Originally published at InfiniteComix.com
Barry Allen works best when he’s just a regular guy. He can be sometimes dorky, sometimes awkward, but in the end he’s a fairly normal and well-adjusted member of society. He works best when problems any regular person has, only he also has to balance that with his life as superhero (not unlike a certain web-slinger). Many writers have managed to pull this off to great success. In the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity, it was Gardner Fox and Cary Bates. Before Flashpoint, Geoff Johns managed to strike the proper balance. Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul managed to pull off that feat during this series’ first 29 issues Even Mark Waid, who only wrote Barry in various one-shots and miniseries, knew how to portray Barry in a manner that was likable, yet different from that era’s Flash, Wally West. The current creative team behind the character does not get it, as evidenced by the muddled and disjointed comic that is The Flash #42.
Upon reaching the final panel of The Flash #42, there’s a moment of reflection which comes instantly. In that moment, it becomes clear that not a single member of the core story is likable. Barry is flying off the handle both as a civilian and as the Scarlet Speedster. He does not approach the situation – his father’s escape from prison – objectively, which is extremely out of character. He even threatens to send Girder’s grandmother to prison in exchange for information. Barry is not the only one acting out of character, as writers Robert Venditti and Van Jensen continue to butcher the characterization of Iris West. The Central City reporter may have a fiery personality and an eagerness to snag a big story, but she has also shown care and concern for both friends and strangers alike. Now, she is still eager for front-page bylines, only without caring about what it may cost herself or others.
Perhaps the most heinous offense is Venditti and Booth turning Central City against the Flash. That alone shows a complete lack of understanding of the character’s appeal. Metropolis is divided when it comes to Superman. Batman is typically feared, hated, or both by the citizens of Gotham. The Flash is the one that is loved and embraced by his city. There’s even a museum built in his honor there. By making Central City loathe its resident speedster, the writing team has made it clear that they would rather be writing a different character altogether, only they happened to be put on this title.
The one person who seems emotionally invested in this book is Brett Booth. Being that this is the title he’s long said he’s wanted to draw, there is a great amount of energy on each page courtesy of his exaggerated and expressive style. When Flash or Professor Zoom are on the page, the reader can feel the high speeds at which they are moving. Booth also does his best to salvage characterizations. Once again, Barry Allen is wearing a superhero t-shirt, a reference to his history as a comic book fan. There is a moment when Professor Zoom acts less evil and more mischievous, Booth gives him a facial expression that is perfect for the situation. Of course, the character returns to his typical malevolent ways, but touches like this show that Booth knows these characters even if his writers do not.
However, Booth’s art is not immune to criticism. Though he gives great attention to the finest details on his foreground characters, the backgrounds are a wholly different story. Iris’s first appearance in the issue is little more than ink smeared on the page. Other background characters do not suffer nearly as much, but there are noticeable inconsistencies. This also extends to the backgrounds themselves, which are either sparse or, when details are added, they vary from panel to panel.
This issue marks the low point for DC’s resident speedster. A fundamental understanding of the book’s core characters is clearly missing from the co-writers. Despite a strong effort from Brett Booth, his work suffers from both a poor script and his own inconsistencies. The restored faith and goodwill that this title built with the previous issue has been put to waste. The Flash #42 is nothing but disappointing.