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Subj: The Flash #22 - Ghosts of Past and Future.
Posted: Sat May 20, 2017 at 02:25:52 pm BST (Viewed 349 times)
Filled with incident as The Flash #22 undeniably is the final instalment of 'The Button' has distinct echoes of the famous Brave and the Bold team-ups of yesteryear and consists of what on the surface is an exciting but desperate race through time by The Flash and Batman to save both themselves, and The Reverse-Flash from swiftly approaching doom. But also, to compliment the necessary need for an action filled finale, lies a more subtle tale dealing with loss and how one can move on from it.
That's not to sat Joshua Williamson entirely succeeds in this storyline, after all this chase after the mysteries of the blood spattered Smiley button and an inexplicably dead Eobard Thawne owes its existence entirely to the purposes of marketing a greater storyline elsewhere and tracing around the edges of a mystery that we know full well will not be answered for several months more by another writer and for a greater commercial purpose. Yet what could have been mere cynical filler exploiting the as yet unseen presence of Doctor Manhattan in the DC Universe has successfully managed to defy those fears by delivering something rather worthwhile, indeed as the storyline closes Joshua Williamson has managed a tale that has confronted Bruce Wayne with the ghostly figure of the deceased father that has governed his every lifes action since childhood and posed him a powerful dilemma that strikes to the core of what he is and why he does what he does in life, and in turn has presented Barry Allen with the similarly direct offer of having aa potential sense of closure to the trauma that pushed he too forwards in his lifes choices - with Eobard Thawne finally dead what is left to prevent Barry Allen from finally resting as both a man and The Flash? The questions hang in the air unaddressed by stories end, and yet despite what might be taken as a disappointing lack of said awareness on this obvious dramatic shift in both men's perception on the world by stories end the framing of those final scenes in the graveyard as they ponder recent events and what killed Thawne are equally acceptable as the two avoiding directly facing the potential change in their outlooks. Rather than immediately tackle how meeting his father and earning a solemn plea not to chase an achingly solitary existence as 'The Batman' Bruce Wayne would rather throw his energies into engaging with events at hand and solving a mystery. Barry Allen too avoids fully analysing his feelings over the end of The Reverse-Flash by sinking his attentions into his work. And so Joshua Williamson leaves it to the deft hand of artist Howard Porter to supply the closure to these unresolved personal questions by delivering a highly effective closing sequence of the two finally exiting the graveyard admitting that there are no easy answers to what they have just endured and the shot pulls dramatically upwards on this note, and up, life goes on is the final unspoken verdict, and out there in the heavens, God alone has the answers...
So in the end, in spite of its indirectness, the coda does work. Less satisfying in contrast is the much anticipated reemergence of Jay Garrick - The Golden-Age Flash, a figure of great personal significance to Barry Allen historically his arrival in the narrative is as timely guardian angel, appearing from the miasma of the Speed-Force Jay Garrick rescues both Barry and the Batman as the Cosmic Treadmill finally expires and deposits them home in the Batman's cave. At this juncture it might be expected that Barry would remember his one-time inspiration and close friend, but whatever conditions have previously allowed for him to restore one-time understudy Wally West seem peculiarly absent when it comes to his great predecessor. In story terms Williamson vaguely waves the affair away with a vague comment that Jay needs to find his own "lightning rod", but the whole incident is so cruel and haplessly handled the reader can only be left frustrated and cheated by the experience as what applied to Wally West should surely apply to Jay Garrick in these circumstances. As warm and inspirational as the arrival of Jay was the whole affair is revealed as but a tease as quite clearly his fate is to be addressed elsewhere and at another time, along with the Justice Society's, why then have him appear here at all...? The tease is but a tease, and the one major dissapointment of the storyline, as while 'The Button' owes its existence as a marketing tool the storyline itself is a progression of questions and mysteries related to ongoing Rebirth theme that could only exist with Batman and The Flash at its heart - the story simply could not function or occur if neither of these characters were involved, and that in itself is a powerful justification for telling the story in the first place. The Flash and Batman in this modern DC landscape share surprisingly similar backgrounds and with near identical personal trauma's early in their lives, and yet the experiences that have shaped them affect the two in somewhat differing ways. Where Bruce Wayne eventually takes a vow to wage war on crime regardless of a seemingly limited ability and means to do so Barry Allen's temperament demands a more patient route to pursuing justice and a path that leads him eventually to joining in with the legal authorities and becoming a part of that system. Nowhere in Bruce Wayne's background was such a proper and legal route to pursuing the law ever seriously considered, and while no writer has touched on that point it does raise the question as to whether Wayne sees Barry Allen as a genuine personal friend, one oof the few people who can understand what it means to see a parent murdered before their young eyes by a callous bogeyman, or whether Wayne see Allen and recognises a man he might have been, someone who deals with his loss in a more courageous manner and unlike him pursued justice the right way. By trusting others and having a faith in the legal system, and those working within it, that Wayne himself simply did not have. If this were to be so then the bond of friendship between the two might be proven to be a convincing one, one formed not just by a shared experience, but by a complex admiration and, perhaps, envy at the achievements of the genuinely good hearted Barry Allen.
