The Flash 14

Alternating Currents: Flash 14, Drew and ScottToday, Drew and Scott are discussing the Flash 14, originally released November 28th, 2012.

Drew: I’ve always seen postmodernism as inevitable. As someone who likes art, consuming art about art just makes sense to me. It’s quite easy to take commentary too far — forcing the art to far up its own ass to really be relatable — and while I have a special place in my heart for stories that do that, it’s much more satisfying when they can support a compelling narrative, as well. Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul nail that type of just-right meta-text time and time again, as Barry grapples with his relationship to his own identity, history, and even time itself. Their pacing and narrative style have remained fluid enough to accommodate all of these ideas, tying them back to Barry’s own experience of the world. Issue 14 continues the recent trend of expanding the scope beyond Barry’s subjectivity, revealing a rewarding complexity to the world he lives in.

The issue finds Barry struggling against a super-powered Grodd. Meanwhile, we discover that Patty, Frye, and Turbine survived last month’s issue, after all. Turbine assures them that he can help find Barry Allen, but asks to be taken to see the gorilla we saw nearly attack young Barry back in issue 9. It turns out, that Gorilla, Solovar, is the time-travelling, foreseeing first wielder of the Speed Force, who is here to help Barry defeat Grodd. Sure enough, they arrive just as Grodd is about to impale Barry (did I mention Barry was struggling?), and Solovar sacrifices himself to shield Barry from the blow. Elsewhere, the Rogues begin to formulate a plan, Dr. Elias is sped to the hospital, Daniel West discovers that his sister is missing, the Gorilla City elder needs more humans to power the machine disguising Central City, and — in the Speed Force — Iris and the others take refuge in that tank we saw back in issue 3…perhaps they’ve been back all along?

All told, that’s seven stories (eight, if you count Solovar’s origin) that are advanced incrementally this issue. Last month saw almost as many plates spinning, which I complained was too much. Here, however, the almost scrapbook quality of these short, generally discrete scenes creates a sense of the simultaneity of time — a concept central to understanding Solovar’s character.

Solovar isn’t tied to the linear experience of time we are. Time to him is a crystal he can examine from all angles, a machine whose moving parts he’s duly familiar with. Experiencing this issue that way — as a solid, homogenous mass of time — rather than as a linear-but-schizophrenic narrative enhances its contents immensely. I know it sounds like I’m going off of the deep end here, but I think there’s a lot of moments in this issue that support this reading.

The issue opens with Solovar’s voiceover, long before we meet him. We’re never given a context for this voiceover — who is he speaking to? — which creates a strange familiarity with the audience. In turn, this aligns us most closely with his point of view (we also get a lot of Barry v.o., but I’d argue that — since that happens in every issue — it’s not as notable).

Many sequences also rely on multiple moments simultaneously for them to make any sense. This is probably always true of comics, but check out the bizarre cause-and-effect relationships in this sequence:

There are many ways an artist can depict Flash phasing through things (and indeed, Manapul has shown a lot of variety in the ways he chooses to represent this phenomenon), but setting it up as a takeout, such that you don’t know he’s done it until the next panel, separates the event into two discrete bits of information: Grodd smashes Barry AND Barry phases through the car. Indeed the gutters line up to make those two panels feel like one panel — those events are happening simultaneously. That same trick is repeated at the bottom of the page, where Barry’s punch is divided into three simultaneous panels. There are a number of reasons to do this — to direct our attention, to create surprise — to break a single image into panels, but the most common one — to depict motion through time — is distinctly not happening here. Indeed, seeing the destination of the punch before its origin actually inverts what I might expect of this setup.

My absolute favorite example of the simultaneity of time in this issue is Manapul’s patented in-scene title page. Those title pages are a trick we’ve seen a few times at this point, but Manapul takes it in a new direction by allowing us to see a number of closeups simultaneously.

The effect is a kind of narrative cubism, one that allows us to see many facets of a story simultaneously, and kind of necessarily calls our attention to the artifice of comics and storytelling in general. It’s a risky move, but one that promises to create a uniquely rewarding experience.

Scott, I’m curious if this reading holds any water for you. Last month’s issue — which was significantly less busy than this one — left me feeling a little overwhelmed, and I could absolutely see how this issue might be even worse in that regard. Still, the number of connections here (possibly extending back to issue 3) turns the narrative into a fascinatingly tangled web, and I found the prospect of following all of the threads — even for just a short time — to be incredibly exciting. Were you as mesmerized by this issue as I was?

