Saturday, June 6, 2015

Secret Origins #7

The Chase

Robert Venditti & Van Jensen Writers
Miguel Sepulveda Penciller
Scott Hanna Inker
Andrew Dalhouse Colorist
Taylor Esposito Letterer
Bryan Hitch and Alex Sinclair Cover
Amedeo Turturro Asst. Editor
Brian Cunningham Group Editor

Our cover gives us something we've seen a million times — Barry being struck by lightning and doused in chemicals. It is a classic image, though a slightly tired one. And Hitch's art doesn't really do anything. Altogether, it's just a rather lackluster image.

Before we get started, I have to admit I have prejudice against the concept of this comic. As a series, I think Secret Origins had a lot of potential — as long as it focused on lesser-known characters or characters whose origins changed vastly after Flashpoint. The Flash does not fall under either of those categories as a live-action TV show has boosted his popularity, and his comic-book origin is still quite similar to the one presented shortly before Flashpoint in Flash: Rebirth. And let's not forget that just two years before this issue, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato did a fantastic job of telling Flash's New 52 origin story in The Flash #0. That comic is still quite easy to find, especially digitally. So really, the only way I could get excited about retelling the same story in the same continuity would be if I were given additional details the previous storytellers omitted. Let's hope my wish is granted.

The framework of our story is Barry visiting his dad in jail on his mom's birthday. It's a fairly one-sided conversation as Barry recounts his life in excruciating detail. I don't know why he'd waste his visitation time telling his dad all this stuff he already knows, but that's his choice.

Barry's story begins on the last day he saw his mom alive. Nora Allen tied young Barry's bowtie and wished him luck on his big race that day. After school, Barry excitedly ran home to show his mom the ribbon he won, but a couple of older kids teased him about getting so worked up over a participation prize. When Barry gets home, he finds the place a mess, and his dad, splattered with blood and kneeling over the body of his dead wife. The cops soon came and arrested Henry Allen. They all said it was an open-and-shut case, but Barry felt like they were missing something he couldn't quite remember. But that nagging feeling of a missing memory prompted Barry to dedicate his life toward finding the real killer.

Barry tells his dad about how he went to college and studied forensics under Professor Carlson, who chided Barry for his constant tardiness. Barry says he had no one to celebrate his graduation with, seemingly forgetting his guardian, Darryl Frye. Barry talks about how he got a job as a police scientist, and stayed late one night to work on his mom's case. That's when he was struck by lightning and bathed in an odd mixture of chemicals.

Barry healed quite, and didn't get any scars from the accident. He doesn't explicitly tell his dad he gained super speed, but he does come pretty close. We see some flashbacks of Barry accidentally running to India, and of stopping a criminal from stealing a cop's gun in the police station. Barry talks to his dad about the importance of a police uniform, which must be odd for Henry, since Barry doesn't wear a police uniform. But his words are paired with a montage of Barry creating his Flash uniform and stuffing it in a ring.

And then, for some reason, Barry tells his dad about some of Central City's most notorious villains — Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Gorilla Grodd, the Trickster, the Reverse-Flash, Heatwave, Tarpit, and Black Mold. I guess Barry was trying to tell his dad how important it is for him to fight crime as a police scientist, but he basically talks as if he were the Flash, saying the villains think up wild gimmicks "to slow me down just long enough for them to get away with the crime." Barry also talks about filling the cells at Iron Heights to protect the innocent people of Central City, and we see Girder's hands sticking through the bars. There are also a few more hands sticking out that I don't recognize, including a pair of large, crab-like claws.

When Barry mentions how he wants to free his dad, Henry finally speaks, telling him to stop wasting his time. Henry says they have to accept the jury's ruling, and that being Barry's father doesn't make him innocent. But Barry tells him he's not just trying to prove his dad's innocence — he's convinced there's someone out there who has gotten away with his mom's murder, and he wants to bring him to justice. Barry again mention an important detail he just can't remember from his mom's murder, and we see there actually was another person in the house, hidden in the shadows. The guards then take Henry away, and Barry runs off as the Flash, vowing to never stop chasing the truth.

This issue also includes the origin stories of Huntress and Superboy, but neither of them deal with the Flash, so I'll skip them.

The Good:

Added details. I wanted more details, and I got more details. I would have liked a few more, but I should be appreciative with what I have. This issue gives us an added element of Barry missing a key memory of his mother's death. That has potential to be a pretty interesting development, as long as it's handled well. But the detail I got most excited about was the inclusion of Professor Carlson. He was introduced as a murder victim in The Flash #26 — the first New 52 Flash issue without Manapul or Buccellato. I was annoyed by Carlson's forced appearance in that issue, but I am quite pleased with Venditti and Jensen for digging up this random character and using him in an appropriate manner.

The Bad:

Barry's race. In issue #0, Barry's mom was killed the day after he won the spelling bee — an event much more suited for a bowtie than a 100-meter dash. Venditti and Jensen strengthened the continuity by including Carlson, but they weakened it more by missing this detail. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if it was a footrace or a spelling bee — I personally find the race rather cliché, and enjoy the focus on Barry's intelligence — but the fact that it changed annoys me. It only takes a couple of minutes to dig up the old issue and thumb through it to check for inconsistencies. And it saddens me that none of these writers or editors took the time to do that. They're the professionals — so why do I care more about this stuff than them?

Absent Darryl Frye. He was a big part of Barry's life growing up and the murder of Nora Allen. If these creators took the time to mention Dr. Carlson, why couldn't they have at least thrown in Darryl's name once? We see the vague outline of a police officer who possibly could have been Darryl, but that's not near enough for me. In The Flash #29, Brian Buccellato laid to rest the notion that Darryl was Barry's biological father (that was a legitimate rumor back then), and he presented a truly exciting notion of Daryl conspiring with Henry to make sure Barry never learns who really killed Nora. I really want to see someone pick up that thread. It didn't have to fully be laid out in this issue, but it could have been alluded to.

Sloppy presentation. The art inside is considerably worse than on the cover, and I didn't like the cover that much. There are a lot of odd facial expressions and inconsistencies. On the page of Flash building his suit, it looks like he's putting a cloth suit in the ring, but when he launches it out of the ring, it's in a bunch of different pieces like the metal armor it's supposed to be. And there's a speech bubble pointing to Henry instead of Barry in the emotional climax at the end. I'd also say the overall framework of this story is sloppy, as well. We don't find out Barry's talking to his dad until the very end, so Barry's words don't seem that odd when you read them for the first time. He's mainly addressing the reader, but it could be anyone — his girlfriend, a member of the Justice League, whoever. But once you learn it was his dad all along, half of this conversation doesn't make any sense. Why would he talk to his dad like he didn't know any of these things? And could he come any closer to saying "I'm the Flash" without using those exact words?

Final score: 3 out of 10

Next time, we'll finally check back in on the tenuous Lex Luthor situation in Justice League #32.

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