Drew: When we wrote about the Flash 6 last month, we couldn’t get over the thematic richness of that issue as it explored concepts of cause and effect through time and space. One of the reasons that issue is so satisfying is because it speaks to our own experience of events — we can arrange them chronologically, but they often have connections to distant moments in time. This is the Flash as the mortals around him (or, perhaps more importantly, comics fans) experience him; sometimes out-of-order chronologically, but never emotionally. With the Flash 7, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato set out to do something much more ambitious, as they put the burden of cause on our hero without any real understanding of the effect.
Now, I know what you’re thinking — what I just described is the way all non-time-traveling heroes experience cause and effect — but those stories never emphasize that idea quite as they are here, and they certainly never give me the visceral sense of entering the unknown I felt as this issue closed. We’ve spent the previous six issues seeing Barry figure out how to use his brain to tap into the speed force — essentially to be able to sort through multiple options and chose the best one incredibly fast. This allowed him to prepare for every eventuality, but this issue concludes with him entering a scenario almost blind, and being immediately surprised.
The issue opens in the exact moment where the last left off, with Barry pinned by Captain Cold as Patty’s portion of a boat plunges into the harbor. The clock then winds back, and we see the previous nine seconds from the perspectives of Patty, Barry, and Iris, arranged in a rigid grid:
This sets the clock ticking in a very concrete way; we become very aware of time marching forward. Barry manages to save Patty, an anonymous woman, and a waiter who is oddly concerned about the whereabouts of Barry Allen, but rips a hole in the space-time continuum, sending Iris West and a few other randos…somewhere. Barry is understandably pissed at the Captain for forcing his hand, and gives him a few dozen speed-punches before he explains the deal with his sister. Barry understands, and promises to help as long as Cold surrenders.
That help comes in the form of the batteries Dr. Elias has hooked up to his big treadmill (when can we start calling it “cosmic” already?), which Barry earmarks for helping Cold’s sister. He also uses the treadmill to create another wormhole, which he promptly runs through, much to Dr. Elias’s surprise.
Cut to Africa where Gorilla Grodd is getting some advice on conquering the world from some hawkish advisors. Cut to the hospital, where a recovering Lisa Snart is none to happy to see her brother. Cut to Director Singh’s apartment, where Patty is looking for a little consolation. She’s under the impression Barry was on the portion of the boat that the Flash time-warped (again), which only makes her madder at the Flash. She reveals that she loves Barry, just as the power returns to the Gem Cities. Cut to…inside the speed-force (?) where Barry sees a bunch of stuff from his past (and dirt clods!) before being put in a headlock by a territorial guy named Turbine.
There are a lot of specific images in that double-page spread, all seeming to bear significance in Barry’s life, but I hesitate to read too much into any of them. Among them, we see a young Barry being consoled by police, but I wonder if we can take that to mean the Rebirth character history involving the murder of his mother holds true in the DCnU. It certainly looks like Barry is surprised to see his mother, but I also wonder if DC might not use this opportunity to re-retcon that somewhat unpopular change.
Anyway, what’s really interesting about that image is the way it stands in contrast to all of the flashbacks we’ve been getting throughout this series. Before, the flashbacks were called forth at will, as Barry thought about his relationship to Manuel or as Captain Cold thought about his sister, but now, they’re laid before Barry in an uncontrolled and unpredictable fashion. They also seem to be arranged chronologically, carrying us to very recent events before vanishing into the distance. It looks like Barry once again has the power to travel through time and that he’s sent Iris West through time. These are things we knew (or maybe hoped) were coming, but they’re delivered in unexpected ways.
As much as I found to love with this issue, it did feel a little like it was just setting the stage for what is to come. That’s to be expected of any serialized storytelling to some degree, but is a little frustrating after what have been some very emotionally and narratively satisfying issues. The Captain Cold story gets wrapped up rather neatly, but the introduction of Gorilla Grodd is just kind of hanging out in the middle of the book, apropos of nothing. I do like the introduction of the idea of destiny that that scene brings, but it’s otherwise kind of a cheap teaser. Another (and much stranger — if it’s possible for something to be stranger than talking gorillas) teaser is the presence of those flutes in Singh’s apartment. We dwell on them just long enough to call attention, but not enough to answer (or really ask) any questions.
But what’s neat about the issue is that it doesn’t give answers. We’ve been getting lots of answers in this series, and while they’ve been emotionally satisfying, they’ve also completely spoiled me. I’m frustrated by a cliffhanger, probably the biggest given of reading comic books. I suppose it’s not just that it’s a cliffhanger (pretty much every issue of this title has ended with some kind of surprise), but that I really don’t even understand what’s going on. When the issue ends with a plane falling out of the sky or a boat crashing into the sea, I can put it down knowing that Flash will save the day. When a mysterious dude confronts Flash inside the speed force, I still have confidence Flash will make it through okay, but I don’t really understand the problem enough to be satisfied waiting for the solution. Who is this guy? What’s with the dirt clods? Whose flutes are those? I’ll have to wait until next month for answers, even though the Flash is supposed to be faster than all of these other heroes.
