REVIEW: The Flash #238 and 239

The Flash 238Writer: Tom Peyer

Artist: Freddie Williams II

Colorists: Tanya and Richard Horie

Published By: DC Comics

Tom Peyer is not a man to be envied. Taking the reins of one of DC’s star franchises, The Flash, at one of its lowest points in recent memory, he has to contend with a new status quo that entrenches its protagonist deeply in the terrifying realm of family responsibility – practically an urban legend, spoken of in singularly hushed tones, for the average comics reader. Even famed Flash scribe Mark Waid couldn’t drum up much fan support for the new state of things, turning in a largely forgettable half-year run; few even had much thought on the mitigating factor of his work, the revelation that the Flash’s new, super-powered children were aging inconsistently and rapidly, despite its potential for dramatic urgency.

Peyer, in an act of either defiance or wisdom, accepts the challenge of taking the situation as it is rather than backgrounding the family aspect and turning the book into a more conventional, and likely easier, superhero title. To accentuate this, his first issue begins not with The Flash engaged in a frantic battle, but as Wally West, out-of-costume and in front of the television with his family, ranting about media sensationalism and worrying about his ability to pay his bills. “Fiscal responsibility” isn’t exactly a term that evokes superheroic escapism, but it’s a slyly bold way to begin a run. The story introduces a new villain, Spin, who derives his reality-altering power from mass fear, the kind the media specializes in evoking; although it’s uncertain how much staying power such a topical creation will have (and Spin’s motivations are pretty unclear at this point, making him more a plot device than anything), the character has a useful function in connecting Wally’s fears about providing for his family with the book’s broader social concern about mass hysteria. An on-air complaint by The Flash about the lack of pay involved in superheroics gets twisted by news stations, and Spin utilizes the subsequent distrust of the hero on the part of Keystone’s citizens in order to make him pickpocket an entire stadium against his will. In the second issue, he uses the public’s anger at Wally to make Jay Garrick, the JSA’s Flash, attack his successor.

As far as psychological attacks on superheroes go, this isn’t particularly dark, but it does allow Peyer to tease out a lot about Wally’s state of mind, and he often intertwines his themes in rather elegant ways. A scene in which Wally reassures his son Jai that an earthquake won’t occur in Keystone is echoed later when Spin creates one; Wally declines to bring his kids along to stop it, fearing that they’ll be disappointed in him when they find one really did happen. Wally’s fears about money are compounded by his children’s inconsistent aging (he wonders to himself what good a college fund is when they could wake up ready for college the next day), and his mistake of admitting his financial troubles on television leads to an insightful debate between him and Jay on the necessity of appearing selfless in a heroic role. Small moments like these are what Peyer excels at in these two issues, and it seems like the task he’s given himself is to delve as deeply into his characters as possible before moving forward with the book. It’s an extremely cautious lead-in to his run, and it will likely agitate readers expecting a pace equal to the book’s protagonist.

The Flash #239 The art in these issues acts as a counterweight to their pace, as Freddie Williams II’s clean, energetic style, as well as the bright-eyed optimism he brings out in the characters, keep the book aloft. He delights in expressive facial features, and The Flash’s worry and dismay is so plainly evident on his face that it’s hard not to sympathy with him. There’s also some interesting use of perspective, especially the beginning to issue #239, a first-person shot from The Flash’s viewpoint as he runs through the city and is met by the distrustful and frightened looks of Keystone’s citizens. This opening sequence also displays some interesting experimenting in terms of depicting Flash’s speed, as these crowd shots are marked by a strange sense of inertia; the world is frozen around Wally, and it’s as if he feels helpless to benefit a city that no longer trusts him. Coloring team Tanya and Richard Horie are equally up to the challenge, and their bright, vivid work further infuses the book with a lightness and energy that serve as purposeful contrast to the everyday, mundane nature of Wally’s concern and stress. Truthfully, it’s a welcome balance, as regardless of its theme a Flash book should feel full of movement, and the art here not only does that, but also has a palpable empathy to it that underscores the universality of Wally’s problems.

For those willing to meet Peyer halfway, there’s a lot to enjoy here in terms of characterization and thematic concerns. He continues to build off Waid’s recent issues with a conversation about the Flash’s dilemma between Justice League members, and their resolution to not force their help upon him stems directly from their botched attempt to do so when he allowed his children to fight crime with him. A telling moment in which John Stewart wonders about their tendency to exert their authority too heavily is key to understanding Peyer’s take on the series – this is a book explicitly about the nature of responsibility, from family and personal duty to the necessity of understanding one’s place in the world and ability to affect it (which makes Spin’s part in the story seem less arbitrary than it feels at first). It’s a book about finding a middle ground, and an appearance in #239 by a potential employer for Wally, who’s only using his powers to “get by” furthers this idea and complicates Wally’s fears about exploiting his super-speed for profit. Not everyone with powers has to be a major hero or villain, after all, and seeing a character with minor abilities content in a domestic life gives the book a sense of proportion in the midst of the personal chaos and mass hysteria that’s been thrust upon The Flash. In an environment where realism in comics means death and cynicism to many readers, Peyer’s crafting a subtly mature take – superhero as family man, superheroics as occupation – on the genre that’s meant to reward the patient.

Rating: 7.5/10