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?
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?