Review: Flash Vol. 8: Zoom hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

There's double the pressure on a comic book with its own ongoing TV series, especially when The Flash is the best of the CW's DC Comics shows. I don't necessarily believe a comic needs to contort itself to match its onscreen translation, but television's Flash is so good that one wouldn't think the comics' creative teams would have so much difficulty with the same character.

But Flash Vol. 8: Zoom is another troubled outing from Robert Venditti and Van Jensen, whose individual work I've enjoyed on Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps respectively. The story is over-long and overwrought, something that's plagued these writers on their Flash volumes previous. They also have the double-trouble of trying to follow not one but two writers' wildly popular stories about the titular "Zoom," and also of telling a story recently told very similarly -- and better -- on the show. Such handy comparisons only serve to spotlight this book's problems.

[Review contains spoilers]

Zoom is an eight-chapter story, of which one of those is even an extra-long annual. While I'm happy to see a large collection, surely to try to stretch a story out that far the writers are going to have to justify its length, and Venditti and Jensen don't. The fifth chapter (issue #44), for instance, begins rather auspiciously with a wrenching description of Flash fighting his way from the ocean floor, but ends with nearly ten splash pages that relate a climactic fight in excruciating slow detail -- on one page the villain Block readies her bomb, on the next page the Flash arrives, on the next page Flash tries to punch Block, on the next two-page spread the Flash dodges some cars, etc. And for a story with no breaks that's seemingly written for the trade, the writers offer a lot of unnecessary recap -- four pages of Zoom rehashing his plan, one page of Barry Allen describing to Wally West the details of Barry's father's break-out from prison that the audience already knows, and Block describing her powers to the Flash despite an earlier narration box that does the same thing for the reader.

Part of the trouble, unfortunately, is artist Brett Booth. I liked Booth's work very much on Teen Titans at the beginning of the New 52, finding it fresh and energetic. But to some extent on Nightwing and now on Flash, I find Booth's art has lost the restraint it had on Teen Titans. Maybe a lack of restraint would be seen as a positive from an artist's perspective, but Booth's Flash is too distorted for my tastes (consider the Flash's flailing limbs on the second chapter cover), and also I don't think Booth's art meets the tone this book needs; in the first chapter, Henry Allen's giant eyes and contorted face make his surprise at hearing Zoom Eobard Thawne's name seem melodramatic, and the same again when both Barry and Barry-as-Flash confront Henry later. A particular sequence sees the Flash jumping over a car that Booth never establishes is there to start with. There's also again those constant splash pages, on which Booth must have a hand, and the fractured, diagonal panels throughout the story even when the scene doesn't call for them. All of it undercuts the story this team is trying to tell.

I did appreciate that, along with "Professor" Zoom, Venditti and Jensen do try to revitalize a couple of better- and lesser-known Flash villains here. The writers have worked to expand the Flash rogues gallery throughout the three volumes of their run so far, though not always with success; Flash Vol. 6: Out of Time was filled with new bad guys, but with more emphasis on powers than personality, and Flash Vol. 7: Savage World's Overload came off considerably silly.

Here, the writers team Girder with Henry Allen and pair the Folded Man and the Top with Zoom. The former two are Wally West's villains from Geoff Johns's and Mark Waid's runs respectively and I appreciated these less-obvious dives into Flash history. All of these were more successful than what came before from Venditti and Jensen, especially the humor and depth they gave Girder but also Folded Man and Top's connections to the Speed Force itself.

And indeed I thought Venditti and Jensen offered a passable version of Eobard Thawne here, certainly conveying "Professor Zoom" as someone separate and distinct from Reverse-Flash Daniel West. We are eons away from Waid or Johns's Reverse-Flash/Zoom stories, but I appreciated -- in the final chapter's backwards-told origin of Zoom -- how the Flash's legacy and time travel play a role, and what a "long game" Zoom is playing, traveling to the past and recruiting his team, sponsoring Henry Allen's scientific research and then falsely imprisoning Allen, all to bring things to this point. It's complex and weird and loopy, not in the least because Zoom ends up creating the Flash when the whole bane of his life is the Flash's existence in the first place, and in some respects it makes more sense than Zoom's obsessive-fan-gone-bad origin that had otherwise been in play of late.

But the Professor Zoom origin here, with Thwane's father killing his mother, is markedly similar to the recent Zoom origin on the Flash TV show, and with Henry Allen's involvement in the storyline to boot. Here's where the pressures of a simultaneous television show come to play, however, because Flash TV's second season, and its depictions of both Zoom and Reverse-Flash, are much better than this comic. The Superman and Batman comics don't have such handy correlations (or at least, not ones that show them up), but for the Flash comic, it's even easier to see where it's going wrong when others are doing the same thing right.

Not to mention that Flash Vol. 8: Zoom is often predictable -- as when Wally West has the key to defeating Zoom's trap but of course no one will listen to him -- and also trite, with police captain Frye emoting "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph" and Wally bragging that he drove a truck to save the Flash "like a boss." Barry defeats Zoom simply by deciding to "stop holding back," vague as that might be. Strangely enough even Andrew Dalhouse's and Wendy Broome's colors come off a tad dull in the book (if it's meant to contrast Flash and Barry, I don't think it quite translates), to the point where almost nothing here seems to go quite right.

Again, the whole creative team has done work I've enjoyed, but I'm very hopeful that Joshua Williamson can turn this around -- and approach the high bar of the Flash TV show -- two volumes hence in Rebirth.

[Includes original and variant covers, character concept art]
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4 comments:

  1. I didn't finish out a few of the N52 series because they were such failures as stories. Flash, Aquaman, WW, the Superman titles, Teen Titans, Suicide Squad. It seems the Rebirth stuff is pretty good, based on cursory readings, but I'm hesitant to pick most of them up. Sometimes I just want to concentrate on all the good pre-Flashpoint stuff DC is putting out right now. The New 52 started out decently, but it was just a train wreck at the end.

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    1. Definitely the end of the New 52/DC You has been hit or miss. Don't overlook Omega Men or Midnighter, for two, which were both good, and I also very much liked the end of Scott Snyder's Batman. But I agree there's so much good post-Crisis/'90s era stuff being reprinted right now that sometimes I want to go back and start reading from there! :-)

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  2. I wish DC would stop hiring Brett Booth. He's easily the worst artist on any DC book right now.

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    1. I don't necessarily agree; his art certainly has dynamism and life to it, and it stands out and looks more modern than some of the fill-in artists. But it has to be just the right book, and I don't think Flash was it and I'm skeptical Titans is right, either. Where I haven't seen Booth succeed is in very dark or serious scenes; a comedy book like Impulse once was would be fine for Booth, but when trying to bring modern sensibilities and attract modern readers to a book like Flash, I don't think Booth is the way to go. And it can be done; Babs Tarr's art is animated but still achieves a tonal seriousness at times, whereas Booth seems to go straight to melodrama.

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