Today, Spencer and Drew are discussing Convergence: The Flash 2, originally released May 20th, 2015. This issue is part of Convergence. For our conversations about the rest of Convergence this week, click here.
Spencer: For the several decades that fell between Crisis on Infinite Earths and The Flash: Rebirth, Barry Allen was DC’s greatest hero. He was also dead, mind you, but that’s the exact reason why Barry became so legendary. The Flash sacrificed his life to save the entire multiverse, and by martyring himself he became this almost mythic figure, inspiring the entire DC universe — fans were even known to call him “Saint Barry.” But when Barry returned to life, he was overwhelmed by the praise. Fame was never something he wanted, and he knew he was far from perfect. Every action he took as the Flash, from stopping a mugger to sacrificing his life to save the universe, was taken with only one thought in mind — helping others. This dichotomy between how others view Barry and how he views himself is one of the central themes of Dan Abnett and Federico Dallocchio’s Convergence: The Flash 2.
Barry’s opponent in Telos’ multiversal Hunger Games is the Tangent Superman of Earth-9, a hyperintelligent being who, by his own admission, is far beyond Barry in terms of power. Barry discovers this to be true, but not before treating the readers to a battle that’s not quite as one-sided as Superman predicted. In fact, he lands a surprising amount of hits, thanks in no small part to Abnett and Dallocchio’s excellent understanding of super speed combat. These two devote a good third of the issue to this battle (and wisely cut down on the dialogue during the segment), giving it plenty of room to breathe and allowing the readers to follow every step of Barry’s super speed assault. Abnett and Dallocchio know how powerful someone with the Flash’s speed should be, something both his opponent and the audience discover in spectacular fashion as he bursts through Superman’s telekinetic force field with lightning fast punches.
Seriously, I’m still impressed by how ferocious and just plain powerful this moment is.
Before we get too far off the topic, I also want to praise Dallocchio for his acting throughout the issue. For 18 pages there are no characters on screen besides Superman and Flash, and much of that time is devoted to complicated conversations between the two. It’s the expressive body language Dallocchio gives Barry during these conversations that helps keep them from ever feeling slow.
Admittedly, some of this body language feels a bit much for the straight-laced, Silver Age Barry Allen — this looks much more like Wally, or even Grant Gustin’s Flash — but it’s wildly entertaining, and draws a stark contrast between Barry and the much more stoic and reserved Superman. It’s also just plain successful visual storytelling — while these conversations are a bit too complicated to follow without dialogue, I can still always tell what Barry is feeling at any given moment thanks to his expressions and body language.
Eventually, though, Superman gains the upper hand in his battle against Barry — but in doing so, gains a peek into his mind and discovers the vital role Barry will soon play in saving all of existence by opposing the Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The battle is no longer city-against-city — now if Flash loses everything will be destroyed, and that’s something Superman cannot abide.
Notice some of the language Superman uses here. “Hypertime.” “Continuity.” Superman uses the same kind of expressions to describe the workings of his universe as fans do, making him a bit of a stand-in for fans and admirers of Barry Allen. While Superman seems to respect Barry from the very beginning of the issue, it isn’t until he realizes the vital role Barry will soon play in saving the universe that he starts treating him with reverence. Barry is important to Tangent Superman because of his sacrifice, much in the same way that one act practically made him the Patron Saint of the DC Universe, both to its inhabitants and to many of its readers.
Barry, of course, doesn’t understand everything Superman says. He questions whether he’s really important enough to sacrifice an entire city for, and he laments the life he won’t be able to lead with Iris. It’s not a destiny Barry ever wanted, but it’s one he’s willing to accept, because that’s just the kind of guy he is. It isn’t Barry’s sacrifice that makes him an inspiration — it’s all the heroic, inspirational things Barry’s already done that’s made him capable of making such a sacrifice in the first place.
