Monday, August 26, 2013

The Flash #18

"The Heroes' Journey"

Brian Buccellato Script and Color
Marcio Takara Artist
Carlos M. Mangual Letters
Chris Conroy Associate Editor
Matt Idelson Group Editor

Sadly, this is the first Flash issue that Francis Manapul didn't help write. Luckily for us, though, he did still draw the cover, and Buccellato provided the beautiful colors. I think it's a pretty light and fun cover. I can picture a classic comedic scene of Trickster being chased through the town, causing messes all over the place. You know, with smashed wedding cakes, knocked-over fruit stands, and two guys carefully carrying a large sheet of glass across the street and nervously have to dodge the Trickster. That's what comes to mind with this cover, and I think it's great to relax a little after Gorilla Warfare. And as the case always is with Manapul covers, the black-and-white version is just as gorgeous as the colored one.

Our story begins with a bang in the diamond district of Keystone City. A lone security guard was killed in the blast, while a mysterious figure broke in to steal the store's precious stones. We're then reunited with our hero, the Flash, who is busy helping rebuild the Gem Cities after Gorilla Grodd's invasion.

When the Flash is done for the day, he returns home to Patty Spivot. After he was "brought back from the dead," Barry Allen decided to move in with his girlfriend, and is loving the change so far. But Barry can only stay for dinner, as he needs to head to his night job at the Keystone Saloon. The police department and union are still working through all the red tape to get Barry his old job back after being officially dead for a couple of months. Luckily, the grumpy ole bartender was kind enough to re-hire Barry, and Barry takes advantage of the bar's seedy reputation by keeping tabs on the criminals that frequent it. And today's lucky guest is Axel Walker, aka the Trickster.

Trickster openly talks about his days as a member of the Rogues, and he shows off his new robotic arm his new friends, the Outlanders, made for him after Grodd ripped his right arm off. But then a couple of police officers enter the bar with a warrant for Axel's arrest on charges of robbery and murder. Axel denies being a killer, and Barry believes him, knowing the Rogues have a strict no-kill rule.

Before Trickster can be loaded in a police car, he escapes by popping off his robotic hand to slide out of the handcuffs, and flies away with his jet-propelled sneakers. Barry asks to take a bathroom break, but first he has to serve more drinks. Luckily, Trickster doesn't get too far before he runs into the Gem Cities' newest heroes — Sprint and Turbo Charger, part of the team Speed Force. These two are actually Gomez and Albert, who got sucked into the Speed Force with Iris West during the Flash's fight with Captain Cold several months ago. They've now emerged with superpowers — Gomez with super strength, and Albert with the ability to create and enhance any machinery he touches.

Albert and Gomez catch up to the Trickster on their flying scooter, and Gomez smashes him onto the top of a moving semi. But Trickster uses one of his bombs to knock him off and into oncoming traffic. The Flash arrives in the nick of time of save Gomez, then heads off to help Albert, who has gotten tangled in Trickster's net and is about to fall on top of an outdoor birthday party. Flash pulls all the people out of the way and stacks up a bunch of tables to cushion Albert's landing. Gomez catches up to Albert, and he instantly repairs his flying scooter, excited to help Flash take down Trickster, but they soon see Flash has already beaten them to the punch. He's tied up Trickster with the birthday banner and removed his flying shoes. And Flash isn't too happy with these new "heroes."

Flash buys the guys whippuccinos and takes them to a park to meet up with the others who were sucked into the Speed Force, Iris and Gomez's girlfriend, Marissa. Flash lectures them about trying to take on a Rogue themselves, and Albert asks him to be their team leader. But Flash says he's already committed to the Justice League and is in no position to be a mentor. Marissa also chews out Gomez, and he accuses her of being jealous of his powers. Apparently neither Marissa nor Iris received powers from the Speed Force. In any case, Flash admonishes them all to not use their powers for the time being, and Albert agrees, but Gomez leaves in a huff. The meeting is then ended when Iris gets an alert on her phone about the Outlanders demanding Trickster's freedom.

