Spencer: Speedsters aren’t generally known for their patience. Before the reboot, one of Wally West’s best known qualities was his impatience, and Impulse was the ADHD poster-child; over at Marvel, Quicksilver’s attitude problem canonically comes from the frustration he deals with daily when he’s forced to interact with people who move so much slower than him. My point is, Barry Allen’s methodical, patient lifestyle is the complete antithesis to most speedsters — to use a comparison this issue makes itself, Wally is a basketball fan while Barry’s a baseball fan. The more I read this issue, the more I realize that Barry is the kind of guy who genuinely enjoys slowing down because it means he gets to spend time with the people he loves. It’s what grants him more patience than other speedsters, but it’s also aggravating his greatest flaw; Barry cares so much that he’s trying to be everywhere at once, help everybody at once. It’s an impossible task even for the fastest man alive, and in the process Barry may just be driving away the people who make it worthwhile to slow down in the first place.
Oh, and he may also be tearing apart the space-time continuum. Oops.
That’s what the Flash of the future says, at least. He explains to Captain Cold — who, 12 years from now, is on his deathbed, riddled with cancer from Dr. Elias’ experiment — that all the time travel he, Reverse-Flash, and Grodd have done is ripping the Speed Force apart, and taking all of time and space with it. Future Flash is traveling backwards, fixing his mistakes, all with the intention of eventually killing himself.
I’m still not exactly sure what Barry means, though. Is he killing the current version of himself out of guilt, perhaps through the time travel process itself, or is he going to kill his past self to prevent any of this from ever happening? (Although this would also undo his bucket list…oy, time travel). Either way, it’s obvious how heavily Barry’s failures weigh on his soul. Future Barry’s heart-to-heart with the mostly comatose Len is the first time we’ve seen him look content since this run began, further emphasizing how much Barry loves to slow down and connect with people, as well as how much it pains him when he lets people down. That’s admirable, but is Barry simply focused on the significant failures of his to-do list, or is he lamenting the fact that he’s unable to save every single person, as if he ever could? There’s a very thin line between confidence and hubris.
In the present day, Barry’s still pushing himself to do too much. He starts his day by running out on Patty to further investigate the case of the stolen weapons, which puts him face to face with a villain who can alter gravity and warp the very environment around himself.
Artist Brett Booth is obviously having a ball bringing this ability to life, and writers Robert Venditti and Van Jensen use the fight as an opportunity to show us Barry’s extensive knowledge of both science (how he escapes the low gravity) as well as his own villains (how he knows this isn’t the original Merge). Merge gets away, and Patty comes to Barry’s rescue begging him to slow down and spend time with her. Barry’s all for it, until he remembers that he’s supposed to take Wally (and Iris) to the baseball game. Patty, understandably, is frustrated.
It’s admirable that Barry wants to help Wally, and considering that Barry also grew up without parents, it’s completely understandable that Barry would be so invested in the idea. The problem is that he’s neglecting Patty in the process (well, also there’s the problem of Iris being there; is Barry legitimately oblivious to the implications of being there with Iris, or does he perhaps subconsciously want to spend time with her?). Barry wants to be a CSI and the Flash and mentor Wally and have a relationship with Patty; something’s got to give, and unfortunately, Patty seems to be the one who has to keep going without.
I can relate a lot to Barry’s dilemma. I stay up way too late trying to do as much as possible (I’ve got the headache right now to prove it), and it ends up making it harder for me to actually focus on the things I care about. Sometimes I just have to slow down and rest up, and Barry seems to be in need of a similar recuperation period. I talked about this some when we reviewed last month’s issue, but Barry’s problem with losing time perfectly encapsulates this concept. The faster Barry moves, the more time he loses — essentially, the more Barry tries to do, the less he gets done.
