The Flash 20

Alternating Currents: The Flash 20, Drew and ScottToday, Drew and Scott are discussing the Flash 20, originally released May 22nd, 2013.

Drew: Barry Allen is a man of contradictions. As a police scientist, he is beholden to rigorously examining every scrap of evidence before coming to a conclusion. As a speed-powered superhero, he is all about decisive action. I’ve always found the tension between those two extremes particularly relatable — who among us doesn’t vacillate between those poles? — even when the series itself has been heavier on the action. The scrutiny half of this equation has always come across in the subtext, as writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato have hidden details throughout their runs that reward only the most vigilantly close readings. In The Flash 20, they graduate Barry’s detecting skills from subtext to text, but the results are decidedly mixed.

Fresh off of murdering Albert (one of the crew that was stranded with Iris in the speed force) Reverse Flash kills Marissa (also of that crew). When Barry gets the news, he’s also informed that Gomez (the last of the crew, besides Iris) has gone on the lam. Barry, suspecting that Gomez might be responsible, tracks him down. Gomez escapes, but swears to Barry that he didn’t do it, and that someone else is offing speed-force-powered individuals. Barry collects what evidence he can from Marissa’s body, but reaches a breakthrough when he discovers a that Albert managed to film his own murder. Barry isn’t able to make out the killer, but he does see the Reverse (of his) Flash sign. Which of course, can only point to…Kid Flash?

Okay, I get that Barry is not yet aware of the existence of Reverse Flash, but watching our hero fail to solve a mystery we already know the solution to is incredibly frustrating. It also turns Barry’s prowess as a detective into a laughable exercise in being wrong. The evidence points to…GOMEZ! No…KID FLASH! While all along we know what’s actually going on. The most frustrating thing is that I think this issue would have been really fun if Reverse Flash hadn’t been teased for two issues (and also shown committing both murders). We would have also seen Gomez’s flight as suspicious, and we might have been more willing to go along for the ride on the whole Kid Flash thing. Whoever is targeting these people in particular has some connection to the speed force, which really only leaves Barry, Iris, and Gomez. It’s actually a fun little mystery, but we’re left out of it completely because we were shown the answer ahead of time.

Literally the first page of this murder mystery

Plenty of crime stories — especially action-focused ones — reveal the villain up front, but the problem here is that we focus so heavily on Barry trying to figure it out. I’m particularly frustrated that the only two clues that yield any actual leads have nothing to do with Barry’s skills as a scientist. He finds Gomez through speed force magic (which I’m only giving a pass, because I suspect that this also means that Iris can tell that Barry has speed force powers), and he discovers the Reverse Flash sign because Albert made a magic speed force video recorder. He falls ass-backwards into both of these discoveries, which unfortunately doesn’t help his image as the detective that can’t figure out the one thing everybody already knows.

There’s plenty to be enjoyed besides the central mystery — I was particularly fond of Barry’s scene with Iris, and it’s always a pleasure when Manapul returns to art duties — but without that spine to hang the rest of the issue on, it all feels a little limp. It left my mind to wander onto those more absurd comics questions like “can the flash run down stairs quickly?”

Like, can he fall faster than gravity pulls him?

More disappointing than not liking this issue is failing to come up with a meta-commentary to justify the narrative weirdness. Is it just that it’s a Reverse Flash story, so we start with the mystery’s solution? That would be fine if it worked, but this issue felt far more like it was just putting the pieces in place for this arc. I don’t know, Scott, am I missing something, or did this issue miss the mark for you, too?

Scott: It’s a head scratcher. It’s certainly frustrating to watch Barry fail to catch up to where we readers were at the end of the last issue. Some aspects of this “mystery” remain mysterious- I don’t understand Reverse Flash’s motivation for the killings or why Gomez is acting suspicious- but they’re hardly enough to make up for the fact that everything we really need to know is revealed on the first page.

