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Subj: The Flash #21 - The Button Pressed.
Posted: Mon May 01, 2017 at 02:47:50 am BST (Viewed 441 times)
And How It Ended..."
Might it be cynical to assume that this latest Flash storyline which links into the Batman title is nothing more than a base exploitation of the ongoing mystery of who tinkered with reality those six years ago and DC Comics' patiently playing the long game in making their audience wait for the answers? That this well publicised crossover with The Batman is promising some analysis on the matter but we oldtimers know the reality will be that nothing is answered by story's end?
If so that cynicism cannot be criticised as that is after all how the big two comic publishers tend to work. The appeal of the second chapter of 'The Button' however lies in some fine character work from the ever improving Joshua Williamson and a tightly plotted play that addresses the questions surrounding Rebirth and sees The Flash as a reassuringly competent force who is actively taking charge of the chaotic events and more than able to stand equal to The Batman.
While the opening chapter of 'The Button' offered little of substance or quality this second installment most definitely gets the bit between its teeth and runs at a pace that is as firm as it is breathless. The Batman was beaten in his own lair, his attacker Reverse-Flash lies dead in a grisly state and pose on the Cavern floor, and showing confidence in his own abilities Williamson opens up some time after in the aftermath of this, with Barry Allen having isolated the crime scene and stood considering the facts and ramifications of what he sees spread out in front of him. Even today, several years after it was first introduced to his backstory origins, the moments when Barry glumly brings up his Mother's murder as his lifes defining moment grinds on the nerves, yet stood within the context of this scene with the slain Eobard Thawne before him and this being the safe-place of the similarly motivated Bruce Wayne the symmetry between he and Barry is subtly played. It is to his credit that Williamson never points it out, but we as readers can easily do the work necessary and join the dots to see the similarities between Barry Allen and Wayne, and by doing so have some understanding of why the fiercely private Wayne should accept he into his house and give full support to in a way that perhaps only Superman might be considered worthy of.
So any assumptions that this storyline might be nothing more than empty filler and cynical marketing do seem to be lessened with this chapter, as we learn more about what killed the Reverse-Flash so too does Barry Allen intuitively reason what he must do to track down the path of his arch-foe and discover some trace of who or what was responsible for his death. On the face of it it is a tie-in to Rebirth yes, but on a more immediate level is an inexplicable murder mystery of the sort that might have powered many a Brave and the Bold episode back in the day. The book opens with the sanctity of the Batman's den desecrated and ends in a Batman's den somewhere else entirely, but in-between the two points is much that is intriguing and much that raises questions. Above all though is the quiet confidence at work here that makes The Flash #21 a thoroughly enjoyable mid-part in an ongoing storyline - as despite its obvious commercial purpose the events in 'The Button' are so particular to the talents and histories of the two characters starring that the story would simply not be possible without the characters of The Flash and Batman. That unique detail alone is worth contemplating, as here then is a story purposely devised purely because of these two characters. It could not work without them.
One striking feature about Williamson's plotting as seen here is that there is in fact little action, what action we see is purely by way of Howard Porter's inventive two-page opening as the span of the Batman's cavern headquarters is interrupted by silhouetted minute shots of what occurred here earlier, a vicious beating of the Batman and the scene as it stands some time later - now the scene of an apparent murder. So by way of its placing in the ongoing crossover event Williamson is able to place the illusion of action while what is unfolding is actually the outcome of action. The Batman has been sent to rest and recuperate while the dual talents of Barry Allen are allowed to come into the fore in a logical and sensible manner. The situation neatly allows the writer to employ a variety of techniques that include the chance for Barry to narrate the events and their significance to him and in doing so develop further the relationship between this Police Scientist and the world's foremost detective and crime-fighter. Not that anything of a personal nature is forthcoming, not on Bruce Wayne's part at least, but by using the authoritarian element to Wayne's persona and exploiting the business-like nature of his personality the strength of the two men's partnership can be developed and shown in a satisfactory and plausible manner and in the same vein show with some unmentioned skill that while a comparison between the two is never made it is clear that Wayne respects Barry Allen's skills as a forensic specialist and analytical thinker a good deal. When looked at in a retrospective light it does seem strange that so few past writers ever exploited their shared interests and duties, yet for all of the potential for grandstanding the deference by the battered Wayne to Barry's skills speaks highly indeed of the man's integrity and willingness to place trust.
Penetrating to the crux of the story however Williamson also uses events to tease and inform on the effects of the return of Wally West from limbo and how this changed both Barry and awareness of the world. If Barry remembers Wally and their history together then it seems obvious that he also recalls his life with beloved wife Iris and the circumstances that led to Wally taking on his mantle as The Flash, quite noticably however such implications and knowledge have failed to be discussed or verified by Williamson these last 21 issues apart from a veiled coded reference to what might have been Barry's own demise in the Crisis - just how much does he actually remember of his previous life then...? Why does it seem to be of so little concern that that life has been taken from he and Iris, that there might even be other elements missing from his life that he is utterly unaware of? Fan-pleasing as it may have been the business of realigning their internal continuity to form a link to years long passed by inevitably offers a good deal of awkward side-effects and pressing questions concerning such matters. And as The Flash is joined by the Batman for the return of the hitherto unmentioned Cosmic Treadmill those nagging questions only become ever more magnified. If the context was a little different the problem could be overlooked, but it is Williamson himself who invited the debate as as he has the two travel through time and space images of an impossible past appear before them and Barry is clearly not recognising these key events they glimpse. But then as he himself unknowingly points out if "years were stolen" from their lives, effectively deleted from history, how and why can they be even seeing what they are seeing?!!
It would be all too easy to call it careless writing, yet with a thoughtful and considered plot that handles the complexity of the various strands of event marketing with confidence and verve I cannot criticise Joshua Williamson nor the splendid art support from the welcome return of Howard Porter to the DC stable. Filled with detail and offering up a strong and capable Barry Allen Williamson has improved his standard of writing these last issues with commendable dedication. For the first time in several years The Flash is becoming a book I am actually becoming quite keen to read, and with a book and character that have so consistently and stoically underachieved over the years that in itself is no mean feat at all.
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