Today, Patrick and Scott are discussing The Flash 23.3: Rogues, originally released September 18th, 2013. This issue is part of DC’s Villain Month. Click here for our coverage of Villain Month.
Patrick: I wouldn’t say that Captain Cold is an alcoholic, but he does drink. Occasionally, he drinks to escape, but he also drinks to celebrate. It’s a dimension of who he his, but it doesn’t define him, which is so rare in comics. If someone’s a drinker, that’s probably some horrible vice that pigeonholes them into being abusive, inattentive or otherwise absent. Hell, Taylor and I just posted a piece of Casey Jones’ alcoholic father in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles yesterday. Beer is a consistent factor in this issue, it sees Cold through despair, it helps him unwind, and it’s even a sign of hospitality. Cold’s boozing habits are nuanced and resist simple definition, just like the man himself.
The Rogues are in the midst of a heist, but end up calling it off – just because it might end up killing everyone who lives on the block. They even manage this altruistic decision with very little in-fighting due to Glider’s impeccable leadership. That night, they go out drinkin’ to celebrate; only, Mirror Master and Glider physically can’t drink – he’s stuck in the mirror and she’s an astral projection. Glider’s a good sport until the end of the night (or… maybe it’s the next morning) when she finally blows off a little steam. Turns out, everyone is still pissed at Cold for forcing these superpowers on them. Gilder decides to take matters into her own hands and uses her powers to pull Mirror Master out of Mirror World, but the strain of using her powers so vigorously causes her projection to disappear and her already-comatose body to go into cardiac arrest. Cold flips out, and turns back to the bottle. Hard. So hard that he returns to the bank his team failed to rob months ago and just drunkenly storms the place. This is Cold at rock bottom, and artist Patrick Zircher nails the character’s anger, fear and desperation in his stance, in his posture — and in one stunning moment — his eyes.
But Cold’s lucky. He may have given up on the Rogues, but they have not given up on him. They rush to his rescue, and while they don’t help him rob the bank, they do spirit him away to Mirror World, where they graciously accept Cold’s apologies for turning them into superpowered freaks. Realizing that the Rogues stick together — no matter what — Cold reclaims his role as leader of the group.
There’s a little more to this issue, but a lot of it is retread from Forever Evil 1 and The Flash 23.1: Grodd. Specifically, this issue retells the meeting held at the Watchtower wreckage, the Rogues busting Trickster out of Iron Heights, and the discovery that Grodd has reconquered the Gem Cities. Two weeks ago, Spencer noted how the Rogues seemed oddly out-of-continuity in Forever Evil, and this issue addresses all of his concerns directly. So, right off the bat, it’s nice to have those logical inconsistencies addressed. Now we don’t have to assume that Geoff Johns was just ignoring Buccellato and Manapul’s excellent run on this series.
Captain Cold takes center stage in this issue – even if it says “Rogues” on the cover. I can’t fault Brian Buccellato for that decision, he’s clearly the most empathetic member of the team. The character has such an interesting inferiority complex that’s never explicitly defined as such. But everything Cold does is in the name of setting his team — and by extension, himself — apart from other villains. The Rogues don’t kill: that’s a big one. He even went out and got them all superpowers, even if that didn’t necessarily jive with everyone’s wishes. So it’s an especially moving ride that Buccellato takes us on as we watch Leonard hit bottom. He’s a man of such principles that it actually means something to see him lose it all – his team, his friends, and eventually his family. I don’t care how many times I see it, the image of Cold wandering through the streets with a six-pack under is arm is always going to get me.
Brian Buccellato usually does the coloring on all the Flash books, but he handed the reigns over to Nick Filardi for this one. Filardi does a marvelous job of imbuing this Rogues adventure with the same kind of elemental color variety that’s always drawn me to these characters. Look at the way the colors behave in the page above: the top half of the page is all blue – Cold’s color. Then Cold’s dominance is challenged by the Scarlet Speedster’s interrupting red panel. Cold regains control in the next (and the blue wash returns), but the explosion of the last panel is much warmer, adopting the yellow-gold shimmering quality we ascribe to the disembodied Glider. It’s his whole New 52 origin told in abstract colors.
Scott, did you enjoy this issue? There was so much incident packed in, I barely even mentioned it all – was it ever moving too fast for you? Also, how’d you like the all the recontextualizations of scenes we’ve read before? That kind of thing usually works like gangbusters on me, but I sorta wish we could have used that time to focus on the emotional journeys of the rest of these guys. On that note: who’s your favorite non-Cold Rogue? Scott: I probably like Weather Wizard most, at least in concept. The idea of a man who becomes more depressed each time he uses his superpower has interesting implications. If he were to use his powers to do good, it would be admirable if not tragic, a sign of a truly altruistic hero. But to use those powers primarily for evil, as Weather Wizard does, is twisted beyond comprehension. He’s constantly working towards selfish goals, but in doing so he can only possibly make himself feel worse. He’s a fascinating psychological study.
For the purposes of this issue, however, the Rogues are basically indistinguishable. Like Patrick said, Captain Cold takes center stage- the other Rogues are just echoes of the same sentiment bouncing around him, whether it’s resentment for Cold selfishly binding them all to their powers, or the forgiveness they show as they rescue him from the bank. I agree that this issue could have spent more time exploring the other characters’ journeys. Each character had an emotional arc, I guess, it’s just that they all had the same one, so it hardly counts. A good chunk of this issue shows the Rogues confronting Cold, telling him how they feel as a group, trading sentences back and forth.
It’s important for Cold to know the other Rogues all feel the same way, but there were too many moments where three or four characters were involved in a conversation that could have easily been between just two. The dialogue above- and throughout the issue, really- is interchangeable, it doesn’t matter which character is saying which line, and that’s just lazy writing (although the Rogues’ inability to think independently helps explain why they need a Snart at the helm).
I’m not sure it would have been possible for Buccellato to have written the issue I’m asking for. Can you give unique voices to five separate characters in a single issue? Most Villains Month issues have been solely dedicated to a single character, not a group like the Rogues. Buccellato would have been better off calling this issue The Flash 23.3: Captain Cold, since that’s the story he ended up telling. Maybe it’s unfair that something as incidental as a title can affect my feelings so much, but the expectations you have going into reading a comic play a big part in determining what you get out of it.
To answer your question, Patrick, I enjoyed elements of this issue, even if it left me unsatisfied overall. Like Weather Wizard, Captain Cold is an interesting psychological study, and this issue does a good job of exploring his psyche. He’s coping with the repercussions of making bad decisions that seemed like good ones at the time, trying to live a normal life after screwing up the lives off his closest friends and giving up control of his group to his own sister. His actions are completely understandable even when they’re shockingly irrational, like drunkenly robbing a bank. Captain Cold is a great character, and the only fault of this issue is that he alone comes off as far more interesting than the Rogues as a whole.
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