Review: Flash Vol. 4: Reverse hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, August 18, 2014

If Flash Vol. 4: Reverse were just another volume in an "average" Flash run (though Flash comics have been consistently above average on and off for decades now), then it might be really exceptional, with great action and a cogent mystery. But, Reverse is part of Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul's superlative Flash run, following their impressive Flash Vol. 3: Gorilla Warfare, and unfortunately Reverse is good but not as good as its predecessor. As well, Bucellato and Manapul face stiff competition in terms of "Reverse" Flash stories, and neither does Reverse rise to the level of what came before it.

As the kicker, however, to Bucellato and Manapul's collective run (Bucellato still writes a couple more issues), Reverse does cap off an admirable, memorable Flash run, one of the first gems of the New 52 that continued to surprise and impress all the way through.

[Review contains spoilers]

One of the reasons Reverse carries such gravitas, before a reader even cracks the spine, is because of the Reverse Flash/Professor Zoom stories that have come before it. The legendary "Trial of the Flash" storyline began with the Reverse Flash killing Barry Allen's then-wife, Iris. Equally legendary was Mark Waid's 1990s Return of Barry Allen, in which the Reverse Flash tortured Wally West and nearly sullied Barry's reputation for good. Geoff Johns followed this with a tragic new origin for the Reverse Flash, who went on to (temporarily) kill Wally West's children. All of that plus Flashpoint, and the strong indication that the Reverse Flash killed Barry Allen's mother (both in the comics and the new TV series). Suffice it to say, when the Reverse Flash shows up, it's a big deal, and things get broken.

That Barry therefore defeats Bucellato and Manapul's new Reverse Flash handily, and that mostly nothing is really altered at the end of the story, each contribute to my sense of Reverse as the weakest in a line of great stories. A couple of incidental characters die, sure, and as it turns out the identity of the Reverse Flash is both clever and ironic, but surely this is not the most memorable recent Reverse Flash story.

I do find the new Reverse Flash visually interesting; Manapul makes him both man and beast, with shades even of Doomsday at times. I applaud that the creative team didn't feel constrained by appearances past and forwent the classic yellow costume. Also, the personality of the new Reverse Flash is interesting; the former Zoom, often a scientist, tended toward the Shakespearean, but the new Reverse Flash is a regular guy, more akin to the Flash's Rogues. This makes the Reverse Flash fit in a little better in the Flash's world, but at the same time, it perhaps also contributes to the lessening of the "specialness" of the Reverse Flash in this story.

Also, while the new Reverse Flash's relationship with Iris is interesting, I thought the authors made his origin overcomplicated -- monorails and Speed Force energy without any firm connection to the Flash himself (this would be a suitable origin for a Rogue, but not for the Reverse Flash). Indeed, as opposed to both of the former Zooms, this Reverse Flash really has no beef with the Flash other than wanting to steal his power (this Reverse Flash being mostly concerned with changing his own past), which I thought made the Flash seem incidental; why couldn't this Reverse Flash be as easily a Superman villain?

Finally, the grand conclusion is that the Flash simply touches the Reverse Flash, and this somehow negates the Reverse Flash's powers and lets them return from the past to the unchanged present. For a book that's been overall fairly methodical about how the Flash's powers work and the science behind them, this seemed like a bit of a "punt" as the team's run came to a close.

What is more enjoyable about Reverse is the getting there -- the Reverse Flash is more fearsome earlier in the book than when we know all of his secrets. As well, the writers pepper the book with plenty of enjoyable moments not specifically Reverse Flash-related -- Barry's first meeting with Kid Flash Bart Allen, for instance (whom he calls, with a wink and a nod, "impulsive"), and also the Flash taking a run with Iris West in a seemingly Jesse Quick-inspired costume.

