Today, Patrick and Scott are discussing the Flash 16, originally released January 30th, 2013.
Patrick: We expect our heroes to bravely sacrifice themselves for the greater good. If we’re blessed with complex characters, we can even expect this of our anti-heroes. But what about our ancillary characters? With the smoke-screen of a superheroic battle for the fate of city, real-world sacrifices tend to go unnoticed. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato deliver plenty of that bombastic hero action, but bury under it the sad, frustrated story of Iris West.
Even though it seems like the Rogues and the Central City Police almost have this whole Gorilla-Invasion thing under control, there’s one last hurdle that they can’t overcome: Grodd has become even more powerful than the Flash. Barry ran through every possible fighting-the-gorillas scenarios in his head and eventually determines that the best course of action is to take the fight into the Speedforce itself. Once there, Grodd boasts that he’s getting even more powerful, but Barry asserts that “here… I’m the king.” But then, Darth Vader-style, Barry feels another presence, one even stronger than Grodd. Cue Iris West.
Remember Iris? She’s been trapped in the Speedforce, evidently hiding out with a small crew, and surviving mammoth attacks by hiding in a tank (look, the Speedforce is weird, okay). But it’s not just notable that Iris shows up at this pivotal moment, she’s got a history with Barry – just not the history she’d like. While they were out on their first date, she tried to pump him for information about her brother’s case.
Okay, so as has been the MO for the length of the Gorilla Warfare arc, there’s a lot going on in this issue. The one runner throughout is this concept of ‘doing whatever it takes.” The subtitle of the issue is “Love and Sacrifice,” but neither of those words totally ring true here. Barry may ‘love’ Patty (he says as much on page 4), but his ‘sacrifice’ is driven by desperation, not love. Further, Barry’s not sacrificing anything – he takes Grodd into the Speedforce where he assumes he will be the dominant force. And the there are the Rogues, who are working together to stage a pretty fun, pretty effective rescue of everyone kidnapped by gorillas. I love seeing them work together so well, utilizing their specific strengths to execute a multi-step plan.
They’re so efficient, in fact, that Cold proclaims them to be the “Central City heroes.” And save a little posturing from the cops, who can really object to that assessment? Hardly a sacrifice. No, the person really making sacrifices in this issue Iris.
Iris loves her brother — it can be assumed — but she also loved Barry. She attempted to leverage her relationship with Barry to get some information on the case, and hopefully lessen Daniel’s prison sentence. The plan blows up in her face, and for trying to be a good sister, Iris is effectively shunned by the two men she cared about the most. And then, here we’ve got present-day-Iris leading a band of misfits in some out-side-of-time adventures we’re hardly even privy to. Both in-narrative and out, Iris draws the short straw. Somehow, she manages to anchor the most emotionally resonant and the most mysterious parts of this issue.
Plus, some kickin’ art. Whenever Iris is around — either in flashback or in the Speedforce — Buccellato’s colors take on a watercolor-esque texture, and the splotchy, abstract backgrounds bleed from memories to the present. Hands-down my favorite spread of this issue places Iris front and center, with a flashback on her left and her current troubles on her right.
This is staged almost exactly like the title page (flashback on the left, large character in the middle, present-day on the right), the only difference is that the action and the emotion is centered on Iris.
Also, all of my most significant questions revolve and the Wests. Like: what did Daniel do? Why does Iris suspect that Barry has information that could get him off? More immediately, what’s going on with Iris in the Speedforce? Her compatriot glows yellow and they’re teleported to Flash’s side. Why? Is she the power that Barry felt in the Speedforce? Or does she just have some kind of connection to that power? Turbine gained his crazy-spinny powers from spending time there, maybe Iris is similarly developing powers. It feels like the other various threads are starting to knit together into a neat little ending (i.e., monkeys defeated), but the West Saga is only starting to unravel.
It’s been tricky to talk about The Flash the last couple months – the Gorilla Warfare arc is so clearly a single massive story that dissecting it piecemeal hasn’t been as immediately rewarding as many of the previous write-ups. Next month, when we see some consequences, maybe we can assess what Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato have to say about the importance of sacrifice and putting yourself on the line. In the meantime, we can still appreciate the signature cleverness from this creative team. These are the kind of guys that are going to use a sound effect as a scene transition… in a silent medium. Kind of alarming that it works so well.
Scott, I recognize that I’m latching on to a very specific toehold here. There are so many, it’s hard to focus your attention on any single character or set of characters. When you shake the sieve, are you left with the same interesting nuggets as I am? Or is your experience totally different as you find other threads of this story to be fascinated by? Or, maybe you hate the whole thing – what do I know?
Scott: You’re right, Patrick- it’s hard to focus on any one element in this issue. Pretty much every time you turn a page you’re in a new scene with different characters, often in a different year. I’m also with you in finding Iris’ storyline to be the most intriguing of the bunch. Her significance is emphasized by the change in artistic style that you mentioned- the flashbacks only go five years back, but the faded watercolor look weirdly makes it seem like they’re set in the 1930s- and by the fact that her appearances are used as a framing device for the issue. One thing you could count on after that flashback scene that opened the issue was that Iris was going to reappear at a crucial moment later on- even if that was evidently not one of the potential outcomes Barry had foreseen.
I need to know more about the Wests to truly understand what’s going on in this issue. Knowing why Daniel is in prison would do a lot to put his and Iris’ actions into perspective. In his brief appearance, he comes off as a total jerk, though his frustrations could be justified depending on whether he actually deserves to be locked up for 10 years. If you take away the Wests and boil this issue down to just the things I think I understand, basically it’s about some people hoping they can outsmart some gorillas. Not as emotionally compelling as the brother/sister dynamic but, impressively, it still makes for a fulfilling story.
Patrick, I’m glad you noted the relentless cleverness of the creative team, because they know how to take an expectation and turn it on its head. With The Flash, we’re used to seeing things move impossibly fast, so of course in the pivotal moment of this issue they decide to slow things waaaay dooooowwwnn. Grodd fires a spear at a defenseless Flash, but from Flash’s perspective it’s as if it’s frozen in mid-air. These four panels simultaneous give the sense that it’s moving incredibly fast but also hardly progressing at all.
With everything in place for the Gorilla Warfare arc to reach its conclusion, I’m glad this issue established a new storyline for the series to delve into. Will Iris and this powerful presence in the Speedforce become a threat to Barry? Will Daniel get out of prison? Will the glowing Asian man ever find love? These answers and more in the next The Flash (probably not really).
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