The Flash 31

flash 31Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing The Flash 31, originally released May 28th, 2014.

Patrick: Because I spend a fair amount of my time writing about superhero comics, I end up having a lot of conversations about reboots and continuity and “fixing” timelines. You’ll notice that we tend not to dwell on those sorts of things in the actual content of these pieces — we always try to focus on the 20 pages in front of us, and not the uncountable pages that came before — but I’m of the opinion that retcons don’t actually work. If DC were to wipe out the New 52 with the Anti-Monitor next week and launch the old DCU the week following, writers, artists, press and fans would all have the last 3 years of storytelling informing their views on the characters. It’s just like how Aquaman may not have a mini-trident for a hand right now, but that will always be part of who the character “is,” even if it’s not part of who the character “is right now.” But we’re all fascinated with those universe changing mechanics, which is how The Flash 31 upstages itself with a history-altering Future Flash, when the more important character work is happening right now.

Because I think it’s do damn important, let’s start there: present-day Barry Allen is putting in some extra hours to help solve what appears to be an open-and-shut murder case. Turns out that someone has been using weapons pilfered from the Central City Police evidence room to murder criminals that used to do some jobs together. Barry sees a connection (because obviously) while Singh sees only coincidence. Working on his own as the Flash, Barry continues the investigation on his free time, the big problem being that he’s already over-committed his free time to mentoring Wally. Naturally, he sucks at it — showing up late and taking it personally when a twelve-year old lashes out at him for arresting him.

ANTI-FLASH GRAFITI, do you have any idea how bad that isThe interaction between Barry and Wally is heartbreakingly shitty. The kid is twelve years old, without his parents and his aunt is talking about him like he’s not even there. The onus is on the adults to be understanding and patient, not the kid. I’ve become a pretty big fan of Barry in the last couple years, but one of the constant criticisms I’m encountered about his character is that he’s effectively been canonized — ever since his saintly sacrifice in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry has been the noblest hero in the DC Universe. But no nice guy is a nice guy all the time. I find Barry’s reaction here genuinely upsetting, he’s showing neither the patience nor the compassion I expect from him. Of course, this is also an alarmingly effective application of the trope whereby work drives the protagonist to be a dick to his loved ones. It might be because I’m a heartless jerk, but I usually empathize with the hero in those situations: family is important, but the work is saving the world! I am decidedly flipped on this one, and not because Barry’s work with the police is unimportant, but because he’s too harshly letting down someone who genuinely needs him.

And then there’s the other half of this issue: a story set 16 years in the future where a Flash from the even-further-future comes back to lessen the tragedy surrounding a Mirror Master heist. If Future Barry hadn’t intervened, the mirror-themed robbery would have turned into a mini-mass-murder when an earthquake shatters the mirrors (evidently killing the hostages inside Mirror World). Taken on its own, this is a neat tale, with a clear and unique perspective: Barry uses his knowledge of the future and his super speed to save the day. Simple. It becomes less simple when Barry tries to explain what’s happening to him:

“The Speed Force is ruptured, and I’ve been slipping time for decades. The more I run, the more I lose. So I’m running back to fix it all. And to make sure — succeed or fail — idiots like you never hurt anyone again.”

That’s borderline incoherent. I’m not sure what that “succeed or fail” is doing in the middle of that last sentence, and I’m pretty sure the world “through” is missing from the first sentence (“slipping through time” instead of “slipping time”). I can’t tell if writers Robert Venditti and Van Jensen are presenting this sloppy explanation as a comment on the fact that there is no way to adequately explain what’s happening there. The Flash is a vehicle for retcons — what was Flashpoint if not a series of retcons collapsing on themselves? — and the mechanics of such are explained away with some handwaving and “blah blah blah cosmic treadmill.” As a comment on the narrative gymnastics required to change the past (or the future-past or whatever), this line could be dead-on parody.

