Writer: Matthew Sturges
Artist: Freddie Williams II
Collects: Final Crisis Aftermath: Run #1-6
In the midst of Final Crisis, the Human Flame got his "revenge" on his nemesis. But the Crisis ended and it turns out that having one of the heroes murdered in cold blood is probably a bad plan. So the two-bit never-was decides it's time to go on the run from pretty much everyone and bumbles his way from one predicament to the next.
Now, it's not often that we get a bonafide villain centric comic; a lot of it being due to the problems said concept brings up. If we get anything of the sort, there's usually an anti-hero slant added to the character or it focuses on the positive qualities. See Secret Six for one example; most of its members are former villains who have since moved more towards shades of gray.
Not here. The Human Flame is a bonafide, Grade-A douchebag. Halfway through the first issue - about when he ties up his ex and steals her car right in front of his kid - it becomes crystal clear that there is absolutely nothing redeeming about him. He's nothing but a thug with delusions of grandeur. Not exactly someone you could write an ongoing about, but for a mini like this, he's just what the doctor ordered.
See, Run is very heavy on the dark comedy. Human Flame is a worthless loser, a fact the story never fails show in a variety of ways. So we watch as he screws himself over time and time again, usually with bloody results. No matter what he does or what he gains, his tendency to be a scumbag causes him to blow it. He's his own worst enemy and it's fun to watch him fail repeatedly at villainy.
The comedy Sturges shoots for isn't just dark, its quite physical. Run almost verges on Looney Tunes-ian in regards to the slapstick. Things the Human Flame uses blow up, money burns, he runs out a three story window and smacks the pavement and so on. It's depraved, physical comedy enacted on the type of human being whom - though you would never admit it - you would want to see get his just desserts if you met him in real life.
It's easier to laugh at these sort of things when your protagonist is such a prick, which is why Sturges made the right call here. Doing it with a more heroic figure - or even an anti-hero - doesn't quite work. After all, if you like the character, do you really want to see one of Flashes rogues knock his teeth out? Not to mention that the Human Flame is about as Z list as you get in regards to villains - as are a bunch of other loser villains he hooks up with in the story - so you can do whatever you want to him. I doubt this could have worked with any other character; even some C list villains have some manner of potential or popularity that can keep a writer from going all out. Sturges doesn't have to worry about such things and he makes the most of it.
I can't mention the successes of this book without mentioning the art. Freddie Williams II really outdid himself here. When I mentioned earlier that the book becomes almost Looney Tunes-esque in it's slapstick, a good bit of that is because of his art. He shows almost everything that happens to the Human Flame. He doesn't seem to skip on the detail anywhere, even a particularly gruesome two pages where Human Flame wakes up in the midst of his "upgrade". I can't say enough good things about the art; without this level of work I doubt it would have worked as it does.
All the elements combine to make a fun read, though I imagine it's not for everyone. If you need a likable protagonist to care about the proceedings or aren't partial to dark humor, this one might fall flat for you. Otherwise this is a well constructed tale that feels like it winds down about where it should. I'm not sure we'll ever see a book starring the Human Flame again - I'm almost shocked they did this one, since it's literally a mini about a nobody villain - but if Sturges ever wants to write this sort of thing some more I'd be glad to pick it up. Something like this every once in a while might be nice.
The Score: 8 out of 10
This isn't a book that's going to rock your world. It's not a book that really "matters", at least not to the greater continuity. It's probably not going to win any "best of" awards either. But that's not a good way to judge it. If you like fun, dark comedy then you could do so much worse than this. I had a good time; to me, that counts quite a bit.