Whatever Happened to the World’s Fastest Man? is an excellently executed short story. Written by Dave West with art by Marleen Lowe, this is a book with a high concept narrative that makes good use of the medium to explore a compelling idea. If you were gifted an exceptional power, does that automatically guarantee that you would be able to accomplish the exceptional?
The book follows Bobby Doyle, an individual with an incredible talent that, while having nothing to do with how fast he can physically move, leaves the world believing that a man has been gifted with Flash-like speed. While Bobby is content to leave the world to their own hypotheticals and live an unremarkable life, he finds himself compelled to use his abilities to save the denizens of London when a madman threatens the city with a bomb that is seemingly incapable of being disarmed.
Like many older sci-fi short stories, the narrative hook at the heart of this book is both its greatest strength and weakness. The hook gives the reader plenty of food for thought, allowing enough room for its singular main character to breathe and philosophize about his current situation, but it also traps the plot on a course that rushes headlong towards its own conclusion. This propulsion isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I couldn’t help but wish for a few stronger character beats to help me empathize with Bobby. There are few glimpses into who he actually is, and most of his character is developed through how he responds to his predicament. It feels as if you could drop any other type of character into Bobby’s shoes, give them his talent, and nothing of value in the book would be lost.
Of course the narrative arc of the book, the very act that Bobby endeavors so hard to accomplish, is an act so pure and good that it gives him an admirably altruistic nature just because he quests so hard to accomplish it. One bit involving a baby late in the book delivers Bobby’s most human moment, but beyond that I found it hard to empathize with him. Ultimately the book remains more memorable than the characters inhabiting it.
The art carries an interesting sketchiness to it that hits the right notes in the balance between depicting everyday life and the effects of Bobby’s special ability. The subtle differences between the two is easily the most distinguishing feature of the art, and Marlene Lowe carries that responsibility with aplomb. I also enjoyed the sly references to old-school villain tropes because they strike a fine contrast between how a normal cape comic might handle Bobby’s phenomenal powers and the more realistic universe that he actually inhabits.
It’s a quick read, one that compels you to finish it in one sitting, and it definitely works best in that first reading. Not to say that there are obnoxious flaws that suddenly reveal themselves upon a second read-through (there are none). Instead, it’s the narrative itself that feels weaker with each successive reading, and I believe that’s because the narrative is most akin to a summer blockbuster. It lacks character depth, and without the impetus to discover the endgame that the first read-through has, you’re left to examine the characters. Of which, there is only one, and he spends more time propelling himself through the story than strengthening his own character.
Beyond all that, the book is still a good read. Its concept is fascinating, the story rewarding, and the art well executed. This title is billed as the first in the publisher’s Blessed/Cursed line exploring the duality of special abilities. It’s definitely a great hook and I can only hope that each successive entry gets stronger. Regardless, I definitely recommend you check this book out.
TL;DR: High concept plot teamed with the right artist delivers a thought provoking tale but provides diminishing returns in the character department.
Whatever Happened to the World’s Fastest Man? is written by Dave West with art by Marleen Lowe. Published by Accent UK, it is billed as the first in their Blessed/Cursed imprint, dealing with the “duality of any special ability.” You can ask your local comic book shop to order it or purchase it through the Accent UK website.
A review copy of Whatever Happened to the World’s Fastest Man? was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.