My biggest complaint with this issue is that it feels so stagnant. Barry’s running in circles, and it’s hard to pinpoint any part of the story that feels like progress. OK, I’m not sure if this will make sense, but it’s hard to see this issue becoming part of the most rewarding path to the end of this arc. I’ll try to explain what I mean — Even if Barry’s meeting with Kid Flash leads him to a useful clue about Reverse Flash, we know he only got there because, like Drew said, he fell ass-backwards into that lead. It’s fine with me if Barry needs a lucky break to crack the case, but if he only gets that chance because of his bad detective work, it’s going to feel especially unearned. And if he doesn’t figure things out quickly, it’s going to stop being frustrating and start to feel kind of pathetic.

Still, I’m not ready to declare this issue a waste. While part of me thinks it could have been boiled down to just a few useful panels, there’s another part of me that thinks a lot of moments could pay off down the road. Like I mentioned above, I don’t yet know what’s up with Gomez. Then there’s the section of the issue devoted to Barry’s father, and the murder case that has nagged at Barry for years. He tells Patty that he’s ready to put it behind him, but in the process he’s essentially turned that box into a bomb that’s going to go off in a future issue. It’s a modified Chekhov’s Gun; “If a murder case is introduced in the first act, it must be solved by the end of the play.”

%22Meet your parents%22 is a weird eupemism for making out

Drew, I can’t disagree with you, I think Flash 20 missed the mark. Maybe it’s fitting that the issue dealing with Reverse Flash feels like it should have been presented in reverse order, but given that we saw Reverse Flash kill Albert in Flash 19, I don’t think these pages could have been arranged in a way that would have felt like a satisfying revealing of information. It’s a surprising misstep, and I believe Manapul and Buccellato can turn this into something worthwhile. If not, they may have to reverse time and try this one again. 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?

17 comments on “The Flash 20

  1. Seriously, though — can Barry fall faster than gravity pulls him? Like, if we jumped out of a plane at the same time, would he hit the ground before I do? We’ve got to chalk that one up to “speed force magic” — as in, I guess the speed force exerts pressure on him in all directions, such that it might provide extra push when falling. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to run down stairs any faster than if it was just a straight vertical drop.

  2. It’s issues like this (which there aren’t too many of) that remind of how much I’m bored with Barry Allen. There’s a scene in this issue in which he forces himself to smile for the camera’s (for whatever reason). I couldn’t help but think, this dude has to force himself to be likable. For all the talk of meta-commentary in this series, I took this as the creators admitting how hard it is for them to make Barry interesting.

    They even went so far as to “kill” Barry Allen for months. Having Barry work at the supervillain bar was inspired and added a lot of spark to Barry’s personality. I mean, he was practically a different character, and it was fun. Now that things are getting back to the status quo for Barry, I’m feeling bored again. He’s just so practical and straight-laced, I don’t feel like I have anything to latch onto emotionally.

    Oh, and Albert is really dead. That’s disappointing. Of course, the permanence of anything is questionable so long as Reverse Flash is running around.

    • interesting. I felt this issue’s emphasis on luck over active detective skill felt more like an early Wally story than Barry. Granted, I haven’t read a ton of Wally, but I kind of expect Barry to be better at sleuthing than this.

      • I can see where you are coming from with that as I feel that Wally was much more reactionary than Barry so he often did fall bass-ackwards into things. I was speaking specifically of the characters though. Barry was an interesting character before simply because of his self sacrifice during COIE. He became this saintly figure in the DCU.

        Wally was interesting because he lived his life as a hero who constantly strived to live up to Barry. Think about how hard that must have been for him, trying to live up to someone who saved the universe! For me, personally, that spoke to me because, in many ways, I live my life trying to live up to the kind of guy my father is.

        I look at Barry, and I have no idea how to relate to the guy.

  3. I guess I am in the minority with this issue because I really liked it.
    I was happy to stop for an issue and check in on Barry’s life. His relationship with Iris and Patty and getting back to work but with a demotion of sorts.
    I felt that Gorilla Warefare went on two issues two long and I like this street level version of Barry. I’ve never read any Flash comics before new52 so maybe thats part of it for me.
    I also like that Brian & Frances (Toronto Boy!!) are developing the Patty/Barry relationship and not just making Patty a pit-stop before he zooms on to Iris.

    • Yeah, I think the biggest problem here was that this issue was presented as a non-mysterious mystery. Cut the last two pages of the previous issue and the first two pages of this issue and I think the whole thing would be more satisfying.

