Today, Scott and Spencer are discussing The Flash 22, originally released July 24th, 2013.
Scott: I imagine being the fastest man on Earth could be pretty frustrating at times. It has its obvious advantages — you’re never late for work, no car insurance, no travel expenses, etc. — but there’s one major annoyance: the rest of the world isn’t moving at your pace. This would be doubly frustrating for a police officer trying to solve a complex murder mystery, which takes a long time to piece together regardless of how fast your body moves. This is the predicament Barry Allen has found himself in over the past several issues of The Flash, and co-writers/artists Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato seem to enjoy taking the slow road with a fast character. The Flash 22 finds them leading Barry to the killer he’s been looking for, but still withholding crucial information about his identity. It’s a spectacular looking issue, and one that feels more focused than this title has in a few months.
Barry continues to be boxed-out by the Central City police force, but that won’t stop him from searching for the “Speed Force Killer.” Barry visits Iris West — the only other remaining person with Speed Force powers — and gives her her own Flash suit, hoping it will protect her from the killer. Barry and Iris find a piece of debris — from Dr. Elias’ exploded monorail — which they believe could be linked to the killings. Barry races to Dr. Elias’ lab, leaving Iris under the watch of his girlfriend, Patty. Dr. Elias, meanwhile, has been generating Speed Force energy, hoping to harness The Flash’s powers, which could benefit society but would definitely kill Barry. At the lab, Barry finds not only Dr. Elias, but Reverse Flash — the killer! — who also wants to get his alarmingly sharp hands on that sweet, sweet Speed Force energy.
OK, before I get any deeper into the plot, I want to discuss my favorite aspect of this issue, the art. There’s a lot of great art in this issue and I can’t possibly get to all of it, but I’ll try to walk through it as best I can. Might as well start at the front cover.
That’s just badass. I’m a sucker for minimalism, and The Flash logo has one of the best color schemes of any superhero, so this cover was a winner for me even at first glance. The more I look at it, however, the more I like it. How awesomely terrifying is that Reverse Flash shadow? This issue was billed as the meeting between Flash and Reverse Flash, and this image had me giddy that it would finally deliver the epic clash we’ve been waiting months for. It’s just about the perfect representation of their relationship; Flash and Reverse Flash are opposites, but they are joined in a way as well, because of their powers. They can match each other step for step.
If there’s one thing you can count on in a Flash comic, it’s a clever title page. I appreciate anytime an artist goes above and beyond to deliver something you actually have to look for. The “The Flash” on the title page is so subtle, I missed it the first time through the issue. Then, even after noticing the clothes on the clothesline looked like they spelled “The” I spent close to a minute searching for the “Flash” before noticing it written across the skyscrapers. To be fair, I may just be a little dense, but this was clever.
This title is somewhat unique in that the writing team is also the artistic team, with Manapul serving as artist and Buccellato as colorist. I honestly don’t know who deserves more credit. Manapul’s work is crisp and detailed, while Buccellato’s colors add a hazy, watercolor feel to the pages. It’s a perfect combination for a book like the Flash. Manapul’s style is great for clearly depicting action, always important when Flash is moving at warp speed. But Barry Allen is also a detective, and Buccellato’s colors create noir-ish feel that this murder mystery needs.
OK, now back to the story. We’ve known for a while that Reverse Flash is our killer, we’ve just been waiting for Barry to get up to speed (hehe). Now, the question that remains for us and Barry is “who the heck is this guy?” Unfortunately, we’re not much closer to an answer. I suppose you can cross off Dr. Elias’ name, if he was on your short list of suspects. If anything, it’s bad news that he’s not the killer, as he’s now presented himself as an entirely separate threat to Barry’s life. It’s better to have one person who wants you dead than two, unless, of course, you can turn those two against each other instead.
It’s hard to say what Barry expects Patty to find on that piece of monorail shrapnel. My gut tells me that the real purpose of the shrapnel was to get Iris and Patty together, Buccellato and Manapul’s way of putting the two women in Barry’s life in one place and allowing awkwardness to ensue. I liked the scene between those two because it totally felt like the way two people in their situation would act. Each has reason to envy the other: for Iris it’s the happiness Patty has found in her life with Barry, for Patty it’s the Speed Force bond Iris shares with Barry and Barry’s willingness to protect her. The slight tinge of jealousy is apparent in their small talk. They give each other the ol’ ‘curt and courteous.’
So Spencer, was this issue a step in the right direction in your opinion? I know you wanted to zero in on the identity of Reverse Flash. Is getting him in the same room as Barry a good enough consolation prize?
