Patrick: Let’s talk a little bit about the need for, and the necessity of, spectacle in superhero comics. At first blush, it seems absolutely crucial, right? If our characters aren’t using their powers and punching each other in the face and teleporting and zapping each other with lightning, then like, what’s the point of making them superheroes in the first place? There’s something about the non-stop, out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fire pacing of Rogues’ Rebellion that feels like superhero comics stripped down past the concepts of good and evil and great responsibility all that stuff. It’s pure adrenaline-powered action, with only a modicum of scheming to slow things down. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that these are Flash’s baddies — and that we even get some time with Johnny Quick — as the plot ramps up to a fever pitch heading to the conclusion.
Actually, “plot” might be the wrong term for it. Forever Evil: Rogues’ Rebellion 5 isn’t so much plotted as it is choreographed. Weather Wizard, Trickster and Mirror Master escape the Royal Flush Gang’s pattywagon — presumably putting Glider’s life in jeopardy — so they can come up with a plan to go on the offensive for once. The plan? Distract the Flushers with mirror projections of themselves (including Heatwave, because maybe they weren’t paying attention), while Trickster gets Lisa to Pied Piper and the small band of Central City cops he aligned himself with. The all-out brawl barely gets off the ground when Johnny Quick and Atomica show up on the scene, and even though they’re so much tougher than any of the Rogues, our heroes have learned a thing or two about fighting speedsters. Grid calls the Johnny and Atomica back on some very important Syndicate business and the Rogues dare to breathe a sigh of relief. That’s when Grid teleports in like 20 big baddies to keep the fight going.
This shit’s relentless. While Arkham War is more focused on subterfuge and Forever Evil proper is focused on bringing a specific team together, Rogues’ Rebellion has no such patience. Everything that happens in this issue is a goddamn emergency that needs to be addressed in the moment, granting the story a rare sense of urgency. There’s no shortage of discrete hurdles Brian Buccellato is able to put in the path of the Rogues, and while his ability to smartly access the characters on the bench is admirable, it’s Scott Hepburn’s art work that tirelessly emphasizes momentum and ultimately gives the issue it’s energy.
I mean, even the stand-off moments are imbued with a little extra sense of motion. Check out Ace deciding to call the Rogue’s bluff.
First of all, what an awesome close-up on the character’s face. We’re forced to process these images at the same time — not only is it hard to isolate your gaze on the page, but everything draws attention to the second panel. Notice how the top of Ace’s head invades the panel before it, or how the strokey background that starts on the right side of the first panel is continued on either side of the second. Or, go simple: there’s a goddamned shotgun going off with a loud yellow BOOM. It makes that split second tight-shot of Ace’s face that much more kinetic — however he’s making that judgement call, it’s happens ludicrously fast, and thought bleeds into action before we can really make sense of it.
After years of fighting the Fastest Man Alive, the Rogues are prepared for this sort of thing. Hepburn uses all of the usual Flash-tricks to depict his characters in insane motion: multiple images in a single panel to show Atomica zipping around, and a smear of red denoting the path of Johnny Quick. My absolute favorite example of this occurs when Johnny takes out the Flusher that shot Weather Wizard before he got a chance to punch him in the face or something.
The way that Quick-blur combines with the splatter of the henchman’s blood is just astounding. It’s an effect so lively, Hepburn doesn’t seem to be able to contain it to the panel — not only does it smear off to the right, but there’s a little red splatter on the white space above the panel. Buccellato and Hepburn are tapping into the same pleasure centers that are active when an issue of The Flash is playing to the visual strengths of the character. We tend to get all hung up on character moments and themes and crap like that, but the undeniable appeal of the Flash universe is unchecked motion.
Spencer, were you having as much fun as I was with this one or did it leave you wanting something more substantive? There’s a weird little reveal in here that I didn’t talk about: on Earth-3, the Rogues are cops. Not heroes, mind you: cops. Here we are at the end of this event, and the CCPD is working side-by-side with the Rogues. What’s the significance there? Are we supposed to see the theoretical cop-versions of the Rogues as opposite our characters or reinforcing their natural inclination toward orderly lawlessness? FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: how many of those villains in that final spread can you name? (I get like three of them and then I thought that bald flying dude was Vulture, so I decided to stop trying).
