Drew: Barry Allen has a strange relationship with time. It’s the essence of his character; he moves (and thinks) fast enough for issues of cause and effect to not matter to him in the same way they do for us. The complexity of that relationship increases exponentially when time travel is added to the mix, breaking down the meaning of cause and effect altogether. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato have done a great job introducing these elements without giving Barry absolute control over time. The EMP blast from the previous few issues addresses these complications dramatically, but issue 6 is told in a non-linear fashion, allowing Manapul and Buccellato to address the issue of time travel thematically. I’m going to re-shuffle the story into chronological order for the sake of clarity (a la our Batwoman 6 write-up), but understand that the story is arranged in LOST-style flashbacks to reveal the causes of events after the effect has been established.
Barry and Patty Spivot are looking very couple-y as they return from a romantic weekend away. Er, it would have been romantic if Patty, ever the workaholic, didn’t have the ulterior motive of chasing a lead in a case she’s working on. That lead was kind of a dead-end, but Barry (ever knowing what a girl wants), thinks his ex, Iris West, might have some valuable information, and offers to set-up a meeting. That night, the Flash visits Dr. Elias, who installs an energy output gauge on Barry’s uniform in order to help him keep his energy level from causing another rip in the space-time continuum. Dr. Elias also shows Barry a big treadmill (one might say, a cosmic treadmill), for discharging excess speed-force energy (and save it…for another time).
Anyway, the next morning, Captain Cold is upset to hear that the doctors treating his sister’s brain tumor are unable to operate because of the EMP blast. It looks like she might not make it, and CC holds the Flash responsible. Meanwhile, Barry, Patty, and Iris are meeting for a pretty awkward lunch date. The girls talk shop for a while, and Barry excuses himself when the conversation turns personal. Coincidentally, CC uses that exact time and place to try and get the Flash’s attention. Barry suits up, but notices there’s something different with the Captain; he doesn’t need his ice guns, and he’s somehow slowing the Flash down on a molecular level. He’s also putting innocent people in danger, and seems more interested in pounding the Flash than he is in any kind of payday; in short, this isn’t the Captain Cold we’re used to. Barry does his best, but between his slowing down and the energy output gauge constantly chirping in his ear, he’s struggling. CC pins Barry down with an icicle through the shoulder, just as Patty and Iris need his help.
Once again, the action here is breezy and fun, and once again, the art matches that tone perfectly. Check out the way Manapul and Buccellato pace this opening sight gag:
The first three panels are classic Flash — he’s charging in for a speed-force-powered punch — but the fourth panel is pure Wile E. Coyote. It’s impressive when any artist can modulate his tone for both bad-ass action sequences and light-hearted humor, but this sequence shows that Manapul and Buccellato can handle both at the same time. Plus, you know, it’s gorgeous.
What’s really impressing me about this title, though (and this issue in particular), is how central the ideas of cause and effect are to the story. The EMP blast created a neat time-loop that is either all cause or all effect (depending on how you look at it), but here, we see not just how time effects objects in motion, but how it effects people and their emotions. We’re shown how effects in turn become causes, which beget more effects, that manages to justify both CC’s “kill everything” attitude, as well as Barry’s “Whoa, dude: relax” response (note my restraint — I could have said “chill out”). The point is, I’m really digging that we’re able to explore these themes without making the Flash a time-travel story. I don’t mean to rag on time-travel stories — I like them quite a bit, actually — it’s just that we wouldn’t be able to tell this kind of thematically rich story if Barry was flipping through time. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a time-travel narrative that was non-linear in it’s chronology (er, well, I guess they all are, but hopefully you know what I mean) — you couldn’t do flashbacks or whatever, because they would require an understanding of both when the events are happening in the world as well as when they’re happening in the lives of the characters. It’s too complicated, and I’d hate to loose the thematic depth just so we can have Barry allow WWII to happen.
I’ll climb off my soapbox now, but another kind of neat thing going on in this title that’s related to time travel (but still isn’t time travel) is our own sense of dramatic irony. Dr. Elias sure seems on course to invent the cosmic treadmill (that is, if he hasn’t done it already), and Iris West continues to be a presence, even if she and Barry don’t seem to be on the path to marriage. This is the present to the characters, but it seems like the past to us, since we know where they’re going (or, at least we think we do). It’s a fun little result of the relaunch, and I like how it fits in with the themes already at work in this title.