Patrick: I hadn’t really noticed, but you’re right to point out that this is the first issue that plays to the expectation for something bigger. Most of the rest of the books we’re reading have been teasing (or outright embracing) conflict on increasingly larger scales. We’ve known about Barry’s universe-ripping for some time now, but I had not imaged that there were other parties (Gorillas, dudes named Turbine) that were already invested and engaged in this phenomenon. This is pretty standard first step for superhero comics – Batman’s got the Owls, Batwoman has Medusa, Wonder Woman has all of Olympus. We’re just now getting some juicy details about the world outside of Central City, and I’m loving it.
Part of the reason I like it so much is that it’s anchored in all the same adventures and fun characters that have dominated the title thus far. I absolutely adore the balance of humor and action so regularly struck in this series. The very first page, the very first voice-over box carries a nice little joke. The image is a chaotic mess as the boat crashes toward the ice, with Patty Spivot in mortal danger. The narration reads “I’ve worked with Patty Spivot for a couple years now. That’s her right here.” And the frame of the box makes an arrow pointing at Patty, who is upside-down at the moment. There are so many of the cute little touches of honesty that really keep the whole machine humming so smoothly, even when we have to worry about crazy shit like wormholes and (possibly cosmic) treadmills.
You’ve hit on most of the compelling themes and situations already in your write-up, so I’m just going to keep pointing out things I liked. You know that last image you included, the one with the flutes? There’s also a single frame inserted there that shows a glass being filled with a drink for Patty. It’s sorta interesting that the panel before it doesn’t just show Singh pouring the drink, but the separate little panel draws specific attention to the glass that Patty will drop in the next page. It appears that Manapul and Buccellato are still very much interested in cause and effect.
It is really neat that — by issue’s end — Barry launches himself into totally unknown territory and is totally caught off guard by what he finds there. It’s the least prudent course of action we’ve seen this generally-very-meticulous character make. But I totally by it. Sometimes motivation can be made clear and believable simply by how it is expressed. That’s the case when it comes to Barry and Iris. Maybe I shouldn’t take extra convincing that the superhero wants to save the girl, but the scene where she slips away from him has a palpable sense of desperation and regret. I don’t often gasp during action sequences in comics, but this narrow miss was so heartbreaking, I let one out.
I mean, look how well this conveys that “so close” sort of feeling. Also, fun little detail in there, Barry is running on pieces of falling ice.
I love that 9-panel double-page spread from the beginning of the issue. For a series that revels in presenting both its panels and its chronology in inventive ways, it’s neat to see it presented in such a straightforward manner. It’s sort of the thing where the lack of tricks make it seem like a trick.
One last bit that I loved (that well is so deep in this issue): after Barry fails to rescue Iris, he decides the only thing that will make him feel better is getting in a few punches at his local Captain Cold. But Cold is currently struggling to survive, frozen and stuck in the water. Absentmindedly, Barry saves him and slugs him a few times. Now, the Flash is frequently drawn multiple times in a single frame to illustrate the speed at which he’s doing something, but this image of him lifting Cold out of the water and wailing on him is just exceptional. The composition, the color, the way those speed-lines from his fist trace the action of the sequence – it’s basically perfect.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I might be losing my ability to objectively judge this series. For as much as I can articulate what I like about Manapul and Buccellato’s Flash, there’s totally something intangible that makes me happy the whole time I’m reading it. You say this issue might not deliver conclusions as satisfying as the previous, but honestly? I’m just overjoyed to spend 10 minutes in Barry’s universe.
But let’s play the speculation game,because this is a comic book we’re talking about, after all. I don’t know much about the hidden Gorilla City or Gorilla Grodd. The concept always seemed extra-goofy to me, and it looks like the current team is planning on keeping it at least that silly. That’s fine. The only thing I worry about is that gorillas are naturally massive creatures – literally, they take up a lot of space. Every character we’ve encountered thus far has had a sprightliness about them, and everything feels quick and smooth. By comparison, the gorillas are big and hairy. That single page of action in Gorilla City is cool because it teases a greater mystery, but it visually sticks out like a sore thumb.
As far as what Flash is encountering on the other side of that wormhole? Logically (that’s right), he could wind up anywhere and/or anywhen. BUT LET US NOT FORGET that we are nearing the dawn of the Earth Two books – so it’s possible that Barry has just run his ass into another reality. Anyreality, as it were. Turbine is a new character in the DCnU, but he’s got a few things in common with Professor Zoom AKA The Reverse Flash. In particular, that final image of Barry in a headlock mirrors the iconic image of the Flash breaking Professor Zoom’s neck. My point is: I don’t know who this new villains is, but I’d guess he’s real trouble.
Someone please direct me to a poster of the Flash (he can be doing almost literally anything) as drawn by these guys. I just can’t get enough of it.
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?