Review: Flash Vol. 15: Finish Line trade paperback (DC Comics)


I can’t deny Joshua Williamson’s Flash Vol. 15: Finish Line offers a lot of what readers want from the conclusion of a modern-day Flash epic. And I maintain that 101 issues is a whole lot, a lot more than most writers are willing or able to stay on a title, so cheers to Williamson for that (and for the almost speedster-like swiftness with which many of Williamson’s concepts have then appeared on the Flash television show). Clearly Williamson’s star continues to be on the rise, given his presence on DC’s family of Infinite Frontier titles and also DC’s undisputed flagship, Batman.

But while Williamson hits many of the right notes, often he’s playing the notes of other people’s songs. There’s some pleasing deep dives into Flash history here, but I’m not sure how much credit we give to the Flash writer simply cameoing other writers’ Flash creations. Especially since, in the fine details of the story itself, Williamson often struggles. Not to mention the piece de resistance of Williamson’s story, the revelation that is what we’ve all long since thought it was going to be, which is ironic in ways I don’t think Williamson intended.

I had a qualm about Williamson’s Flash going all the way back to Flash Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice that he does address specifically here, showing me Williamson was indeed playing a long game here and playing it with intention. That’s great. I’m interested to read more by Williamson because he’s shown me, through aspects like this and the sheer length of his tenure on Flash, that he is a writer with ambitious ideas and dedication to DC’s characters. That the execution is less than ideal is problematic, but my fervent hope is that a five-year-long bad idea on Flash is title-specific, and maybe Williamson’s next run on another title will learn the lessons from this one.

[Review contains spoilers]

As we’ve all believed from the start, suspected but never been shown explicitly, the Reverse Flash has been affecting not only Flash Barry Allen’s behavior but that of the rest of the Flash family, pushing them toward bad decisions and behavior. Thus we can now rest assured, more or less, that the obnoxiously mopey Barry Allen presented in 100+ issues of Williamson’s Flash is not because this is how Williamson sees Barry (despite also having characters trip over themselves to remark on how optimistic Barry always is) but rather because the entirety of Williamson’s run has featured the Reverse Flash’s campaign against Barry.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

To an extent, I admire Williamson’s moxie here; to purposefully mis-write your character for 100+ issues in favor of your perfect imagined ending is real dedication to your story. And I’ll note that indeed Williamson’s run went 100+ issues, so clearly a lot of people out there liked his take on the Flash a lot more than I did. But from my perspective, not that characters can’t have angst, but to make a key DC property such a sad sack that he forgets his own birthday party and to stick with that for years is a choice that seems foolhardy, sacrificing basic readability for a future surprise. Consider how powerful Mark Waid’s The Return of Barry Allen was, and in that Waid only maligned Barry Allen for a few issues, not a few years.

And in a move that seems too clever by half, in revealing Reverse Flash’s influence on Barry, Williamson also pegs a variety of choices by other Flash characters in other writers’ books as influenced by Reverse Flash — which is to say, these are moments in which Williamson deems other writers wrote the Flash family out of character. Few will probably disagree with Williamson inserting Reverse Flash into Tom King’s Heroes in Crisis, but I’m not as sure he’s correct in moments written (if I’m spotting these correctly) by Adam Glass and Brian Michael Bendis respectively. It seems an equal amount of moxie to retcon other writers' honest story choices as off-character in the same breath as retconning’s one’s own intentional miswriting of a character; I’m not sure Williamson is on firm ground to criticize other people’s choices.

I appreciated the rather literary end of Williamson’s inaugural Flash: Rebirth special, with a seeming theme statement for the run (or some part of it, at least): “Barry Allen … makes mistakes.” But then 13 volumes went by without a single reference back to that moment, such that I could be forgiven for thinking Williamson misused or misunderstood his point of emphasis. Until Finish Line, when the concept of mistakes (and the unsolved case from that first story) comes roaring back.

The idea of making mistakes but “getting up and trying to be better and moving forward” is fine, and clearly Williamson knew what he was doing with “Rebirth”’s kicker — but at the same time, if a concept is introduced in the first act and it’s going to be used in the third, usually it’ll show up in the second act somewhere. Williamson does close the loop (as opposed to whatever was happening with the Shade), but the execution is not all it could have been.

Obviously I take great pleasure in the return of Max Mercury, Jesse Quick, and Jay Garrick, not to mention the splash page with XS, Krakkl, Flashes from the New 52 Earth 2 and Kingdom Come, the Tangent Flash Lia Nelson, and Waid’s Dark Flash Walter (not Wally or Wallace) West. But again, callbacks to other writers' series don’t make up for, for instance, the complete lack of explanation of Jay’s presence (he forgot who he was for a while? What about the whole Batman/Flash: The Button sequence?) or the sheer nonsense of how Barry defeats Reverse Flash by giving him a little speed and “resetting” him.

Nor can we blame Reverse Flash for Barry ordering Kid Flash to pull reporter Iris West away from the action while Iris protests (does Williamson think readers will cheer Barry dismissing his girlfriend?). Not to mention what remains terribly confusing continuity, in that Barry now knows he died during Crisis on Infinite Earths when previously he explicitly did not know about that, or that he previously killed the Reverse Flash, or even that he and Iris were once married. And while artist Howard Porter is a joy to look at, finishing this volume off well, the first issues by Christian Duce are less polished, and his cartoonish depictions of Kid Flash Wallace West sometimes border on the offensive.



Again, despite my misgivings, Flash Vol. 15: Finish Line and the entire Rebirth Flash run is an accomplishment for Joshua Williamson, and it’s clearly paying off. I’d be remiss too if I didn’t mention a couple lovely Impulse Bart Allen moments here, namely his reuniting with grandma and friend Iris and that Bart, after all this time, sees his father again and saves him from the Reverse Flash. Clearly, clearly, Williamson is a student of Flash history with affection for the characters. For me, it’s unfortunate that couldn’t result in something better than it did.

[Includes original and variant covers, character keys, pencilled pages]

Comments ( 6 )

  1. As I've said in previous Flash reviews, this is for me the strongest Flash ending since Rogue War (and it's fitting that Howard Porter gets to do for all intents Rogue War II).

    Geoff Johns' original Flash run will always be my favorite, but this is easily the strongest Barry Allen run since his Final Crisis resurrection.

    My big quibble, though, is that DC didn't re-published Williamson's Death Metal: Speed Metal one-shot with this collection.

    I remember Williamson saying last year he was lobbying DC to include.

    There was a reason it came out the same week as The Flash #762. It's the grace note after the symphony, serving as a coda to the entire run and pays off Wally's absence (and entire DC Rebirth-era storyline).

    1. Should be reading Speed Metal soon. Curious to read it.

    2. If Wally is your Flash, I think you'll be very happy with Speed Metal.

      It's the best Wally's been written since before Final Crisis (and nicely, if spiritually, positions him for Jeremy Adams' current Flash run).

    3. That is true.....I remember reading this and thinking that I wish that Joshua Williamson got a chance to really write a Wally focused book. Just a great coda to his Flash run.

  2. the only Multiverse Flash missing from the speedster montage was Fastbak from the Zoo Crew !


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