Review: Flash Vol. 9: Full Stop hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Monday, January 09, 2017

Flash Barry Allen has a central role in DC Comics's Rebirth (if overshadowed by his own sidekick) and the CW's Flash television show continues to grow in prominence (most of the Invasion! crossover, even, revolved around Barry). It behooves DC, therefore, to get Flash right in the comics; arguably this should be the comic with the most muscle behind it short of Batman. The final "DC You" entry of Flash by Van Jensen and Robert Venditti, Flash Vol. 9: Full Stop, does not reach the level that this title needs to, and the Rebirth special included here by Joshua Williamson didn't wow me, either. Given the ties to Rebirth proper, obviously I'm following Flash into its next new first volume, but I've got some concerns about this one.

[Review contains spoilers]

Reading Flash Vol. 8: Zoom, I felt there were problems on the part of both writing -- Jensen and Venditti -- and art -- Brett Booth. In the run-up to Rebirth, Booth leaves for Titans, replaced by a few different artists, and most of the book is written solely by Jensen. To that end, it's hard to lay Full Stop's troubles at anyone other than Jensen's feet; while I liked Jensen's work on Green Lantern Corps, I'm not necessarily sorry to see it's Venditti continuing to the Rebirth Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps.

I'm not opposed to occasional villain-switching, but in what's the climactic volume of the Flash's New 52 adventures, it was a great disappointment to find the Riddler as this book's surprise adversary. Though Jensen and Venditti have touched on the Flash's classic Rogues before, this was the first time they'd all been on-screen as the present version of themselves (including the resurrected Heat Wave), and I'd have liked to see the finale center on them more. It was fun to see the Flash team with the Rogues against a common foe (though this is rapidly becoming a Flash trope, as we saw the same in Flash Vol. 3: Gorilla Warfare and Flash Vol. 4: Reverse), but I was hoping the mystery villain would equally be a Rogue, like Abra-Kadabra. The Riddler seems a further cheat because his current status and abilities haven't been defined all that well in the Bat-titles. Jensen is able to give him wild technological abilities including manufacturing an infinite number of robot drones and holding Heat Wave in a specialized tank, none of which is inherent to the Riddler aside from that Jensen's plot needs it to be.

The melodrama that was present in Zoom continues here. Jensen's Captain Frye, Barry's surrogate father and Flash's one-time ally, is so illogically and over-the-top angry at the Flash for perceived sins (most of which were the fault of Professor Zoom Eobard Thwane) that I actually expected we'd find Frye mind-controlled by the end. Late in the book Jesus Merino depicts an apologetic Frye with perpetually clenched fists and a solid river of tears streaming down his face that equally makes it all seem less serious, not more. In all, this "you're a menace not a hero" kind of storyline, in itself hardly originally, feels a forced fit for the Flash, whose core involves a sunny relationship with Central City, including their one-time Flash Museum. Not to mention, again we already saw a "Flash is a menace" story early in Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato's run in this very Flash series.

Perhaps the nadir of this book is the Wally West backup story that follows the Riddler reveal in the book's third chapter (the extra-sized fiftieth issue). The time-displaced ghost of the dead Kid Flash Wally West from Flash Vol. 6: Out of Time appears to the current Wally West to explain that the energy expelled when Kid Flash died has traveled across reality to give our Wally speed (the New 52 Wally; having two Wallys in the DCU is going to become confusing quickly). It's a nonsensical explanation even for comics, so much so that Jensen even has the characters acknowledge it -- "That makes like zero sense, ghost of Wally future." "Time travel, dude. Don't even get me started." -- which is a clear sign that the concept is indeed too complicated for its own good. As well, there's a much simpler line to Wally having powers in an explosion caused by Professor Zoom, which the story notes and Jensen ought have just stuck with. The art by Joe Eisma is appropriately kid-like for the high school setting, though to an extent I think Jensen is conflating juvenile character with juvenile audience here and I'm not entirely sure who this story is meant to appeal to.

Joshua Williamson's Flash: Rebirth special nicely strips away much of Full Stop's fluff for a story that presents darker and more serious, with art by Carmine Di Giandomenico; I liked the suggested tone for the new series a lot. At the same time, while I grant perhaps I have mistaken expectations for these Rebirth specials, Barry does very little running or crime-fighting in these pages such to give a new reader a sense of what the Flash is all about. I'm certainly a sucker for how this book coincides with DC Universe: Rebirth, but Williamson has Barry entirely narrate his two-page visit with Batman with very little actually dialogue, and it makes for boring reading. The final tagline that "sometimes Barry Allen makes mistakes" has creepy possibility, but for Williamson to have us take from Flash: Rebirth not necessarily that Barry is kind or fast or smart, but rather that he makes mistakes, seems an odd thesis. I'm reminded of the wild action of Buccellato and Manapul having the Flash run across a helicopter, and I'd have liked a similar "blockbuster" scene here.

Certainly DC has Flash centered as a can't-miss book again by its proximity to DC Universe: Rebirth, and that Joshua Williamson is also writing Justice League vs. Suicide Squad underscores him as a major Rebirth writer. Where "DC You" series like Omega Men and Midnighter were hits, unfortunately Van Jensen and Robert Venditti's Flash Vol. 9: Full Stop and its predecessor were misses. Again, it's obviously imperative that DC start getting the Flash right; hopefully said "rebirth" is on the horizon.

[Includes original and variant covers, Jesus Merino penciled pages]
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4 comments:

  1. I wish I could say the Flash got better after Rebirth, but Williamson's wordy, exposition-heavy, subtlety-free and occasionally sappy writing bores me to tears. Unexpectedly, my favorite Flash story in a long time was actually Abnett's inaugural Titans arc, "The Return of Wally West".

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    1. I'm wary of Titans both for Brett Booth's art and previous thirtysomethings-Titans series' tendency to err toward melodrama, but your recommendation is good to hear.

      My Rebirth Flash Vol. 1 review will be along shortly, but in summary it's a good enough story, but Williamson's sad-sack Barry Allen befuddles me, especially since Williamson is such an avowed Flash fan. Baseline of the Mark Waid and Geoff Johns Flash Wally West series were so joyful and optimistic; I don't have that much primary experience with Barry's early adventures, but Manapul and Buccellato skewed pretty fun at least. I find it hard to believe Williamson's got Barry's character right.

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  2. I've enjoyed Titans so far, and haven't seen too much melodrama.

    Flash, well, I don't know what's going on.

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  3. I enjoyed Vol 9 moreso than the disappointing previous two volumes, and appreciated the leg up into the forthcoming Rebirth volume. It wasn't perfect but it was at least heading in the right direction.

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