Review: Flash Vol. 11: The Greatest Trick of All hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


As volumes of Joshua Williamson's Flash go, Flash Vol. 11: The Greatest Trick of All is relatively a better one. That's largely because it's Rogue-focused; Williamson's last volume, the road trip Flash Vol. 10: Force Quest, struggled in introducing new one-note "force users" who weren't altogether interesting, but the return to Central City and characters whom we already care about bolsters this one considerably. Additionally, though rather understated, there's a momentous event in this volume some twenty years in the making, which also raises the interest-value.

As has been this book's custom, there's still a bevy of wonky comics pseudo-science, continuity knots, and the saddest Barry Allen this side of the multiverse. Notably, however, there's evidence that Williamson's depiction of "sad Barry" might finally start to turn around, though the timing and cause-and-effect befuddles. But again, overall the story is better, and the presence of longtime Flash artist Scott Kolins throughout is always a good thing. I left this one more eager than I thought I would be to read Williamson's forthcoming new Flash origin.

[Review contains spoilers]

The villain du jour this time is Trickster James Jesse, the original Flash foe to bear that name. Jesse has a long history with the Flash, especially Wally West, functioning as often as ally or antihero as enemy. To that end, those inclined to a meta-reading of this volume might see Jesse's return to villainy as another nail in the coffin of Wally West's legacy, though I wouldn't take it quite that far. What's strange here is the way in which Williamson chooses to weave in and out of Jesse's previous history. I acknowledge it's choices, it's all choices, and lacking the ability to just resurrect Jesse's pre-Flashpoint history, Williamson had to do something, but still I found those choices unusual.

To wit: Jesse was apparently still an FBI agent, some of his unspecified heroic deeds are still canon, but Williamson seems to deviate about where Jesse "faked his death" — which is a significantly understated eliding of Jesse's cross-continuity Countdown to Final Crisis road trip with Pied Piper that ended with Jesse sacrificing himself and Piper dragging his rotting severed hand to Apokolips. We're meant to map on to this that Trickster was not dead, but subsequently came out of hiding only so long as for Flash Barry Allen to imprison him again, at which point Iron Heights' abusive Warden Wolfe hid him away for years (this being then the second time this James Jesse has "disappeared") and tortured him.

All of which is to say that the moment when Barry Allen — who knows that a guy named James Jesse used to be the Trickster — is introduced to Jesse, and — instead of saying, "Hey, you're the Trickster, where've you been?" or "Isn't it coincidental that you share your name with the old Trickster?" — says "I feel ... like we've met before" is laughably problematic. Especially since Barry just "realizes" who Jesse was an issue later. But again, this kind of inanity is nothing new for this book, which also sees Trickster able to harness the power of the "Sage Force" with no training or prompting, and also to create mind-controlling "Sage Force snow" (akin to "willpower-infused oatmeal" or such) with abandon.

I'd venture two things redeem where this book goes off the rails — that Williamson grounds the book in the kind of personal drama that the Flash title has historically done well, and the presence of Scott Kolins. In Kolins' heyday, on Flash with Geoff Johns, the book largely contrasted the difficult childhood of Flash Wally West with those of his Rogues, Captain Cold and others. Williamson starts Trick on a similar note, with an origin issue for Jesse in line with Johns' Rogue spotlight stories, and the abuse Jesse suffers at the hands of his parents there comes back to startling effect in this story's last chapter. All of that is depicted well by Kolins, from sobbing young Jesse to the moment he throws his parents off Iron Heights, not to mention the built-in nostalgia from Kolins doing almost this exact same thing well in the past. Again, this stark, human drama is a good balance to "Sage Force snow."

It's also apt that Kolins is here for the ultimate destruction of Iron Heights and the incarceration of Warden Wolfe. Though Kolins wasn't the original artist of Johns' Flash: Iron Heights, he certainly drew the prison and Wolfe at its most active, so it's something that about twenty years later, he's here for "the end." I found this sequence somewhat mis-paced — the explosion only warrants one panel, with no later view of the wreckage, and Wolfe is brought to justice off-page — but still it's a heck of a thing that Iron Heights is now rubble, and good on Williamson for going there.

Constant readers have heard my laments about "sad Barry" before. But read this and tell me if it sounds like Flash or Batman: "Death. It's surrounded me lately. Yesterday I discovered a case of missing kids in Opal City. The evidence pointed me toward a cult that actually worships death. It really pisses me off. But it's more than just this sick cult that's getting under my skin. For weeks now I've been searching for a perp that I just can't track down ..." It's Flash, obviously, but it sure sounds like Batman, and the fact that Williamson's Flash has been like this for almost 70 issues is nigh unbelievable.

Back when all of this started, it seemed like Williamson's Barry Allen was purposefully down in the dumps to highlight the absence from continuity, till then, of Wally West. But Barry Allen regaining some of his memories (roundabouts issue #25) didn't change his outlook, nor did Wally regaining most of his (in Flash Vol. 8: Flash War, roundabouts issue #50). Essentially, Williamson seemed to bypass jumping-on point after jumping-on point without revealing that his ludicrously unhappy protagonist was that way for narrative purposes until I was about resigned to believe this was just who Williamson thought Barry Allen was.

And so it's as bizarre as the rest that suddenly, in what's a relatively small story in this series overall and in the late #60s issue-wise, Barry finally acknowledges his recent difficult feelings, and that "it's not anger or fear. It's pessimism," and later "I've been feeling pessimistic for so long, it's time I deal with it." Hurrah! How miraculous to see a sentiment like that here, though again, the timing is odd — the run-up to issue #75, maybe, though that "Year One" issue is ostensibly set in the past, so I'm not sure. I'd have an easy time believing Williamson meant to have "happy Barry" early on, but the vagaries of Rebirth and Doomsday Clock and so on kept bumping that goal forward; a tell-all interview when Williamson's run is said and done would be must reading.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Flash Vol. 11: The Greatest Trick of All

Still, like Charlie Brown with the football, at the end of Flash Vol. 11: The Greatest Trick of All I find myself once again optimistic that Joshua Williamson will pull back a curtain and finally reveal this run as a long con worthy of the Trickster, that the Barry Allen of runs past has been waiting all along. Certainly I've been disappointed before, but between "Year One" and Flash #750 set to play a part in DC's newest new continuity, it would seem no better time than now(ish) for Williamson to bring the Flash out of his funk. Trick is not without its hang ups, but Williamson still has a knack for making me believe, eleven volumes(!) already down the road.

[Includes original and variant covers, cover sketches, Flash Annual #2]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Flash Vol. 11: The Greatest Trick of All
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Unfortunately Year One still features the sad Barry realizing he should be happy, not to mention some confusing continuity.

  2. For awhile this was the only Rebirth book I was keeping current on. Got so tired of mopey-Barry, the seemingly constant barrage of "bad" speedsters, and... man, I'm just dead tired of the Rogues. This feels like it's been spinning its wheels for years at this point.


To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.

Newer Post Home Older Post