Max Mercury: The Speedster Time Forgot (For a While)
Posted February 18, 2010on:
Before I tell you about my favorite Speedster, you need to know about Quality Comics. Quality was a publishing house created in 1939 to capitalize on the massive popularity of comics at the time. Seventeen years later, people discovered how awesome television was and Quality, without a wildly popular character like Superman to keep it afloat, started circling the drain. Sensing a totally awesome deal, National Allied Publications (later known as DC Comics) swooped in and bought out Quality, earning the right to do whatever they wanted with characters like Plastic Man, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters, the Blackhawks, and, my favorite Speedster, the underrated Quicksilver (name later changed to Max Mercury to avoid confusion with Marvel’s mutant speedster). Unfortunately for Max, it took DC almost 33 years to let him make an appearance in official continuity.
As for Max Mercury’s fictional history, it’s a bit vague before the acquisition. Max’s debut issue, November 1940’s National Comics #5 by the legendary Jack Cole (which, by God, I will one day own), didn’t lay out much except that Quicksilver’s real name was Max and that he was crazy fucking fast.When DC started playing with the old Quality characters in the 1970s, they gave them their own Earth-X to fight Nazis on. Then Crisis on Infinite Earths smashed Earth-X & Earth-One together, ret-conning the DCU timeline to imply that the Quality characters had been hobnobbing with DC this whole time. Mark Waid was able to use this to his advantage, bringing Max back in May 1993’s Flash Vol. 2 #76 to help out fellow Golden Age characters Jay Garrick and Johnny Quick fight the then-presumed dead Professor Zoom disguised as a then-presumed dead Barry Allen.
Waid gave Max a fuller backstory to replace Quality’s slapdash “look! he runs fast!” . According to January 1995’s Flash Vol. 2 #97, Max Crandall was a messenger for the US Calvary in 1838. He was buddies with the local Blackfoot tribe, but his douchebag fort commander (believing that “the only good Indian was a dead Indian”) issued a bounty on the entire tribe. Max later stumbled upon a bunch of dead ambushed Blackfoot Indians and one dying shaman. Having learned of a second ambush, the dying shaman painted a lightning bolt on Max’s chest and gave a little incantation, turning him into Ahwehota (known to the white folk as Windrunner) and asking him to prevent the massacre, which he did single-handedly. A couple years later, Max had honed his skills as a speedster and began hearing “a strange beckoning.” Upon chasing it, Max inadvertently hit terminal velocity and smashed into the Speed Force, amping up his own powers but transporting him forward in time to 1891. Time and time again he tried to reconnect with the Speed Force, and each time he was propelled a few more decades into the future, assuming new names and identities along the way including Blue Streak, Quicksilver, and finally, Max Mercury.
After finally making his Modern Age debut, Max used zen philosophy and his sped-up century of experience to teach Wally West new ways to improve his abilities. Max was even the first to tell Wally about the Speed Force (although quite vaguely) in Flash Vol. 2 #91. One issue later, Bart Allen arrived and Max Mercury was there to take him under his wing, attempting to teach a kid with the polar opposite of his own temperament how to be a decent speedster. Eventually Max learned that he had an estranged daughter named Helen in Manchester, Alabama (the product of a tryst he’d had in 1948 with a friend’s wife). He and Bart moved down South, stalked Helen (who sort of fell in love with Max which is hilariously gross), and trained like crazy. Later, in September 2002’s Impulse #88, a Golden Age Jay Garrick villain named Rival possessed the body of Max Mercury and battled the speedsters, eventually escaping into the Speed Force, trapping Max within. He didn’t appear again until Infinite Crisis #4, when he helped Johnny Quick and Bart Allen fling Superboy-Prime far away (from the confines of the Speed Force). Finally, in September 2009’s Flash: Rebirth #4, the resurrected Barry Allen dragged Max Mercury out of the Speed Force with him, back into the world of the living.
That’s why I love Max Mercury. Most people haven’t even heard of him (or they see him in the newer Flash-related titles and wonder who the hell he is) and yet he’s so integral to the mythos of all things speedster in the DCU. I mean, yeah, Max Mercury would never be able to carry his own title, but where would the Flashes be without Max’s wisdom and guidance? Probably all dead. So there’s that.