As with the last volume, Bucellato and Manapul pile on the intrigue in the Patty Spivot-Barry Allen-Iris West romantic triangle. There is on one hand a subplot in which Barry may or may not make it to Patty's parents' anniversary party -- a kind of test balloon, now that Patty knows Barry is the Flash, whether he can "show up" for their relationship or not. This is cute in the "will Flash make it home for dinner," though the difficulty is in the writers beginning to posit Patty as the stereotypical jealous girlfriend who just doesn't understand her superhero man, especially in contrast to Iris West.

On the other hand, we have Iris West strapping on a Flash suit, gaining superpowers, and saving the Flash's life, not to mention Iris sitting forlornly as Patty talks about how she and Barry are "meant to be." What is the reader to interpret from this, except that Barry and Iris should be together? As such, we have a comic where Barry is essentially stringing on Patty, whom we know he doesn't love, until such time as they break up and Barry dates Iris, or else Barry dates someone else and the whole thing starts again. It reflects badly on Patty, mostly, whom we must always see as a lesser figure, doting on Barry when he doesn't feel the same. Romantic intrigue is fine, don't get me wrong, but I tend to think the writers played their Iris card a bit too early, making her seem the too-obvious choice for Barry without any intention to follow through.

Reverse is, in another way, an interesting bookend to Geoff Johns's Flashpoint that immediately preceded this run. Supposedly Flash and Batman experienced Flashpoint, at least, given the end of that story; but, with Barry meeting a different Reverse Flash for the first time in Reverse, we know now definitively that Flashpoint "didn't happen" in this reality, at least not as we experienced it, despite evidence to the contrary in the Batcave in Justice League. Also, at the conclusion of this story Barry vows never to try to go back in time and change the past, verily what sparked Flashpoint in the first place. In a couple ways, Reverse closes off the final avenues to Flashpoint, if they were ever actually open to begin with.

The book ends with a Batman: Zero Year tie-in issue, which the writers use well as the first meeting between Barry and Iris, making this more than just an interruptive tie-in story. But as a one-off, the story is a little contrived (hint: the new character did it), and in all I wouldn't have minded if DC hadn't turned "Zero Year" into a line-wide event (the Batgirl issue equally failed to impress), or at least if there might have been some tie between the issues (the unofficial "first meeting" of the DC heroes, etc.).

Flash Vol. 4: Reverse doesn't contain the "wow" moments that Flash Vol. 3 did, but it's still hard to argue with a volume of Brian Bucellato and Francis Manapul's Flash, especially one almost entirely drawn by Manapul. This volume is no black eye on their overall Flash work, and I will miss them on this title. At the moment I'd rather have them on Flash than Detective Comics, but we shall see.
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8 comments:

  1. I'm not sure I agree with your assessment that Barry doesn't love Patty. Sure, down the line they might split and Barry might end up with Iris, but I think it is a mistake to fall into assumptions based on a previous continuity. While there is a flirtation there (and it's pretty clear that Iris has the hots for Barry) and Barry legitimately values Iris's friendship, the way Barry is written in the New 52 isn't that of a guy who would string a girl along for kicks. Maybe down the line they will break-up, but as written currently, Barry is committed to Patty.

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    1. You made my day that someone wants to talk about this particular point. I absolutely grant, as you said, that Barry isn't a guy who would string Patty along for kicks. Farthest thing from his mind, I'm sure.

      But I do think that Buccellato and Manapul are continually creating situations in which the message to the reader (if not to Barry, Patty, and Iris) is that Barry's head is in one place but his heart is somewhere else (which could be a metaphor for his life as the Flash, if you like). See the start of Flash #16, for instance, which begins with a flashback of where Barry and Iris's relationship veered off the path of romance, set beside a scene where Patty and Barry talk for the first time about his identity; I think there's a clear implication from the writers there that if Barry and Iris hadn't had a falling out, it wouldn't be Patty in that scene.

      Or, in issue #17, previously Barry had thought Iris might be dead, and then he's rescued her and they're talking, and then Patty comes up with a big kiss for Barry and it's obviously awkward. Iris walks away, Patty asks Barry if everything's OK, and he says noncommittally "I think so," watching Iris walk away. Maybe that's an "I think so" as in "Is Iris now connected to the Speed Force" but it seemed to me the writers put an intentional double meaning on it.

