Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing The Flash 23.2: Reverse Flash, originally released September 11th, 2013. This issue is part of DC’s Villain Month. Click here for our coverage of Villain Month.
Oh, if I had just lived right up to that moment… and not one second more. That would have been perfect.
Walter White, Breaking Bad
Drew: Regrets are the worst. We make hundreds of decisions every day, but our minds seem only to fixate on the mistakes and missed opportunities. We fetishize how things might have been different if only we had made that one small change, creating entire life paths that never have been, never could be, never will be walked. If the regrets are small enough (I wish I had ordered the fajitas), we usually forget about them and move on, but larger regrets can consume us, creating a vivid fantasy world of “if only.” In “Fly,” a brilliantly mediative episode from Breaking Bad‘s third season, Walt pinpoints the exact moment where his life should have ended, with every moment since steeped in regret that it didn’t. It’s a surprisingly unguarded moment for the character, revealing that, for all his machinations, he may suffer from the same uncertainties — and be driven by the same simple motivators — as the rest of us. Daniel West finds a similarly specific final moment of happiness in this issue, but of course, he locates it with the hope of going back and undoing everything that follows.
The issue opens with Daniel visiting his father in the Keystone Nursing Home. Daniel holds William accountable for everything that is wrong with his life, and intends to kill him — but not here, not now. No, Daniel is going to kill William in the past! From there, we take a survey of Daniel’s life, starting with his acquisition of speed-force powers in the mirror world, and rewinding through his relationship with the Flash, Iris, and William, ending with his last happy memory — as Iris assures him that her love is unconditional. It’s a sweet moment, but is violently interrupted when the kids discover their father dying at the hands of present-day Daniel.
I have long loved the careful attention writers Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul have paid to form on this series, and this issue does not disappoint. Thematically, the reverse-chronological nature of the story is clever, but narratively, it’s an absolute revelation. Each scene explains how he came to be the character we’ve seen over the past several issues — how he got his power, why he hates the Flash, etc. — culminating in the revelation for just why he’s so devoted to Iris. It’s a stunning character study wrapped in a thematically-appropriate bow, which is exactly the kind of working-on-all-levels craft I’ve come to expect of this creative team.
Scott Hepburn (who was frustratingly not mentioned in the solicits, but is credited on art duties in the issue), holds up to the writing beautifully, offering a style consistent with Manapul’s expressive cartooniness, but never devolving into an impression. That’s a tricky line to walk, but Hepburn manages it even when delivering one of Manapul’s signature in-universe title sequences,
I’m particularly impressed at Hepburn’s young Daniel and Iris, who may actually be cuter than the adorable Barry Allen Manapul introduced in the zero issue, which is quite a feat. More importantly, Hepburn is a stunning storyteller, managing to convey complex ideas in very few images.
In addition to being a breathtaking image, Hepburn manages to show how the speed-force revealed the identities of the other speed-force-powered folks to him. I absolutely love the shot/reverse shot of his left arm (and the potential meta-ness of employing a reverse shot here) — it gives us a sense of Daniel’s subjective experience of the event, while also very clearly framing the four non-Flash speed-force people.
Patrick, I’m trying not to let Manapul and Buccellato’s imminent departure get me down, but it was hard for me not to treat this issue like visiting a terminally ill relative — I just want to cherish every moment I have left. I know there’s plenty to talk about here, but I want to get your read on further Breaking Bad parallels — did you also get a Gus Fring/Hector Salamanca vibe from Daniel’s visit to the nursing home?
Patrick: Well, ’tis the season, right? We filter all things through Breaking Bad right now. That is, when we’re not filtering everything through LOST. Jeez, maybe I need to call up Manapul and Buccellato to see if they want to watch all of my favorite TV shows with me…
Drew, I was also momentarily peeved when I discovered that Manapul wasn’t drawing this issue, but between the layouts that take inspiration from Manapul and Buccellato’s nostalgic coloring (in full-on water-color mode), I have zero complaints about what this issue looks like. The spread wherein Daniel first gains his powers is incredibly dynamic, pulling in all these awesome visual motifs, from Flash’s lightening bolt to the square mirror panels to the floating clumps of earth we’ve seen in the speed force. It’s like a visual greatest hits for the first 24 issues of the series, and it has that awesome through-line of Daniel losing control, freaking out and exploding.
I mean, at this point you can just add this to the interminable list of spreads I’d love to have as posters to hang on my walls.
The issue is strong for all the great emotional reasons that Drew pointed out, but on my first read, I was also struck by how well this issue handled the stickiest of questions: how does Daniel have these reverse-fast powers? Most recently, Geoff Johns had the previous Reverse-Flash connected to the “Reverse Speed Force” – which is basically just an energy source that’s the polar opposite of the Regular Speed Force. I think he was just on a universe-broadening kick from his tenure on Green Lantern, and that seemed like the most logical course of action at the time. Manapul and Buccellato point out that all the tools for justifying backwards speed powers have been sitting around the Flash’s world for as long as we can remember. Mirror Master – duh. I mean, if all it takes to become Flash is being “doused with chemicals and struck by lightning,” then it stands to reason that Daniel simply needed a similar accident, but somehow backwards. Well, son, everything is backwards in Mirror World.
