Warning: This review contains spoilers.
Since taking over The Flash, writers Robert Venditti and Van Jensen have been tasked with the unenviable assignment of reintroducing Wally West to the DC Universe. Not the Wally West fans had clamored for since DC’s relaunch in 2011, but practically a wholly different character of the same name, courtesy of an editorial mandate. To their credit, Venditti and Jensen have done a serviceable job in introducing this this new character, forced upon them, to the world. That changes now. Thrusting the character front and center, The Flash #34 is the strongest story for Wally West to date. Unfortunately, it comes at a price.
As the series has built towards the inevitable clash between Barry Allen and his counterpart from the future, the core storyline in the present has wallowed in a mystery surrounding the so-called “Mashup Killer.” With the identity of this foe was revealed in last issue’s final pages, The Flash #34 jumps right into the action. Penciler Brett Booth orchestrates a high-octane action sequence which is befitting the series. There have been complaints about his artwork in the past, but the layouts and character renderings are among his best efforts since taking over the series. One panel calls for Barry to vibrate his molecules as he has done many times in the past. Booth’s depiction of the feat is among the best in the character’s long publication history.
This imagery is accentuated by colorist Andrew Dalhouse’s vibrant palate. The contrast of Barry’s bright red costume in the evening setting causes the character to pop off the page. Unfortunately, the current story has called for most of the action to take place at night, resulting in heavy shading and a lack of vibrancy to the costume and, by extension, the book. Beyond this, the color work great. The issue’s closing sequence featuring Future Flash and villain this book has previously seen is a visually striking treat.
In spite of art team’s energetic efforts, Robert Venditti and Van Jensen’s script is one of their lesser works. The opening action sequence, despite taking up nearly half of the issue, comes across as rushed. The Mashup Killer’s motivations are not particularly compelling, though they happen to explore morality’s shades of grey. Revealed to be be Detective Seborn in the previous issue, he claims to be tieing up loose ends that know his survival tactics during the villain takeover of Forever Evil. Readers have been conditioned to think that villains, especially in mainstream superhero books, are evil – no questions asked. On the surface, Seborn’s actions certainly fit that mold. But if the time is taken to try and understand what he has been through, and if readers ask themselves what they would do in the situations Seborn has experienced, they might not like what they discover.
As alluded to previously, Wally West is the core focus of this issue. In a desperate effort to set him straight Barry and Iris take him to Iron Heights to visit his beloved uncle Daniel. To both Wally and the readers’ surprise, Daniel encourages his nephew to choose a better path than his. He calls the Flash a great hero, which goes against everything this version of Wally has believed. Hopefully, this interaction serves as the trigger Wally to assume his classic, beloved character traits.
It is somewhat comforting when later Daniel reveals that words were just an act. When he was last seen, he was full of hatred and scorn – devoid of any regret for his actions. Conversely, the incident raises questions regarding Barry’s actions. Part of the character’s charm used to be his stable family life and clean-cut morality. Skirting due-process and cutting deals on the side is not part of Barry’s character. He believes the system works, despite its flaws. He is the DC Universe’s embodiment of hope. To see him resort to unsavory methods and compromising his own beliefs is disappointing.
Despite fleeting moments of greatness and dynamic artwork, The Flash #34 ultimately disappoints. Though by no means a terrible comic, the story fails to live up to the standard of prior issues. If there is a glimmer of hope, it’s the promise of Flash vs. Flash when the series resumes in October following September’s Futures End tie-in.