Review: Flash Vol. 13: Rogues Reign trade paperback (DC Comics)


Flash writers usually start ahead when writing Rogues stories; there have been so many good Rogues stories over the past two decades — and especially about Captain Cold — that there must be some magic in their telling. But unfortunately, to tell a Rogues story now is to try to measure up to a very high bar, and writer Joshua Williamson’s Flash Vol. 13: Rogues Reign just doesn’t get there. This is among Williamson’s better Flash books — the Flash more likable, the villains more engaging — but in the final tally it still feels very light, like a placeholder till Williamson can get on with his Flash #750 story and his finale. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe Cold will play a major part in the end, but this felt like a lot of story without much meat on the bone.

[Review contains spoilers]

The premises of the Flash family trapped in a world where “King” Cold Leonard Snart is the insane ruler, and where they must team with the rest of the Rogues to free themselves, is a good one. And I appreciate that Williamson tries to find some commonality between Flash Barry Allen and Captain Cold, even if in opposition, in the book’s epilogue — that Snart was raised by present, bad parents whom he wants to escape, and Barry was raised by good but absent parents (due to his mother’s murder and his father being framed) whom he wants to emulate. I thought one of Geoff Johns' best conceits with his Flash Wally West run was to parallel Wally and Snart — both raised blue collar with similar upbringings but different paths — such that Wally and Snart could conceivably be friends or enemies; it has taken Williamson a while and he still hasn’t quite hit that same level of resonance, but this is closer. Artists Rafa Sandoval and Christian Duce comport themselves well throughout the book with bright, bold art appropriate for the story.

Unfortunately, as I find in many of Williamson’s Flash stories, there’s too much pseudoscience here (even for comic books) and not enough detail. All of Central City has somehow been transported to Cold’s alternate dimension, which seems to involve Mirror Master’s mirrors but is not — I never saw directly stated in the comic — a mirror dimension. At the point in which the characters finally convince Mirror Master to put things right, he simply waves a hand and Central City is restored to normal. This is science-fiction fantasy, sure, but things happen in the story simply because the narrative says a character “can” do this or that — the plot needs that Mirror Master “just can” send a city back and forth between dimensions, so he can.

It is the same with whatever is wrong with the Speed Force. After reading this book and having no idea why the Speed Force is supercharged to the point of destruction (this book never stops to explain the “why”), I went back and looked at Flash Vol. 12: Death and the Speed Force and I’m still mystified, except that it has something to do with the equally ill-defined fact that the Speed Force was previously conflicting with other rival “forces” out there.

Here, after much angst about the broken Speed Force, in the end it’s resolved by the Pied Piper that Barry’s “Speed Force frequency is way out of sync with our world” and that Piper has to charge Barry with “enough frequency from our reality” to fix him. Not only does this seem to have nothing to do with the aforementioned problems that broke the Speed Force in the first place, but also this use of the word “frequency” to refer to something essentially tangible is just baffling. I’m good with heat vision and super-speed, which have their own plausible-implausible explanations, but here again the “it just sounds good” explanations don’t live up.

If I might pile one more on there, there’s intimations of a romance in this story between Barry and Captain Cold’s sister, Golden Glider Lisa Snart, that seem wildly out of place and ill-advised. Barry is of course dating Iris West, who’s present in the book, but when Glider flirts with him in the course of training Barry to use his extra-charged speed, he does seem to flirt back. I’d venture I was misreading, except that Snart accuses Barry later of coming on to his sister, and Barry’s response is guiltily vehement. I don’t get it — this isn’t the point in the story where Williamson ought be creating friction between Barry and Iris, nor does it appear he intends to; rather it seems Barry’s eye wanders without consequence. That’s needless but not necessarily surprising in a book that often seems more concerned with what serves the page rather than what serves the story.

I was glad to see that the Captain Cold backup story from Flash #75, a prelude to this book, was included here. It ought, as I noted previously, have been reprinted toward the beginning of Flash Vol. 12, along with the other backup story that closed out the Flash: Year One frame story. I’d still like to see that frame story piece collected eventually — it’s a surprising omission when all the rest of Williamson’s Flash has been collected — but I’m glad to see the Cold story anyway.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Flash Vol. 13: Rogues Reign



Despite my misgivings about Flash Vol. 13: Rogues Reign — and perhaps I sound like a broken record by now — it is always a thrill to see the Flash interact with the Rogues. Joshua Williamson certainly shows his understanding here that the Rogues are not just blanket villains, but rather “frenemies” with a unique connection to the Flash. And I am looking forward to the next volume, where we should finally learn all about Paradox, a villain that Williamson has teased for a while and who has perhaps some multiversal connection to the Flash, which is always fun. Two more volumes (and the Flash #750 deluxe) to see how Williamson wraps this up.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Yeah, I'd have to go back to reread the run in its entirety to see how it holds up together.

    But from following the monthly releases, I remember the post-Flash War era of the run's been very, very uneven. Yes, there have been good parts (Year One, the Hunter Zolomon reveal), but I remember being disappointed and even somewhat bored with Rogues Reign -- and that *shouldn't* happen with the Rogues.

    That said, yes, Williamson does start kicking things into gear again for The Flash Age and the final push towards the climax is great.

    1. Still no excuse for how he Butchered the character of Hunter Zolomon.

    2. Yeah, I mean...Honestly, it seems like nobody at DC's known what to do with Hunter ever since Geoff Johns ended his original Flash run -- not unlike Wally following Barry's resurrection, in a way.

      I've also gotten the sense that Williamson would rather have been writing Wally instead of Barry throughout this run (and couldn't since he was in Abnett, King, and Lobdell's hands)and kept using Wally's characters (like Hunter) to compensate.


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