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Neither Brave Nor Bold: Just Stupid.

October 28th, 2009 by | Tags: , , , ,

“Tune your ear to the frequency of despair, and cross reference by the longitude and latitude of a heart in agony.

Listen.”

Gav threw in a brief mention of it on Sunday, but I wanted to come back around and reiterate exactly how unbelievably stupid Brave and Bold 28 was last week. Uzumeri hit ‘em up earlier this week, so consider this “Bomb 1st,” a second reply.

In brief, the comic is about the time the Flash took a trip back to the Battle of the Bulge and hung out with the Blackhawks. There’s some typical comic book science tomfoolery to make it happen (involving light that travels slower than light speed), of course, and that’s dumb, but not as dumb as the main story. Barry Allen, Flash, is torn. He’s in a war zone, he has a plot device injury that keeps him from running at full speed (though he is clearly still faster than everyone else), and the Blackhawks want him to shoot up some Nazis. So he thinks, mopes, and then takes a uniform out of a supply box and shoots up some Nazis. Why is it okay to do this? “Because Barry Allen, American, can do those things in the uniform of his country, which is at war.”

Brave and the Bold: Comics That Insult Your Intelligence!

This story is really and truly the most offensively bad piece of crap I’ve read in ages. In pursuit of trying to make a point about “The Greatest Generation” and when it is okay to kill, JMS wrote the kind of story that mixes black and white morals/moralization, superheroic problem solving (hit it til it’s dead, leave a smug moral on its corpse), and a complete and utter lack of perspective.

I have a number of problems with the story, not the least of which is the lunacy of mixing superheroes and real world disasters. However, for the purposes of this post, number one is that Barry Allen steals a uniform and firearm from a box of supplies and pretends to be in the army for “weeks.” Impersonating a soldier is a crime. Impersonating a soldier and killing people is undoubtedly several orders of magnitude more illegal than just impersonating a soldier. Even dumber is Blackhawk insisting that this is war, and people kill or get killed during war, so start killing or get killed. Guess what Blackhawk: prisoners of war exist for a reason.

Soldiers aren’t just some guy who put on a uniform and decided to go shoot some patriotic bullets at infidels. They are specifically trained in a variety of disciplines, from combat to communication to inter-army relations. There are rules and regulations that they must follow, both in the UCMJ and wartime law. Those rules protect soldiers. However, soldiers are not civilians. Barry Allen is a civilian. Civilians who attempt to fight during wartime are unlawful, and should be arrested, tried, and possibly drawn up on war crimes, depending on what they’ve done. Barry Allen using his superhuman powers against normal humans while pretending to be something he’s not? I’d call that a war crime.

Basically, war isn’t a game of pickup basketball at the park. You don’t get to play shirts vs skins just because you take your top off and tighten your high tops. You get to sit on the sidelines, shut your fat yap, and hope for the best.

Second is the central conceit of the book, the question of “when is it okay to kill?”, is ridiculous. Pro-tip: we’re not children. Reducing a problem to an either/or situation works for children, because they don’t have the capacity to understand that the world is made of shades of grey. For kids, there are good guys and there are bad guys. For adults, it is never that simple. “When is it okay to kill?” is dumber when you consider that Barry Allen is a police officer in his civilian life. If anyone should have an opinion on that, it should be Barry. And it shouldn’t be an opinion as turgid and hamfisted as “Because Barry Allen, American, can do those things in the uniform of his country, which is at war.”

There are a number of very valid positions to take on the question. I’m sure we all have opinions on when, or if, it is okay. But, hey, Barry’s a superhero, so there must be a black or white answer. And that answer is “It is okay to kill when you jump through an unnecessary hoop to justify it to yourself in the name of specious logic and self-righteousness.”

After more garbage that you’ve seen in every time travel story ever (“Do we win? In the future, is it worth it?”), a bit more pontificating (“But the country is still the country. It has its flaws, and it isn’t always right, but it’s still intact. And I guess that’s all that matters,” he says, as he looks off into the distance), we’re left with the money shot of all World War II stories: a character looking off into a graveyard and re-affirming that “they were the extraordinary ones.”

My rawest, most honest reaction to this scene was “blow me.” You have a character who can move at superspeed, if not run during the story. He throws a thousand bricks and incapacitates a German unit in a matter of seconds. By the end of the book, he can move at light speed again and goes home, safe and sound. And he’s looking at the graves of the eighty thousand people, people who not thirty seconds ago were within arm’s reach, and thinking about how extraordinary they were?

