Drew: Patrick and I like The Flash. Like like. I guess I shouldn’t speak for Patrick, but The Flash is perpetually on my list of top 3 comics. I love the writing, I love the art, and I especially love the synergy of the two. It’s hard for me to imagine it improving, so I’m generally wary of any changes. This is the first time we’ve seen a guest artist on The Flash, and while guest penciler Marcus To delivers a crisp, clean issue, it’s hard to compete with the Francis Manapul’s painterly style that has so defined this title for me.
Guest artist issues always feel a bit anomalous, but that feeling is exacerbated by the uncharacteristically dense, expository writing in this issue. Writers Manapul and Brian Buccellato have shrunk their arcs to one-offs, which are satisfying episodes on their own, but fit together to form a larger narrative. While I enjoyed their opening arc immensely, these more episodic issues have also been remarkably well-developed. I was particularly impressed with last month’s issue, which acted both as an introduction to Gorilla Grodd AND as a clever statement of purpose for the series. This issue handles it’s space constraints less elegantly, cramming text upon text onto the page, offering exposition dump after exposition dump.
The issue begins two years ago, with the death of Claudio Mardon, head of the Mardon crime family, and brother of Marco Mardon, Weather Wizard. We then jump to the present for a quick recap of the last few issues, plus an explanation for why Barry is in the midst of fighting Mardon in Guatemala. Apparently, Patty was abducted by the Mardon family when she arrived to investigate Claudio’s murder. It turns out Claudio was killed by his own wife, Elsa, who was unhappy with a treaty Claudio had negotiated with another crime family, and used his murder to incite a gang war. Elsa has abducted Patty, who was getting too close to the truth. Flash manages to gather this info with only an ounce of interrogation, and rescues Patty. As he prepares to reveal his true identity, Patty explains that she doesn’t blame the Flash for what happened to Barry, but looking at him still makes her miss him. Barry realizes that he couldn’t bear making Patty worry every time he dons the cowl, so he resolves that Barry Allen must remain dead. Meanwhile, Marco uses his lightning abilities to kill his sister-in-law, but he miraculously survives. He is visited by Lisa Snart (who we last saw giving the “cold” shoulder to her brother in the hospital), who is now gussied up as Glider.
That’s a pretty long summary, and I charitably left out the action scene involving the Guatemalan fisherman, as well as the Mardon family “cleaner,” who exists solely to explain Elsa’s betrayal to us. There’s a lot going on this issue, but for all the action and plotting, it lacks the thematic richness I’ve come to love and expect from this title. After the dense, extended analogy of the previous issue, this issue is fairly straigt-forward, even with all the double-crosses and clunky exposition.
Straight-forward might be called for, but this issue often has characters simply explaining whole chunks of the story to us. It’s good for clarity, but it doesn’t make for the most compelling story-telling. More importantly, it makes for A LOT of dialogue and voiceovers, which gets a little tiresome. Take, for example, the sequence where “El Araña” explains pretty much everything to us.
There’s so much dialogue, it’s crowding out the art. I appreciate the colorful bits Manapul and Buccellato include, but I’m not sure we need to dwell on the guys nickname (unless “The Spider” is a member of the Rogues I’m unaware of).
There are still plenty of lighter-on-dialogue action sequences, including that fisherman scene, which offers some of the issue’s only signature Flash levity.
Unfortunately, those moments are broken up by unnecessary recaps and exposition, which bog down the whole issue.
The saving grace is a virtuosic closing three pages, which follows both the Flash and Weather Wizard story-lines in tandem. The parallel themes of death and rebirth are beautifully matched in the two stories. While those themes are literal in the case of Marco, they reflect only the lie Barry has chosen to embrace in his story. It signifies a bold move for this series, and one that continues to reflect on Barry’s long history. Barry Allen is dead again (but not really).
Actually, this issue may be deeper than I initially gave it credit for. There’s still too much text, and the exposition still just kind of hangs there, but there’s more to this issue than meets the eye. It may not take the most elegant path, but it concludes with a clever subversion of what we know and expect of Barry Allen. His death was significant and (relatively) permanent, which gives a hint as to just how Manapul and Buccellato might be treating it here. Even without the history, the thought of a superheroe’s civilian identity being dead is a compelling, if common, idea. I’m not sure what this means for Barry, but for the time being, it means he has to say goodbye to all the things he knows and cares about.