Spencer: Ooh Patrick, I love a challenge, and naming a bunch of B and C-list villains is my favorite kind! Of the 14 villains in the spread (not counting Grodd) I was able to name 9 off the top of my head — originally that number was 10, but I mistook Typhoon for Icicle (easy mistake to make). For those of you playing along at home, here’s a handy break-down:
The villains on the left are all making their first appearances in Rogues Rebellion; Tar Pit himself one of the newer Rogues Geoff Johns created for his first run on the Flash, and the other five are all Teen Titans villains who usually work together as the “Fearsome Five.” However, the villains on the right — with the exception of Amazo — are all returning for round two: The Rogues already defeated Hyena, Plastique, Black Bison, Multiplex and Typhoon in Rogues Rebellion 1 and squared off against Parasite and the Archer in issue 2. This is shaping up to be quite the grudge match, especially since the Rogues and King Grodd still have unfinished business, what with them fighting against him back during the “Gorilla Warfare” story and especially since he ripped Trickster’s arm off. I hope Buccellato uses this opportunity to resolve (or at least further) some of the tension between these two groups, and perhaps even address what Grodd’s been up to since he hopped off in boredom back in his Villain’s Month spotlight. For a series with so much momentum, this line-up digs quite a bit into the Rogues’ past, and it should be interesting to see that explored a little.
In fact, it seems like the Rogues are building up a bit of their own little Rogues Gallery here, which is quite amusing considering your questions about the Rogues’ morality, Patrick. The Rogues were always the “heroes” of this particular story, but with their motivations now stripped down to simply protecting Glider (even at the risk of their own lives at this point) and with their opponents all being murderous, bloodthirsty scum, the Rogues are coming across more heroic than ever in this issue — perhaps even a little too heroic. Mirror Master has easily become the most virtuous Rogue, to the point where I’m actually wondering how he ever became a thief in the first place. I would appreciate seeing more of Scudder’s motivations and flaws in the future, but for now, he is believably growing into someone capable of leading the Rogues; just in time too, since, with Glider still in a coma and [SPOILER ALERT] Captain Cold set to join the Justice League after Forever Evil, they’re going to be needing a new leader.
Scudder growing into this leadership role feels right, even if the narrative hasn’t necessarily justified it, and I feel the same way about Weather Wizard’s storyline this month. Early in the issue, Mardon gets into a scuffle with Scudder and abandons the Rogues.
Of course — as often happens in comics — he later returns just in time to save his teammates from a sure death at the hands of Johnny Quick and Atomica. This harkens back to the exchange in issue 3 where Mardon reveals to Poison Ivy that the only woman he ever trusted killed his brother, and since then he not only trusts no one, but doesn’t even believe there’s such a thing as honor. “Then why are you with the Rogues?” asks Ivy, and it’s a very legitimate question as Mardon, more than any of the others, has a life outside the Rogues (tumultuous as it may be). Mardon returning to save his fellow Rogues feels right, feels like the logical conclusion of this character arc, but it’s missing a critical piece of information: why? What changed Mardon’s mind? What made him decide he was better off with the Rogues than on his own, what made him decide to trust them despite all his issues?
Before we get too far off the subject of the Rogues’ morality, though (and I’ve already drifted quite a bit), I still want to address Patrick’s prompt. The reveal of the Rogues being cops that you mention, Patrick, isn’t really a “reveal”; Justice League 26 filled us in on that little tidbit a few months ago when it showed us Johnny Quick and Atomica’s origin stories. In that story Johnny and Rhonda (pre-powers) had already murdered Officers Mardon, Scudder, and Walker, and eventually Officers Snart and Rory caught Johnny. They were planning on killing Johnny through slow torture as a form of revenge, but Rhonda freed him and the two captured Len and Mick, gave them a baseball bat, and said they wouldn’t kill the family of whichever officer killed the other; Mick ended up killing Len, got shot by Johnny, and the two were still going to kill both families anyway until more cops arrived and eventually triggered the accident that gave both their powers.
My point is, even as cops these alternate Rogues weren’t the best guys. While Johnny and Rhonda were much worse, Len and Mick were still going to go outside the law to torture and murder Johnny; still, they certainly had reason to want to kill Johnny, and they were still cops with families, so it’s hard to judge just exactly how “good” or “bad” these counterparts were supposed to be. Johns interpretation of Earth-3 as a world where seemingly everyone is a cruel psychopath clouds the issue further, but if I had to guess, I’d say that these counterparts just reinforce the idea that the Rogues are morally ambiguous. On our world they’re essentially bad guys with the capacity for great good, while on Earth-3 they’re apparently good guys with the capacity for great evil; no matter where they hark from, Rogues straddle the fence.
To answer your last question Patrick, yeah, I had a great time with this issue. While I have occasionally noticed that Rogues Rebellion isn’t always the most substantive series or that the characters’ motives aren’t always fully explained, the quick pace and frenetic action and art are almost always enough to sooth my worries and keep me invested in the story. I absolutely adore the Rogues and would give my right arm to see their solo adventures continue (ooh, too soon, Trickster?), but even if I didn’t, I think the sheer fun and spectacle of this series would keep me coming back anyway.
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?