But it could also be sincere. There’s so much copy in this issue that I think Venditti and Jensen are stuck in full-on explain-mode. It’s a shame too, because artist Brett Booth shines when he’s allowed to do the bulk of the storytelling. There’s a panel where he draws Flash doing an entire crime scene investigation in the blink of an eye and with no text. It’s a marvelous mini-story and a testament to what Booth is capable of.

Flash investigates a crime scene

My favorite detail is Barry under the desk — what’s he looking at down there?

But, like I said, there’s just way too much chatter in this issue, and Booth cannot find an interesting way to stage talking-heads sequences without sacrificing clarity. There are multiple panels where I have a hard time determining who is speaking because the characters are so far off in the background. There are also three panels that are half-filled with Barry’s big head, and the other half filled with Barry’s big words.

Spencer, were you shocked to see Barry treat Wally so badly? Also, that’s not how Mirror World works, right?

Spencer: The Mirror World generally works differently every time it’s introduced, Patrick, so nothing that’s done with it really bothers me anymore. It’s essentially magic.

It’s discouraging that Barry and Wally are failing so utterly to hit it off, but I’m not exactly shocked. I can actually sympathize with all three characters in this scenario; Wally’s lashing out but has every reason to be angry, Iris wants to help Wally but obviously doesn’t know much about kids and knows even less about this kid in particular, and Barry certainly overreacts to the harsh words of an angry twelve-year-old, but even he’s basically been pushed into a situation he doesn’t understand with no chance to adjust. It’s not “nice” or ideal — it certainly isn’t what “Saint Barry” would do — but it does strike me as a realistic reaction from all three characters considering the situation.

Actually, I think it’s significant that neither Barry nor Iris understand kids all that well, as it’s likely that neither one had much of a childhood themselves. It appears that Iris essentially raised not only herself, but her brother Daniel as well, and Barry lost his parents at a young age — and while he may not be Bruce Wayne or anything, that’s obviously going to affect his perspective on childhood.

I wonder what it means that Iris roped Barry into this mentor role, though? Does she really think he’s the best man for the job, does she simply have nobody else she can go to, or is she somehow — if only at a subconscious level — hoping this will bring her and Barry closer? Patty certainly seems threatened, and it’s not hard to see why, as, if this little mentor thing actually works out, these three would make a rather adorable little family unit.

Anyway Patrick, while there were a few moments in this issue I found hard to follow, I think you’re a little off-base about Barry’s “slipping time” statement. Yeah, “slipping” time is a poor choice of words on Venditti and Jensen’s part — “losing time” probably would have worked much better — but I’m pretty sure they’re referring to how Barry’s somehow been losing time every time he runs.

time to get a new watch...Something’s happening to Barry every time he runs that’s making his watch lose so much time, and it seems pretty likely to me that it ties into the explanation Blue-Flash gives. This is also a very literal way of representing just how much stuff Barry has on his plate: no matter how fast he runs, he can never catch up, in fact, he’ll only get more behind. Even the fastest man alive can’t be everywhere, helping everyone all the time, and the fact that Barry tries to do this is probably both one of his greatest strengths and one of his greatest weaknesses.

While the sequence with Blue-Flash and Mirror Master is a lot of fun — and dynamically illustrated by Booth to boot — I did find it a little hard to follow. Specifically, I had trouble with Flash’s instructions to Fyre to open up a two-way portal and lead the crowd out of the mirror world. Ignore the fact that Frye should have no idea how to use Scudder’s mirror gun; Barry never says where to lead them to. I assumed that Barry meant to lead them back into the museum, especially after Mirror Master specifically mentioned how the mirrors were sealed on the inside, but that would have caused them to die in the earthquake. In retrospect, it’s obvious that Frye opened up a portal to somewhere outside the museum, but I definitely spent a few minutes trying to figure that out. Booth’s art only further muddies the scene.

the case of the vanishing mirror peopleThe civilians just vanish from the mirrors! I know that any amount of time can pass in the gutters between panels, and I know that Frye simply led the civilians out through another portal, but it’s still incredibly jarring — Frye would have had to herd them out like Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea, which would have taken time, but instead they just abruptly disappear. I guess I’m saying that I understand what happened now, but that the flow of this whole scene doesn’t work that well, and I spent a decent little chunk of time trying to parse this sequence of events out on my first read.

