Review: The Flash #4

I’ve been really enjoying the ongoing Flash series despite the frustration and disappointment of Flash: Rebirth. It’s as if “The Dastardly Death of the Rogues” is being written by Geoff Johns, and Flash: Rebirth was written by the mirror Geoff. Or in a multiverse context, the Geoff Johns of Earth-3.

Also surprising: Johns seems to have remembered an old saying about writing comic books: Every issue is somebody’s first. A few deftly placed lines of dialogue spell out the key details of the story so far: Boomerang’s status and new abilities, who the Renegades are, what file is missing and why, etc. Considering this is part 4 of a 6-part story, I suspect most writers today wouldn’t have bothered.

Francis Manapul’s artwork continues to be the highlight of this book. The Flash stands or falls (runs or stumbles?) on pacing and the reader’s perception of speed, and Manapul delivers. This time around, the stand-out panels are splash pages in an effort to rescue pilots from a damaged helicopter. (One nice easter egg: in the background of that double-page spread, we see the bridge that Wally West rebuilt back in “Crossfire.”)

I’m neutral on the “Flash Facts” pages, though if they’re going to keep using them to spotlight the villains, I like the way they link the real tech with the comic-book tech. Last month it was “How Boomerangs Work” and “How Captain Boomerang’s Boomerangs Work.” This month it’s mirrors and Mirror Master’s mirrors.

Some of the luster is beginning to fade, though. The structure is starting to feel formulaic: Barry Allen keeps fighting the Renegades, and every battle gets cut short one way or another. Every issue has a major super-speed feat, which individually manages to be extremely cool, but gets repetitive four issues on.

I think the main thing that disappointed me about this issue was the revelation behind the murder mystery. Sure, it’s one of the few explanations that fits Barry Allen’s character, but it also violates the expectations set up in the first half of the story. To say any more, I’ll have to break into….

SPOILERS!

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According to the future Top, when the Rogues break that giant “In case of Flash, break glass” mirror, the “Mirror Lords” will break loose and possess Iris Allen, turning her into Mirror Mistress, and the only way to break their hold is to kill Mirror Master.

So, um, yeah. Mirror Lords. All right, it’s not that much hokier than “Captain Boomerang” or “the speed force,” but even though I’ve been reading The Flash for decades and have gotten extremely used to some silly names and costumes, the term jumped out at me in a way that “The beings who live there” wouldn’t have.

More importantly, introducing possession this far into the story breaks expectations. We’ve got time travel, super-speed, and fantastic weapons established at the beginning, setting up a certain expectation of what is and isn’t valid in this corner of the universe. And then suddenly demonic possession shows up? That’s like doing a street-level, hard-boiled Batman story and then bringing Zatanna in for the finale. Sure, it works in the wider context of the DC Universe, but feels like a cheat in the narrow context of the individual story.

(Also: I know it’s a fairly standard trope, but the plot device where killing the spellcaster undoes the spell tends to bug me.)

On the other hand, I really want to know what Iris found in that file. Judging by her reaction, I’d expect some sort of police cover-up rather than simple negligence, with one of the higher-ups (Singh is too obvious a choice) involved, or possibly someone Barry knows personally like Forrest or Frye. I’d actually find the story a bit more satisfying if this case turned out to feed into the reason the Renegades are here…

Because the reason they give doesn’t add up. They’re not allowed to change history, but they are allowed to arrest someone before he commits a crime…which changes history. Something tells me the future Top hasn’t been entirely honest with Barry.

One last item: I have to give props to Brian Buccellato’s coloring as well. Sure, the Flash is kind of dark, but he makes effective use of contrast between the dark blues of the Rogues’ hideout and the warm reds and yellows of the sunset battle between the Flash and Captain Boomerang. Another good example are the two major speed sequences: rescuing the helicopter pilots and collecting the boomerangs. When we see time from the Flash’s perspective, everyone else is in muted colors. When we jump back to real-time, it switches back to full color. It’s a simple technique, but it gives it a sort of “bullet time” feel, despite being entirely made up of still images.

15 thoughts on “Review: The Flash #4

  1. Fastest

    So, I really don’t understand all this hate toward Flash: Rebirth. Sure, it wasn’t as great or as mythos-defining as Green Lantern: Rebirth, but if you take the delays out of the picture and just read it, it was a great Flash story, on par with some of the great Flash events of the past, like Dead Heat, or Terminal Velocity. To say it was written by the Geoff Johns of Earth 3, I think, establishes that you have some pretty strong hatred for the book, which I just don’t understand.