That’s stupid. I’m stupid for reading it, JMS is stupid for writing it, and DC is stupid for publishing it. It’s not just stupid, it’s insulting. This is why superheroes have no business in World War II tales. There was nothing stopping the Flash from saving those lives. If he can put on a stolen uniform and shoot Germans willy-nilly, any idea of a temporal paradox is out the window. Not using his powers at the Battle of the Bulge is as stupid and patronizing as Superman insisting that he shouldn’t do anything more than beat up giant monsters. Because Flash could have saved them, but didn’t, their lives are on his head.

Keep superheroes out of World War II, and keep JMS out of my comics. Whatever goodwill he had from when he did Spider-Man with JRjr is burnt out and chased out. He’s terrible. I can’t think of the last comic I hated like I hate every single solitary inch of this one.

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32 comments to “Neither Brave Nor Bold: Just Stupid.”

  1. If he decided to get involved and create a time paradox by killing soldiers who may not have died in the first place, couldn’t he do what he always does and round them up with Flash speed, also does DC have a plot device to keep supes out of WWII battles, namely Hitler having the Spear of Destiny


  2. I’ve not read it, no plans to but…

    The simplistic answer, could that not be an insight into how Barry thinks? After all it’s him talking not an omniscient narrator. He’s always been pretty flat as a character so maybe he does see the world that way.


  3. One of the biggest Barry Allen stories, has to be the trial of Barry Allen. Short story for those who don’t know it, Barry was gonna marry a chick, his nemesis was going to kill her and Barry may have use excessive force to stop him. This storyline dominated the book for 2 years, while Barry fought with what he did internally and he was acquitted by a jury of citizens. At one point Wally appears as a witness for the prosecution and states that Barry didn’t have to snap Zoom’s neck to stop him. He pretty much retires after that.

    I just can’t see this story fitting anywhere before or after that storyline. This doesn’t seem like the kind of thing Barry Allen would do.


  4. What is it about this story that get otherwise smart people so frothy? Is there some giant fanboy button this thing pushes?

    it clearly has shit written on it from the get go.


  5. “Whatever goodwill he had from when he did Spider-Man with JRjr is burnt out and chased out.”

    Thor.


  6. “Whatever goodwill he had from when he did Spider-Man with JRjr is burnt out and chased out.”

    Are you kidding?

    d00d I still have goodwill from Babylon 5 he ain’t touched yet.


  7. @seth hurley: There’s bad stories, and then there’s ones that go above and beyond to leave a surprise in your Cheerios. This one is bad on an Olympic level, bad in a way Tarot or Spawn aren’t.

    @Nathan: Read a couple issues, maybe the first arc. Didn’t take.

    @Kid Kyoto: If this is how Barry thinks, he should not be a hero at all. To do nothing when you have absolutely nothing stopping you from accomplishing great things is terrible.


  8. haha Uzumeri’s interview kills me. “knowing is half the battle” XD

    @david brothers: His run doesn’t really start to get good until the 2nd arc. The series doesn’t start getting good until the “search for odin” tow-parter in the 2nd tpb. JMS really shines in that, Siege makes me pissed he’s leaving since this is the first time in YEARS I’ve thought of Loki as a truly serious and dangerous villain. Personally rank it with DD, Cap and IIM.

    also he did those Red Circle one-shots, which were mediocre, but still led to the Shield ongoing by Trautmann which is off to a good start, so I forgive him for that.


  9. @Nathan: before anyone asks, I’m not Schizo. I just fumbled with the copy pasting


  10. “Impersonating a soldier is a crime. Impersonating a soldier and killing people is undoubtedly several orders of magnitude more illegal than just impersonating a soldier.”
    and running at the speed of light to stop a guy with weather powers is stupid.


  11. @edc: I don’t get it.


  12. @david brothers: He’s saying that because the Flash does something unrealistic on a daily basis anyway, that the DC Universe is unrealistic, we should just accept that it’s cool for Barry to just pretend to be a solider, and that an air force pilot (did Blackhawk work for a particular government? not sure about that) would encourage it. Because naturally one springs out of the other.

