Drew: I lost a part of my innocence when Richard Harris passed away. It wasn’t an existential crisis brought about by confronting mortality, but the cognitive dissonance brought about by his role of Albus Dumbledore being filled by Michael Gambon. I’m sure for many young Harry Potter fans, that was the first time they were confronted with the notion that the identity of a beloved fictional character is so dictated by casting decisions, but looking at the differences between the two actors’ performances, it’s almost as if they were playing different characters. Harris imbued the role with a quiet, almost doddering sweetness, while Gambon’s take was notably sterner. Both takes are supported by the books, but it had never occurred to me before seeing Prisoner of Azkaban that an actor’s (or director’s) emphasis on certain traits could have such a profound effect on the final product. I found myself thinking those same thoughts as Robert Venditti and Van Jensen assert their own read on Barry Allen in The Flash 30.
The issue finds Barry (and the rest of Central City) recovering from the events of Forever Evil. We don’t get a ton of details, but it doesn’t really matter: Barry is back, and he’s racked with guilt over failing to save his city. That guilt is explored thanks to Dr. Rebecca Janus, the psychologist tasked with clearing all of Central City’s police force for active duty in the wake of Forever Evil. It’s the classic “superhero discusses their regular life but is really talking about their costumed life” scene, which Venditti and Jensen cleverly liven up by having Barry constantly bolting from the room every time Dr. Janus looks away.
It’s classic Flash stuff, but Venditti and Jensen use it to illustrate Barry’s guilt over allowing his city to fall to ruin, as well as his dedication to making it right. Indeed, the showing is so effective, we almost don’t need the telling.
For my money, that belt-and-suspenders approach is the only sign that the creative team is new to each other. I’m trying to avoid comparing this issue to Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato’s run, but I think it’s fair to say that it was evident how comfortable those two were working together. They could play to each other’s strengths beautifully, and knew when to have faith that the writing or the art would be able to carry the moment. That’s palpably absent here — artist Brett Booth drives Barry’s guilt home in every single panel, which makes a lot of the dialogue with Dr. Janus superfluous, bordering on over-written.
It’s rare that I would complain that an issue is too thematically unified, so I’m going to consider this a good problem — and one that I suspect will dissolve as this team grows more comfortable with one another. I do kind of wish we were done with Dr. Janus, though. Beyond the on-the-nose dialogue, she’s named after the Greek god of beginnings and transitions. That’s certainly thematically relevant, but is delivered with exactly zero elegance. This issue feels like such a new start even without that detail, it makes me wonder why Venditti and Jensen thought it was necessary in the first place.
The main thrust of this issue for me is Barry’s renewed focus on being Central City’s protector. This new direction makes sense creatively (giving this run a strong voice right off the bat) as well as narratively — Barry wishes to refocus his efforts after his city was nearly destroyed. Barry spends so much of this issue doing pretty mundane civic tasks — repairing walls, cheering up his friend, rescuing lost puppies (hilariously, he manages to combine those last two) — giving the story a scope that seems to include the entire city. It’s a fun take (and delivered with enough charm) to make me want to return.
But the real draw here is the twist — five years from now, Barry will fail to save another Central Citizen, one Wally West. I’m not sure this is exactly the return Wally fans were hoping for, but Venditti and Jensen seem to have built in some kind of mechanism for Barry to change the past — he’s already noticed that his watch is a few seconds slow after a day of running. Exactly how that becomes full-on time-travel isn’t clear (though a 20-year flash-forward suggests that Barry is working it out), but this arc seems sure to address a living Wally at some point soon.
Scott, you were such a big fan of Manapul and Buccellato’s run, I’m curious to hear if you were able to get on board with this issue at all. This is clearly going to be a different series going forward, but is it a series you’re interested in sticking with? This issue strikes me as a pretty mixed bag, but it’s certainly asserting itself. Is that a plus or a minus for you?
Scott: Definitely a plus. Manapul and Buccellato’s style is inimitable, so I have no doubt that this new team is making the right choice in boldly making this title their own. They have little to gain by copying their predecessors; I just hope they’re not actively forgetting the past.
You’re right, Drew, those looking forward to Wally’s return must have been quite disappointed to see him dead on the second page. Actually, though, it’s Barry’s apparent experimentation with time travel that concerns me. At the end of Manapul and Buccellato’s run, Barry was presented with an opportunity to potentially undo his mother’s murder. He chose not to, believing it best not to use his powers to alter the past, tempting as it may be. It was something of a defining moment for him — not so much his coming to terms with his mother’s death, but the drawing of a moral line in the sand. Now, suddenly, he seems to be looking for a way to travel back in time to save Wally. Even under new writers, Barry is still the same character, so I’m surprised by how quick Jansen and Venditti are to subvert a character moment from a recent arc. Of course, this is speculation, and Barry could ultimately come to the same conclusion he reached before. If that’s the case, though, why bother with such a similar plot point?
Booth and Rapmund certainly have big shoes to fill in the art department. I found the Flash-in-action scenes to be the most visually compelling moments of the issue, which bodes well for this art team. Building a brick wall or finding a lost dog isn’t the kind of action that will have anyone at the edge of their seat, but Booth renders those scenes with clarity while showing that he can draw a Flash who looks great at top speed.
That’s a good looking Flash if you ask me. He’s powerful. He’s purposeful. Most importantly, he’s running all over shit like it doesn’t even matter. What is that even? Torn up road? A collapsed building? Whatever. Barry’s running over it like it ain’t no thang! Seriously though, drawing a Flash who looks good while running is an artistic responsibility of almost unparalleled importance. Speed defines this character. In that respect, I like what I’m seeing from Booth.
To answer your question, Drew, I do intend to stick with this title. I’m unsure if I’m a fan of The Flash or just Manapul and Buccellato’s work in general. This issue didn’t help me make up my mind, but with the amount of time I’ve invested in this series, I’d like to see where these new voices can take it.
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?