Patrick: Flash 11 (and 10, for that matter) is a bit of a place-setting issue. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccaletto are smart enough to fill these issues with self-contained stories, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that this series is currently in the business of establishing a new breed of Rogues. And they’re not just new to the audience, they’re new to the world of the Flash and — more distressing — new to each other. Thankfully, this is done without the slightest hint of an origin story: these bigger, better Rogues have a history together that’s half what-you-already-know-about-The-Rogues and half total mystery. And all of this villain business unfolds gracefully without ever losing sight of Barry Allen.
The issue opens on a prologue of sorts: an introduction of Heatwave into the New 52. He’s looking for a place in Keystone to lay low for a couple of days, but accidentally engulfs a seedy hotel in flames when someone pisses him off. Meanwhile, Barry tries to determine how he fits into the world now that he’s faked his own death. Step #1: relocate to Keystone City (and the dodgiest area at that). He figures the best way to fight crime is to embed himself with the criminals… also he sees a “help wanted” sign in the window of a dive bar — double-win, there. Barry goes in an adorkably* asks for, and secures a job. But this ain’t no normal dive bar, this is the dive bar – a notorious meeting place for The Rogues back in the day. Turns out, Captain Cold is hanging out there right now! Heatwave storms in and demands justice. Y’see, Heatwave blames Captain Cold for their newfangled superpowers.
Barry recognizes the potential for shit-going-down, and changes into his Flash costume. With relative ease, Flash disables the bad guys and sends them off to Iron Heights. Just as they’re about the start fighting in their jail cell, they’re visited by Glider (who also appears to have superpowers; she’s passing though the walls).
There’s also some business with Patty being chewed out by Singh and Dr. Elias appearing on a talk show to discuss the state of the city. We’ve seen this sort of thing in recent issues of The Flash: there’s a strong central story but there are little scenes catching us up on the goings-on of the peripheral characters (usually Singh). Sometimes I question the necessity of these scenes, but this issue pulled them off with enough panache that I don’t mind. In fact, Elias’ talk show appearance artfully marries Cold little rage-fit with Patty’s scolding, as they’re all watching it. Ever since the EMP/blackout, there’s been a communal feeling to the suffering of the Gem Cities. As readers, we’ve been spending most of our time with Barry, and he’s been everywhere but the Cities (Guatemala, Gorilla City, Speedforce, whatever). Now that he’s home, we’re able to feel the effects of this communal experience.
There’s a more generalized experience that everyone in this issue is dealing with: change. Barry states this explicitly at the top of the issue, “That’s the way it goes… everything changes… it’s the one constant in the universe.” That’s only part of the truth. Things change in the Gem Cities and everyone needs to respond to these changes – it’s the one things that bind them all together. Take a look at how both Barry and Heatwave start their respective stories by looking for places to hide from society. Take a look at how both Captain Cold and Barry are disappointed and frustrated by Dr. Elias’ TV appearance. They’re not so different after all. And that complicates matters.
I love this. “Remember when things were simple? Good guys were good guys and bad guys were bad guys.” As we’re being so sympathetically introduced to The Rogues, this sentiment reflects the way I feel about them — they may be named as the villains in the series, but they’re just doing their super-powered best. I mean, what’s the difference between the damage Barry accidentally caused and the damage Heatwave accidentally caused?
There are a lot of little details I like in this issue. Snart’s inability to drink a cold beer because it freezes when it touches his lips is simple and heart-breaking. He can’t even escape his problems! I like Barry addressing himself as “Al the bartender” — he’s so ready to embrace this new identity. Even the fact that there is a bar that’s a KNOWN HANGOUT for supervillains is super delightful to me.
You can also tell that Manapul and Buccaletto delight in squaring Cold off against Heatwave. They know full-fucking-well how nice it looks to place these characters on opposite ends of a panel. Drop the Flash in there for good measure, and you’ve got a damn graphic action sequence on your hands.
As long as this team can keep this team-building light and fun – and keep Barry in the spotlight – I’m more than happy to watch the Rogues assemble over as many issues as it’s going to take. There will come a day when they actually organize and strike against Flash, and that’s going to be awesome.
* Yeah, I didn’t like the marketing for New Girl any more than you did. BUT, the word is appropriate in this case AND New Girl ended up being a really nice show.Drew: If issue 9 was a statement of purpose for the Flash in the New 52, issues 10 and 11 have felt like a meta acknowledgment that Barry isn’t exactly sure what his purpose is anymore. Or rather, he’s found his purpose — running — but he’s not sure how to build a life around that. It’s hard for these issues not to feel like a step backwards, but Manapul and Buccellato have demonstrated time and time again that a little patience will make the payoff all the better.
What really interests me in all of this is that the Flash is still the Flash — nothing about who he is or what he does is changed — but Barry is now jobless, penniless, and without an identity. He’s afraid of hurting the people he cares about, so can only build his new life around his one constant: the Flash. He chooses his new home and his new job based on proximity to crime, placing him in danger of becoming the Flash full-time. Without people to ground him, his non-costumed identity is quickly reduced to a method of reconnaissance, sitting in a dive bar, waiting for something bad to happen. I suppose the same could be said of his Crime Lab job, too, but at least there he had friends and coworkers; some kind of a life outside of the Flash. Maybe that’s all coming, but in the meantime, our hero is in danger of losing his human connection.
To be fair, those human connections are still around, even if Barry is staying away from them. Patty is still easily upset at the mention of Barry, while Singh seems preoccupied at headlines proclaiming the Pied Piper to be back. Most intriguingly, Dr. Elias has positioned himself as the Gem Cities’ new savior, leading me to suspect a dark turn is in his future. His comments during that interview suggest that he is the answer to crime the police can’t stop — a statement he later hedges as a kind of populist message about giving the power back to the people. I don’t know exactly where he’s headed, but it sure seems like he’s destined for super villainy.
The art by Marcus To and Ray McCarthy is distinctly darker than Manapul’s, which rather suits this issue. I wasn’t thrilled with the artist switch last month — mostly because I was so loving what Manapul was doing — but the art really matches the tone here. The majority of this issue is set in a dive bar, so To’s specific sense of texture along with McCarthy’s moody shadows fit perfectly. Add to that some subdued color work from both Buccellato and Ian Herring, and this issue has a very distinct sense of place.
That darkness carries over to the other scenes, adding that sinister quality to Dr. Elias’ interview and enhancing the drama of Patty and Singh’s argument. The only place it doesn’t really work for me is when Barry is accessing the speed force with his mind, and that’s mostly because I’m so enamored of the way Manapul draws those sequences.
Patrick is absolutely right about the mystery here. Barry mentioned way back when we first encountered Cold that his powers were new, but it was never presented as something Manapul and Buccellato were particularly interested in exploring. Now, it appears to be a central mystery, one that is clearly a point of contention for the Rogues. The answers to that question may be doled out sparingly over the coming months, but like I said, this is a title that likes to reward our patience.
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?