Review: Flash Vol. 10: Force Quest trade paperback (DC Comics)

Among strong things that writer Joshua Williamson has done in his Rebirth Flash tenure is introduce a variety of interesting new speedsters, a new Team Flash (sometimes with morally gray motivations) when we've lacked such for a while. In that way, Flash Vol. 10: Force Quest, an overseas trip for Flash Barry Allen to find new users of the "companion" forces to Flash's Speed Force, holds a lot of promise.

The results are mixed, as they often are with Williamson's Flash. At times Force Quest is rather compelling; at other times, it gets downright ridiculous. At key points, Barry is often the dumbest guy in the room, trailing behind both his allies and the reader; Williamson also keeps up Barry's constant internal monologue of self-pity, even when those around him recognize things are not so bad. Williamson's got a bunch of good, auspicious, interesting things on the way — a Heroes in Crisis tie-in and Batman team-up, "Flash: Year One," and a hundredth issue looming on the horizon — and it's a shame Flash struggles page to page in this manner.

[Review contains spoilers]

Force Quest has going for it a couple trips to Gorilla City, and also the introduction of a new "Strength Force" user, Fuerza. This idea of various forces, each with their own avatars, might seem too obviously a take-off on Geoff Johns, but Fuerza is a more palatable introduction to the Strength Force than the hulking Trickster was, better demonstrating the Strength Force's powers. I'd be interested to see Flash helping her defend the people of Coro Maltese again or Flash and Fuerza teaming up in Central City.

Equally, Williamson's gorilla-narrated explanation that the new force avatars weren't teammates, but rather that an ancient speedster had to imprison the other forces, helps explain in-story why we've never heard of any of this before. I felt tentative about Williamson introducing a "secret history" of the Speed Force — at some point, after the umpteenth reinterpreting of Mark Waid's original, the Speed Force concept begins to lose meaning — but ultimately this seems like a revelation about something the Speed Force was involved in, not a change to the Speed Force's nature, and that seems a good way for Williamson to go about it.

Unfortunately, for every Fuerza in this story (who, as it is, still comes with her share of stereotypes and leaps of logic), there's a Gemini and a Psych. Gemini is a pair of apparently immortal treasure hunters who feed on the aforementioned forces. Why, however, they're called Gemini (other than there being a pair of them), or that they wear comedy/drama masks, or even that they should wear capes and costumes at all isn't explained; presented in the model of Punch and Judy, Harley Quinn, or Doomsday Clock's Marionette and Mime, it hardly feels like a lot of thought went into them. Psych is a Sage Force user with the power to read minds who also has a penchant for saying "Psych!" when he's fooled someone — so not only is his superhuman handle the very first thing one would think to name this character, but it's compounded by a "punny" play on words with a 1990s catchphrase. It would be laughable if it wasn't true.

As well, Psych claims to be an undercover ARGUS agent recruited some time after his mother died; knowing as we do about his mental powers, this seems obviously a story concocted to play on the Flash's sympathies, and indeed Iris West also says as much. But true to form, Williamson's Barry Allen presses on naively until — no surprise to the reader — Psych double-crosses him. I wouldn't argue the book's hero always has to be right or to make the right choices, but this kind of thing happens all the time in Williamson's Flash. It's one thing — quite a good thing — for a character to get into controversial situations with no right answer; it's quite another for a writer to make a ruse blatantly obvious and still have the hero stumble along anyway.

We're at Force Quest's conclusion and Flash's 63rd issue, and Williamson still has Barry narrating lines like, "I never should have left Central City. It was easy there. It was safe. No matter how crazy things got, I knew Central City was my home." Can you imagine Superman saying the same kind of thing, feeling uncomfortable because he's saving the day somewhere other than Metropolis? Or Batman, or Green Lantern? Force Quest is curiously illustrative because we're about at the point where Barry is who he once was — he's got Iris by his side, he knows he has a past history that's been erased — and yet Williamson writes Barry perhaps even meeker than he was before, a speedster whining about being too far from home. It's rather astounding.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Flash Vol. 10: Force Quest

For what is a "world tour," I'll note that Flash Vol. 10: Force Quest specifically visits fictional DC Universe locations — Badhnisia, Corto Maltese, Zandia; I'm not sure if that's a good or bad use of a "road trip" story, but it's interesting. Force Quest, lest I give the wrong impression, is not irredeemable, and I am interested where Joshua Williamson's "battle of the forces" will go; I just wish Williamson's Barry Allen offered us a stronger foundation to get us there.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Flash Vol. 10: Force Quest
Author Rating
3.5 (scale of 1 to 5)


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