I’m pretty happy with Booth’s pencils though, even in the talking head scenes. Booth’s work relies heavily on momentum, which is why he’s such a great fit for The Flash, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the skills to tackle slower scenes. Booth throws out a variety of layouts and camera angles in these scenes that keeps things interesting, and he’s obviously having fun dressing the characters (Barry’s in three different outfits throughout the issue — not counting his Flash uniform — and I’m particularly fond of his Blue Lantern shirt).

Still, it’s those action scenes where Booth really gets to cut loose. I love the strange angular layouts he uses throughout this issue, which create a sense of movement and chaos; this is especially appropriate during the Mirror Master segment, where the way the panels scatter and even the shape of the panels seems to mimic the way mirrors spew from Scudder’s gun.

You can't have Rogues without puns!Overall, I still think Venditti and Jensen have a strong handle on Barry’s personality — both his strengths and his weaknesses — and I like the grand scope of the narrative they’re laying, which, much like their work over in the Green Lantern universe, seems like it could play out for quite a while yet. This might be a weaker issue than usual, but I’m still pretty excited to see what they have in store for the future of the Flash (and the past of the Future-Flash!).

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?

11 comments on “The Flash 31

  1. I was really disappointed with Wally’s treatment this issue, and I’m not talking about Barry or Iris either. I mean, I completely agree that they need some lessons in basic kid-dealing-with skills, but I was more disappointed with how the creators treated Wally in this issue (and with how they’ve done so since his debut, but that’s another story).

    On a story level, I understand that these adults aren’t used to dealing with kids, but it’s sad that Iris doesn’t know of one interest that Wally might have. This means that she, at best, failed to learn about him even a little, or at worst, didn’t even try. Either way it’s shitty parenting and it’s made worse by her “don’t all boys like sports?” line which bugged the absolute hell out of me.

    On the creator level though, I was even more disappointed because I read this whole scene as a missed opportunity for the creators to give readers at least some characterizing feature from Wally not steeped in the stereotypes that we’ve seen so far from him. The new Wally is controversial, but many of us are at least still interested in learning more about him. I feel like this scene could have been used to educated us more about him, even if only a little.

    Iris: “I asked Wally why he was tagging walls and he told me that he was into this street artist named Banksy. He likes art Barry, why don’t you take him to the museum?”

    It didn’t have to be that of course, but my point is that if Iris had known thing one about Wally she wouldn’t have come off as shitty, and fans would have learned a new thing about this new character.

    • I know this isn’t what you want to hear — being a big Wally West fan — but the issue is profoundly not about Wally. For as much as it looks like they’re not characterizing Wally, they’re equally just not featuring him. We only have expectations of this character as a “Flash” because we recognize the name and want to see him fleshed out to the level that we would expect of a superhero. I think the point here has been about characterizing Barry and Iris — and that’s all been pretty negative. Spencer and I both made points about how it’s upsetting to see Saint Barry taken down a peg, but it is so effective. They’re bad at relating to the kid.

      Also, I don’t like that Wally has to be controversial because of his race. We know nothing character yet, and I wish we’d wait until we did to start suggesting that the creators are blowing an opportunity or are racist or whatever.

      • Patrick, the only expectations of Wally that I have are that he is treated as well as any other character. So far, I don’t feel that he has been. Yes, I’m a fan of Wally West (by which I mean Mark Waid’s version followed by Geoff Johns’), but I’m also trying to be open minded to the current interpretation as well. The problem is that the creators simply haven’t given me much to work with, and what they have given me is undoubtedly stereotypical nonsense. I’ve seen handfuls of Black fans say just as much, and I’ve seen many other fans compare this Wally West to Miles Morales because of how well his character has been realized by Bendis (but there are even criticisms with that as well).

