Bizarro Back Issues: ‘Adventures In The DC Universe’ And The Foregone Conclusion Of The Flash/Superboy Race (1998)
The idea of Superman racing against the Flash is such an obvious one that there's enough stories to fill an entire paperback. It's a standard at DC, one of those big superheroic ideas that always works even when the winner is a foregone conclusion, and it's happened in pretty much every generation of superhero comics. But back in 1998, there was a variation on that story that could have only been more '90s if it had been about the Electric Blue Superman racing against the Dark Flash who turned out to be Walter West from Hypertime.
It was about Wally West racing across Hawaii against the clone Superboy in all his leather-jacketed glory. But if you missed it, there's a reason for that: It happened in Adventures in the DC Universe, a strange little late-'90s experiment with one of the weirdest hooks for a series in comics history.
See, here's the thing about Adventures: If you're just browsing through back issue bins, it looks like it's the first attempt at expanding the universe that was built through the Batman and Superman animated series --- "Adventures" being the shorthand for cartoon tie-in books that was used not only at DC, but at Marvel, too, and even the short-lived tie-in to the WildC.A.T.s cartoon. It's got that familiar Bruce Timm style, but applied to characters that, in the years before Justice League Unlimited happened, it seemed like we might never get on TV. Wonder Woman and Flash were the big ones, but the Shazam Family showed up, too, and there's even an issue with Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and the Question.
The thing is, it wasn't actually a cartoon tie-in book.
It certainly looks the part --- along with the animated-style artwork, this particular issue has a backup story about Nightwing that uses the design that would show up on the cartoon --- but in reality, it's actually doing exactly what it says in the title: Adventures --- ie, animated style all-ages stories --- that are set very firmly in the DC Universe. And when you get right down to it, it's a great idea.
It's really the best of both worlds. In terms of aesthetics and content, it's exactly the kind of story that kids who were coming to comics from the animated series would've been into: episodic spotlight stories that are geared towards a younger audience. But in terms of how those stories are built, they're bringing in all the actual DCU, rooting it in what was actually happening in the "real" comics at the time, with all the bizarre complexity that entails. And never was that more evident than in this one.
Just so we all know where we're standing here, this story, which comes courtesy of Steve Vance, John Delaney, Ron Boyd and Ray Kryssing in Adventures in the DC Universe #14, is a kid-friendly one-off that is built on a foundation that requires Barry Allen and the Flash legacy, The Death of Superman, Jack Kirby's Fourth World saga, and Superboy and the Ravers to already be things that exist. So needless to say, I love it.
Storywise, though, it's pretty simple. The Flash and his wife, Linda Park, have decided to take an actual, normal Hawaiian vacation, but since Wally doesn't have a secret identity, the media assumes that the Flash is showing up to deal with the kind of massive supervillain threat that requires a full-fledged Justice Leaguer. And the flip side to that is that they assume loudly and often, that whatever this (nonexistent) threat is, it's way too tough for Hawaii's resident hero, Superboy.
Superboy ends up getting so cheesed off by all of this that he decides that there's only one thing to do: Challenge the Flash to a race and beat him. It's a feat that even Superman himself has never really been able to pull off, so if Superboy can do it, he'll prove that he's on par with any other heroes.
You can probably see the flaw in this logic. I mean, the Flash is The Fastest Man Alive. It says so right there on the cover of his monthly comic book. If you are also alive, then there's a pretty good chance that challenging him to a contest of speed isn't going to work in your favor, especially if you invite every reporter in the state to come watch the results. Which, of course, is exactly what Superboy finds out when the race starts:
The shirt, by the way, is a souvenir from Ireland, and sadly was never made into a permanent part of the Flash's uniform. Here's hoping we'll finally get that with Rebirth.
Anyway, right about the time that Superboy realizes he's in a pretty hopeless situation, the race is interrupted --- as they so often are --- by a disaster that requires some superheroing. In this case, it's the eruption of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that has apparently been reactivated for reasons that are never addressed, and which have led me to the theory that maybe the Earth itself just hates superheroes.
Either way, it's a problem that running won't solve, so Superboy uses his much-touted tactile telekinesis to vent the pressure that's building up in there before it can cause an actual eruption and blow up a good chunk of the tourism industry.
With that, the Flash realizes that maybe Superboy's not such a bad kid after all, and for all of his bravado, he probably doesn't deserve the massive amount of public humiliation that's going to happen when Wally effortlessly crosses the finish line first. At the same time, he still has a reputation to maintain, so he's not exactly in the mood to throw the race, either. So instead, they come up with a solution that works for everyone.
Well, everyone except the media, anyway.
As they approach the finish line, they kick up a cloud of dust that obscures the result, and then refuse to talk about it with any of the reporters, leaving the readers as the only ones who know what really happened.
And when I say "really happened," I mean it. This story counts, y'all. I refuse to believe in a world where Dubbilex was ever in a story that wasn't canon.