Despite their grand power, the Flashes have always been some of the most human of the DC heroes, and thus Abnett gets a lot of mileage out of focusing in on the actual man — and his many emotions — behind perhaps the most famous moment in DC’s history. This mini-series feels like a fitting tribute to just how important Barry Allen is, both because of his status as DC’s greatest martyr and because of the noble, likeable, truly human personality that made Barry a beloved character years before Crisis on Infinite Earths was even thought of.
Drew, last month we were both quite fond of how Abnett explored Barry’s loneliness and how isolated he felt without his speed and Iris — were you disappointed to see that dropped this time around, or are you fine with the newfound focus on his sacrifice? Did you enjoy the big fight scene as much as I did? And doesn’t this feel like the most dismissive use of the earthquake yet? I got a good laugh out of how it’s mentioned for one panel then immediately forgotten.
Drew: Oh, man that fight scene. Dallocchio’s mix of clarity and dynamism makes him a perfect match for a super-speed fight, but what’s even more impressive to me is how he uses the first eight pages to set that tone for that fight. It’s just a conversation, sure, but he renders it just as clearly and dynamically. To illustrate this, I’m going to use one of the same sequences Spencer excerpted above, but this time, I want us to pay attention to the backgrounds.
That first shot is apparently from Barry’s perspective, but notice the buildings behind Superman, especially the ones over either shoulder. In the second panel, the angle changes completely, almost a reverse shot, but both of those buildings are still visible (albeit further to the right on the page). Why would this be? Perhaps the easiest (and most boring) answer is that Dallocchio is using some kind of modeling software to generate the backgrounds, and is simply re-using the same buildings without regard for their placement. I think a much more interesting explanation is that he’s subtly implying that these characters are circling each other, sizing each other up for the impending fight.
But he’s also implying some camera motions. Note the way the angle changes on both of those buildings change between the first and second panel. In the first, the buildings appear almost head-on, while in the second, both look as though they’re shot from a significantly lower angle. That doesn’t quite make sense given that both shots were from the same rooftop, but it exaggerates the lower angle of the second shot. By the time we get to the third panel, the building initially on the right side of the page is now dead center and significantly larger. The angle has returned to that dead-on orientation from the first panel, as the shot has returned to face-level, but now the backgound is much more imposing. Dallocchio has effectively switched to a telephoto lens, and has moved significantly further from his subjects. Or, he’s implying a dolly zoom, where the foreground objects stay roughly the same size while background objects grow immensely.
The point is, his camera is always moving. We never return to the same shot from the same angle with the same content. Look at how he handles three consecutive shots of Superman.
Three different panels, three different angles. It has the potential to be disorienting (or worse yet, draw comparisons to Michael Bay), but Dallocchio keeps us grounded with his characters. We don’t need to know where they are on the rooftop, just where they are in relation to one another. In that way, these panels couldn’t be clearer — he’s meeting Flash’s gaze in the first panel, breaking it in the second, and finding it again in the third. A static shot certainly could have captured all of that, but Dallocchio simply exaggerates it here. In the first panel, that our eyes are the Flash’s makes it clear that they’ve made eye contact. In the second, the camera move emphasizes how unsure we are of what Superman is looking at (and more importantly, thinking about). In the third, the angle shifts again, so that Superman isn’t making eye contact with us, but very explicitly with Barry. It’s smart, subtle directing.
All of which is supported by some incredibly smart writing. Spencer, you called Superman’s dialogue “complicated,” which is exactly the point — the dude just sounds smart. Super-intelligent characters are tricky to write for, and very few writers manage to pull it off, but Abnet absolutely nails it here. Which I think ties in nicely with your assessment of Superman as an audience surrogate, Spencer. It’s hard to imagine someone picking up this issue without knowing what happened to Barry in COIE — heck, you couldn’t even make it through the previous issue without commenting on how pre-Crisis Barry shouldn’t even know what the Speed Force is — which Superman hangs a big ol’ lampshade on here. This issue is about fans knowing more than their heroes, and accepting or debating their fates because of it.
Which makes Barry’s ability to sucker punch Superman all the more thrilling. He’s not just surprising the world’s smartest man, he’s surprising us. That’s a pretty neat trick for a character that died almost 30 years ago.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?