w/ Special Guest Zee Huff
“A little Bloodshed/
But it was worth it/
We made a Promise/
After this we’d quit.”
-Zoey Van Goey
Justin Partridge: Welcome back to WE RAN. You bought this ticket. Now you have to take the ride, I’m afraid.
But we bring you a real good news, bad news kind of situation with this next installment. The GOOD news is, we are talking about some of my favorite DC characters with one of my favorite people ever! The bad news, though, is it’s another Jeoff Gohns comic. You can’t win them all.
That said, however, I found this to still be pretty solid! (Despite being written by a world class grosso). The ‘this’ being 2008’s Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge! The reunion victory lap of Johns and his Flash Vol. 2 collaborator Scott Kolins detailing the aftermath of the Rogues killing of Kid Flash as well as returning the “original” Rogues to the Earth after Salvation Run.
We got some pretty good Zoom bullshit! A pretty solid Rogues story! And BEST of all, it ACTUALLY ties into Final Crisis (sorta), unlike last entry’s Legion-sized slog. Even BETTER, I am bringing along a real pal to talk about it with me: Zee Huff! A writer cohort of mine and general critic-about-town! Introduce yourself, Zee.
Zee Huff: Hey there, friends, haters, and assorted others! Rogues’ Revenge is a bad comic, and I’m here to convince Justin of that.
Nah, but seriously. I’m barely a critic, more of a critter. The kind you find nesting in your attic, occasionally dispensing such wisdom as “scree” and “yowl” and “Hey bud, I notice you’ve been reading only Neil Gaiman recently, do you want me to call your counselor? Set up an appointment?”
Justin brought me in for our own victory lap of sorts. A victory lap of friendship, finally culminating in collaboration. The way G-d and Karl Marx intended.
But back on topic, Crises. Final ones (that aren’t Final whatsoever).
JP: I am also gonna start with some general HyperCrisis questions, just to orient myself and our Dear Readers as to your experience with arguably the best thing DC has ever printed (aside from that one counting book with Lex Luthor and the billion pies or whateverthefuck).
ARE YOU a Final Crisis person? I feel like you and I have talked kinda socially about it (JEALOUS?!), but I am not sure I know your “critic brain” thoughts about it.
ZH: It’s forty cakes, Justin. C’mon. It’s as many as four tens. You’re terrible.
Buddy, I’m going to be real honest with you — break your heart, even. I have never read Final Crisis. Rogues’ Revenge is the first Final Crisis comic I’ve read, which, uh, didn’t make me too keen to dive into the rest of it.
I am — or used to be? — a big Bat-person, so I know [REDACTED] dies and, obviously, Kid Flash died prior to the official start of things. (Rough couple years for Tim Drake, after Superboy kicked it in Infinite Crisis, huh?) Darkseid’s involved, I think? None of the deaths stick?
JP: It’s truly hilarious that I’ve been recruiting all these people for WE RAN and then basically haranguing them into reading terrible comics. I PROMISE such action was not my intention, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed it a little bit. Just call me the Comicdom Cenobite, but no tears, please, for they are a waste of good suffering.
What about the Flash Rogues? I feel like I am pretty on record at this point about how much I love them, but what about you?
ZH: I have a chess piece of Captain Cold, and cosplayed (CW’s) Captain Cold for Halloween one year, and one time I wrote fanfiction starring Captain Cold.
Wait. Sorry. The Rogues? Like all of them? Ah, love those assholes. Flash fans (Flans?) might rag on me for this, but I first fell in love with the characters in Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato’s Flash run from the beginning of The New 52.
So, if I’m being honest? Going back in time to before they were metahumans always takes me a minute to get used to. I think, for better or worse, Johns’s take on the Rogues is (intentionally) gritty. Len isn’t pretty, he’s grizzled. In a reboot that pulled a lot of characters through the mud, Manapul and Buccellato arguably sanded off some of their rougher edges.
I like both flavors, personally!
JP: ABSOLUTELY! This has always been MY biggest thing with them; their malleability in terms of characterization. On top of, ya know, just being essentially a group of petty crime-obsessed assholes with gimmicks who just LOVE fucking with one hero in particular. They function similarly to some of the best wrestling stables like the Nexus and Suzuki-gun; just a group of tough idiots who live for the job. But instead of title belts they covet, it’s crushing the Flash and his family of Speedsters under their heel.
I am less hot on the New 52 version of the Rogues (mainly because it’s deeply, weirdly rooted in Geoffy’s obsession with making them cops), but I can absolutely see how the camaraderie and weirdness of the Rogues in that run could jump out at you. Just on the surface level, the Rogues have always had a really cool design scheme and their relatively small scale antics and ambitions set them apart from the usual, run-of-the-mill world conquering villains of Detective Comics Comics.