Scott: Fittingly, I suppose, I had trouble keeping up with this issue of The Flash. There were so many shifts in time, location and storylines that I eventually lost track of where and when each scene was taking place. If I had to sum up my general reaction to this issue using a quote from one of the characters, it would be “I need more mental energy…much more,” with a little bit of “How many monkeys are there?” tossed in.

But that’s not to say I wasn’t mesmerized. Drew, I think your analysis of how we are meant to experience time in this issue is interesting. The idea of time as a solid object we can remove ourselves from and examine from all angles does seem to fit with the jumbled timeline of the issue. If we accept this reading as the truth, then I guess the utter confusion I experienced should be considered a thematic victory.

The Flash is a great venue for an artist to play with our perception of time, since depicting speed is often such an important visual component of the story. It’s common for Flash to appear multiple times in a single panel, to show how much space he is covering in just a split second. This draws a great parallel to the idea of time as a crystal- a panel in a comic book can’t show the passage of time, only a snapshot, and yet we can still see the Flash from every angle, as if he is removed from the traditional concept of time.

Monkey in the middle

It’s always a tricky act trying to juggle so many different stories in one issue, and I’m sure most of the problems I had with this issue stem from the fact that I’m not all that familiar with The Flash as a series. Obviously, that’s more my fault than it is the writers’- there’s no reason for Manapul and Buccellato to cater to newcomers in issue 14. Still, I appreciate moments that require no prior knowledge, like Solovar’s beautifully sad origin story. One of the great things about comic books is the way that words and images can come together to create something greater than the sum of those parts.

'Twas getting shot a bunch of times killed the beast

Taken without context, you can extract a lot out of an image of a man with a gun standing over a gorilla with three darts sticking out of his chest while people cower in the background. But knowing what we do about Solovar’s gifts and the decisions he made to get him to that place, it takes on a new significance. The choice of words is very interesting. From the zookeeper’s perspective, Solovar is just a gorilla, less important than those humans in the background. But to the reader who has just heard Solovar’s story, he is much more than that. You can’t look at that image and think “no one got hurt.”

There were several other snippets of stories that we didn’t really touch on, but I’m curious to know what I should make of them, considering I’m new to the series. I was particularly intrigued by the gorilla elder’s machine and his need for additional human minds from which to siphon energy. Basically, I as drawn to anything involving gorillas; I think monkeys I don’t recognize are inherently more interesting to me than humans I don’t recognize.

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?

13 comments on “The Flash 14

  1. The Flash Annual sent The Flash from a book I was dropping to one of my five favorite DC titles. I completely 100% have loved this story line. Flash in a Cab (great name for a race horse, by the way) is one of the best pages in comics this month.

    I finally feel some connection to the characters, and I really think it’s from The Rogues being active in the title as something other than “They’re just going to lose in the end because Flash has super speed and they don’t,” dudes.

    I want school to end so I can go home and reread this. I need to reread a lot of titles (Marvel NOW has done some excellent things (Thor is a must read in my opinion, as is Red She-Hulk)) and I’m reading too many comics right now.

    You’ve inspired me. Tonight is comics night. Ordering pizza, going to watch movies and reread all these new stories that are just too awesome. This is a good time to like comics!

    (Did I mention this was a really cool issue. Finally the story matches the art!)

    • There is a lot of fun stuff going on in Marvel NOW. I keep picking up issues but not giving them due exploration because our reading-writing-posting schedule is so intense. Thor’s a for-sure, as is All New X-Men, but everything else feels like a game of FIND THE GOLD to me. I know it’s out there, but it’s going to take a little doing to zero in on all of it. Especially because some of them trick you! Captain America started off really fun and graphic and a little bit goofy, but takes this weird turn like halfway though… I’ma have to revisit it. Keep us posted on what you’re loving in NOW – we need as much info as we can as we engineer our own coverage.

      • I concur. I keep scratching my head at Marvel’s NOW launch. Iron Man’s really dropped off for me since I was a big fan of Matt Fraction’s run with the character. The NOW Cap, I’m still acclimating. Part of me hopes it will be the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo answer on Marvel’s side, and this is coming from a guy who isn’t too fond of ol’ spangly man. I see Romita Jr’s art with those colors and the strong writer of Rick Remender (also an alliteration like Snyder’s!) and I can’t help but hope.

