Review: Flash Vol. 9: Reckoning of the Forces trade paperback (DC Comics)

After the momentous Flash Vol. 8: Flash War, which delivered a lot of important events though not everything I was hoping for, I resolved to take Joshua Williamson's Flash more as it comes — looking for less of what I want out of a Flash story and focusing more on what Williamson is delivering. In Flash Vol. 9: Reckoning of the Forces, the idea of the various "new forces" (first introduced in Scott Snyder's Justice League) possessing the Flash's Rogues is a clever one, Williamson's manner of spotlighting and updating the Rogues just as Flash writers have before him. Artist Scott Kolins helps immensely in making this feel of a piece with Rogue stories previous.

But it remains that each of Williamson's issues in this volume start with how Barry Allen only "used to be the fastest man alive" (which I don't even really understand, given Barry's still plenty fast here), another dour note in Williamson's stories about what should be one of DC's most optimistic heroes. Barry bemoans endlessly here how Central City is changing and he doesn't want it to; meanwhile he ignores good advice from Iris West and fails to consider an obvious mystery in his midst. Even after the big "Flash War" revelations, even after reuniting with Iris, Williamson still writes Barry as a wet blanket, the least fun guy at the party, and it seems a disservice to the character.

The multiple forces at least bring something new to the proceedings, though there's a formulaic aspect not unlike Geoff Johns' "one Lantern hue per arc" approach. Said forces also seem to perform without much consistency or sci-fi logic; whereas Johns demonstrated clear iterations of Lantern hue, emotion, entity, and Guardians, Williamson's forces vary based on the wants of the story and don't match, even, the Flash's Speed Force. To that end, while I continue to admire Williamson's dedication to this title, quietly matching Tom King on Batman for issue count (up in the air now, I know), the bump that I hope something's going to bring to this title still hasn't come.

[Review contains spoilers]

Williamson references in this story the Silver Age instances where Barry was turned into a puppet or gained a giant brain. In this way Barry's hulking transformation via the Strength Force still feels a natural fit for a Flash story, and equally Barry's telepathic journey through Heat Wave's mind via the Sage Force in the second arc. And Williamson roots it, too, in a battle with the Trickster the first time and, again, Heat Wave in the second. It would be worse if Williamson's story could be easily translated to any DC hero, but this feels germane to Flash, which indeed I think would not have been a lock for every writer when this story doesn't really have much to do with speed.

Additionally, I thought to cry foul a couple times during this book when Iris West claims to remember something about these new forces from her alt-continuity life pre-Flashpoint, when in the "real world" these forces have never appeared before. But a late scene shows Iris researching the new forces during the time after her apparent death when she lived in the future, which is wholly believable and jibes with all the continuities we're currently working in; Iris was always something of a Speed Force sage herself post-"resurrection." I thought this was pulled off particularly well by Williamson because it takes something we specifically know from the old continuity and injects something new into it that's believable and in-character and feels like it could have been there all along, giving this somewhat thin "new forces" idea good validity.

But the structure of the book is that Barry is advised by the Flashes of the Multiverse to go on a "force quest" to seek these new forces, demurs, but after fighting Trickster possessed by the Strength Force and Heat Wave possessed by the Sage Force, he and Iris set off. I'm unclear on how many other forces are out there, but one wonders if Williamson will later have Mirror Master possessed by the Suspicion Force or Weather Wizard possessed by the Stamina Force; that is, if Williamson's going to keep this as the structure of the series for a while or if, as I hope is the case, enough is enough. Two of these is fine, though it already seems repetitive; more than that would definitely be so.

The Strength Force bursts through a street and pulls Trickster down through the asphalt; the Sage Force has a fiery avatar and sends fire demons out through Central City. Both of these are different from one another and also different from the Flash's Speed Force, which demonstrates no such sentience nor taste for wanton kidnapping; as such, despite the above, it's hard to get behind these because they lack for rhyme or reason (aside from what Williamson needs them to be). At the same time, the Speed Force is overdue for some exploring as well; under Mark Waid, it was indeed just a "force," like gravity, whereas Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato made it more of an alternate dimension, and Williamson demonstrated the Speed Force as an actual material thing that can be bottled and studied (which equally so far doesn't match the other new forces).

Barry Allen has been sad about many things over Williamson's run, from feeling too busy to have a normal life to pining over Iris or worrying about keeping secrets from her, to guilt over how he's treated his sidekicks. As close to normal as he's been so far — living with Iris, understanding the presence of the past continuities, and with most of his secrets revealed — Williamson still gives Barry things to be down about, this time how the presence of the new forces, etc., are changing his city when he just wants it to stay the same. Far be it from Williamson's Barry to be excited about these new revelations; Barry claims at one point that he's going to study the new forces in his lab, but we never see him do so.

We do see Barry gather hundreds of Flashes from across the Multiverse, purportedly to discuss the new forces, but he only talks to them for about a minute, ignores their advice, and leaves (good to see, for instance, the Tangent Flash, but if I were one of those Flashes, I wouldn't drop everything to heed Barry's call next time). Barry is also implored by Iris to investigate the time-lost Commander Cold's identity, something he fails to do even though it's a perfectly sensible request (especially for crime detective Barry), and when Cold reveals his name is Henry, same as Barry's father's name, and Cold says, "Yeah ... I know," Barry's obliviousness is near laughable. Characters can make mistakes and act badly, but nine volumes in, Williamson has let the audience be smarter and more emotionally mature than his titular hero for far too long.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Flash Vol. 9: Reckoning of the Forces

After Flash Vol. 9: Reckoning of the Forces, it seems Joshua Williamson takes this title to a variety of places — on this "Force Quest," to a crossover with Batman, the return of Trickster, and finally to Williamson's "Flash: Year One" story. Given that basically a bunch of characters in this title remember alt-continuity origins for the Flash, it seems an odd effort to tell a new Rebirth origin for Barry Allen — are we meant to believe it's going to stick once Rebirth is all resolved or not — but then again, maybe that's exactly the way to have original and refreshed origins existing at the same time. Anyway, I'm hardly not going to follow this title into any of those things, though I do wish Williamson could see fit to show Barry it's not so bad — compared, for instance, to Superman's wife and son being lost in space with no way to contact them (and Superman still being able to crack a smile), Barry could see that a romantic partner and a city that loves him isn't so bad in terms of status quo.

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Flash Vol. 9: Reckoning of the Forces
Author Rating
3 (scale of 1 to 5)


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