Flash decides the best way to solve this problem is by proving Trickster's innocence, so as Barry Allen, he tags along with Patty Spivot into the crime lab. Forrest is happy to see him, but Director Singh has to kick him out, since he doesn't work there anymore. But Barry has more than enough time to sneak away with the crime scene report that was used to warrant Trickster's arrest. Flash combs over all the information, and even visits the scene of the crime, discovering that the the blast that killed the guard did not leave any incendiary traces — much unlike Trickster's regular bombs. So unless Trickster changed his bombs, someone else committed the crime.

Flash visits Trickster's cell, and the former Rogue denies changing his formula. He also refuses to call off the Outlanders, referring to them as his family. Flash heads to the armory to inspect the bombs himself, when the Outlanders suddenly arrive on the island and declare war against Iron Heights. Flash prepares to run through the wall to put an end to the fighting, but he suddenly loses his powers and costume.

The Good:

The story. I was a little worried about Brian Buccellato writing this alone — not having read any of his other solo works. But after reading this (and Black Bat), I can tell you that Buccellato knows how to put together a pretty good comic book story. He brings a sense of realism that is necessary to occasionally ground this hero, especially since we just got done fighting a talking gorilla. I liked the little things, like the acknowledgement that the Gem Cities need a lot of cleanup and repair after the gorilla invasion. And having Barry move in with Patty was a legitimate surprise. At first, I really wanted a scene with the two of them talking about him being a hero and all that, but I think I like this way better. We know they've resolved whatever issues they had, and now their love for each other is stronger than ever. This isn't good new for Iris, though, but what can you do?

The Trickster. We really haven't seen much of Trickster in the New 52. He made some vague deal with Mob Rule, then he showed up to save Captain Cold, and then he got his arm ripped off. Now he finally gets an issue to himself, and can show off some of his trick gadgets. I think he's a really enjoyable character, and a sympathetic one, too. At his core, he's really just a kid looking for a place to belong. I look forward to reading more of this character.

Albert and Gomez. I really liked these two and their unbridled giddiness about being first-time superheroes chasing an actual Rogue, with the Flash himself helping out. They did everything all wrong, called each other by their real names, and probably would have completely messed up had Flash not been there, but they were still fun all the same. These guys, and the Trickster, helped show that Buccellato is also pretty good at writing humor. But he never let the humor get out of control, demonstrating a perfect balance between the serious mystery and action, and the light-hearted fun that is so essential to the Flash. Also, I kind of like the idea of a Speed Force team led by the Flash. Unfortunately, that was not meant to be ...

The Bad:

Just a few nitpicks. First, I wasn't happy with the Flash stealing the crime scene report and running around with its papers flying all over the place. Flash wouldn't be that irresponsible. The police need that report. I'd have preferred to see him sneak it out, read it, then sneak it back in before anybody noticed it was missing. But I suppose the flying papers look was an artistic decision by Marcio Takara, which brings me to my next point, the art. I'm not really a Takara fan. His style really took me out of the story at first, but after re-reading the issue a couple of times, I began to appreciate it a little more. He seems to really pick and choose which panels and characters he wants you to focus on, leaving many minor details with a look that's very sketchy and almost unfinished. I will say, however, I'm glad that he didn't try to be a clone of Francis Manapul, as that could have turned out disastrously. Ultimately, though, Takara's art served the story well and didn't detract from it in any major way. It also helped to have Buccellato on the colors.

I also had a problem with the cliffhanger ending leading into a crossover with Dial H. I'll get more into the success and failures of this crossover in the next issues I review, but for now, I'll say this reeks of an editorial gimmick to artificially boost the sales of the struggling Dial H. I wouldn't have any problem with Flash having crossovers with Green Lantern or any member of the Justice League. But this is the first crossover from the main Flash title in the New 52, and it's with Dial H? Huh? But then again, this came at a time when the Flash was being used in a lot of other books that I've yet to review (like Justice League Dark and DC Universe Presents), but all these extraneous appearances happened while he was being completely ignored in Justice League. Oh well. It is what it is. I'm not a fan of the prospect of this crossover, but I don't think it's fair to hold that against this issue. Having said that, I do have to admit that this is my least favorite Flash issue of the New 52 so far (mostly because of the art). Not that this is bad by any means — it's just that all the other Flash issues have a slight edge. They're all amazing, and this Manapul-Buccellato run is incredible. Hopefully it'll never end.

Final score: 7 out of 10

Next time: Dial H #11

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