Today, Scott and Shelby are discussing The Flash 26, originally released December 31st, 2013.
Scott: I recently watched the first episode of BBC’s Sherlock. After just a few minutes it was clear that the show is awesome- compelling characters, great acting, cool editing, etc. Then, something strange happened: halfway through the episode, I lost interest. I couldn’t figure it out; I had enjoyed everything about the show so far, but I couldn’t keep my head in it. It dawned on me that the show wasn’t following a typical format. The 90-minute episode is the length of a feature film, but with the slowly developing characters and relationships you’d expect from a new TV series. There’s nothing bad about the episode, it just doesn’t fit with what I’ve been trained to expect from a TV show. The beats were coming in the wrong places. I had the same feeling about The Flash 26. A stand alone issue of Flash? Something doesn’t seem right.
Barry’s mentor, Dr. Carlson, has died in an apparent lab accident. Barry, however, suspects foul play and follows a trail of evidence that leads him to Spitfire, a stunt-pilot turned stunt-criminal. After learning Spitfire has stolen vials of deadly diseases, Barry does some crazy Flash stuff and makes his way onto her moving plane. Sick of his shit, Spitfire tosses the vials off the plane, so Barry does some more crazy Flash stuff to snatch them all out of the air and land safely on the ground. In one last crazy Flash maneuver, Barry directs Spitfire’s burning plane into an empty stadium and arrests Spitfire, who concedes that Barry is, in fact, very fast.
As you can probably tell, this issue is a good fix for some crazy Flash feats. Everyone probably knows that he can vibrate through solid objects, but he has other tricks up his sleeve, some so outrageous they require special explanation via “Flash Fact”.
There’s no shortage of sort-of-explanations for Flash’s obscure powers. In an issue about tracking down a stunt-woman, writer Christos Gage saves the most extreme stunts for Flash himself, all of which are as fascinating as they are nonsensical. In terms of providing over-the-top thrills, this issue succeeds greatly.
Elsewhere, however, the issue has little success. What might have developed into an intriguing detective story is derailed by Barry immediately discovering Spitfire was at the scene of Dr. Carlson’s murder (and the fact that Spitfire is fingered as the murderer in the cold open, before we even get to the crime scene). Spitfire isn’t all that compelling as a villain, either. She performs stunt-heists seemingly because she knows how to do stunts and she’s pure evil. Perhaps that’s enough motivation for a comic book villain, but Spitfire is so exceedingly evil that all of her dialogue sounds clunky.
The real flaw of the issue is simply that it is a one-off story. For a title where everything is part of some major arc or crossover event, trying to fit any entire contained story into one issue just feels wrong. It’s unfair, really, that Gage and artist Neil Googe are tasked with creating an issue like this in the wake of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelatto’s departure from the title. The whole story feels rushed, and it all comes together a little too easily for Barry. By the end of the issue, when Spitfire just lets Barry catch her, it’s abundantly clear that this story will have no bearing on the series going forward.
Nothing about this issue is particularly bad. Googe’s art, in fact, is quite good. It would be impossible for any artist to step in and replicate the amazing work Manapul and Buccellato did on this title, but it feels very much like Googe has captured their essence. He doesn’t depict motion as excitingly as his predecessors, but there is an impeccable clarity in all of his panels and some beautiful scenes set in the clouds.
Shelby, what did you take away from this issue? Am I too caught up in my preconceived notions of what a Flash issue ought to feel like? There’s certainly plenty to behold- crazy stunts and pretty art. Is spectacle enough to make up for an issue that is essentially filler?
Shelby: You just might be, Scott. The problem with serialized stories is that it’s so easy to develop a notion of what a particular story ought to be. I had a hard time on that first Charles Soule-penned Swamp Thing. As an issue on it’s own, it wasn’t bad, but it definitely didn’t feel like what I thought an issue of Swamp Thing should feel like. When we are spoiled by great creative teams, it is that much harder to adjust to someone new.
That being said, I agree with a lot of what you have to say about this issue. It suffers from a classic case of one-off disease. Gage has the daunting task of crafting a story with meaning and relevance to the character, but fitting it into one single issue. Ultimately, the issue just serves to remind us just what exactly Flash can do with his power. On the one hand, it flirts with that Golden Age sensibility, when it seemed super-powered heroes could do anything if you manipulated their powerset enough. Flash needs to chase a plane? Have him vibrate his feet enough to run on clouds, that seems reasonable, right? Overpowering heroes is a dangerous trap to fall into, because you end up with the same sort of rushed “I give up!” endings like we see here.
On the other hand, man do I love Flash Facts. Seriously, I was hoping there would be more than one. They’re just so goofy, Patrick and I have taken to declaring any obvious statement as a “Flash Fact.” While this issue has that hokey Golden Age feel to it, I kind of like that about it. I certainly wouldn’t want the whole series to be written this way, mind you, but this is where the one-off approach works nicely. Googe did a great job with the art this issue; his style is just cartoonish enough to match the tone Manapul and Bucellato established for this book. I love the pin-up style Spitfire has going on; I would have no problem with her jumping out of planes and being totally evil in the future. This issue turned out to be a fun enough little jaunt, but I’m looking forward to really getting back into the life of the Flash and seeing what’s next for my favorite speedster.
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?