As you know, Patrick, I don’t have any prior experience reading the Flash, so Captain Cold is a new character for me. I don’t know his origin, or how it may differ from what is happening here. I’ll leave it to you to actually get the ball rolling on this portion of the discussion, but I am curious if he’s always had this kind of personal vendetta involving a terminally ill family member. It seems a little too Mr. Freeze-like to be old, but it also feels too Mr. Freeze-like to be new.
Patrick: I have no answers for you regarding Captain Cold’s origin. Most of what I’ve read falls squarely under the heading “The Return of Barry Allen.” Barry returns at the end of Final Crisis, features heavily in Blackest Night and runs out the remainder of the old DC universe prepping Flashpoint. During that series, I too was introduced to Captain Cold as the leader of the Rogues, but I was also introduced to two other perspectives on the character: one was a member of a special task-force from the 25th century named Commander Cold; and the second was as a skeazy hero anti-named Citizen Cold in the Flashpoint universe. Naturally, it’s been difficult to latch on to what makes this character tick.
But this series is making great steps toward crafting a Captain Cold you can really sink your teeth into. First off, I think this is the best the character has ever looked. While Batman’s rogues have been mercifully redesigned every couple decades, most depictions of Captain Cold look campy and stupid – like Ice Man from the first Mega Man game.
Most of what I’ve seen motivate Cold in the past has been his hatred of The Flash. “Hatred” might be laying it on strong. He’s more frequently just annoyed that The Flash routinely busted up the plots of The Rogues. Confusingly, the character just seemed to want to be the leader of a gang of super villains. There might have been more to it than that, but – between Neckron and the Reverse Flash – the books I read didn’t commit much time to the inner workings of Leonard Snart. While the back-story as presented herein seems more than a little Mister Freeze-y, both his motivation and his redesign make me want more.
Your point above about time travel is well-taken. Last month, I said that I was excited that time travel was being introduced into the Flash’s wheelhouse. Because I have faith in the writing team, I don’t think we’re going to have to watch Barry cause any disaster that wasn’t already personally important to him. That may have been the cosmic treadmill that Dr. Elias invented, but I’m guessing that they’ll be experimenting with that thing for a while and will never gain the ability to travel through time precisely. In fact, this issue suggests that this treadmill actually serves the opposite purpose – to minimize the amount of catastrophic time-wankery caused by excessive speed force manipulation.
I want to talk about that dramatic irony you’re feeling. More than most other series we’re reading, Flash seems to take place in an earlier time period for the character: “before” a lot of events occur that define the modern Flash. Marrying Iris, traveling through time, traversing the Multiverse, Wally, Bart, and on and on. There is no “Flash Family” in this series. So naturally, the assumption is that those things haven’t happened “yet.” But we are in the NEW 52. It’s possible that those old benchmarks need not ever apply to this iteration of The Flash. This idea that this version of the character has yet to be defined excites the hell out of me.
This title is also funny. When a narrative lacks humor, it can make an otherwise compelling story feel like a slog. Thank you so much for pointing out that Looney Toons moment from the first page – it is one of several laugh-out-loud moments in this issue for me. Barry and Patti’s banter is particularly adorable and well-written. The moment Patti reveals she’s surprised by Barry calling her his “girlfriend” makes me chuckle and speaks volumes about this couple. They feel so natural and like they actually enjoy each other’s company, and as a result I love spending time with them.
Also, while this story is presented non-linearly, the thematic connections between adjacent scenes are so clear that I never once had to flip back a few pages and mumble “wait a minute” to myself, as I did with Batwoman 6. Time will validate that decision in Batwoman (I have faith), but it is instantly validated in this issue of the Flash.
There’s really no end to the list of things I enjoy about this series, and I think this issue in particular shows off the kind of fun Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato want to have with the character. Everything is so graphic and exciting. The name of the issue, as it appears on the title page speaks to this sensibility directly, evoking a simple, elegant fun.
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?