    I did find a part of your above review pretty funny, in a world with super speed, time travel, absolute zero guns, mirror guns, weather wands, death black generating boomerangs, etc., there can’t be demonic possession? You use the example of Zatanna showing up in Batman, when that is not a perfect metaphor. It’s like The Guardian showing up in Batman, not a staple of that line, but certainly in the realm of possibilty for a street level book.

    Aside from that, another stellar review Kelson. I wasn’t even thinking that perhaps what Iris found in the file could indicate some kind of shady dealing with the CCPD. Hope you find yourself less busy in the future and you can post more often.

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      Flash: Rebirth, IMO, was less a story than an agenda. It was basically 6 issues of moving the furniture around while holding up a sign saying “Barry Allen is awesome! More awesome than your favorite Flash! More awesome than he could ever hope to be!”

      As for possession, what bothers me isn’t that it’s in the story at all, but that it’s introduced so late in the story. To go back to Batman and Zatanna, if you have a Batman/Zatanna team-up, that’s just fine. You’ve got both a martial artist/gadgeteer and a magician, but you’ve set it up that way from the start.

      On the other hand, if you were to tell The Killing Joke completely as-is, then bring Zatanna in five pages from the end to heal Barbara, it would be a cheat for that story (even though when you look at it from the wider DCU perspective, that probably should have happened).

      Reply
      1. Fastest

        About Flash: Rebirth, it doesn’t sound like you’re critiquing the book so much as what happened to Wally. As a Bart fan, I could say the Full Throttle was a terrible story, but it wasn’t. It was very good.

        I think you’re taking it all a little too personally man. Geoff loves Wally. I mean, Flash: Rebirth #4 was like a love letter to Wally West. Who’s the only person who can travel to the speed force and bring back Barry and Max? Why, Wally West of course. The Flash. The one speedster in the DCU who has more experience with the various aspects the speed force brings than anyone. That’s Wally’s place. He’s the expert.

        Just because Barry is the engine powering the speed force does not make Wally West any less relevant. Before Rebirth, there was no place for Barry Allen, one had to be created for him. And one was. In a pretty awesome story that set up a lot of beats that seem pretty exciting and have me looking forward to the Flash book. Hell, it brought all of the speedsters together as a cohesive unit, the Speed Force. And in a year, we’ll get a major Flash event, and a second title. In the mean time, we just have to wait and be patient while Geoff introduces us all to Barry Allen.

        And as far as demonic possession goes, I see your point. If demonic possession was a threat, it should have been an established threat at the start of the arc. But, technically what Top told Barry is hints at the future. This arc seems to be mainly about dealing with Captain Boomerang and the Renegades, so perhaps by having Top telling us now, Geoff is in fact setting up the demonic possession card well in advance of him actually using it.

        I.Strange also brings up a valid point.

        Reply
        1. Kelson Post author

          I’ve said before, DC and Geoff Johns could easily have skipped Flash: Rebirth and jumped straight into this, and I believe it would have worked.

          I just didn’t find it to be much of a compelling story. It felt like Geoff Johns had written it from a checklist: Kill X, bring Y back, race Superman, change costumes, etc. And it felt like it was trying too hard to justify the new status quo it was setting up instead of just presenting it and saying, “Here’s the new setup. Here’s Barry. We could tell you he’s awesome, but it’s better if you see for yourself.” That’s more of what we’ve gotten in the ongoing.

          I could go on, but I’ve got six reviews and a number of opinion pieces about the miniseries on this site that do a more thorough job of explaining my reactions to it.

          Reply
          1. Ken O

            Kelson, I agree with your Rebirth opinions. And Rebirth came out when I was in a situation where I couldn’t pick up monthly books, so I read it all in one sitting.

            So far the new series is so much better then Rebirth was.

            Reply
          2. Perplexio

            ReBirth was needed to show that the past CAN be changed by Zoom. I think Johns wanted to establish Prof. Zoom meddling with the past as a plot device before launching the ongoing so he’d have that to fall back on for future stories in the ongoing.

            I still think the Zoom altering the past is going to tie into the Capt. Boomerang ressurection at some point in the future. I think Digger made a deal with the devil so to speak. He’s in league with Prof. Zoom right now and in return down the road somewhere Zoom will undo the events of Blackest Night that led to Owen’s death.

