The Flash Vol. 4: Running Scared is Joshua Williamson’s best work thus far as The Flash‘s writer. It is amazingly written with art by multiple excellent artists, including the great Howard Porter.
Before we get into my opinions and thoughts on the volume and storyline, here’s a recap of what happens. Feel free to scroll down to the section after Running Scared if you know it enough already.
Color of Fear
“Color of Fear” is the lead in arc to bridge “The Button” to the “Running Scared” storyline. The story builds a lot of tension throughout the first two issues, showing how truly scared of Thawne Barry really is. He pictures Thawne returning and murdering everyone he knows after the Reverse Flash is killed by an unknown force in the previous crossover arc. The issue gradually builds up the fear of Thawne up until Hal Jordan appears, where it takes more of a backseat to their friendship and reunion. That reunion is then disrupted by the appearance of Multiplex. The issue ends with a snide remark from Thawne (and likely a sentiment shared by the writer Josh Williamson) about there only being one Reverse Flash: Eobard Thawne.
In the next issue, Eobard Thawne speaks about how everything seems to have changed, speaking from the fact that to Thawne the only things that have happened were up to “Flashpoint” — his appearance in the New 52 arc by Robert Venditti thankfully isn’t something he remembers, but I digress. My hatred for that is for another time. The enquiring nature of Thawne is great as he is curious, not as the nemesis of Barry Allen, but rather as The Flash’s biggest fan. The casual nature of how he swats aside Wallace’s attacks is something chilling to observe because of how powerful he is compared to Wally, as shown during the brutal fight afterwards where it’s primarily Thawne beating on Wally before breaking his leg. The side to side nature showing Hal and Barry fighting an overwhelming amount of Multiplex clones while Wally is being beaten down by Reverse Flash is a nice contrast of showing how both sides are outmatched but in different ways. While Barry is focusing more on his inner thoughts, Thawne is more focused on what’s changed in the world and finding what kind of Kid Flash that the new Wally he’s facing really is. The moment towards the end of the issue where Hal and Barry are talking about their problems on a bar construct was a really nice moment of interaction between the two. It dives into Barry’s feelings towards Iris and about Thawne, as well as the friendship between Barry and Hal.
“Running Scared” starts off with Barry arriving in the 25th century and recounting his first meeting with Eobard many years before. It goes through how he met Eobard when he was a fan, but was putting people in danger in order to be a hero to which Barry stopped him and handed him in to the police. It then goes into their subsequent meetings, including the New 52 version of Thawne for some reason, even though that version has since been retconned away (very rightfully so because it’s an awful, awful take on the character.)
The issue then goes back to Barry in the 25th century, immediately noticing something is wrong in the future he’s arrived in when civilians and police are scared of The Flash. He wanders into the Flash museum and looks around before coming across a very dapper Eobard Thawne. The issue then explains that after his resurrection in “Color of Fear”, he returned to his home and found things had changed regarding The Flash.
The issue then goes on to explain Eobard’s origin from his point of view and fills in what was missing between Barry’s encounters with him. It truly shows that Eobard idolized Barry and the revelation that a phrase that was said from idol to starstruck fan was something he said to ginger Wally as well broke him and caused him to become The Flash’s biggest nemesis.
After The Flash reveals he is horrified that the reason Thawne hates him is due to him treating Thawne the same as everyone else, he is brutally dragged through the museum while Reverse Flash suits up. To round off the issue, Thawne exposes Barry’s secret identity to Iris, an identity that she should have really known for a long time.
The next issue starts with an older Barry and Iris in a Flash museum that’s falling apart as the Tornado Twins are causing havoc on Central City. The issue focuses on Eobard trying to convince Barry and Iris that if they stay together, all they’ll do is cause ruin. Barry then bizarrely agrees to go with Thawne into the Speedforce where he’s thrown into the Negative Speedforce. This causes a bad reaction that leads to the next arc of The Flash after the next issue.
