Previously on The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive…
I pondered whether or not a playful little tie-in series could help alter perceptions for a (potentially doomed but mostly OK?) Flash movie — and whether such a Herculean feat was even necessary. As it turns out, the book, written by Kenny Porter alongside a rotating crew of artists, was entertaining enough, offering a highly accessible story geared toward fans (and potential devotees) of the DCEU.
Now, though, the question begs if issue #2 can follow suit, or if a second (and eventually a third) tie-in title might be cutesy comics overkill.
And I think the answer to this riddle is some of the former and maybe too much of the latter.
This time around, Flash contends with the fullest of plates, having to balance his relationship with his imprisoned father, keeping his internship at the forensics squad of the Central City P.D., and battling a new threat, Joey “Tarpit” Monteleone. There’s no special guest stars this time around, but the same focus on Barry Allen learning a vital lesson (now it’s basically, “live in the moment”) in order to be a better hero (said lesson translating, slightly precariously, to better controlling his phasing powers).
There were some bits that made this book heaps more adorable than its predecessor — like the aw-shucks way that everything wraps up in the end for our plucky young hero. And that ”cuteness” matters as it defines the scope of this book.
But there were more genuine concerns that said cuteness couldn’t explain away. The lack of a guest star, for instance, not only felt like a wasted opportunity for another solid, super exciting team-up, but it was the juxtaposition between Batman and Flash that allowed us to delve into both heroes while fostering a sense of running tension. But that’s mostly excusable, as jamming this with guest stars would only take more attention away from Barry. In this issue, at least, we got to see more clearly how Barry relies on other people and having that sounding board to grow both personally and professional. Still, it’s also worth noting that this big lesson (again, “be in the moment”) already felt like Barry’s exact M.O.; a better lesson might be, “Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed when you’re the fastest man alive,” or even, “Use those exploding powers for good, you idiot.”
But the larger issue wasn’t the guests or dubious lessons but the issue’s villain. On paper, Tarpit is a great baddie — a gross, menacing fiend whose powers feel like a proper contrast to The Flash. But he just doesn’t work out in practice, and Tarpit feels like a one-note gimmick. That’s especially true when this version of Tarpit is made out as the son of mobsters operating in a mob family — it’s like a bad version of The Sopranos or Godfather played out on the comics page. There’s a possible upside to Tarpit as he grapples with trying to assume the helm of his family business, and it could have easily been compared to Barry’s own family drama for maximum effect. Except, like the whole gangster shtick itself, nothing ever really happens, and all that family stuff is made out to be needless tension in the grand scheme of the story.
Issue #1 mostly tried to contextualize Girder’s villainy (helping a sick parent), but this just felt like a gimmick over organic storytelling. And, to harp on #1 some more, everything in that story felt aligned and all about exploring people’s personalities and efforts to tell a more fully realized story. Here, the focus is on Flash, and the story bits that should’ve uplifted his narrative and the arcs of other characters just lands sort of awkward or with minimal impact. I made a similar reference with #1, but this issue in particular felt even more like an episode of the CW’s The Flash, with heavy emphasis on a meandering narrative that almost made something of itself before it just sort of didn’t. And like that show, this issue didn’t try to expand things by delivering said hokey lesson with a touch more depth and nuance.
If there’s any sustained upside to issue #2, it’s the art from artist Juan Ferreyra. (It also extends to some really dynamic covers, including Sebastian Fiumara’s main and a variant from Ricardo Lopez Ortiz.) Ferreyra’s art actually feels pretty reminiscent to the work of Lopez Ortiz and colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr. from #1; while that’s likely not purposeful, it did foster a sense of cohesion and connection that the story all but ignored.
Beyond that, there were lots of little decisions that made this issue feel more robust visually even as the story faltered. That includes a more spot-on depiction of the DCEU’s Barry (it helps bolster the value of this tie-in); the design of Tarpit (he looked utterly gross and nearly demonic); the way Barry’s powers were depicted (it made them compelling while furthering the dangerous aspects of his phasing); and lots of great action and fighting bits (especially the part where Flash runs on water to bash Tarpit).
All of that together did what the story couldn’t: show us Barry learning big lessons; make the villain feel complicated; and play up those innately cheesy tendencies and still make things feel cool and vital. I don’t know if the art made up for any issues with the story, but it did at least make this slightly messy next step feel more engaging and exciting.
When I concluded issue #1, I was pretty excited about #2. This time around, however, my excitement is diminished a tad. A pretty easy formula felt denied thanks to a half-cocked narrative — plus, the art could’ve helped avert some issue if there was more connective potential across this story. I’ll certainly read and likely review #3, but my hope is that it can finish this run strong by balancing the cheesy with the insightful, give us robust heroes and villains to engage, and build this title beyond mostly OK stories intended to sell movie tickets.
If it can, we can forget about speed levels and just call Flash the most charming and emotionally resonant man alive.
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