Drew: I have a friend who used to love Law and Order — er, he liked it as much as a person can really like an episodic primetime drama — the point is, he was happy to tune in every week to see how the team handles the new case. That is, until his son pointed out to him how formulaic the show really is — right down to when in the episode they’ll nab the wrong suspect, find that key clue, or offer a plea bargain. It ruined the show for him — knowing what would happen next robbed every development of any drama, so he just stopped watching it. In some way, we all have this same experience with storytelling in general: the more stories we consume, and the more familiar with common formulas we become, the better we are at predicting what happens next. We recognize foreshadowing, we notice if we’re being intentionally misled — we just become harder to fool. Many of us are willing to put that aside to suspend our disbelief that maybe the hero won’t make it out this time, or maybe the lead couple won’t end up together, after all, but sometimes a writer still wants to surprise us. This often requires going into DEEP left field, which can make the resulting developments feel arbitrary, or even nonsensical. Unfortunately, those are the kinds of final act reveals we get in Flash 29.
The issue opens with Flash and Deadman confronting Singh, who it turns out didn’t horribly maim those scientists, and arrived at the scene only moments before our heroes. It turns out, Sutter had possessed a janitor at the crime lab in hopes of finding both his own descendants — whose body he can inhabit more permanently — and those of his sworn enemy, Marshall Fletcher, who he intends to kill. The computer sends Sutter off towards Captain Frye, who it appears is his only living descendant. But wait! There’s a chance that Frye is Barry’s father, so Barry would also be susceptible. Frye lures Sutter away from town and offers himself up in an attempt to take him out via suicide, but Barry is having none of that. But wait! It turns out that Frye isn’t a Sutter at all, and he doctored the records in order to protect Barry, who is. Not that it matters — Barry has figured out a way to be ghost-proof, and Deadman has found a suitable ghost prison (having failed to find a nearby protection grid). Looks like everything is back to normal. But wait! The last scene features Frye visiting Barry’s dad in prison, where they conspire to never tell Barry the truth about his mother’s death.
But like, if Sutter prefers to inhabit the bodies of his descendants, and Barry is the only living descendant, then his mom must have been one, too. It seems possible that either she or Barry was responsible for the last round of Keystone Killer murders, which might explain her death. This is all information that Barry is privy to, so it doesn’t seem like a stretch that he might start asking these questions. The only bit he doesn’t know is that his dad and Frye seem to know the truth, but are hiding it from Barry — even going so far as to take the fall for the murder. I think it follows that they’re protecting Barry because he committed those crimes and has no recollection because he was possessed at the time.
I don’t want to think about this too hard — there’s a chance this is all a big fake-out from writer Brian Buccellato — but whether or not he’s personally responsible, I’m not super thrilled at these supernatural elements playing such an important role in Barry’s youth. I kind of preferred Barry’s origins as simple and relatable, such that the only supernatural element came with being struck by lightening and being doused in chemicals. Tying his past to a ghost seems to needlessly complicate an otherwise straightforward story.
Sorry to be a downer all around, but this issue left me pretty cold. Many of these complaints are rehashes of my feelings last month, but unfortunately, my key point of praise then — Patrick Zircher’s pencils — are conspicuously absent here. Agustin Padilla does an admirable job matching Zircher’s drawing style, but his layouts don’t even come close to Zircher’s narrative mastery. It’s a fine looking issue, but it feels like a noticeable step-down in terms of dynamism and clarity.
I can’t even find anything nice to say about the cover, which promises “a RACE with DEATH to save his MOTHER’S LIFE!” Only, nothing even close to this happens in the issue. I’m very aware that comics don’t always feature the conflict on their cover literally, but there’s usually some kind of figurative interpretation that makes sense. This one doesn’t even come close. Nora Allen is dead for the duration of this issue, and at no point is it suggested that Barry could save her in any way. What she’s doing on the cover does little other than suggest that she probably was killed by Sutter, so again, probably Barry.
Woof. I have not been a fan of this arc — it started with promise, but it’s been a steady downhill march in my estimation. Unfortunately, this looks like it’s Buccellato’s last hurrah with Barry — Robert Venditti and Van Jensen are set to take over next month — which means we’ll never again see the heights Booch achieved with collaborator Francis Manapul earlier in the series’ run. That’s kind of a depressing note to end on, but I’m afraid I don’t have much positive to say here. Maybe you can turn this sinking ship around, Scotty?
Scott: Here goes nothing. Drew, I think there’s a good chance you’re right about this issue’s implications: that Barry killed his mother while possessed by Sutter, his dad took the fall to protect Barry, and Frye’s covering the whole thing up. Convoluted, arbitrary, absurd; call it what you will. But, seeing how Barry’s mother’s murder has been such a focal point of this series, eventually Barry is going to get to the bottom of it. After 30 issues building it up, is there really any resolution that wouldn’t feel just as cheap? Now, if Buccellato isn’t intentionally misleading us — still a big “if” — there’s at least a chance this storyline could play out in the mold of classic Greek tragedies, rather than just being the obligatory lingering demon our hero wrestles with in-between arcs. Barry’s been so reckless in his pursuit of this mystery, I like the idea that the truth could ultimately destroy him, and that his dad and Frye’s efforts to protect him are only making the eventual reveal that much more painful for him. Let’s not forget that several of Barry’s co-workers were just murdered by Sutter. That wouldn’t have happened if Frye and Henry Allen weren’t concealing the truth from Barry.
One thing I can’t figure out is, if Buccellato is angling to turn Barry into the tragic hero I so want him to become, why is he still keeping up any level of secrecy? In the panels Drew included above, Frye is careful not to name any names. It seems both unnatural and unnecessary; Barry isn’t in the room, so why can’t he say the killer’s name? It must be to conceal the killer’s identity from us, the readers. After hinting so strongly that Barry is the killer, though, why wouldn’t Buccellato come right out and say it? In this case there’s a lot more drama to be had from “when is Barry going to learn the tragic truth?” than from “is Barry the killer?” Unless, of course, Barry isn’t the killer.
The strongest piece of evidence pointing to Barry is that his father is in jail despite knowing who committed the crime. The only reason I can imagine a man taking the fall for his wife’s murder is to protect his own child. Thus, it follows that the murderer must be Henry Allen’s son. That’s not to say Barry is necessarily that son. Any child of Nora Allen would have the requisite DNA to host the Keystone Killer’s ghost, so she could have just as well been killed by another of her offspring — a sibling Barry never even knew he had. There is precedent of Barry having a long lost twin brother, Malcolm Thawne, AKA the villain Cobalt Blue.
OK, I’m getting pretty far out there. My point is, I don’t want to judge this issue based on speculation of what it could be setting up. Venditti and Jansen could have any number of surprises up their sleeves. It’s unfortunate that Buccellato’s run on The Flash is ending on such an uninspiring note, but this is an ongoing series in the midst of a creative transition — it’s bound to be awkward. Speaking of awkward, I’m having trouble finding art to highlight, so I’ll offer up the issues best “what the heck?” moment.
I think this is supposed to be a joke about the nature of the case being such that Frye would need to talk to Flash and Barry successively, unaware that they’re the same person. It reads more like Frye is a big idiot for not recognizing that his adopted son shares the exact same profile as the superhero he was just talking to, or like Padilla was too lazy to design two distinct panels. Or maybe the twin panels are a metaphor for Barry and his long lost, mother-murdering twin! That must be it.
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