Review: Flash Vol. 7: Savage World hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, August 08, 2016

Surely there's a lot of pressure that goes along with being the writer of a long-standing comics character. I don't envy Tom King on Batman, for instance, having to follow both Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder (though I hear King's doing admirably). In the same way given strong Flash runs already by Mark Waid and Geoff Johns, Robert Venditti and Van Jensen have a lot to live up to.

Venditti has already followed Johns on Green Lantern and delivered some winners. Unfortunately, Venditti, Jensen, and artist Brett Booth's Flash isn't quite as strong as Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul's that immediately preceded it, nor the famous runs before. In Flash Vol. 7: Savage World, Venditti and Jensen continue to try to build new threats for the Flash; I appreciate that the writers don't tread old ground (for the most part), but the villains they're creating aren't strong, so the writers' efforts come off as ephemeral. Compared to copious Flash runs past, unfortunately these latest Flash comics just aren't as good.

[Review contains spoilers]

As with Flash Vol. 6: Out of Time, Savage World follows two storylines. Previously, we watched the Barry Allen of the future traveling back in time and righting the wrongs of his life -- sometimes violently -- while the Barry of the present cleaned up the fallout from Forever Evil. This time, the Barry of the future seeks out future-villains-to-be in the present, while the present Barry finds himself trapped in the Speed Force.

In Out of Time, the writers sought to build the Flash a new rogues gallery from the ground up. Present-Barry investigated the theft of a variety of weapons of new-to-us villains that Barry had apparently already encountered, including Mogul, a skiing-themed villain, and Merge, whose weapon combines any two objects he touches. The villain concepts were creative, if silly, but in presenting their weapons divorced from the characters, there's not much for the audience to get invested in (as opposed to Waid's Savitar or Johns's Peek-a-Book, among others).

Savage World has similar problems. The main villain in the present is Overload, a horse-drawn-carriage driver tortured by -- and also super-powered by -- electronic signals; the writers make him too loquacious, and then hackneyed in his dialogue, and there's no question we're unlikely to see him ever again. Selkirk, whom the present Barry meets in the Speed Force, professes to be a friend, but it's so obvious he'll betray Barry that it takes all the suspense out of the story; Selkirk as a scholar of speedsters is interesting, but again, neither do the writers make him sympathetic or leave much for a repeat appearance. And the future-Barry is so outright villainous (not to mention something of a clod) that there's not much to root for in his story either, especially when Waid did basically the same plot better with future Flash John Fox.

Venditti and Jensen also continue to write a fairly unlikable Patty Spivot, making the present-day storyline with future-Barry and Patty mostly unpalatable. In the last book, Patty came off as nagging, whining to Barry about always being late and not spending enough time with her (in the trope of "superhero's girlfriend just can't understand the importance of his superheroing"). Here, future-Barry makes a single vague statement about killing villains and Patty erupts into a weepy lecture about truth and justice; the writers don't seem to be able to dialogue her without melodrama. That Patty leaves Barry in the end (again, for reasons that put Patty in the wrong) is probably a mercy.

The New 52 has trouble with the Speed Force in general, with Buccellato and Manapul depicting it as an ill-defined, time-lost void (I preferred Waid's use of the Speed Force more as a force of nature than a place). Venditti and Jensen double-down on what Bucellato and Manapul didn't really explain before, now sending Barry to a different "island" of the Speed Force than the one he visited previously. I don't mind a change if a change is made to make sense, but forty issues in I have no more idea of how the new Speed Force works than I did when the New 52 started, not to mention how Barry gets his speed from an actual dimension (the Flash TV show has a similar problem).

And if I haven't complained enough, I like Brett Booth's art in certain contexts -- Teen Titans, for instance -- but I feel his work has grown more chaotic as the New 52 has continued; I enjoyed this very-busy Flash work far less than Titans. Further, Booth's Flash characters have gawky overtones -- Barry, Patty, and the rest all look like caricatures of themselves -- and again it made me feel less invested in the story because it seemed so far less refined than Flash stories previous.

I would say, however, that the final pages of Flash Vol. 7: Savage World did pique my curiosity because Robert Venditti and Van Jensen seem to be about to end this trend of forging "new" Flash ground and go back to something interesting -- Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash. In the twisty strands of post-Flashpoint continuity (now made more twisty by Rebirth), it seems perhaps Barry no longer knows that Thawne killed his mother, though maybe now he's remembering. "Remembering" is the key word; I'm very eager to see if this means Barry's about to remember Flashpoint (perhaps in the long "DC You" lead up to Rebirth) or whether some new continuity's about to be forged. I've done nothing but grouse, I know, but I'll probably end up seeing this team out.

[Includes original and variant covers, sketchbook section]
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2 comments:

  1. I think your review is spot-on, CE. I necessarily didn't have a problem with "our" Barry traveling to the Savage World and having an adventure there, as I personally sort of enjoy those kinds of stories (I say this having recently read Flash: the Silver Age vol. 1, which contains the same type of story in Showcase #14, although that was half an issue rather than 4...). It does create all kinds of mechanic problems by continuing the trend of making the Speed Force a place rather than a concept, but I'll forgive that somewhat if it' sin service of a good story. This, unfortunately, wasn't as Selkirk didn't make for a particularly interesting villain, and his betrayal was easy to guess. Further, the art especially hurt this section as I feel like Brett Booth--whose work, I'll admit, I've never cared for--isn't the type of artist who can make cave people riding dinosaurs while attacking jungle forts look cool. What these issues really needed was someone like Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, Aaron Kuder, or one of those other Green Lantern guys who can "sell" seemingly-ridiculous concepts.

    As you said, the present scenes don't really work either, because the same concept has been done twice during this same run of comics. Further, Overdrive is a poorly-conceived adversary on his own, which is only heightened due to Booth's poor design and the fact that he has to fight Tron...errr, future Barry.

    As someone who is a big fan of Venditti's work elsewhere, I do still hope out hope for the next volume, but as Flash fans, we've been spoiled with great (relatively recent) stories from the likes of Mark Waid, Geoff Johns, and Manapul/Buccellato, and so far the Venditti/Jenson run has been average on its own, and only worse by comparison.

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