The Flash Annual #3 review


Initial impressions count. As we meet Wally West properly for the first time, he’s spraying a wall with anti-Flash graffiti. His first words on-panel are ‘Screw you, man!’


                          

Remind you of anything?

Yep, the intro of the New 52 Wally West, who replaces the original version, is reminiscent of the debut of the Jason Todd who supplanted the first iteration. That character proved so popular readers voted to kill him off.

Good luck Wally West, you’re going to need it.

After Barry Allen ruins Wally’s artistic expression, it’s his first day back in the Crime Lab. After an amusing bit of business involving girlfriend Patty Spivot, Director David Singh and an exotic fruit, he runs into reporter and gal pal Iris West. She’s there to pick up nephew Wally from Central Booking, and asks Barry if he’d be up for a spot of mentoring. It turns out Wally is the son of her deadbeat dad brother Rudy – as opposed to crazed Reverse-Flash brother Daniel – and a missing, unnamed mother, and needs a good, manly influence. Barry hums and has, as you might expect given his complicated life and the brat Wally seemed to be.

Tasked with investigating an apparently open and shut case involving a minor supervillain, Mogul, who is thought to have killed a guy with his snow gun, Barry realises things don’t add up. He’s determined to solve the mystery, but before that grabs the chance for some Flash action, battling a bunch of art thieves armed with a sonic disruptor gun that messes up Barry’s internal vibrations.

Interspersed with the 21st-century doings we have a flashforward to 20 years from now and – surprise! – it’s all a bit grim. Wally is dead, Iris is in a wheelchair and the Flash is determined to put things right. He’s going to go back in time and fix things. Iris, reasonably, points out that Daniel tried the same thing, and that didn’t work out well. But filled with the Hubris Force, Barry isn’t having it. He’s off to the past, after dealing with one final problem, in case he’s unsuccessful – sorting out Gorilla Grodd, once and for all …

Such are the bare bones (and in Grodd’s case, a bit of juicy, tasty brain) of Flash Annual #3 and, ‘edgy’ Wally aside, I’m impressed. Writers Van Jensen and Robert Venditti skilfully juggle an awful lot of story in 38 pages, integrating plenty of satisfying character moments into the action. The aforementioned fruit business, for one thing, plays out silently while the meat of the scene is foregrounded, and works wonderfully well thanks to penciller Ron Frenz and inker John Livesay. They convey Barry’s awkward everyman person with great skill.



They also give us the greatest Patty Spivot moment of the new continuity, working with the script to provide a memorable image. And major kudos to Jensen and Venditti for finally adding a bit of spark to the Barry/Patty relationship. Thanks to the their words, and the artists’ images, they actually look like two young people in love.


An exchange with Singh really shows the artists’ facility with expressions, and I like the subtle lightning bolt page designs throughout their sequences (speaking of which, kudos to Frenz and Booth for going easy on the ‘spun sugar’ lightning effects when Barry’s in costume).

New villain Mogul isn’t seen in action, but prisoner Ernest Flake makes an interesting impression and I’d like to see more of him. Mind, while Barry thinks ‘Mogul’ is an impressive name for a snowy bad guy, I had to look it up.

                               

Iris straddles the line between presumption and desperation in her request that Barry take on Wally, but the creators get away with it. The visuals sell us on the idea that for all his tough talk, Wally – who according to interviews is 12 – is just a confused kid.

                               

Frenz and Livesay also have fun with the art gallery sequence, skilfully showing the Flash’s super-speed heroics as Jensen and Venditti conjure up dialogue far better than the norm; it’s a trick they pull off throughout, making this issue very engaging.



Also drawing this issue are penciller Brett Booth and inker Norm Rapmund, who amp up the intensity for 2039 Barry’s confrontation with a more evolved Gorilla Grodd. The future Flash design is very sci-fi creepy, I think it’s the massive mouth, while Grodd is rather magnificent, with colourist Andrew Dalhouse doing some great work too. Poor Iris, though – her ‘futuristic’ wheelchair seems to be a Swiss exercise ball.