I think, for me, beyond their gimmicks and cool looks, I feel like the Rogues are sometimes closer to the Flash Family than even some speedster members, right? We have seen countless stories about Rogues making face turns, brought on by prolonged contact with the Flashes and their families, attempting to be morally straight (heh) members of society and I always really responded to that. The most obvious example is Hartley Rathaway, AKA The Pied Piper (who makes his re-debut here in the pages of Rogues’ Revenge before settling back into the co-starring role he was afforded during the Mark Waid years). But you also have characters like Captains Cold and Boomerang, Chester P. Runk (though he might be considered more a Shadow Fighter than a Rogue), and The Trickster all turning to the side of the speed-angels for at least a few years.
So basically, we both like the cool crime friends and appreciate when they are used in a book.
With that out of the way, I suppose we HAVE to talk about this stupid book now, huh? I sometimes HATE my job, y’all.
But our story here is hinged once again in the far future! The Flash Museum is quiet as a future-church-mouse until IT ISN’T! And the bouncing homicidal form of INERTIA is freed! Vowing revenge against Kid Flash, Bart Allen for imprisoning him in the first place. Ya know, typing this out right now makes me feel like Geoffy just loved opening or focusing the stories in Museums for his tie-ins. The LOSH one opens in the Superman Museum of Smallville in the far future while this one fucks around in the Flash Museum.
Did Geoff’s dog get killed by a museum somewhere in his life? S’pretty weird. BUT I have read this a bunch and don’t really mind it, but what DO YOU think, Zee? Especially as someone coming to this for the first time.
ZH: I’m struggling with why this comic, er, ran with Final Crisis? I’m not going to knock a self-contained story, but this feels less like a proper tie-in (Libra notwithstanding) and more like table-setting for The Flash: Rebirth. I mean, I know Geoff doesn’t play nice with others, but eesh.
But before I rag on Geoff, something I can’t blame him for: Inertia’s fate. It’s comics; obviously, Thaddeus was going to get released eventually. But my gut reaction when they were talking about what Wally West did to the kid was, well, revulsion? Call me an idealist, but giving a “fate worse than death” feels unbelievably cruel. (And a character still calls him soft for this!) Given Inertia’s ultimate-ultimate fate, though, I have to wonder if even Geoff thought this was a step too far?
As for the Museum, though, Geoff’s always had a bit of a thing for it. Even back in his Teen Titans run, he ends up having evil-Bart-from-the-future hide out in the future’s Flash Museum… which the entirety of Keystone City has been converted into. For someone as obsessed with leaving a mark on the industry as Geoff is, I can see why museums would appeal to him. Legitimacy, iconography, impact…
… Nah. It’s probably the dog thing.
You mentioned having read this a bunch. Can I just ask: Why? We’re both people who like to see the good in things, don’t get me wrong, but even for a Final Crisis diehard, I’ve gotta wonder what this adds.
JP: HA! Well, the shorter answer is “really nothing,” but the longer answer is, “I like the Rogues a lot?”
My first REAL contact with this was as a Rogues fan, even before I was fully aware of Final Crisis. I have talked a little bit about this throughout the run time of WE RAN, but my first real exposure to the core series was through #1-3, which obviously ends on a cliffhanger, one which frustrated the shit out of me and started my obsession.
But even more than A YEAR beforehand, I had already owned both this tie-in and the LOSH one. Along with Superman and The Legion of Super-Heroes (the collection of his Adventure Comics run) and Superman: Secret Origin (which is also graced with a Legion “episode”). At this point (I wanna say 2009?), I am WAY IN on Gohns, having been basically shepherded into Detective Comics Comics by his books. Most notably Justice Society of America, which then led me into Green Lantern and the various Rebirths and then into his Flash.
We are all young and dumb once, yes?
But I think the thing that really drew me to this and keeps me vaguely okay with it (despite Johns’ obvious grossness), is that it’s a pretty solid Rogues story. It keeps the action of the story relatively grounded around the team (even with the temporal trappings of Inertia and Zoom), and the action is always rooted within their dynamic and personal codes of honor. THAT is really what I think this particular story gets right. Their own super-villain camaraderie. The weirdly forged sense of honor from Len that guides them, even when other people move in and out of the costumed personas that make up their ranks. How it follows through on them fundamentally changing in the aftermath of Kid Flash’s death and forces them to “redeem” themselves by setting in right (in their own twisted way).
Again, this could all be projection from someone who doesn’t want to let these characters go, but you are a Captain Cold Person too. Does any of this ring true to you?
ZH: My first comic was Flashpoint, Justin. So, yes. We were all young and dumb once.
JP: Oh, see, then lol. You get it.
ZH: I can agree with some of that, though! There is a solid grounding here in the emotional core of the Rogues, and I don’t want to discount that. However, I think where Johns loses me, here, is when the story leans too hard into the grit, the “Evil Wins” of it all. When Inertia, whom the Rogues already had a score to settle with, kills Weather Wizard’s son for… what? Shock value? Betraying Zoom, person that he has no real allegiance towards? It’s frustrating.
And I think that’s where I ultimately land on this, right? Even if it wasn’t tied up in my negative feelings about Johns — only intensified by the repeated testimony of Ray Fisher, among others — I would still come out of this book frustrated. Kolins’s art doesn’t have any of Kolins usual merits, but keeps all of his usual flaws. The coloring is muddy, at kindest. Johns’ script is torn between being a tie-in for the Crisis, setting up Rebirth, and resolving dangling threads from the death of Bart Allen. And in trying to spin so many plates, it ends up dropping all of them.
