Review: Flash Vol. 2: Speed of Darkness (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

DC Comics's Flash Vol. 2: Speed of Darkness remains distinctly connected to the ongoing Rebirth storyline, with plenty of touchstone moments that call back to DC's most popular characters and continuities. But the second volume in, when titles in the Batman and Superman franchises have begun to soar, the Flash title continues to struggle. Writer Joshua Williamson focuses mostly on Kid Flash Wally West here, and unfortunately he conflates the juvenile character with the tone of the story. There's a wistfulness to the book, as well as a marked deification of Flash Barry Allen, that comes off too light for me; I'm eager for the promised villains in coming volumes mainly for a story one might finally sink their teeth in to.

[Review contains spoilers]

As I've said before, to me it seems Flash should be up there as one of DC Comics's flagship titles. It's the focus of one of DC's most successful television shows yet, there's a movie on the horizon, and between Mark Waid and Geoff Johns among others, this has at times been one of DC's most popular titles. And yet, despite that the issue that starts off this collection features the much vaunted first meeting of Wally West the older and Wally West the younger, art is by Jorge Carona, who doesn't have terribly many DC credits to his name, and whose depictions of a possessed Flash feature him with face distorted and teeth bared, 1990s style. The art throughout the book is similarly troubled -- later, Davide Gianfelice has Barry Allen asking Iris West out on a date in a panel with no background, and with the characters looking just past one another -- and I'm stymied DC isn't bringing a more distinctive look to this book.

The difficulties extend to the story, too. The most off-putting is that the first act of the "Speed of Darkness" story turns on Wally, having been "grounded" from being Kid Flash by both the Flash and Iris West, going out as Kid Flash to try to stop a rumored "shadow creature" anyway. The problem is not Wally disobeying per se, which might be interesting if Wally disobeyed because someone was in danger (a Tim Drake move if ever there was one), but rather that Williamson writes Wally so naive as to think that if he catches a villain after the Flash told him not to, the Flash might magically not be angry with him. Iris once summons the Flash simply by going out in the street and yelling for him, and Kid Flash has a moment of absurd revelation when he thinks to use the omnipresent snow on the rogue Tar Pit. The dialogue is labored at times, as when a possessed Flash yells at Kid Flash, "Do you understand me, punk?" like something out of Dirty Harry.

Given the Flash's name on the book, I recognize that events of the story should be important and central to him. But as with Flash Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice, Williamson's dialogue and intimations sometimes seem to lack measure or scope; there, it was how Barry's life was just so terrible as to be melodramatic. Here, it's the opposite; when the Shade tells Barry that of all the heroes he's ever met, "none ... were as full of inspiration and undying optimism as you," it's such an over-the-top statement that it rings false. So far we've barely seen any proof of this acclaimed optimism; Dan Abnett's Titans has a similar issue with Wally West being praised as the best or greatest Titan ever. Even when Williamson's Barry says that his mother's death "took over my whole life [and] changed me forever," we have so little context for what this actually means day to day that the emotional impact doesn't land.

All of that said, this is a book that uses as a cliffhanger an image of long-lost Flash Jay Garrick's trademark hat, gives deference to a whole bunch of James Robinson's Starman lore, and has the Shade referring to Iris West as Barry Allen's wife, so Rebirth ties and the excitement that comes with them are pervasive. On one hand it's perhaps everything wrong with serial comics how such minute teases can get one's blood pumping; on the other hand, Jay Garrick's hat! I do have some faith that Flash will come back around to Garrick, but also I'd like to see things like Shade be more than a tease; if Williamson never explicitly explains why it is the Shade should remember pre-Flashpoint history when Barry doesn't, then it's just a tease for teasing's sake and not worth including.

