Do you remember when the Flash was a long running title, numbering in the two hundreds (and once upon a time in the three hundreds)? It seems like a lifetime ago and here we are again on the third reboot in as many years, and only 18 months since the last one. I gave that issue an “A”, but less than a year later I’d dropped the book before issue 12 and was so dissatisfied that I skipped Flashpoint altogether. After hearing that Barry’s marriage to Iris was kaput; I wasn’t planning on picking up The New 52 incarnation either. However, I ended up getting it anyway and unfortunately this will not be a repeat of my last Flash review.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a terrible comic. I’d even say it’s better than “okay”, but I had problems with it nonetheless. For one thing, the anti-highway/”green” message on page 2 totally took me out of the story. I’m a civil engineer in my other life and I work in the highway field. Traffic engineering isn’t my specialty, but I know enough about travel forecasting to understand that capacity improvements are generally based on the demand. If Central City has congestion in its downtown then that means there isn’t enough room on the roads for all the people that want/need to use them. Add in the forecasting models that predict what kind of increases will occur in 20 years and most likely the demand is only going to intensify. Not building the freeway or widening the road isn’t going to make all those people go away. Mass Transit is the often-touted imaginary fix for the problem. The nearby Washington DC Metro is one of the nicest transit facilities I know of, but it can barely sustain itself (I’m not sure it could without government assistance). Contrast that with the laughable nearly-non-existent two-directional Baltimore system (even closer to me) that seems only useful to go see a ball game. I’m sorry, it’ll take Jetson-like individual conveyances that can dump you directly to your destination before you’re going to get a majority of people to abandon their cars and buy into such a system. Don’t even get me started on express toll lanes (ETL) as a funding solution is this cruddy economy -- Anybody using the partially completed ICC yet? I hope I can be objective enough for the rest of this review, because that really set me off.
Now, the whole reason I picked up the book to begin with was the art. I liked it before, I still like it now. Only this time Francis and the colorist, Brian Buccellato, are handling the writing chores together. The pacing and the layout of the book are really well done. This is where the same artist-writer can really show off their storytelling capabilities and you can tell they’re having fun with these pages. The two-page title spread was gorgeous. I also enjoyed the scene where Flash is falling with a masked goon, sends him through a window to protect him, before vibrating through the pavement below. The birds-eye view of Barry’s apartment was really effective. The small floating panels remind me of what Frank Miller did in Dark Knight. The colors have a pleasant watercolor feel and the character designs are solid. I especially liked Iris. Even Sal Cipriano’s lettering is noteworthy, the way he adds this extra red background to the word balloon when the Flash is speaking more forcefully.
However, art alone can’t carry a book – What about the writing? I don’t know if this is their first writing assignment, but it seems like their lack of experience is showing a little. Overall, it’s a pretty good effort. I like the interaction between Barry and his co-worker/love-interest, Patty. I LOVE the scenes between Barry and Iris (‘cause I want them back together and she’s so spunky). They can get a lot of mileage from this love triangle for awhile. I guess it’s easier to write about falling in love than staying in love. If he does ever get married to Iris again, it’ll be time for another reboot. (I can’t imagine any series having that sort of staying power anymore.) That aspect worked better than I thought it would. While I wish his abusive boss, Director Singh, had been retconned out of existence (it’s the same set up as the last series), it’s good to have additional supporting characters at least.
What I had trouble with was the plot of Barry’s former (newly discovered) friend turned dead criminal, then back to life again, finally culminating into an army of Manuel clones. Really, from the moment Manuel (one of the clones or the real deal?) comes to Barry’s apartment to the end (the last five pages), I thought the book struggled. I was just confused when the dead guy was alive again (I guess you were supposed to be, but for me it was a distraction). Then you have the foot chase scene (slowpoke Barry is now a runner in his normal life – I suppose you need a reason for his athletic physique), where Barry is running barefoot in the city and jumping off bridges without using Flash speed. Does his protective aura keep him from getting blisters and stubbing his toe? (The monologue in this section about what his Mom taught him was good though.) I did like the transformation underwater scene. Finally, we see all the clones and I was just left with a “that’s it” feeling. I can’t really explain it, but the ending just left me lukewarm.
I'm on the fence about this series. I’m not sure I care too much about this Barry or this story. Although, it could be interesting when Iris enters Barry's apartment next issue (the door's still open), reports on his research (against his bosses orders), and really starts to shake up his life.
Grade B: There’s more to like than dislike. Beautiful page layouts and the first three-quarters of the book are enjoyable, but the ending is a little flat. The writing is okay, but it needs to improve, especially in fleshing out some logical details.
I really need to write about something I can rave about...
Happy October everyone!