Lest everyone think I’m a total hardass, I will give some credit. This could’ve been a very, very good comic book. In a vacuum, I love the confrontation between Len and his father. I love Piper trying to confront his place in all of this. I love the Rogues turning down Libra’s offer, putting their own bonds over any notion of #evil. The book tries to say something about legacy, about family, about abuse, that I think rings true.
… But it just doesn’t go far enough. Instead, it runs Flash-fast towards its conclusion: The Rogues are sticking around. Because Barry’s back. Time is a flat circle, etc. etc.
JP: BROTHER, you ain’t kidding.
And also, just speaking of the artwork, it is truly funny that the “big reunion” of this Team Flash just…ends up kind of looking like shit? I think that one Big Splash of the Rogues in #1 is really great and truly emblematic of the keen scene construction and point of view Kolins can be really good at.
But like you said, it’s all just too drab to really catch. Or even really to bring back that same spark from The Flash that made this creative team pop in the days before Johns became an absolute nightmare to work for and around. You also really touched on the thing that I really wanted to talk about in regards to Gohns’ contributions to the HyperCrisis. Much like most of his other work, THESE are all about him.
Much like his Legion efforts in the column before, his additions to Final Crisis are just his own bullshit. He needed a way to straighten out the timeline of his Legion of Super-Heroes and pay off some stuff from Infinite Crisis, so he crowbarred that shit into a Final Crisis tie-in. Thus fully securing the Legion AWAY from the event overall and fully making them “his” again. He needed a way to follow up on some dangling threads of his Flash run, so he basically co-opts one of the best original elements of Final Crisis (Libra) and then pivoted HARD away from him so he could play with his favorite Speedster Toy Professor Zoom again. Thus again, securing “his” Rogues and providing a more stable runway for him to return to Flash in the leadup to Flashpoint in the aftermath of Brightest Day (GOD REMEMBER BRIGHTEST FUCKING DAY, YALL?)
But as we have seen over this last year that somehow lasted ten, this is absolutely his bag, right? Taking things that aren’t his and providing them the “correct” (read: his) version. It’s that hysterically disgusting quote we were reminded of here recently. The “I have literally written this book and therefore will brook no notes on the subject” arrogance that has directly contributed to his fall from grace. Well, that and, ya know, all the frothing racism and open hostility toward his subordinates and peers.
It is also the sort of thing that makes his ongoing blood feud with Scotty Snyder make a lot of sense. While Snyder has at least tried in part to push the characters and comics into newer places, Johns just wants them “correct”. Meaning he wants them occupying the comfortable and cloyingly centrist box that he came up with. He wants the return to the “comfortable”. To the “safe”. Which really just means “non-challenging” and “white as all fuck”. Anything that challenges that or runs counter to it, has no place within Johns’ view of the work. And it starts to show pretty obviously when you look at it. Which is how you end up with books like Batman: Earth One and Jok3rs, two head-scratching, plodding, and generally politically repugnant “back to basics” approaches. Or even Doomsday Clock which…might actually take a whole other column to truly parse through entirely. (THE KID’S NAME IS JON CLARK WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT GEOFF?!)
It’s what makes a lot of his work and general persona so frustrating. You can SEE how it works. Or at least on paper can understand why it’s appealing. You want your comics to make you feel happy and content while also feeling relatable in some form or fashion. Johns has gotten there before, but knowing what we know NOW about him, his working process, and his politics, it makes even the stuff that works, ring hollow. So much so that I am genuinely TERRIFIED to re-read my beloved Justice Society because I have NO idea how badly it will read now.
But I think, like his Legion book the column before, we are landing on this being basically “okay, while not adding anything to the narrative beside Johns’ own”. Which is a bummer for WE RAN, tbh. I kind of hoped some of these tie-ins would give me a bit more arrows for my Knowledge Vs Darkness thesis, but honestly I’ve just gotten a bunch of shitty narrative clean up batting from Johns.
You can’t win them all I suppose. Zee, thank you so, so much for joining me here and I am so sorry you had to read this semi-terrible comic. Where can the people find you and your work? Anything to plug before I unlock this Johns Chain from your ankle?
ZH: Finding me? Hey! This wasn’t part of the deal. Key, please!
JP: I would say you’ve earned it by now. You should all seek Zee out and hire them if possible. I know them a bit socially (#humblebrag) and they are a delight, both behind the scenes and on the page here as you’ll have seen. That is all for us for the moment. See you next time, Legionnaires.
PS: Fuck Geoff Johns, Fuck Jon Berg, Fuck Joss Whedon, Fuck Kevin Tsujihara, and especially FUCK Eddies Berganziea
A>E and #WeStandWithRayFisher forever.
NEXT TIME! .3! Our Tie-In Coverage Goes…BEYOND! With One of My Current Favorite Writers and Superman Fan! See you next time, Legionnaires…