      Not only would the detectiving be a little more satisfying, but the quieter scenes with Patty could have had a little space to breathe. I totally agree that Gorillas went on a little long, and I’m happy to see the pace slacken a bit – but ticking clock that’s put in place by our witnessing the murder up-top makes even the relaxed pace seem a little hurried.

  4. Two questions:
    1) Is Barry supposed to be a good detective? Isn’t that Batman role on JL. I always though the Flash role was supposed to be a big kid with ADHD (see Yale Steward’s awesome JL8 strip! )

    2) What are hsalF power’s supposed to be? Don’t know the character at all. I know this is a new version, but historically what could Reverse Flash do?

    • That’s totally fair – he’s more of a forensic scientist, which doesn’t actually pan out to detective-work. This may be an example of Barry doing what Barry does: getting all the information but not being able to synthesize it into anything useful.

      • I mean, he’s certainly playing detective — I guess I’m just frustrated that he’s so bad at it. That’s one of the dangers of dramatic irony: lay it on too thick, and the character in the dark ends up looking like a moron.

        Patrick’s point that Barry isn’t a detective is well taken, but the idea that he’s incapable of synthesis just doesn’t hold up. First off, he’s smart, but more importantly, he has a speed-force-powered brain which allows him to run through every possible scenario instantaneously. Being able to come up with explanations and rule them out is exactly what detectives do, and it seems like we’ve already seen Barry be awesome at that (granted, it’s also gotten him shot in the head). Right now, he has more time than usual to weigh all of those options, and it just seems like he isn’t.

        • But we’ve also seen Barry paralyzed by the wealth of options his speed force enabled brain comes up with – to the point where he almost takes a bullet to the head. I’m okay with the idea that Barry isn’t a the World’s Greatest Detective. It does make it a little weird that this story would effectively be a whodunnit, but his shortcomings in this area don’t bother me that much.

        • I agree! I like seeing a hero that’s not perfect and has a flaw other than Hubris. How many heroes are portrayed as Geniuses? I think this is why I like Bart Allen so much.

    • Historically the Reverse Flash is just the same as the Flash (in terms of powers). He’s a little more reckless with them, so his time travel buggery is seen as a bigger problem. Also, toward the end of the pre-Flashpoint era, he was able to travel back in time to change the past, where Barry was unable to change the past (though, all of that gets murky in and around Flashpoint.

      This character seems remarkably different – somehow able to re-do things? I think we’re going to discover that powerset together.

    • The “big kid” was always Wally and the “ADHD” was always Bart (formerly Impulse, now Kid Flash).

      As for the s’hsalF, the first one was basically an evil version of Barry. He was a Flash fanboy from the 25th century who replicated Barry’s accident and got his powers. Then…a BUNCH of other stuff happened that eventually led to Flashpoint and the New 52.

      Wally’s Reverse Flash was a bit different. He didn’t have speed powers at all, instead he existed out of sync with the normal timeline so that he could essentially travel between seconds making him appear to move quickly. In fact, because of this, he was often “faster” than Wally. The coolest thing about this guy though, was that he actually fought against Flash to make him a better hero. He felt that heroes who suffered personal tragedies made them better heroes. With that, he tried doing some really nasty stuff to Wally.

  5. I can’t say I disagree with your points, Drew and Scott, but I still enjoyed the issue anyway. Maybe I’m more used to the first issues of new story arcs being mostly set-up than you guys, but there was still enough to keep my interest here even as Barry stumbled down blindly. I can’t really blame Barry though–how do you track down a guy like the Reverse Flash? Hopefully he finds a legitimate lead soon.

    Of course, I’d probably read a plot written by a 5 year old if Manapul and Buccellato were illustrating. They’re just the best. I loved the muted colors on Marissa in that opening spread, and The Flash’s rescue of the runaway train was breathtaking. I want to take that panel with Flash making windmill arms and hang it on my wall.

    As for Barry being able to sense the other Speed Force Crew, at least that has some precedence. After Flash: Rebirth, he once accidentally summoned all the speedsters when he had a bad dream, and Wally was able to use the Speed Force to call his children to him at a whim.

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