The final issue is primarily a fight between Barry and Eobard spanning the globe with them racing after each other and sending their opposite flying. During the fight they exchange words with Barry, dropping the biggest insult imaginable to Eobard: that he is forgettable. But really, who could forget that big yellow ball of pettiness and spite rolled into a human being? Barry finally stops Thawne back at the Flash museum and asks why he won’t leave him alone. Thawne’s reply is both heartwarming, heartbreaking and makes him seem kinda sad: he just wants to spend time with his idol. Barry then steals his speed which follows with Iris shooting and killing Thawne after he threatens to continue returning. The volume ends with Barry and Iris splitting due to her not trusting him after he has lied so much to her.
Thoughts on The Flash Volume 4: Running Scared
This entire volume is Williamson going back over everything Flash-related since “Flashpoint” and saying that it’s all wrong. He uses Thawne as a rabid fan replacement and has him criticize things that have changed. Whether this be comments such as noticing things had changed for the worse or even insulting the New 52 Wally West and calling him the fake Wally, Eobard is the greatest audience stand-in for The Flash. Eobard is also written amazingly well in this arc, and even the issue titles reference how obsessed Eobard is with Barry by using lines from famous songs such as “Every Breath you Take” and “I will Possess your Heart” which makes him come across as creepy and stalker-like. Williamson gets how Eobard is the biggest fan of The Flash who will do anything to spend time with him, even if it means being his greatest foe. He also gets how badly the absolute abomination of Venditti/Van Jensen/Booth Eobard Thawne was during the New 52 by having Eobard from his death in “Flashpoint” completely overwrite that version and have no memories of that absolutely terrible version of the character.
The fear that Barry has over the possibility of Thawne returning after his death in “The Button” during the “Color of Fear” mini-arc shows how psychologically damaging Eobard is to Barry in his obsession with him and that Barry knows, no matter what, that Thawne will return somehow and someday. This is even parroted by Thawne himself during the final issue of “Running Scared” where despite having his Speedforce taken away by the negative infected Barry he still remains boastful about how he’ll get it back and return to break Barry and even go as far as to make his mother’s death seem tame compared to what he’d do next. Thawne is written as the most terrifying, overzealous fanboy ever, and the art by Howard Porter in the final two issues accentuates this, right down to how he stalks Iris through the Flash museum as she tries to get away. This volume is up there in the best stories of both Flash and Reverse Flash ever in my honest opinion.
The Flash museum is the biggest collection of continuity and references to the Flash’s history shown in a long time. Almost every single member of The Flash is referenced. From Flash family members such as Max Mercury, Jesse Quick, Bart Allen and the post-Flash: Rebirth Wally design, to every single Rogue and Gentlemen Ghost, to even items such as the lightning cane that Reverse Flash wielded in Flash: Rebirth, everything you can think of is present in the museum. All of this shows how much of a fan Joshua Williamson is, and how he wants to bring back the Flash family that has been missing for far too long.
The art throughout “Color of Fear” is primarily drawn by Carmine Di Giandomenico with a section by Pop Mhan. While the short segment by Mhan looks crisp and really nice, Di Giandomenico’s section is filled with lines everywhere with edges that look incredibly sharp. The art has a lot going on in each panel, especially compared to the smooth, calm art by Mhan. Di Giandomenico’s art fits more with the fight scenes while Mhan’s fits more with the conversation between Hal and Barry; both are excellently colored.
“Running Scared” opens with a short section of art from Di Giandomenico before switching to art from Neil Googe. Googe’s style has a strange tendency to make the heads of characters quite large, especially when they’re wearing a cowl like Barry and Eobard are within the issue. Ryan Sook also expertly draws Eobard’s Flash back and makes it look stunning.
However, the greatest art within the volume comes from Howard Porter, who draws the second issue of “Running Scared” perfectly, with a menacing Thawne, a grizzled old Barry, a gorgeous Iris and a museum that would make any Flash fan wet themselves in excitement. I rarely think one artist should draw every appearance of a character ever but with Howard Porter on The Flash I’ll make that exception.