    Also about the WWII thing – I generally agree that it’s in pretty poor taste for superheroes to be intervening in real life disasters, there are a couple exceptions:

    Things like Ed Brubaker’s Captain America, which use that setting effectively, without being all “And this was the time Superman punched out Hitler and then dismantled the Concentration Camps”

    Well-crafted alternate history stories.


  13. haha I haven’t read this comic but I was looking at a review and apparently the Blackhawks aren’t even flying, why use them then? why not just go with sgt. rock? fuck this comic.


  14. You’re SURPRISED?! This is the same critically acclaimed writer who shoehorned 9/11 into Spiderman and had Dr. Doom CRYING! You mean to tell me that with all those superheroes that reside in New York City, none of them were able to stop those planes from hitting the towers?!

    Trying to shoehorn historic events like this into superhero comics is stupid…because in a world of superheroes, most of our historic events like WWII, Vietnam, and 9/11 would’ve been squashed real quick!


  15. Well, I’m glad I’m not buying The Brave and the Bold, it sounds dreadful. I’m a very big fan of Babylon 5, and enjoyed much of JMS’s comic work in the past (Supreme Power, large parts of his Amazing Spider-Man, Midnight Nation, The Book of Lost Souls), but clearly not everything he touches turns to gold.

    I do appreciate that he at least tried to write something with more depth than most superhero comics though, it’s just too bad it turned out so very poorly.

    @Kid Kyoto: I don’t think that it’s supposed to be an insight into Barry Allen’s character. To quote JMS himself: “What’s cool about this series … is that it lets me put together characters from anywhere I want in the DC universe into stories that have a complex moral center to them” and “the second [issue] features the (Barry Allen) Flash and the Blackhawks in a tale that asks ‘when, if ever, is it right to kill?'” (http://www.jmsnews.com/msg.aspx?id=1-17805&topic=Spiderman). I don’t get the impression it’s supposed to be a character piece, but rather an in-depth examination of a complex issue.

    @Phil Watts, Jr.: The story was completely seperate from regular continuity and the Marvel heroes and villains that appeared in it were used as symbols, not as real characters. Bringing up that 9/11 would have been stopped by superheroes is so besides the point that it’s not even in the same solar system.

    JMS wrote the story to express his feelings and thoughts about 9/11. It might not have been Maus, but I’d rather have something meaningful like Amazing Spider-Man 36 than simply another fight between Spider-Man and the Rhino.


  16. You know, when I realized that JMS probably wasn’t feinting with the “Spider Avatar” nonsense, and was really gonna try to make that canon, I walked away from the dude. Every single word about his work that I have read on the comics internets since then has justified that decision.

    (That adds nothing to this discussion, for which I apologize, but it feels good to say.)


  17. @Lugh: It’s like Millar’s holocaust Wolverine story. He simply made Logan not talk at all in the issue and never had him go snikt snikt. Definitely made the issue a lot better.


  18. “Millar holocaust story” sounds like it would be something entirely different…


  19. @Lugh: indeed, but he really toned down his Millarisms in that issue. really kinda felt like an EC ghost story and the ghost just happened to look like wolverine.


  20. @Guy Smiley: ??? until recently I’ve heard nothing but positive things about him, and his marvel work (yes even his ASM stuff) were decent totem bullshit and all.

    @Derk van Santvoort: yeah kinda agree. sure ASM36 wasn;t the best in his run but it was still an interesting enough read.


  21. ok except sins past.


  22. @Nathan: ASM’s first three or four pages, or however many led up to that amazing spread of Spidey on the wall of a building, looking at the wreckage and going “Oh God…”, that part was brilliant. It’s a human reaction filtered through a character we know and love, one with ties to the city, and it clicked for me. The rest of the issue gets pretty melodramatic.


  23. it does, but I guess I can stomach melodrama more than most then.


  24. Again, haven’t read the issue, not trying to defend it but…

    Ask 100 people when is it OK to kill and you’ll get a 100 answers.

    For Barry Allen, scientist, cop, guy with a crew cut and a bow tie why is it shocking that his answer is ‘when the government tells me to kill’. As a masked vigilantie like the Flash he does not have that permission. As police scientist Barry Allen he does not. But transported back to WWII facing Nazis he does.


  25. @Kid Kyoto: You must’ve misread what I wrote or something, man.

    He’s given no permission to kill, the government does not tell him to kill, and he actively avoids the people in the military who would tell him to stop. He takes it upon himself to decide that simply wearing a uniform is enough.