        As for the controversy, it’s not just that the new Wally is Black. Yes, some fans just want ginger Wally back because that’s who they fell in love with, while other fans are sadly racist. Others, though, are simply disappointed in how this ethnicity has been portrayed so far. This is the heart of the controversy that I’m referring to. Being of any particular race is a beautifully complex thing and there’s no one way to be Black, White, Hispanic, etc. So far these creators have done a poor job of capturing that by instead choosing to imbue Wally with a number of worn-out stereotypes. Someone has chosen for Wally West to be Black, and with that comes a very important responsibility: Representation. I know we’ve just met the new Wally, but so far it feels like the creators just went with a number of traits that they’ve seen regurgitated in the media time and again instead of taking some time to do a little research.*

        If the argument is that this is fundamentally not about Wally (even thought the creators have repeatedly expressed just how important Wally is to their run) then I’m still arguing that they could have given Wally a few more character flourishes than what we’ve seen so far. I’m not saying that he needs to be like the Wally I remember, but I do expect to see a fully realized character eventually, and you accomplish that by sprinkling bits and pieces of character as the story moves forward. The creators could have easily done that here, even if this issue wasn’t about Wally. Which, by the way, it is in part. At least tangentially. So why not take a moment and express his character a bit more?

        *Jeff Lemire describing the creative journey which resulted in the new JLU character, Equinox.

        “Lemire: I wanted to really focus on one area, and to do that, I really felt like I needed to really entrench myself in that, so I spent a couple weeks up in that area now, in two different trips. So far most of what I’ve done has been a mix of spending time in the schools up there. There are five schools — three on the Reserve, and two just outside. So I spent a lot of time in the schools, just talking to the kids about what I do and about comics, and sharing my experiences with them, and them with me. Just trying to get to know the youth of the area a lot.

        By creating a new Cree teenage superhero, obviously, I wanted to be respectful and reflect their culture and their way of life.

        I’ve also spent a lot of time on the land itself, getting to know more about traditional hunting and trapping and the way of life up there. Those are all things I’ve taken from there and brought back to my studio, trying to create something from it.

        It’s been a really amazing experience, actually.”

        • Mik, I’ll never begrudge you your feelings — I’ve never read a Wally story, so I honestly have no idea what we’re missing — but I do think it’s too early to say that Venditti and Jensen aren’t paying due respect to the character, or that he’s just a loose collection of stereotypes. Like Spencer suggests below, we’re comparing a few short appearances in a few issues with this Wally versus decades of appearances with the old Wally — of course he’s going to feel thin and underdeveloped. Characterization tends to rely on types until we have time to really get to know a character, and, based on their work on the GL titles, I have faith in these writers to come up with full, nuanced characters given due time. Our expectations are going to make this rough going (what new character would ever get this level of scrutiny?), but I think that comes with the territory. I trust Venditti and Jensen to navigate these waters well, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

        • I know Drew, and I appreciate that. Though I’ll always want to see a return of Earth-August Wally, I’m trying, as much as possible, to come at this from the perspective that this is a brand new character because, really, he is. Yes, it’s a rebooted version of a character so with that comes baggage, but on an intellectual level I’m able to think of this Wally as a separate and newly created character. With that said, I think the creators have failed to give me something tantalizing to latch onto.

          It’s true, the creators have only just introduced us to him, and I may very well be being impatient, but how many times have we been briefly introduced to a new character in other comics or other forms of media and gotten an immediate impression of that person, their mission, and/or their background and wanted to know more about them immediately? I guess I just feel that I’ve “met” so many immediately engaging characters that I’m unwilling to forgive this one for being thin and underdeveloped just because he hasn’t had that much screen time compared to Old-Wally. I’m not a professional writer, but there’s a way to do this better. I’ve seen it, and I hope the writers get there soon.