Of course, every great superhero needs a counterpoint. And as the issue here opens up it is with the full splash-page surrealism of many a team-up book of the Bronze-Age as we have the dramatic dominating sight of a cackling Reverse-Flash racing at us through the timestream with the gamely straggling figures of The Flash and a rope hanging Batman on a treadmill in pursuit.
It's an image that would be at home in many a story opener in the Bronze-Age. Quite how Barry Allen is operating the treadmill to travel through time while Thawne isn't so limited is a detail waved aside with a vague line or two, the action is what is important after all, and with a wonderfully one-dimensional villainy the deranged figure of The Reverse-Flash cuts as striking and persistent a threat and counterpoint to Barry Allen as he did in his first Silver-Age appearances. We need understand nothing more to Eobard Thawne's action as what you see is very much what you get - obsession. Sheer naked obsession over the legend of The Flash and Thawne's own unconfessed inability to ever hope to pursue such a virtuous and selfless path in life. Eobard Thawne simply isn't that man. And so all that is left to him is single minded obsession and a lifes mission to interfere with, and where possible corrupt, the seemingly ideal life of Barry Allen:The Flash.
As a rationale The Reverse-Flash's motive might seem simple minded by todays super-Villain standards, but the key to the characters appeal lies in that very simplicity and the fact that Thawne is wicked as that is precisely what he is. To him spite is everything, and if he can satisfy himself by meddling with, and destroying, the happiness of Batty Allen then that is all the pleasure he asks for in life. So as he races through time itself in search of the owner of the supposedly important Button he has in his hand let us not question whether his rational in this is strictly logical. As give the context any serious thought and none of it is strictly logical. Thawne for some reason finds himself in pursuit of the power he senses behind The Button and it is the duty of The Flash and Batman to stop him from doing so, but more importantly save the villains life as they know what awaits him if he presumably finds what he is searching for. There's neat symmetry on display to Joshua Williamson's plotting of the storyline as a whole, The Reverse-Flash is the very same man whom we know has tormented Barry since the earliest days of the Silver-Age, he is the same man whom Barry himself killed as he bore down on Fiona Webb, the same man Thomas Wayne had a hand in dispatching in the Flashpoint timeshift, and with the inherent time paradoxes it is the suggestion here that perhaps even death at the hands of 'God' will not see the actual end of him. But for now the fate of Eobard Thawne seems oddly as inevitable as Barry Allen's own fate in the run-up to the Crisis was shown to be. There it was AbraKadabra and Iris Allen who tried to intervene and forestall fate, and here it is Barry and the Batman attempting to forestall the fate of The Reverse-Flash. In both instances fate was shown to be implacable in its progress and demands and the parallels between the two occasions flow into Williamson's fundamental theme underpinning the storyline concerning how one faces the future by facing up to the past. Bruce Wayne has had to stare into the core of his own very reason for being thanks to meeting an image of his father, while Barry's prospective catharsis lies in the firsthand experience of what appears to be the ultimate fate of his lifelong personal demon and bogeyman. Now laying at his feet and conclusively dead. The journey began in the Batcave, and ends back to the Batcave. But inbetween is, for the most part, an efficiently told and boldly illustrated race against time to find answers to an unfathomable enigma, prevent a death, and in the end simply survive the experience to get back home.
'The Button' may be seen in the context of a story by Marketing design, but in terms of execution the actual content contains much that is visually and narratively engaging, and much that serves the development of both main characters involved in an intriguing and meaningful manner. For those reasons the exercise succeeds in a way many such exploitation exercises do not, as Joshua Williamson proves what a fast growing talent he is by defeating those expectations, and in stead delivering the readership an entertaining and thought provoking four-part odyssey, one that ends with not one, but three intriguing coda's...