Williamson's final chapter also bears mentioning; it's again an all-ages Kid Flash plot, but paired with a surprisingly mature story of Barry and Iris out on a date. Williamson's four pages of Barry and Iris simply talking is notably forthright, dealing with the concrete foibles of their relationship that we can trace through the previous New 52 volumes. I think Williamson sells the Barry/Iris relationship well, and it's this kind of real emotion (versus again melodrama) that I'd like to see the title veer toward. Flash is one of DC's few titles where the hero's secret identity is actually in play (though I'd venture not for long) and it's nice to see this as an undercurrent of the characters' interactions. Flash also has an interesting triangle right now where Iris and Barry both know Kid Flash Wally's identity, but Wally and Iris don't know that Barry knows and don't know that Barry is the Flash.

In a three-part story bookended by two one-off tales, Joshua Williamson has a good structure for Flash Vol. 2: Speed of Darkness, and certainly the premise of appearances by Wally West and the Shade makes for a promising collection. And yet, the Rebirth Flash title still has yet to click. The next volume promises the return of the Rogues and the one after that should deal with the aftermath of the "Button" crossover with Batman. All of that is enough to keep me reading, but my hope again is that the heightened stakes for this title will also bring with it some of the fortitude it needs.

[Includes original and variant covers, issue pencils]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Flash Vol. 2: Speed of Darkness
Author Rating
2 (out of 5)
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8 comments:

  1. I haven't bought this one yet, but someone partially spoiled this for me by saying The Shade would be in this.

    I got 1 question and you might have answered in your review, but I didn't want any more spoilers so I didn't go past the Spoiler mark yet. Does the "The Shade" book by James Robinson that came out as a mini-series at the start of The New 52 have any influence here? It looked as if it took place in this continuity, but it also continued on pre-Flashpoint history.

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    1. Sorry if I spoiled it! I figure things on the front/back cover are fair game, but someone actually emailed me a spoiler about something the other day and it sure does burn!

      My recall of the Shade book is spotty, but I believe the Shade material here is hewing pretty close to what's been established. But I didn't feel lost for not remembering the Shade book much; the references are pretty subtle.

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    2. It wasn't you, but a mate who was reading it in single issues back then.

      I was just wondering, because that Shade book is one of the books I never knew if I should catalogue it before or after Flashpoint. I'll just have to wait a week when I'm getting my copy of this to work it out.

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    3. I do think they ultimately deemed that Shade miniseries to be post-Flashpoint, not pre-Flashpoint.

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  2. I'm curious how I'll like this. I really enjoyed volume one, and thought Williamson's Flash in The Button crossover was spot on. I have a feeling it will be good.

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  3. The "Do you understand me, punk? I'm the Flash!" line is actually taken directly from Mark Waid's The Return of Barry Allen storyline which had "Barry" say the exact same thing to Wally. It's another hint about the status of the pre-Flashpoint history.

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    1. Yup, that went straight past me. Thanks for pointing that out.

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  4. Interesting, I felt better about Vol. 2 than I did about the first... I felt like the first offered too much of a generic approach to "a Flash story that hasn't been done before (yet feels very safe and familiar)." On the other hand, I hadn't seen Flash v Shade in a while, and the use of one-and-dones was refreshing compared to a long history of "written for the trade" stories.

    It also helped that I liked the art much more than in the first volume. It's definitely a safer house style, but - and this is not a slight on Di Giandomenico, whose work I really loved on Rucka's /Punisher/ - I felt the first trade looked a little muddy while trying too hard to ape Scott Kolins. This trade seemed to capture the visual style of the Johns/Kolins era - and, again, the one-and-dones felt very Johnsian (his "Norman Rockwell" chapters of /JSA/ were tops in my book).

    @PeterB, I didn't catch any overt references to /The Shade/, but I was surprised to see how reverentially Williamson regarded Robinson's /Starman/. I would think that anyone reading this without /Starman/ under their belt would think Williamson was just too on-the-nose with a missing lover named Hope, when I recall that long, strange courtship being a major moment of character development for The Shade. I certainly hope (and can imagine) we haven't seen the last of him on the Rebirth stage.

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