The foresight to this mythological development is pretty great. Between the pages I posted and the pages Drew posted, we’re reaching back as far as issue 8, with pit stops at the zero issue and the entire Rogues vs. Gorilla’s arc. It all pays off in the revelations about Daniel in this issue. Hey, for a character we were just pissed off wasn’t named “Wally,” Daniel’s certainly ingratiated himself to me as vital, important part of this world and this mythology.
Yo, Drew, what gives? You’re going to mention how cute Daniel and Iris are and not post a panel from the issue? Here’s my favorite:
It’s so simple, but the background is so striking, and the trees are such an effective framing device… you just can’t help but believe Daniel when he says Iris is “the only good thing” in his life. Indeed, it appears that they’re the only people in the world.
Drew, I’m counting this as two-for-two as far as the Flash villain books are concerned. You think Booch has a hat-trick in him?
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You kidding? If Booch can’t turn in a fun Rogues issue, I’ll eat my crocheted Flash hat.
Especially with Patrick Zircher drawing the thing. I’ll be sad to see Booch and Manapul off this series, but just imagine how rich they’re going to make some other franchise. Any guesses as to what they might be taking over / starting up?
It’s hard for me to imagine how their style will jibe with a different hero. I’m sure they could make just about anything work, but unless they end up on another similarly unique title (that is, not tying in with Superman or Batman or whatever), I’m worried that they’ll need to compromise their tone to fit in.
But what if it IS Batman or Superman? Lord knows DC can’t want to keep Lobdell on Supes forever.
It does seem like they should have access to a character whose powers they can make manifest in some interesting visual way… I don’t know who that would be exactly. Their style is so sleek, I think I’d be disappointed seeing them on a brute character. But who knows?
Incidentally, I think they could do a mean Booster Gold.
Whoa. I hadn’t even considered Booster Gold, but that would be a perfect fit — he’s not tied to any other characters, and has a powerset that offers some great thematic possibilities. My only fear with that is that it seems like Booster would be very mired in DC Mythology stuff, at least at his return.
Is Boosty still stomping around with Hex in All-Star Western? I really need to catch up with that, even if we’re not writing about it regularly.
Last I saw, the two had been separated and Hex ended up in modern day Gotham, trapped in Arkham Asylum, but it’s been a few months.
I would like to see their take on Superman — I think the speed force brain effect they came up with would translate beautifully to supersenses. More importantly, their brighter tone makes for a pretty natural fit. Plus, have you ever seen Manapul’s Superboy work? Dude can draw some breathtaking farm-scapes (though I guess the Kents’ farm isn’t really a part of Clark’s life in the New 52).
That fact that it’s a NEW series (I think, right?) will probably rule out Batman or Superman (how many more of those series do we really need, especially if some of the existing titles are already subpar), although it would be cool to have someone replace Lobdell. Frankly, considering most of his runs in the new 52 have seemingly been panned by everyone, I don’t even understand why DC keeps giving him work.
In any case, I’m really dissapointed to know this team is leaving Flash, I only just got into it (Flashpoint Paradox made me want to check out more Flash stuff) so it’ll have been a short span of time for me. Hopefully their next series is as good, and this title will get a worthly replacement.
Ugh, I still haven’t gotten over HOW SAD I AM ABOUT MANAPUL AND BUCCELLATO LEAVING THIS BOOK.
I’ll follow them wherever they go next (And I’ll keep up with the Flash too, of course, cause my love of the Flash and company long predates Manapul and Booch), but man oh man am I sad to see them go. It’s breaking my heart.
Yeah, I’m sure they have something great on the horizon, but I’m still going to miss them on Flash. Have there been any rumors about who might replace them?
As I’ve probably said earlier, I called the RF’s identity a while back. Although I wish it had been Dr. Elias, Daniel West still fits in with the reverse-flash theme of thinking their motives are right but they go about doing them the wrong way. The first 4 issues of the arc have honestly been kind of filler up til this point, albeit with some cool spreads and just amazing attention to detail in the penciling. I actually really felt for Daniel here. He grows up in an abusive household and it has a major effect on him. I’m going to be sad in two months when their run ends.
It’s interesting — Daniel’s story is extremely sympathetic, but it hasn’t affected Iris in the same way. Like, she also had an abusive father, but simply isn’t willing to use it as an excuse for bad behavior. Intriguingly, even Daniel is kind of dismissive of the whole abused kid narrative, writing if off as a story we’ve all heard before.
Yeah, I agree; I thought Iris’s largely successful life was a pretty important counterpoint to what happened to Daniel. Of course what Daniel’s father did to both of them was terrible and in a lot of ways I can’t blame Daniel for feeling the way he does, but there seemed to be something off with Daniel from the start (playing alone in the woods and such while Iris had a lot of friends). It’s the whole “nature vs. nurture” debate all over again.
I also thought it was interesting that Iris was able to eventually forgive her father. I was a little annoyed at her trying to get Daniel to forgive him at first–Daniel has every right to be angry at his father and even to never speak to him again if that’s what he needs to do to protect himself–but I think Iris’s plea was less about their father and more about Daniel’s own mental health. Daniel obviously needed SOME way to let go of the hatred in his heart and to move on with his life, and since he never could, it ended up backfiring on him once he got these powers.
I think this whole thing could have been avoided had Daniel just gotten a therapist.
WHOA. What if Alfred had just hired a therapist all those years ago?
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