If Barry slows down, things might just work out for him, but unlike me, Barry can’t just take time off — he’s the Flash, and things can go horrifically wrong if he does, especially after his recent disappearance during Forever Evil. No, this is a relatable problem trumped up to superheroic proportions, and it requires an equally trumped up answer. While we wait for that answer, though, we have to wonder where Barry’s priorities lie: if forced to choose, would he pick spending time with Patty over spending time with Wally, with whom Barry has finally sparked a kinship? Who knows, maybe Barry’s just heading for disaster no matter what he does; Future Barry certainly seems to think so.
Drew, while I’m of course quite interested in hearing your take on the ideas I brought up, I also have totally different question for you: do you think the case “our” Barry is trying to solve has any sort of plot or thematic relevance to the whole “losing time” thread, or are they entirely unrelated? Also: do you think this could all be resolved if we just got Barry a PDA?
Drew: Actually, what I think Barry really needs is an assistant — someone he can delegate tasks to in order to better prioritize his own life — and Wally’s presence obviously presages that eventuality. You know, unless Barry actually kills himself, in which case Wally might be fast-tracked (ha) to the big running shoes. I doubt Venditti and Jensen would kill Barry off in such inauspicious circumstances (remember when he died the first time to save the whole world?), but it’s hard to imagine what our Barry could do to convince Old Barry not to go through with it.
Speaking of silly conjecture, I hadn’t considered that the impostors Barry has been chasing down might be tied into whatever showdown is brewing between Barrys present and future. I’m not sure I see how it could be related — picking off gang members with hightech supervillain weapons seems entirely unrelated from Old Barry’s one-man mission to undue all of his past wrongs — but it’s an interesting thought. Ultimately, I think the whole hunt for those weapons is little more than a MacGuffin to keep Barry too busy to make time for Patty.
Unfortunately, I’m just as uninvested in the future story line, which seems destined to never actually happen, amounting to a “what if?” where we know very few of the “what”s. Stories of characters coming to the present from an unspeakably horrible future in order to course correct always bores me to no end. The future — and the characters that come from it — are so far removed from our experience that they might as well be from another planet, aliens descending to Earth in order to…I don’t know, change this one thing so that their home will be better (or they’ll cease to exist or something). We don’t know this Barry well enough to understand his decision to kill himself, and without that, we have little insight to any of his actions.
Don’t get me wrong — I actually thought the execution here was quite lovely. We know enough about Barry and Leonard to understand what Cold’s death might mean for the two of them, and I love the idea that Barry’s checklist of moments to revisit aren’t all about saving the day — he just wanted a chance to say goodbye to his…friend? Adversary? Frenemy? Actually, this desire for emotional closure might explain why Barry even has a list if his ultimate goal is to undo his existence, anyway: he’s doing it for himself. It’s a little selfish for the Barry we know, for sure (remember how he saved all those people last month? They’re going to die again if he’s not there to save them), but this isn’t quite the Barry we know. It’s that disconnect with his motivations that saps this story of any real emotional weight for me — Barry has made this profound decision about his life based on circumstances we simply haven’t seen, leaving us more curious (or confused) than satisfied.
Beyond that emotional distance, this issue just felt straight-up awkward to me. Every character seems compelled to speak in these absurdly expository paragraphs, explaining why they do or don’t like Captain Cold, or exactly what future Barry is up to.
Letterer Dezy Sienty even needs to spill into the gutter to fit all of those words in. I get that exposition is just part of comics, but this feels like an awful lot of telling, and very little showing. Of course, Booth seems a bit off his game this month, concentrating all of his inventiveness into that Merge sequence, leaving everything else relatively flat and boring. Look at how totally flat that sequence Spencer included between Barry and Patty is. There’s absolutely none of the dynamism I associate with Booth’s work, making for a very lumpy issue.
As much as I see wrong with this issue, it’s hard not to be won over by Barry’s progress with Wally. I’ve personally always preferred baseball over basketball for the very reasons Barry mentions. I’ve never been able to convince a basketball fans of those reasons (my girlfriend agrees with Wally on just how slow baseball is), but it’s fun to see Wally get into the game a bit more — especially if that means getting along with Barry. The lesson there might be that we need patience in waiting for Wally to don the Flash digs, but as long as this series stays tapped into the emotions involved, I’m okay with 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?