half of the crossover was already written before we found out what they were doing with [the character]."

Finally, Marc Guggenheim, who was hired to write Flash: The Fastest Man Alive issues #9-13, commented on the book's cancellation in an interview with Comic Book Resources. "I think [the protagonist of The Fastest Man Alive] didn't get a chance to show everyone what he was capable of," Guggenheim said. "The backlash was so quick and fearsome, it didn't afford the character - or any writers writing him - much of an opportunity to do anything cool [...]."

So, as much as DC would probably like the impression that the launch and subsequent cancellation of Flash: The Fastest Man Alive are all part of a long-term plan, there's a lot of evidence speaking against it. The more plausible theory, at this stage, is that falling sales numbers and an unhappy audience caused DC to pull the emergency brakes and undo the revamp on short notice.

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