What we’re left with is Barry moving on to a new chapter in his life, and it’s hard not to see that as a microcosm for the title. The art and plotting still make this issue an anomaly, but it shares enough DNA with the previous 9 issues to be recognizably related. Patrick, did you see this as a seamless continuation of the series we’ve been loving so much, or did this feel a little off to you, too?
Patrick: Straight out the gate, I want to say that you’re not speaking out of turn when you say that “we” like like this series. It’s gotten to the point where simply seeing an image of Barry in that costume puts a big dumb smile on my face. I may have developed feelings for the character on Geoff Johns’ run with Barry through Rebirth and Blackest Night, but Manapul and Buccellato’s run has definitely moved my affinity for The Flash up several rungs to the “Real Deal” category. He’s starting to occupy the same place in my heart as Batman. Like Batman, Flash has a Rouges Galley impressive in their number and variety. The problem with Flash’s rouges? They’re not nearly as as well known as Batman’s.
Think about Two Face. No one needs to tell me who that is or why he might be motivated a certain way. Ditto Riddler, ditto Joker, ditto any number of Gotham villains. But rebuilding a stable of reliable Central City villains is going to require more leg-work. Some of these guys, they’ve been really patient about introducing – Turbine, Captain Cold, the Pied Piper, Gorilla Grodd. In fact, it’s remarkable how smoothly they’ve been incorporated into Barry’s world, even as so much energy has been devoted to exploring the changes in that world.
So, yes – that being said, the exposition here is mad-clunky. It feel like the vast majority of this stuff could have been pre-established in earlier issues. Last month we didn’t get any indication of what was motivating Patty to fly to Guatemala other than the generic “to solve a case.” Granted, it might have been out of place in the previous issue, but this is obviously a matter of too-much-to-communicate-not-enough-space-to-do-it-in. And honestly, it doesn’t much matter to me why Elsa would want to kill Claudio. Right? This story is in place to humanize and motivate Marco, so why bother with all that doublecrossery?
I may also have been missing Manapul’s penciling, but I can also see his spirit in Marcus To’s artwork. The Flash frequently lives and dies by how fun it is to see the character zipping around at the super speeds. That’s his bread-n-butter, as it were. So I was delighted to see some really kinetic motion in these pages. My favorite is this one:
You’ve got the jeep speeding off in one direction and the Flash running in the opposite. What’s more is he’s also slamming Weather Wizard down to the ground with a satisfying WUUMP. And the whole thing kicks up some dynamic dust clouds. It’s just exciting visual storytelling, that’s all there is to it.
There’s another layout here that SCREAMS Manapul to me. At the top of the issue when Claudio answers the door and gets gunned down in a storm of bullets, the perspective is peculiar: from behind him. Another thing that strikes me as strange is that we can see every individual bullet in-flight, as though we’re all granted Flashes speed of perception simply by virtue of the title bearing his name.
Look, it’s clear that this issue has flaws. But the clunky exposition doesn’t kill it for me. There’s enough consistency in the artwork and humor (in both the writing and the art) to deliver a damn-fun issue of The Flash. I mean, we can’t really expect the kind of meta-thematic resonance we got last month in every issue. THAT’D BE INSANE. Seriously, last month was elegant. And as for my shitty little suggestion to spread out the info-dump between Patty and Arana – I wouldn’t really have wanted that clogging up that essentially-perfect issue.
And, you know, if this is what it takes to properly install these Rouges one-by-one, then so be it. With Glider, Cold and Weather Wizard in the mix with a Central City that’s hatin’ on the Flash, it’s like there’s a perfect storm waiting for him when he gets home. The consequences of Barry not-running have been made abundantly clear by this point – now it’s time to unite the baddies that can make that can make that jeopardize his ability to keep moving.
Also, I can’t even being to stay mad at an issue that delivers the following immediately after after he finds out where Patty is being held:
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?