        The sci-fi spin was jarring but to step away from Brubaker’s Cap, I think it needed to be done. Steve Rogers can flesh out some unused rogues gallery members this way and starting with a Kirby creation is never bad.

      • I think you’d quite enjoy FF. Fantastic Four was really good, too (I’m a Bagley fan since his Spidey days but I know a lot of folks don’t consider that he brings as much to the table here as Fraction), but FF (illustrated by the Allreds) is both gorgeous and just slightly into left field in a great way. As for a lot of the other stuff, I also enjoyed All New X-Men as well, but these books are $4 dollars and coming out twice a month… the $1 wouldn’t be a huge deal breaker, but when that turns into $8 a month for a Marvel then they’ve got me second-guess my second-guessing of Marvel NOW! – I’M BACK OUT… mostly…

        • They can’t really keep up that bi-weekly schedule, though, can they? I totally expect the output to slow down, and soon. Either way — I’m having too much fun with titles like All New X-Men to turn them down.

        • We’ll see how it plays out, I guess… I would hope they’re smart enough to scale back down to a normal schedule after they burn up their lead instead of assigning alternating artists to the bi-weekly release schedule… Of course, there’s been no sign of that yet, so here’s hoping

  2. There is a sick part of me that loves seeing my heroes being beaten to a pulp. Batman in the Court of Owls and now Flash here. I just was transfixed on the pages with Grodd literally shattering Flash’s identity as Barry continued to push forward (a trait he’s held on to since the beginning of the New 52)

    That inspires the crap out of me to see not the rise, but the fall and return of heroism. And Manapul’s art coupled with Buccellato’s colors give an already powerful scene it’s beautiful and momentum filled presentation.

    • That’s so true – I love seeing the final days of a superhero’s career. Dark Knight Returns was one of the first books I read that convinced me that comics were a medium I could really dig my teeth into. And obviously Watchmen plays with this concept a lot too. There’s something about the ultra-powerful giving up the ghost and realizing that they can’t do it anymore that’s super appealing to me (even if, in both of those examples, the heroes end up heroing one last time).

  3. It’s cool how gradually it occurs to the reader that there are too many things going on in this issue to be unintentional. Somewhere around the Rouges battling monkeys, I thought to myself “holy hell, there are a lot of stories here.” But the absolute capper is Iris’ adventures in the speed force (“what’s a speed force?”) – there’s no narrative reason that should be there: I mean, it’s taking place OUTSIDE OF TIME, and doesn’t need to be presented in an already over stuffed issue. Pretty great trick, and I think Drew identified it well.

    • Yeah, they go WAY beyond the “hey, there’s a lot going on in this issue” mark, to the point where it actually becomes the point. These guys to meta-text better than anyone I’ve seen. This series really should be covered in Lit. Crit. classes.

  4. I continue to love this book and don’t have a single bad thing to say about the Grodd arc, it’s been my favorite part of the run; BUT, holy moly, did they REALLY kill Solovar this early into the New 52?! It can’t be, right? It’s a testament to this book though that, since Trickster’s arm was literally pulled off and exhibiting arterial spray a couple of issues ago, I don’t immediately dismiss this as a fakeout cliffhanger

  5. Taking your theories about time into consideration, do you think it means anything that the title-page was included at the end of the issue instead of the beginning (including the tongue in cheek “DC Comics Proudly Presented”)? I could be wrong, but I believe that’s the first time they’ve done it in this series (though it isn’t uncommon for comics as a whole); it certainly took me by surprise, regardless. I have no idea if/what it could mean, I’m just curious if you guys see it play into that theory any.

    Fantastic issue. I’m glad you posted that panel of Barry vibrating through the cab, it’s the coolest panel I’ve seen in a comic in ages.

    • I hadn’t considered that, but the fact that that image is the title page totally enhances the sense that time isn’t as linear as we think it is. To me, much of that reading hinges on how much simultaneous information is conveyed in that image. The fact that it also contains information about the issue takes it almost to a meta-metatextual level.

      I kind of have to admit, though, I’m starting to get tired of these in-scene title sequences. It’s not that they’re not awesome, I just feel like we’ve seen them A LOT in this title. I kind of miss the really slick designs of the title sequences of those first few issues.

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