  26. I read this issue today and my head has lumps from where JMS has hit me over the head with the “They’re the REAL heroes!” stick. We saw Saving Private Ryan just like you Straczynski, WE GET IT!
    I admit I didn’t hate the issue as much as as Mr. Brothers has, but I agree that it was extremely stupid. When huge plot holes (I thought the Flash healed quickly? And wasn’t Barry Allen already killing Nazis by throwing superspeed bricks at their heads?) and poorly written characters are the least of a book’s problems, well then that’s a bad book.


  27. I am shocked – shocked! – that there’s a superhero story set in World War 2. That must be unprecedented! IOW, it is a bit late (by at least 70 years) to get all worked up over the “lunacy” of mixing superheroes with real-world disasters. By that rationale, nobody should ever be allowed to write a story featuring the original Blackhawks and other Golden Age heroes. While I am happy to concede that a lot of such stories are crap (and that includes The Rocketeer and the Indiana Jones movies, thank you very much), each story has to be judged on its own merits or lack of them.

    I haven’t read the story in question, but I have to say that your points about the “war crime” of the Flash donning a US uniform to participate in the fighting does seem to me rather technical, legalistic and abstract. And also projecting standards effectively based on later eras back to World War 2. The way I understand the summary, the Flash aka the civilian(1) Barry Allen, found himself in a combat situation and so it really was not a realistic option to ask him to return to the US to enlist and go through basic training first. His actions were thus comparable to those of an American national living in Europe who joined an armed resistance group in the area. (The Germans would have treated the Blackhawks, who AFAIK were not officially part of the military of any Allied power, as unlawful combattants; the Blackhawks did not have national insignia on their planes and the uniforms they wore were as “military” as that of a hotel porter).

    And of course in World War 2 there were hundreds of thousands of “unlawful combattants” of some sort or other fighting against the Axis powers in Europe, from the French Résitance in the west to the great partisan armies in the Soviet Union, Poland and Yugoslavia. And the military of the Allied powers was happy to cooperate with them and to call on them for help instead of rounding them up and putting them on trial for war crimes. (OTOH the members of Axis forces who shot such partisan/guerilla fighters and also large numbers of civilian hostages in reprisal could not be convicted of war crimes either if they adhered to the rules). And certainly in the general perception of the day, even back in the US, which was as far from the front and safe as far as you could be, “unlawful combattants” tended to be seen as heroes, vide movies like “Action in the North Atlantic” (1943, the civilian crew of a Liberty Ship successfully fights against U-boats) or songs like “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (a chaplain (= non-combattant) mans a gun when his ship is attacked, based on urban legends sparked off by an incident during the attack on Pearl Harbor).

    Don’t know how the story explained why the Flash put on the uniform, but it would have been a sensible thing to do. Had the German forces seen a civilian firing at them, they could easily have taken reprisals against the local Belgian or Luxembourg population by e.g. shooting ten civilians for every German soldier the Flash killed.

    (1) Not knowing every detail of his biography, I assume here that Barry is a civilian although at the time he was created there was a draft and he may have done some military service and thus could have been a reservist.


  28. [...] Several sites have reviews last week’s Brave and the Bold starring Flash (Barry Allen) and the Blackhawks. The Savage Critics didn’t like it. 4thLetter really didn’t like it. [...]


  29. “Keep superheroes out of World War II”

    Er… what about the JSA and the All-Star Squadron? Marvel’s got the Invaders. And let’s not forget THE World War II superhero, Captain America.

    “Pro-tip: we’re not children.”

    Although might say that’s the problem…


  30. some might say*


  31. @ lugh
    exactly. social commentary in a book about a guy who can run faster than the speed of light?
    you were probably trying to make my response sound unreasonable, but you actually hit the nail on the head.
    this isn’t crime and punishment, this isn’t even crime and punishment with batman, its comics.


  32. while I initially dismissed this rant as whining over military protocol in the first half, I admit you make a strong point in the second half where you bring to light the slippery slope of Barry’s involvement has me reconsidering my own stance.
    (Although I reason that it could be that he only got involved so far as to ensure his own future was ensured before returning it.)
    I still have to give the issue credit for actually giving insight into Barry’s thought process in a monolog-y fashion which I’ve actually come to expect from JMS.