EP0045: The Flash, Volume 5: Negative (Review)

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The Flash’s power is out of control and the wonky artwork isn’t helping.

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Transcript below:

Another volume of The Flash is out. Does that mean more sorrow, suffering and anguish for Barry Allen. Find out as we look at The Flash: Volume Five Negative, straight ahead.

Welcome to the Classy Comics Podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise, Idaho here is your host, Adam Graham.

The Flash is the comic series that I’ve been reading the longest. It was actually the only series I regularly read during DCs New Fifty-Two era, and I liked a lot of the ideas Josh Williamson came up with in the early Issues of the series. But it seems like the series has taken a slightly more negative turn with Kid Flash breaking away from Barry. Of course, Kid Flash – in this case the the younger Wally West – and in the last volume he faced Reverse Flash and ended up winning, but Iris learned his secret identity, feels very betrayed and at the same time he received powers from the Negative Speed Force – thus the title of this volume and of the first Two-Issue story. Barry Allen’s life has been off kilter – in fact, all he needs is to have a dog that dies and he’s a country music song.

I was hoping that this volume would mark a turn for our hero, a sort of recovery from all of the negativity. But that doesn’t happen in the first two Issues in this book, Issues Twenty-Eight and Twenty-Nine Negative, which focuses on his inability to control his powers and his increasing frustration with it. There is a certain grittiness to the story that some people will like, but this is a case of should The Flash really be gritty? And the answer is, not on a regular basis. Plus Barry’s kind of the focus of this is, you’ve got these villains – The Road Ravers – who are not much of a challenge at all, which whether you’re looking at comic books or you’re looking at television a popular tactic with The Flash is when you want to focus on a character you give a real lead-a-lot white super-villain. bBut the problem with this book is it’s not so much character-focused as navel gazing and Barry, I’m sorry to say, comes off as a bit whiny as the story progresses. He and his team at Central City P.D. are also tasked with looking into some theft of blood evidence from the evidence lock up, though little progress is made on that until the next story, Bloodwork, where he does find the villain behind the lab thefts after a scene where he just absolutely blows up at his team. It’s a real prima donna moment and not really fun to read as it’s just totally the antithesis of the character.

But I will say that in Bloodwork there is a sort of turning about for Barry as one of his coworkers, Kirsten, confronts him and tries to calm him down and is concerned because she had a friend who went through a bad breakup and committed suicide. And even the super-villain fight here – I will give Williamson some credit because the fight really does create a situation where Barry has to confront his own demons, because much of what the super-villain who is behind this or who is created by this is doing calls to mind a lot of Barry’s issues. The super-villain isn’t the greatest but I think it’s clever and it does give this character a relatable origin story.

The series also features the young Wally West stepping up and offering to put aside his differences with Barry to help train Barry to balance out the Negative Speed Force powers so that Barry can use his powers without them ripping apart the city, which had been kind of a problem with his inability to control them. So, I like that and I like the general direction that they’re taking the young Wally West character. The final Issue in the book, The Full Story, Issue Thirty-Two actually establishes kind of a new status quo. While Wally is willing to work with Barry as Kid Flash, their relationship outside of crime fighting is still pretty cool, and that is a pain point in something that needs to be worked on. At the same time, as a result of Barry’s sort of prima donna antics and general misbehavior, his Captain Singh transfers him to Iron Heights where he and Kirsten will be onsite CSIs who will secure any crime scenes that happen until Central City P.D. can show up. And honestly, this sounds like one of two things: either, One, this is a pretext for keeping an eye on the Warden, or Number Two, the police union won a deal, and this is kind of like those rubber rooms where they send problematic teachers in New York City until they can actually work through the very lengthy process to terminate their contracts. However, when we meet the Warden we find a lot of suspicious things are going on around Iron Heights that makes us think that really Singh was trying to make sure that he had someone on the inside, as well as providing some discipline to Barry. The Warden allows the Rogues to run about the prison wearing their super-villain outfits as well as to stage fights in the middle of a common area – all to send a message that they will not reform and change, and that they are who they are. And they also have male and female prisoners in the same population, so there is some weird stuff going on at Iron Heights and this Issue kind of sets up what may be some future storyline opportunities. And it ends with someone from earlier in Joshua Williamson’s run returning. There’s a Christmas short and it is about Barry helping a little girl stranded in the airport get home for Christmas, and also Barry and Wally getting together. It’s the older Wally, I should say. It is a bit sappy and sentimental, but gosh, after the recent run of stories Barry Allen could stand something like that.

Overall, I thought the writing on this is fair to good. I think that he met…Williamson may have gone too negative too long with Barry but I kind of see a light at the end, and left the book feeling slightly more positive towards the ultimate trajectory of the book, although at times it felt like Williamson was trying to show us how he could write for Batman rather than the Flash. I think it balances out and that we do have at least a positive upward tilt. I think there’s always a danger when you put your heroes through very negative situations because heroes have to be challenged, they have to face obstacles and suffer and that’s all fine. But if you go on too long you have something like Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Daredevil which, while he could have these brilliant moments, was just so dark and depressing and that is the reputation. The art, though, really does cost the book – its inability to maintain a consistent art feel. It had five artists in the course of five Issues and a Christmas Special. That gives the book a kind of inconsistent feel to it. It’s not all bad certainly but none of it is great and there are a couple of Issues that I have issues with. Carmine Di Giandomenico drew the first Issue and it is just unpleasant to look at. The way the characters look, it’s just…it’s like an indie comic artist that’s really trying too hard to be gritty and the result is just, it’s unpleasant to look at, I think is the best way I’d describe the art in Issue Twenty-Eight. Neil Googe provided the penciling on Issue Thirty, most of Issue Thirty-One and then the Christmas Special, and his art isn’t bad in terms of it’s very clean looking but he has a very weird way of drawing bodies with just the proportions looking wrong and everybody looking so skinny. It’s not a great feel for a superhero book. With the slight turn in Barry’s character art I might tend to view this more favorably with better art, but as it is I’m going to have to rate this book Not Classy, and hope that in future volumes we’ll see a return to classiness for the fastest man alive.

Alright, well that will do it for now. If you do have a comment send it to me: classycomicsguy@gmail.com; follow me on Twitter @classycomicsguy and check out the website classycomicsguy.com where we now have full transcripts of recent episodes, and we’re working to get transcripts in place for all past episodes. Also, if you’re really enjoying the podcast be sure and rate us on iTunes or Stitcher, that’s truly appreciated. But for now from Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.

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