Flash #9

Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Francis Manapul
32 pages, color
Published by DC Comics

One of the things I’ve been quietly impressed with, over the past few years, was how Geoff Johns uses one of his regular titles to slowly lead into a big event. The most recent was, of course, Green Lantern bringing us toward Blackest Night, but the comic just as easily did so a couple of years earlier with The Sinestro Corps War, or for that matter Action Comics kicking off Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. In the case of The Flash, we’ve been told by editorial ever since the new series began that it’s going to bring us into Flashpoint, this year’s big mini-series. And so far? Well, regardless of how Flashpoint turns out, this is an entertaining way to get there.

The new issue of Flash has a strong mixture of elements going on in its pages; a new forensic mystery for Barry Allen, a mysterious time traveler, and a lot of self-doubt. It’s in many a three-pronged assault on the Flash, with so much happening at once that he has to pick and choose what to focus on. (Well, as much as the fastest man alive has trouble keeping up with things, at any rate.) But here, Johns moves the spotlight from one story to the next with a lot of grace and skill; I didn’t ever feel like the book was either lingering or rushing past any of the different plot threads that turned up this month.

As for those plot threads themselves, well, so far my attention is grabbed. The death of a brand-new legacy hero isn’t terribly exciting, until you start bringing in the distinct difference in age between the body’s condition and what his birth certificate says. It’s at that point you start seeing perhaps how Flash #9 is starting to link up with Flashpoint, with some sort of time travel going on. Of course, having a time-travelling character actively looking for the Flash is a bigger tip-off, but it’s the least visible of the three stories this month, opening and closing the title. It works well as an end-of-issue reveal (although I do wonder how many readers had already guessed who was under the helmet), giving just the tip of the proverbial iceberg so that the new question isn’t "who?" but instead "how?" But for me, in some ways the part I was interested in the most was how Barry’s self-doubt is keeping him away from the rest of the "Flash Family." I like that even though they aren’t main characters, we’re still seeing the other Flashes and children and spouses appear in Flash. Rather than just ignore all the other people with the same name, it’s nice to see Johns keep them as part of the narrative, a presence in Barry’s life. Until the promised comic starring many or all of the other related speedsters (Jay Garrick, Wally West, Bart Allen, Jenni Ognats) makes an appearance, this will do just fine.

As for the art, well, it’s hard to right now to imagine a better artist for the title than Francis Manapul, whose art style over the past few issues has grown and changed so much that one starts to wonder if he’s part Flash himself. Together with colorist Brian Buccellatto, Manapul’s art explodes across the page. When he draws Barry Allen running, one genuinely gets the impression of movement even though it’s a static image. There are lots of nice little touches that go into that effect, from the slight blurring of Barry’s hand and the edges of his body, to how the Flash lightning effect curls and licks around Barry’s body. And while Manapul isn’t afraid of drawing backgrounds, he wisely drops them for some of the fastest scenes in the book, the world around Barry and company dropping away into a faceless blur that’s whipping by too quickly to catch.

Then again, my favorite drawing this month in Flash #9 is actually when the rest of the family is in the park, waiting for Barry. From Irey flying her kite, to Wally and Bart tossing a football in the background, everyone’s shown doing something in a moment that perfectly sets the scene. And as for the backgrounds here, well, between the city skyline and the gorgeous trees and grass, Manapul and Buccellatto have outdone themselves.

Now for all we know, Flashpoint could still end up being a dreadful disappointment. And to be fair, the higher the expectations are, the easier it is to miss meeting them. But even if it turns out to be a dud, Johns and Manapul’s run on Flash leading up to it has been so entertaining that I feel on that level, we’ve already gotten a good final result. This is just fun from start to finish.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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