Review: Flash Vol. 12: Death and the Speed Force trade paperback (DC Comics)

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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

In terms of Mr. Barry Allen himself, Joshua Williamson's Flash Vol. 12: Death and the Speed Force is an improvement, and I'm happy to accept an improvement. Not to mention, there's a revelation in this book some fifteen years in the making that seems so obvious in retrospect it's amazing no one thought of it before, and good on Williamson for doing so. All of that helps a book that is otherwise fine but not great; what seems like it should be a pivotal arc in Williamson's Flash saga instead comes off tertiary, not in the least because the central conflict is far from well defined. With the end in sight, Williamson's Flash is better than it was, but I still wish it was a little stronger.

[Review contains spoilers]

Up at the top, I'll mention that Flash Vol. 12 does not contain the backup stories from Flash #75. The main story is in the Flash: Year One collection, but the two backups aren't here. These were unofficially promised in the DC Comics Summer 2020 catalog, though omitted from the DC Comics May 2020 solicitation, which I guess means we should have expected this, though those solicitations are often incomplete enough that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Yes, most readers can probably figure what gets omitted, but it's not a small deal. For one, Death and the Speed Force opens with Flash already palling around with new Still Force user Steadfast, whom we only met for a second in Flash Vol. 11: The Greatest Trick of All, at which point it was unclear if he was ally or enemy. Their subsequent interaction took place in that first Flash #75 backup, which also gave hints as to Steadfast's origin; the reader can just assume, "I guess he's a good guy," but the experience is lesser.

Second, we also lose a 10-page Captain Cold spotlight story (and "Year of the Villain" tie-in). All that happens there is also generally related in this story, but given that "Year of the Villain" factors big-time in Death's conclusion, this also seems an unfortunate omission. I imagine the cuts are due to costs or the like, but it's a surprising move by DC when collections have otherwise been overly complete for a while now.

Death gets a big boost first of all coming out of Flash: Year One in that Williamson's Barry finally has his positivity back (after 75 issues!) and he's eager to trust and work with his team rather than moping by his lonesome. Artist Rafa Sandoval does well here depicting a wide, beefy Barry with a big grin on his face. I've enjoyed the partnership all along between Kid Flashes Wallace West and Avery Ho, so it's fun to see them with Barry, forming the core of the new Flash family. As I've said before, I have no idea if Williamson intended for "sad Barry" to last this long or if the vagaries of Rebirth got in the way, but I'm glad we're finally (hopefully) past it for the two dozen-or-so issues that remain in Williamson's run.

Second, the revelation about Hunter "Zoom" Zolomon just made the book for me. Way back — in Geoff Johns' Flash run circa 2003, as a matter of fact — one factor that set FBI profiler Zolomon on the path to becoming Zoom was that he miscalculated whether a suspect would have a gun and got his father-in-law killed. I had not before put together this general commonality between Zolomon's job and Barry's as a CSI, and it's a great moment when Barry says he would have made the same choices — but that's not the best part.

The best part is after all this time, when baked into Zolomon's origins is the mistake he made, we now learn it wasn't a mistake, and instead Professor Zoom Eobard Thawne intervened, just as he did when he killed Barry's mother. That is brilliant to the extreme, taking a fact we took for granted — were, indeed, meant to take for granted — and instead tying it into Thawne's grand conspiracy. Not to mention, it helps to smooth over the small annoying fact of their being two Zooms; instead, the first Zoom purposefully created the second. This won't be the last time we hear about this, I wouldn't think, and I'm all the more eager for Williamson to come back to this now given how much sense he's made it make.

Unfortunately, that same cleverness doesn't hold true for the whole "death and the Speed Force." From early in Williamson's run, I've found his conception of the Speed Force specious; it was a place, a sentient force, and also something that could be held and bottled — essentially, it was whatever the story needed at that moment. For a while the series has dealt with other, newly released forces (the Sage Force, Still Force, and Strength Force), which an ancient Speed Force avatar had fought and imprisoned. In this volume, apparently the mere existence of the other forces is killing the Speed Force (despite no mention of that before), so the Speed Force has unleashed the Black Flash to kill the other forces' avatars. There's no reason to think that would actually accomplish defeating the forces, since they've switched avatars a couple times in the last few volumes, but there you go.

This ought be a big deal — the Black Flash, Zoom, the final fate of the other forces — but it's rather overshadowed (especially at the end) by the Rogues and their connection to "Year of the Villains"' Perpetua. That's not a bad thing necessarily, as I am way more interested in the Flash vs. his Rogues than I am the flimsy pseudoscience of the Speed Force, but given how long this "multiple forces" stuff has gone on, it's surprising to see it end inconclusively and in service to another story. The idea of alternate forces doesn't seem particularly lasting in the Flash mythos anyway, but here it's brushed away quickly enough to seem just a placeholder before the next story.

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3

Rating

In all, however, things are looking up in Flash Vol. 12: Death and the Speed Force. Barry Allen's getting back to his old self, the Rogues are on the way, and clearly this book is headed somewhere. If we were much earlier in this run, without so many of the false starts that have plagued it, I might be considerably more sanguine; as it is, I just hope this upward trend continues through the next couple volumes.

[Includes original and variant covers]

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4 comments:

  1. The omission of the backups from issue #75 is the biggest blunder by DC while collecting an ongoing run in recent memory. I thought they were over that kind of stuff since the New 52.

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    1. It did feel kind of shockingly old school, didn't it? I hold out hope we'll see those stories added, even well after their time, in a subsequent Flash collection, though not — it doesn't seem — in Vol. 13.

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    2. Not to mention that DC reverted to paperback after just one (numbered) volume. Overall sloppy job.

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  2. I’ve had mixed feelings about the Hunter reveal since last Fall.

    On the one hand, it’s definitely an unexpected, yet clever revision to Blitz (and with the added bonus of Kolins revisiting his most famous Flash story). It had never occurred to me to wonder why Hunter’s psychoanalysis was wrong because, as you said, we all took it for granted. Why Hunter was wrong wasn’t important in that context of Blitz because Johns and Kolins focused on the self-inflicted tragedy of Hunter’s hubris. So, yeah, it seems so obvious in hindsight and it creates further parallels between Barry and Hunter.

    On the other hand, I’ve been getting bad flashbacks to the “It was me, Barry! It was always me!” revelation of Johns and Van Sciver’s The Flash: Rebirth a decade ago. It’s certainly in character for Thanwe, but…I don’t know. Hunter occupies such a distinct niche in the Flash villain hierarchy that I can’t help feeling this retcon robs him of that same uniqueness.

    Then again, nobody at DC really seemed to know what to do with Hunter after Johns ended his original run. So I can’t really blame Williamson for trying to do something different with Zoom.

    I think part of the problem also is that as of this writing, it’s still unclear what Thawne’s long game here. Did he do this to ensure his own legacy came to pass? To screw specifically with Barry or Wally, or both of them? I’m hoping Williamson’s upcoming finale Finish Line will supply answers.

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