As I said in last week’s review of Flash #30, I’m not into yet another ‘can the timeline be changed?’ storyline, Barry having been involved in two over the past three years. You might remember that one of them destroyed the whole DCU continuity. Given how engaging the present-day sequence is, there’s no need for a parallel story, and certainly not one involving a second version of our hero. Hopefully it’ll be over and done with the minute September’s 3D-tastic DC-line Five Years Later stunt is up.

Jensen and Venditti, as they did last week, nod towards the old continuity.

                 


It’s cute, but too many winks will become tiring. We get it, this is a new Barry, a new Wally. Speaking of whom, I wish his ‘mom’ had at least been namechecked. It’s as if her details are unimportant, she’s an unrealised non-character who exists only in theory to give Wally a biracial background. I hope we meet her, and the new Rudy West, soon.

Quibble aside, this is one of the best Flash stories of the past three years, and hints at good times ahead.

13 thoughts on “The Flash Annual #3 review

  1. 2 things:
    1 – Brett Booth was one of the cyberbullies dogpiling onto a female commentator on Twitter for her daring to suggest that a teenage girl could perhaps be drawn with human-sized tits, and
    2 – I have come to hate “in medias res” openings for their current ubiquitousness and starting 20 years from the start of the story just seems to compound that laziness with aggressive unoriginality.
    Both of these points contribute to me getting off the fence and knowing for certain I'll not be buying this one even before we get started on the dodgy politics of racially recasting a character that DC management has decreed be put on the sidelines in favor of Barry Allen. All of which is a shame, as Ron Frenz is one of my favorite old-school artists.

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  2. As a huge Flash fan (both of Barry & Wally), I'm not quite on board yet. Mostly, I think, because of the time travel plotline, which as you say, we've already seen twice in 3 years. So that element already feels tired.

    I *am* interested in Barry's uncertain perception and experience of time, however. Between the missing two minutes on his watch last issue, and his disappearance from the office for longer than he'd intended or realized this issue (the cold coffee, Singh's noting of his absence), there's something going on that I'll be interested in seeing come to a head. (And as you mentioned last time, perhaps it's related to Daniel West in some way.)

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  3. Wait. “I'm the reason Wally isn't married with two kids right now.”

    You know actually, he literally IS the reason in more than one way when you consider he's the reason Flashpoint happened, and if it hadn't been for him destroying the timeline, Pandora wouldn't have had the opportunity to re-arrange everything which resulted in the DCNU.

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  4. I'm a fan of Wally West, the Flash. But that Wally West already had his happy ending. If DC wants to bring out a new Wally West, then I'm okay with that. Just as I was okay when Superman had his happy ending (although with a lot of tragedy beforehand) pre-crisis.

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  5. Hi Brigonos, I caught some of the Teen Titans #1 cover controversy, but not the Booth tweets; that's crappy.

    The narrative that got me hating in media res was the otherwise fun Alias TV show, that once – I timed it – spent 22 minutes in the episode's future before actually bringing on the credits and linear start of the story.

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  6. That business with the lost 15 minutes, Rob, it's odd that it seemed not to bother Barry. I suppose it's the writers not wishing to show their hand too soon, because if Barry questions it, he has to address the situation. But in showing the reader, they're begging the question of why Barry seems unconcerned.

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  7. Hello Reno, that Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow felt like anything but a happy ending – not only was everyone bar him and Lois killed, pretty much, but Superman had to hide behind an ugly 'tache …

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  8. I will say, as someone pointed out to me, Barry at least tried to fix what happened, though from the way it looks like this story is gonna go, he just does NOT learn. Which is kind of, um, I'm not sure what word to use, ironic, self-defeating, for someone who's all about moving forward.

    In all honesty, Pandora's the one who REALLY screwed everything up by shoving the Wildstorm universe with a bunch of pseudo-Vertigo based timelines together.

    I still want Barry to be called out for Flashpoint though.

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