          Again, I’m not upset because this isn’t “my” Wally, I’m upset because I do not consider this to be good storytelling when it should be. The Barry stuff is fun and engaging, this aspect of the story isn’t.

    • Good points, Mike. I think this version of Wally has a lot of potential, but they’re certainly playing a slow, slow game with the character so far that could easily come across like a lack of depth or characterization (perhaps it is, though at this point I think the book’s just too crowded to do much with him yet).

      The pre-reboot Wally West is probably my favorite comic book character of all, but I knew as soon as the reboot happened that any version of Wally they introduced wouldn’t be the character I fell in love with. Wally isn’t Batman, who can be reinvented endlessly around the same core ideas and still be the same character. Wally West is a very specific character built around a very specific growth over the years–so much of who he is has been informed by being a sidekick, then being a superhero, by growing up, getting married, having kids: he’s defined by his growth in a way that Batman could never be, in a way that almost no other comics book characters are (Nightwing is defined by his growth too, but not to the extent Wally was). I always knew that whatever version of him popped up in the New 52 simply couldn’t be the same character, or even close — there’s no way to fit Wally’s whole life and career in the five years — so this new Wally is bothering me far less than a lot of people I see online. I never expected him to be the same Wally, because how could he be?, and that’s alleviated a lot of pressure for me and given me room to just sit back and see how this new Wally develops. So I think I’m able to be more patient with this character than many, though again, Mike, your points are very valid and something I didn’t think of; it would’ve been easy to define the character a little more by only slightly tweaking the dialogue on the page. Very smart thinking man.

      • I think you hit the nail on the head that they’re aiming for the long game here. Wally’s combativeness feels so much like Venditti and Jensen are trying to stack the odds against his eventual friendship with Barry. It reminds me of any number of romcom/sitcom romantic pairings that start with hate and turn to love. Obviously, I don’t expect Wally to call Barry a “scruffy-looking nerf-herder” or anything, but I do think the writers are working overtime to make their friendship an unlikely eventuality, which probably feels all the more grating because we ultimately do know where they’re going with this…

        • Does that represent a catch 22 for the writers though? I imagine that if they alter the relationship between Barry and Wally (say, friendly rivals in which Wally flash is more compassionate towards criminals while Barry is more of a straight arrow) people would be bothered because it isn’t the same. But if they do eventually get to the sidekick position, its just too predictable?

      • Thank you Spencer, and I completely agree that we haven’t had much time with Wally yet. But to me, that just says that the creators should have done more with the time that they allotted for Wally. Like you said, slightly tweaking the dialogue here or there could have given us the kind of flourishes that I’ve been talking about.

  2. Also, I dunno if anyone else noticed it, but the change in letterer and font this issue was really jarring to me. I’m not a huge fan of this font in general, honestly, but that’s just personal preference.

  3. I agree that wally’s character needs to be fleshed out more. We need to get past why he’s angry and start learning more about him; what does he enjoy, what is his life like?
    However, I love Barry characterization here. I agree with Spencer’s take that Barry, already going through quite a bit, has been forced into a situation he’s never had to deal with before. Barry has always taken a bit of a hardline against crime (not quite punisher, but certainly a by the book batman) and compassion was never identified as one of his strong points (Johns run identified Barry as much tougher on them then wally ever was) so Barry being frustrated with a kid who cant just straighten up fits pretty well with his history.

    The “slipping time” thing was pretty obvious to me, as I had already been wondering why Barry still looked so young in twenty years. It also works well with the Irony of the Flash always being late; no matter how much Barry wants to be present, he’s going to miss moments as a direct result of using his powers. And OF COURSE a future Barry decides to fix it by forcing his way backward to make up for lost time. the two stories worked really well together.

    Brett Booths art was strong here as well, I enjoyed the panel quite a bit for its little details.


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