Spencer: Oh yeah, Scott, definitely. The thing is, as much as I (reluctantly) complained last month, I wasn’t necessarily demanding that the Reverse Flash’s identity be revealed right that very instant. What I really wanted was for some progress to be made towards confronting and unmasking the Reverse Flash, and in that regard, this issue is a resounding success.
In fact, keeping the Reverse Flash’s identity under wraps one more issue has actually made the speculation surrounding him even more fun for me. When the Reverse Flash first appeared, all we had to go on was one panel and a few new characters (Dr. Elias and Daniel West) whose purposes weren’t clear, but now that we’ve seen him in action we have a lot more to base our guesses on. Plus, we can seemingly narrow down the list of suspects by crossing off Dr. Elias, right?
Actually, I’m not entirely convinced of that. Yeah, Elias being the Reverse Flash is a longshot to end all longshots at this point (pulling it off would require invoking both time travel and amnesia, not that this hasn’t been done in previous Reverse Flash stories), but it’s hard to completely put the idea out of my mind when Manapul and Buccellato are giving me panels like this one:
How are we not supposed to read into a panel of Dr. Elias staring contemplatively into a reflective surface just to see the Reverse Flash looking back at him? (And I know it’s because the RV—yes, that’s what I’m calling him now, deal with it—is standing right behind him, but this panel isn’t played for horror; it’s clearly an introspective moment for Elias.) Maybe Elias won’t become the RV through a series of increasingly convoluted events, but I’d bet money on him somehow being involved in creating the RV; between his Speed Force fuel cells and that shattered piece of his monorail, Elias is an origin story just waiting to happen.
Regardless, it’s an interesting choice that Manapul and Buccellato make to mirror Elias and RV (and to pit them against each other). The two villains actually have a lot in common, what with their seeming lack of compassion and their mutual obsession with claiming the Speed Force as their own. But they also differ in one key aspect: while the Reverse Flash has the ability to turn back the clock and redo any moment that doesn’t go his way, Elias wouldn’t change one aspect of his past. I’m not sure exactly what to take away from it, but throwing these two characters together like this is sure to be an explosive combination, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
I’m also thrilled to see more of the Barry-Patty-Iris love triangle. Full disclosure: despite my intense affection for sappy Canadian teenage soap operas, I’m actually not normally a fan of love triangles. They’re overdone, and usually they’re just there to generate unnecessary drama, but I dunno, there’s something about this love triangle I find compelling. I think it’s the fact that Barry and Iris’s pairing seems so inevitable, yet Manapul and Buccellato are pulling out all the stops to make Patty not only a viable love interest in her own right, but to make her the prominent love interest. As far as love triangles go (and I’ve seen a lot), this is one of the better-developed ones.
The focus on Iris this issue also helps us learn more about her as a character. I appreciate that because, despite my affection for her, I’ve always had a bit of a hard time differentiating Iris from Lois Lane. In this issue, though, I finally saw a primary difference; beneath Iris’s Lane-esque moxie and determination, she seems profoundly lonely.
I can only speculate, but I’d imagine this has something to do with Iris’ family; we know her brother’s been in jail for years, and last month we learned that her father isn’t exactly father of the year either. Is that where her attraction to Barry stems from? Barry, the Lord and King of boring nice guys, is certainly a far cry from any of the men in her family. Iris’ concern for Barry may go a little overboard in this issue, but between this and the many sweet scenes her and Barry share this issue, it’s hard not to root for them.
I just feel bad for poor, poor Patty Spivot.
Before I go, I want to address one more thing. Scott, at the beginning of this article you mentioned the idea that super speed can be as much of a curse as it can be a gift, that it can be frustrating to move so fast when the world is moving so slow. This is actually a pretty well-explored idea in the history of speedsters: Peter David famously used the concept to explain why Quicksilver is always so crabby, and the band Jim’s Big Ego (fronted by the nephew of Barry Allen’s co-creator, Carmine Infantino) even wrote a song about it:
Still, despite all that, Barry Allen has never been a character that has seemed particularly worried about the world moving slow before. While Wally and Bart are infamously impatient, Barry is the speedster known for being methodical and patient, almost to a fault. Likewise, I feel like Manapul and Buccellato are copying Barry’s approach when they plot this series. They’re obviously playing a long game, building a huge world around the Flash and creating small storylines that pay off months and months later. Even last months’ diversion, while perhaps poorly timed, helped draw another speedster into this book’s orbit. This issue has helped to remind me of how that kind of long-term storytelling, with patience, can have huge pay offs. More than ever I have faith that Manapul and Buccellato know exactly what they’re doing, and it should be a blast to see where they take this story now that it’s kicked into high gear.
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