Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: Flash #12

The Flash #12
Written by Geoff Johns; art by Scott Kolins and Francis Manapul; DC.

Splitting art duties between Francis Manapul and Scott Kolins wasn't so bad when Kolins would do the occasional fill-in issue to give Manapul a chance to catch up. They're both competent artists and their styles have enough similarities that it didn't seem like a complete break. But when you put them side by side in the same issue, as happens here, it's a bit harder to swallow because it becomes clear that Manapul's art is vastly superior. The few pages that he illustrates really stand out, and it doesn't do Kolins any justice to have to compete with that. Once again, it's a case of poor scheduling choices from DC editors where it became necessary to have multiple artists on a single issue in order to meet deadlines. I wish DC would make more effort to avoid this sort of thing. (And no, I don't blame the artists.)

Script-wise, this issue may only have a single scribe, but there are still lots of problems with it. I'm not a Geoff Johns hater. I think he's very good at coming up with epic ideas and stories that evidently appeal to the fans. But when it comes to the actual scene-by-scene scripting of his books, sometimes I find it a bit weak.

In this case, the action scenes in the first half of the book are okay, but the emotional stuff in the second half is handled so poorly that some of it actually made me angry. 

First, there's a totally unconvincing reconciliation between Barry and Bart. It's unconvincing because the conflict didn't really make any sense to begin with. It came out of the blue last issue when the entire speedster family decided to have an "intervention" and confront Barry about how emotionally distant he's been (despite the fact that nothing in the previous 10 issues really hinted at him being emotionally distant, aside from the fact that he was too busy to attend a fucking family picnic, 'cause he was, you know, catching bad guys) during which Bart stormed off like a little crybaby for apparently no reason. And now, after a big fight during which Bart was almost killed, they're pals again. They haven't really dealt with whatever it was that was bothered Bart. It just magically resolved itself while they were fighting side by side against the Reverse Flash. I guess that's male bonding.

That's only a one-page scene. What follows is much worst. It's a goodbye scene with Patty Spivot which, again, feels pretty hollow because we never really got a good sense of what their relationship was all about in previous issues. But what's so terrible about this scene is that it sets up one of the most infuriating clichés of bad drama. Patty confesses she'd been hoping they'd be more than co-workers or even friends, but she respects that he has someone else in his life. Barry politely lets her know the feelings are not mutual, while tenderly stroking her face (seriously, who does that?) and they they hug. It's the most harmless, passionless, sexless, lifeless scene ever. Both characters are being very respectable and chaste and mature about it, and aside from that ridiculous face stroke, there's nothing reproachable about their behaviour. It's clear that they have no intention to commit adultery, because they're such good people. And of course, you can see it coming from a mile away: Barry's wife, Iris, walks in on them at exactly the wrong moment.

It's just such bad writing. The set-up is obvious and predictable, and yet it feels completely contrived and removed from anything anyone's ever experienced in reality. What follows is so by-the-numbers I don't even have to describe it, because you've seen it a hundred times in bad movies and bad TV. The dialogue is lifted right out of the book of clichés: "Iris! You remember Patty Spivot?" "Of course."

The only thing that goes against what you would expect here is that Iris is such a good wife that she doesn't even get the wrong impression from what she's witnessed, despite Barry's awkward fumbling which make him seem guilty. She tells him he doesn't have to explain anything, because she trusts him. At first I was like, "Oh, well, at least Geoff Johns didn't go there." But then I realized this was even more infuriating, because it doesn't to any kind of conflict or drama and it just serves to highlight how flawless and incredibly bland these characters are. The whole Patty Spivot subplot in these last few issues was stillborn, because they never flirted, Barry never got an erection and he was never tempted. There was never any sexual tension. And now Iris, being the inhuman cardboard template of a perfect wife that she is, doesn't feel any jealousy. She's just full of compassion and understanding and concern for Barry's wellbeing. And they discuss this over coffee while holding hands and looking into each other's eyes and being very mature about it. It just makes me vomit.

This is the final issue of The Flash. It started out strong with some really brilliant issues with gorgeous art by Francis Manapul. But about halfway through, it became clear that Geoff Johns wasn't really interested in telling stories in this book and that it functioned merely as an elaborate set-up for this summer's big "event," Flashpoint, the first issue of which also came out this week. If you've been following The Flash all along, then you'll probably want to pick this one up for whatever closure it offers. (Hint: not much.) Otherwise, don't bother. If you're interested in Flashpoint, you can just go straight to #1 and you won't be missing any crucial information.



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