Spencer: A mystery story cannot work with only one suspect. Without false leads and red herrings, everything’s too easy; we know whodunit before the story’s even begun. In Flash 21, Kid Flash becomes one of those false leads; the problem is, Barry is the only one actually trying to solve a mystery here. Us readers already know that the Reverse-Flash is behind these murders, leaving the real bulk of this issue to be carried by the first meeting of Flash and Kid Flash. I’m not sure the two of them are up to the task.
Looking for answers behind the killings of the Speed Force crew, The Flash tracks down Kid Flash, leading to a high-speed, world-spanning pursuit. Barry is eventually able to write Kid off as a suspect when he realizes that he’s powered by a source completely separate from the Speed Force, but when he tries to discover more about Kid’s past, Bart rebuffs him and takes off in an indignant huff. Meanwhile, Daniel West tries to get back into Iris’s good graces, while across town the Reverse-Flash claims his third victim, Sprint.
I’ve always been a big fan of the Flash and Kid Flash as a team. Barry and Wally shared a wonderful father/son dynamic, while Wally and Bart’s more tempestuous relationship provided a lot of material in its own right. So while I knew that their first post-reboot encounter would be different—and that this Kid Flash would likely never be Barry’s sidekick—I was still hoping for there to be some sort of spark between them to latch onto.
Instead, Bart greets the Flash with flat-out antagonism, and while this behavior isn’t entirely unexpected from the brash, headstrong, and sarcastic Kid Flash, it still feels slightly out-of-character even for the New 52 incarnation. Of course, all of Bart’s appearances outside of his home title have painted him in a harsher light, but they seem to completely ignore the fact that, despite his flaws, Bart is normally a cheerful, enthusiastic kid.
Seriously, I’ve never seen Kid Flash be such a petulant little brat before. The issue implies that some of his behavior might stem from the issues Bart has with his past, but I didn’t think Bart remembered any of his past yet (admittedly, I could be missing some information here, since I finally dropped Teen Titans a few months ago, but still). Regardless, the story of Kid Flash’s past is one mystery I’m thoroughly sick of revisiting. Much like the story of Dinah’s husband over in Birds of Prey, the mystery of Bart’s past has been stretched out ever since the reboot; it’s been explored in multiple titles for nearly two years now yet we’re no closer to answers then we were at the start. Honestly, I got unreasonably angry just to see it brought up again.
What’s worse is just how much attention is being paid to Kid Flash’s origin. Maybe Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato will prove me wrong; maybe Kid Flash’s past and the source of his powers will be critical to taking down the Reverse-Flash, or maybe it’ll be an important part of an upcoming arc. I hope it is. Regardless, as of now it feels like a complete waste of time. We’ve been chomping at the bit to see more of the Reverse-Flash for nearly four months now, and I think this just felt like one roadblock too many for me.
That’s not to say this issue was a bust though; I still enjoyed much of it. This is the first time we’ve really seen the Flash interact with a young character, and dealing with Bart’s moodiness brings out some amusing shades of Barry’s personality. Sure, he’s still a pretty vanilla kind of guy, but now Barry is forced to admit it.
It’s a lot of fun to see Barry cop to his love of science, or to realize how much he’s starting to sound like his father (although I assume he’s referring to Frye and not the one who’s been in prison his whole life). It’s a level of self-awareness I’m not used to seeing from Barry, and I must admit that it’s pretty refreshing, even if just on a more Meta level.
Meanwhile, Manapul and Buccellato’s handling of Barry and Bart’s tussle has me more excited than ever for the inevitable showdown with the Reverse-Flash. Our co-creators have proved themselves more than adept at crafting a flashy, unique battle between two super-speedsters; the various super-speed tricks are fun enough on their own, but I was especially impressed by the various locales the two speedsters visit.
A battle at near escape velocity should be constantly on the move, but while many artists would be content to fill the backgrounds with generic cities or countrysides and call it a day, Manapul and Buccellato certainly aren’t. They label each place the speedsters visit, and each new locale is more exotic than the last. We’re taken to the Louvre, the Sahara Desert, the Philippines, Sidney, Fuji, and even a sheep farm in New Zealand. My personal favorite is the surprisingly beautiful valleys of Iceland, a place I’m now intrigued to learn more about.
Unfortunately, despite a lot of fun moments and its usual stellar artwork, this issue still felt surprisingly padded and poorly timed. I hate to find fault with one of my favorite books on the stands right now, but I hold Manapul and Buccellato to such high standards that it’s hard to see them fall short, even by a little. Still, with the Flash and the Reverse-Flash finally set to meet next month, I have high hopes that things will pick up soon, and in a big way.
I dunno Shelby, what do you think? Am I being too harsh, or did you have similar problems with this issue? Also, I didn’t even get to mention any of the subplots that came late in the issue: any thoughts on those?
Shelby: You aren’t being too harsh, this issue fell flat for me as well. It’s surprising, considering the story took place in all the four corners of the earth, there was a glimpse into the future, and a murder; despite all that, I felt like there wasn’t much going on.
The biggest issue I had was that the Barry/Kid Flash chase felt ultimately kind of meaningless. Barry wanted information, Kid Flash refused to give him any, we had some you damn kids/you old man moments, and then three-quarters of the issue was over. Barry’s friends are being murdered and his life is in danger, and the whole book is devoted to a false lead? Sprint is killed, leaving only Barry and Iris left. The suspense should be mounting! Even though we already know who the murderer is, Barry doesn’t; furthermore, he is going to be shocked as hell when he finally figures it out. There should be a lot of tension to this story, but instead we get some cute if somewhat tired dialogue between the Flashes Barry and Kid and a mere two pages devoted to furthering the mystery. There’s no urgency.
With so much of the book taken up by the chase, the little moments at the end feel like afterthoughts, put there to move everyone into place (or kill them) in preparation for the Clash of the Flash next month. The one thing I really enjoyed about it was the art. Manapul and Buccellato do not fail to deliver in that regard. Manapul’s pencils are energetic and dynamic, but they are balanced by Buccellato’s palette, which somehow manages to exude a sense of calm even when saturated in the aggressive red and yellow of the Flashs’ costumes. This book is lovely to look at, no questions there. I just feel like the story has lost it’s focus a little bit; hopefully the big fight with Reverse Flash will tighten everything up and get us back on track.
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