Just a couple of caveats before we get into the particulars of this book:
- I can’t tell you the last time I read a Flash comic. I don’t want to say “never” because surely I have, but for all intents and purposes, let’s assume I haven’t since it’s probably been more than 20 years.
- I’ve never been a fan of the Riddler. Never.
With those two things in mind, let’s see what writer Van Jensen serves up in Central City:
What Has Many Stories but No Book?
So the Riddler has designs on Central City, but Flash is a bit of an obstacle. He decides to play cat and mouse with the red streak because, like all egomaniacal criminal masterminds, he just can’t pass up the joy of the challenge.
“Under the Gun” is what I would call a pajama-wearing-superhero adventure. Everyone has brightly colored costumes, silly names like Captain Cold, and “schtick” powers.
Like: big name announcements!
This is one of your garden-variety “I’m taking over this city” plots with Riddler jumping through some hoops to put assault drones in place that, in the blink of an eye, can start firing on civilians unless people do his bidding. He doesn’t actually demonstrate this in the moment that he makes his threat, but let’s assume the arrangement works. The Flash is left to hold his held in agony as he must chose to let Riddler have his way or risk the lives of hundred of innocents.
We’ve kind of seen it all before, right?
I’m pretty sure we have.
There’s not much to make this fresh, but we do have a subplot involving the Rogues in which Trickster is “siding” with Riddler at the moment and the Rogues are in a huff over that, the fact that Golden Glider has been sidelined (and her prognosis is poor), and they believe Heat Wave is dead (though Riddler’s just got him in a tank in his secret lair).
There’s also some civilian drama about Barry’s father Henry, and Wally, and other colleagues (and the police), but it’s frankly not that compelling, especially since Riddler just reminds them about the drones and everyone crumples like origami. Even the arrival of the Pied Piper just feels like stalling in terms of the storyline–it takes us nowhere except for an opportunity for Barry and PP to have a discussion about moral choices.
Maybe the most exciting (and also silliest) moment of the whole book is Riddler whaling on Flash with brass knuckles. Why not, right? If you came to the book to see the Riddler do more than spin riddles or play chess with himself, there you go: big dramatic action for a couple of pages.
When is Art Not Quite the Part?
I’m actually not familiar with Joe Eisma or Gus Vazquez as artists, but the main impression I can assert from their work on this issue is that, unfortunately, the book feels like the diverse work of a bunch of different artists thrown hastily together. The character models vary from page to page (most notably Trickster in the first half of the book is a strapping fellow, whereas in the latter half he’s a twiddly lad). There is also a pretty poor general use of space throughout (figure arrangement within the panels makes a poor use of the environment and lacks dynamic angles for strong visual storytelling).
There’s also some spectacularly weird moments that are as bizarre in the art as they are in the writing. For example:
- The Pied Piper pulls up on a motorcycle at a crucial moment, dismounts from one panel to the next, then remounts after Flash gets on.
- First of all, the getting on and off thing makes no sense.
- Second of all, it’s the Flash. If he needed to escape, he could have just…you know, run?
- Third, having run, Riddler just threatens to kill people if he doesn’t come right back. Which, well, duh.
- Another example is when Riddler monologue for half an hour while Flash is running right at him with full speed lines blazing. I know that’s pretty standard comic-booky stuff, but I was surprised at how unsophisticated this was.
- The panel is literally three balloons deep and the conversation spills over into another one before Flash is pulled up short.
The book in general feels curiously like something out of the 1990s era of overproduced hack superhero group comics (a la X-men ripoffs). Is it deliberately trying to feel “retro”?
Whatever it’s trying to do, it doesn’t work for me personally. I found this mostly contrived and poorly rendered. My ten-year-old self might have found it entertaining, but 30 years later I’ve been around the block and seen some mighty fine comic books in my time (in our time here together at Batman-news.com!). So yeah, this doesn’t cut mustard.
When regular explosives just aren’t dramatic enough, I guess
- You’re a big fan of the Riddler and/or the Rogues. Lots of colorful costuming!
- You like “Superhero disempowered by the love of the people” trope.
- You’re paranoid of drones and want nightmare fodder?
For not being a regular reader of The Flash, this was not a great introduction. You don’t need the lead-in issue (No. 50) to make total sense of this, but this storyline will definitely continue into Issue No. 52 as this one ends with the Riddler in control of Central City and Flash at his mercy. That makes it sounds pretty thrilling, but Jensen’s mostly served up a pretty vanilla premise, the stakes of which feel a little ho-hum. Maybe if you’re a fan of the Flash you care about anonymous Central City citizens being threatened with assault drones, but I was mostly distracted by how silly the Rogues look in the modern world and how ill-used much of the panel layouts were.