      This obviously continues into Reverse. Frankly, the big character-based subplot of the whole book is whether or not Barry will show up to Patty's parents' anniversary party (whether Barry is or isn't committed to Patty). He does show up, but the sheer fact of the suspense underlines there's an equally reasonable chance Barry might not show up (and the reader intuits why, because his feelings for Iris might be stronger). Barry does show up, but later he goes back on his initial promise to Patty to move forward and stop looking for his mother's killer; all of that was part and parcel of committing to Patty, and again the implication from the writers is that Barry is thinking one thing but in actuality doing another thing.

      And we have Patty's comment to Iris that "it's like [she and Barry] were meant to be together," which in the context of the scene and Iris sitting there in a Flash suit seems meant to be taken ironically; this is what Patty thinks, but she's so sure of it that the reader can't help but understand that Barry is not as sure (even setting aside what continuity fates we already know).

      So, I take your point that it's a mistake to make assumptions based on the previous continuity, but I think even in this continuity, I think the question of whether Barry is committed to Patty and whether he actually loves her are two different things. Maybe that he's "stringing her on" is too harsh, but I think there's a certain amount of inertia involved in Barry's relationship with Patty.

      The writers kind of left this "in the middle of things"; I'm curious to see what the next writers do. Also, you think they'll bring Patty to the Flash TV show?

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    2. I know I am late, but I just finished reading vol. 4.
      about your point about the promise. it wasnt patty who told him to promise to her that he should stop looking for his mothers killer it was him whi said he was going to do that, so I dont really see it as breaking a huge promise.
      also if he is going to break up with patty and then start dating iris at some point I personally would just see it as a waste of pages. its not the kind of thing I like to read when reading comics but yeah I can understand why other people would find it interesting.

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    3. I find reading the Barry/Patty relationship interesting, but it *is* ultimately a "waste of pages" (to use your phrase), isn't it? Maybe, just maybe, some thirty years from now DC will end this iteration of their universe with Superman not marrying Lois Lane, but Barry not ending up with Iris? No chance. In my opinion, it will happen, and so Barry and Patty is all prelude.

      Now I don't mind that, because I think if done right it could reveal interesting things about Barry's character -- that sometimes he's "too good," dating Patty because she's the right, safe choice instead of risking a little bit and going with Iris, maybe trying to "do right" to make up for the fact that his father's in jail, etc. But I have no expectation of Barry staying with Patty for the long haul, any more than I do Wonder Woman and Superman staying together. At some point they'll break up, because fiction is about conflict and not about contentment. So again, all prelude.

      Frankly I'm frustrated with this trend in general, where we no longer get new stories so much as prelude stories that tease what we already know -- like Batman Begins, like Man of Steel, like Gotham, Smallville, Arrow, Hannibal, etc. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "waste of pages," else there'd be no reason to read and tune in, but I think uninformed fans have it better these days than those of us who saw all of this the first time.

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  2. i´m gonna miss Bucellato and manapul in this book, besides why the flash vol 5 is a tpb and not a hc?

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    1. Probably means sales weren't there to support it in HC, or else it could still change before publication. I'm surprised it's not HC too, especially with the TV series, but then again the Green Arrow books have always been paperback in the New 52.

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    2. It could be sales of the series in general, or it could be that vol.5 contains what some would consider "filler" stories that aren't part of the main Manapul/Buccellato run or the Venditti/Jensen/Booth/Rapmund run. I hate the whole "filler" label, but it's a common enough viewpoint that I can imagine DC anticipating lower sales on this collection. I'm curious to see whether the current time travel story gets a hardcover or goes straight to paperback.

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    3. For a single series to go from hardcover to paperback and then back to hardcover would be somewhat unusual, I think. Not that it couldn't happen, but that could be crazy-making for certain collections.

      So Kelson, who's better for Barry, Patty or Iris?

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