Special guest review - Rob Staeger on Flash #20

People think Barry Allen is boring, but they’ve been sold a bill of goods. He’s a police investigator, looking for the trace elements criminals unwittingly leave behind…a fairly cerebral, high-stakes activity for a hero synonymous with motion. He’s - in the current continuity, at least - someone who enforces the legal system, even though he feels certain that it wrongly convicted his own father. He’s a guy who hasn’t even registered that he’s not in love with the girl he’s dating, just because she’s so into him. Barry Allen isn’t boring - he’s just nice.

And those people-pleasing qualities are on display in Flash #20, the first instalment of 'Reverse,' a six-part story introducing the new Reverse-Flash (well, sort of introducing; we saw him more clearly last issue than we ever see him here). He tells girlfriend Patty about what happened to his parents, and is moving in with her (she thinks it’s exciting; he thinks it’s practical… 'and exciting!' he hurries to add). He surreptitiously completes his six-month filing assignment in a day (leaving me to wonder what trouble he’ll get up to in those old files, now that they’re in order). He even poses to let bystanders take some snapshots after he saves a runaway subway car ('...part of the job,' he thinks, grinning and giving a thumbs-up).

I only wish I could say this was a good jumping-on point for the new story, and the book in general. It’s not that it’s inaccessible: writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato (also the book's artist and colourist respectively) pepper the story with clues to how the characters know each other, and the various Speed Force-induced powers of Gomez and Alberto. But it’s not transparently accessible: a new reader can’t look at the book and realise that it’s largely right there on the page, if they make a few logical assumptions. They’re better craftsmen than they are salespeople.

But also - and I say this about an issue in which the Flash pulls off a pretty spectacular rescue of a runaway subway train - the book itself doesn’t generate the excitement necessary to pull a new reader along into a six-issue series. (It’s got me, of course, but I’ve been in the bag for the Flash since I was seven.) There’s action, yes, but it’s largely without emotional stakes. And there’s a mystery (the Reverse-Flash has been killing members of the Speed Force crew), but even when Barry has a breakthrough in that regard, he’s leaping to the wrong conclusion. Yes, we’re promised the first Flash/Kid Flash meeting next issue (and doesn’t it seem lax of Barry not to have looked into the kid previously?), but from our omniscient point of view, that lead is probably another dead end. A fast and exciting one, to be sure, but attractive as it is, Manapul’s concluding Teen Titans splash feels like it should be accompanied by the blurb: 'Next Issue: More Stalling!'
Cheeky Forrest - click on image to enlarge
So in the macro sense, the comic doesn’t work as well as it ought to. But there are some wonderful little details, clever and well-rendered. Barry’s loneliness is palpable as he’s exiled to the basement as the price of his unauthorised leave of absence…and yet we also see his true friends come to visit him. (And check out the various light sources that come into play down there, and how they change the colouring of the scene.) We see a quick nod to a background story, as Iris is apparently ducking her ex-con brother Daniel’s calls. We see Patty’s underlying jealousy at Iris; she can sense who’s captured Barry’s heart, even if he doesn’t realise it yet. We see Forrest steal Barry’s sandwich (seriously, and Barry doesn’t say a word. What’d I tell you? Nice). And we see a subway car whiz past Barry’s head, clipping one of his earpieces. It’s great stuff, subtle and gorgeous.
Visually, Manapul and Buccellato’s Flash is as stunning as ever - writing and art form a more integrated whole than in any other book in DC’s line-up. But they’d do well to pick up the pace.

Rob Staeger is a freelance writer and editor who's been reading Flash comics almost as long as he's known how to walk. 35 years later, he's finally learning how to run.


  1. Great review Rob!

    I am a Wally guy so have shied away from Flash before. But I have heard great things about this book and I love the Reverse Flash.

    Will definitely pick up this issue now!

  2. Thanks, Anj!

    Believe me, I'm a Wally guy, too. He starred in some of my favorite Flash stories, and pretty much paralleled my own path as I grew up. I never missed an issue.

    But Barry was my first Flash, and I always enjoy reading about him. And the current love triangle -- one which Barry can't even acknowledge to himself that he's in! -- is fascinating to me. The last thing a nice guy like Barry wants to do is hurt somebody, and I'm afraid his indecision means he's going to hurt someone very, very badly. I want to read that: I want to see how he reacts to it, how he grows from it, how he tries to make it better, and to what measures he succeeds. Which are, in large part, the same sort of things I love to read about Wally.

    Also, unbelievable super-speed stunts, which I think Manapul and Buccellato visualize as well as anyone ever has. From their debut as artists (on the pre-Flashpoint Johns run, which included a scene of Barry running across a whirling helicopter blade), they've consistently made my jaw drop.

    I hope you enjoy the book. Even with its faults, I sure do.

  3. Brilliant review Rob, you should be doing your own blog! I can't get used to Patty Spivot as Barry's girlfriend, there's no spark between them at all.

    And I'm not down with the new Reverse-Flash's colours - they say 'dark' rather than 'reverse.'

    Still, not a bad issue!

  4. Thanks, Steven!

    I'm giving the new Reverse Flash (and his outfit) a little time to grow on me... but he's not quite there yet. (How could he be, when we know nothing about him?) I'm intrigued, but not sold.

    As for Patty, I agree: There's not much spark there. Just enough so that Barry doesn't realize yet that a couple that looks good on paper isn't necessarily going to work out in the long run.

    That said, I really *do* like Patty as a character -- always have, since the 70s and 80s -- so I really hope she'll stick around even after their relationship ends. Or, at least, move to another DC town so we can keep in touch with her. I think she'd be a FANTASTIC love interest for Nightwing, for instance, and a move like that would play up the "small world" aspects of the DCU. (Then again, I'm not invested in Dick/Kory or Dick/Babs. But lots of people are, and would poor Patty survive being hated on from all sides?)

  5. Me, I'd like Patty to run off with Ray Palmer's old pal Enrichetta Negrini and they could open a dating agency for lovelorn lab assistants.

    Thanks for a terrific review, Rob!

  6. Ha, there's a thought! e-Chemistry!

    And thanks for the opportunity, Martin!

  7. Great review, and glad to see the Flash back on Too Dangerous For a Girl. I've been lobbying Martin to give it a try as it has the kind of honest, smart, nice hero Martin (and I) seem to prefer. I think it's had some of better 'sci fi' style storylines in the Nu52.

    1. Thanks, Mr. Whiskas! I enjoy the book quite a bit, and yeah, I think Barry's characterization is a real treat in the often-dire New 52. (Or, frankly, the pre-reboot DCU; I'm not convinced that, continuity issues aside, the tone of the reboot is all that different. Heck, prior to Flashpoint, even Barry was a gloomy mess!)

  8. Oops, have I been deaf to your entreaties? Sorry, it's not like I've given up on the book, there I was with the Zero Issue, er, last September. I just got kinda bored with the neverending gorillas and rogues, and frustrated by the lack of explanation of Golden Glider. The new issue was a step up.

    1. Y'know, it never even occurred to me that we haven't been told what's up with the Glider yet. Good point!

      I have to say, I really enjoyed the fill-in from issues 18-19, particularly Barry, powerless, using the Rogues' weapons against the Outlanders. It felt a little rushed (and it was, by two pages, in order to fit in the Reverse Flash tease), but it was a pretty solid story... and this despite me not being crazy about the Speed Force newbies.

  9. Oh, not complaining at all Martin, just thought you'd enjoy Barry's adventures.


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