            Reply
  2. papa zero

    I have been enjoying the comics thus far but the plot did hinge on some points that fell a little flat. The inconsistency of The Renegades mission in maintaining history makes absolutely no sense in the structural story context they’ve presented.

    I’m okay with the hokiness of the Mirror Lords (and Renegades) so long as they don’t become more important to the mythology than their function in this story.

    The golden silver and bronze age saw Flash take on a million one off Flash villains we’ll never see again and I’m fine with that. 😛

    Reply
  3. I.Strange

    “More importantly, introducing possession this far into the story breaks expectations.”

    Demonic possession is far afield, I agree, but the doppelganger-esque “Mirror Mistress” isn’t, nor is the idea of villain-Iris. Dastardly Deaths is largely about role reversals / inverted perceptions.

    Reply
  4. Married Guy

    This book still isn’t clicking for me yet.
    I can see where Geoff wants to go and the groundwork he’s laid down is great, the art is wonderful, so are the colours and lettering, but as a cohesive whole, there’s something missing.
    Writing wise, one thing that bugs me is numerous times during Wally’s series we were told the Rogues had a healthy respect for Barry. Come the new series, suddenly they all have a SERIOUS hate on for him.

    I’m hanging in there, but I hope everything comes together soon.

    Reply
  5. Heatwave

    Wow… that was a really negative review for a story that, in my opinion, is one of the best Flash stories in years. The FLASH FACT pages are a nice fun addition to the Flash book too. A Flash book hasn’t had anything cool like that in years? Barry Allen has been portrayed very solid in Rebirth (with more depth) and in this 1st ongoing arc (with 100% more fun). DC is doing an fantastic job reestablishing Barry Allen as the main Flash once again. After 23 years of being trapped with a “noble death”, he’s free for a new generation of fans. I look forward to seeing what DC does with Wally, Jay, Bart, Max, Jesse, and the rest of the Flash family! GO DC!! GO FLASH!!

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      So…because I liked it overall, but was disappointed in some elements, it’s a “really negative” review?

      Wow.

      Or are you referring to my opinion of Rebirth?

      Reply
  6. firestormfan89

    I have really been enjoying the new Flash ongoing especially the gimmicks of Barry using his super speed. Manapul’s art is terrific and reminds me of the great Carmine Infantino. Interesting thoughts about what’s in the file. I think the supporting characters in this comic are great, comics in general need more of that like back in the good old days when every character had a cast of extras including friends, foils, and foes. Nice review Kelson keep riding the lightning!

    Reply
  7. Devin "The Flash" Johnson

    Another great review Kelson. I had similar thoughts about the hokiness of the Mirror Lords when I first read that but then as The Top went into a lengthy Silver Age-inspired, over the top explanation about the future it made me smile.

    I definitely preferred Wally’s comic to Barry’s because it seemed more contemporary and relatable. Which is obviously because Wally’s comic ran from the late eighties to 2006 while Barry’s run began back in the late fifties. As a result Barry’s stories often consisted of ridiculous plot devices or contrivances that didn’t endear themselves to me as much as I hoped they would. I own The Flash Archives Volumes 1-5 and sometimes I found it hard to get through them. That’s a pretty pricey investment for something I won’t soon be reading again.

    Geoff’s ongoing challenge is to take Barry Allen and make him the main Flash again and give the book a unique voice and character all it’s own, while still maintaining Barry’s rather simple core values. Sure he is forcing it a bit when trying to make the characters younger and relatable but by adapting previous storytelling techniques into the new stories in a tongue in cheek manner he is ramping up not only the fun factor but the nostalgia factor as well. It’s not completely on target but I think he is getting there. It is definitely another step in the right direction. I can’t fault him for wanting to utilize the past instead of completely casting it aside as so many creators do these days.

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      Thanks. Regarding having to read the stories a few at a time, I’ve noticed the same with the Golden Age material. I really like a lot of the Jay Garrick stuff, but there’s also a lot of it that’s just silly comedy — and nowhere near as good as Looney Tunes or Disney cartoons from the same era.

      I guess it’s a mix of changing tastes in entertainment and target audience. Up through maybe the 1980s, most super-hero comics really were aimed at kids. On the other hand, so were Looney Tunes and Disney, and those hold up better. *shrug*

      Reply
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