You know, those of you who follow me on Twitter (so like, two people), know that I’m pretty unhappy with my day job.

While living in a quiet corner of Australia has meant I avoided most of the COVID crisis, being an essential worker is plenty stressful and frustrating – even on a regular day. When you start having bad days, sometimes they begin to pile up, and you lose yourself in how miserable you are. I don’t think I’ll quit just yet – good days are actually pretty good – but when bad days come, they start to consume you, and you forget about all the good things you have in your life.

One day last week, I was having a particularly horrible day. The day before was bad enough, and now I was facing another long day with the same tiring, repetitive tasks. I was in the middle of one of those tasks, lost in negative thoughts, when something seemed to change in my head. In that moment, I realized something: It is exhausting being so angry. Really! After a while, you realize you don’t have the time of day to dwell on something for too long, and something clicks in you that allows you to give less of a shit and enjoy yourself. Which, coincidentally, is basically how I feel about this comic.

Written by Joshua Williamson and illustrated by Eddy Barrows, Speed Metal feels like the conclusion to a story arc I haven’t been reading – which it kind of is, so I really can’t be too harsh on it. While this is indeed a Death Metal tie-in (and a pretty important one at that), it also seems to be bringing some stories from Williamson’s Flash to a conclusion: such as the reconciliation of Wally West and Barry Allen, as well as reuniting most of the Flash family with one another. Immediately, I’m put at something of a disadvantage with this issue – not only do I have no love for Death Metal right now, but seeing as I don’t read Flash, I have no real investment in the narrative outside of this event. Is that a fault of the issue? I’m not sure it is: when you’re dealing with a multiversal epic that affects the lives of every character in the DC Universe, it’s not a crime to have some tie-ins have an impact on other comic books. With that in mind, I’m going to be trying to consider what this issue might mean for Flash fans as I read it; bearing in mind that I might not be an expert on the subject.

What I can talk about with confidence is how much I like Eddy Barrows’ artwork! It’s nice to return to artists who I’ve reviewed before: it feels like a pleasant surprise when they show up on a different book, allowing them to stretch different creative limbs. Here, Barrows does some excellent work on some recap pages in particular! While I’m not a huge fan of Doctor Manhattan’s involvement in DC post-Doomsday Clock, it was kind of inevitable with Rebirth’s direction: and the splash page of his fingers outstretched across Wally’s life is very striking. Better still is his work on the Batman Who laughs splash, which paints a very ominous image of the villain. Both spreads manage to recap the essentials of Wally’s journey in a short span of time – including The Batman Who Laughs removing Wally from the Mobius chair, which I have to assume happened in the cancelled Free Comic Book Day one-shot. Barrows also does a great job portraying the villain’s newest form, the Darkest Knight: giving him a powerful and sinister aura as he looms over the protagonists.

If I had a criticism of the artwork, it would have to be the setpieces. Aside from the Flash Museum, the characters spend most of their time running through the speed force: occasionally passing by the scant dilapidated ruin as they zoom by, but mostly running through a rather unexciting blur. It’s hard to make this interesting, but seeing as the creators of Death Metal took the time to make an entire map of the new “Metalverse”, it would be nice to see some of it. I think I’d enjoy things a little more if we spotted the Flashes race pass something like Metropolis, Gemworld or the Junglelands – but maybe that wouldn’t have made the action as coherent. Portraying superspeed visually is a difficult task, and it’s hard to pin down what exactly works; but asking that question is something that I think is necessary when reviewing a Flash comic.

…Also, the new costumes are kinda dumb. But, like, whatever, it’s a comic book.

As for the writing, I find myself without much to say on the subject. While the dialogue isn’t really my cup of tea, it’s also quite functional: each Flash plays off each other well enough, and it’s especially nice to finally see Jay Garrick back in the mix. At first, I felt myself rather irritated when I read the book – for the same reasons I’ve been irritated with the rest of Death Metal. Initially, it felt meaningless: characters pulling deus ex machinas out of the blue to avoid the doom nipping at their heels, grasping victory from the jaws of defeat again and again and again. It’s tiring, and you feel more desensitized to it as you go. When I reread it, though, these gripes became less of a big deal for me! A lot of it does seem to be set up from previous stories, such as Wally West’s time-stopping equation. Not only that, but it seems to have an internal logic to it: the characters debate the best course of action, and discuss the consequences of what they’ve done. For a book about characters who move so fast, it isn’t afraid to stop and consider itself.

My main issue, I think, lies in the direction of the story, and the optimistic note it is trying to lean on. Without going into too much detail, the tale acts as a sort of redemptive story for Wally West, after everything he’s been put through in Rebirth, Heroes in Crisis and Flash Forward. For the whole issue, we see the characters reflecting on everything they’ve been through: the mistakes they’ve made, who they want to be, and who will lead the Flash family going forward. It’s a nice sentiment, if nothing else – but I think it rings very hollow.

This isn’t the sole fault of Speed Metal, but the story of Wally West for the past four years has been a story of unpopular decisions. I remember browsing the internet after Rebirth was released, and found the reception to Wally’s return to be immense – the energy surrounding DC at that time was, quite frankly, insane in the best possible way. But since then, Wally hasn’t been given the treatment that fans felt he deserved – relegated to a supporting character in Flash, one member of an ensemble cast in Titans, and only recently given a solo book… after he killed a dozen people in Heroes in Crisis. When characters ponder the horrible things that they’ve been through, it feels less of a cry against the universe and more of a cry against editorial: and it makes the promise of change feel hollow. Is Wally actually back now, or will DC decide to send him down the path of the eternal plot device once more? I don’t trust the optimism of this issue, and while that’s not the fault of this comic alone, the fact remains that it held little impact for me as a result.

Recommended If:

  • You’re enjoying Death Metal!
  • You have been reading Flash, and want to see what looks to be one of Williamson’s concluding chapters in the story. He’s done a lot of work under the character now!
  • Wally’s redemption is important to you, and you feel like it actually might be legitimate this time.

Overall

If there’s anything I’ve said in this review that was inaccurate, I am happy to defer to the knowledge of those heavily invested in Williamson’s Flash saga. I am only able to review this as a casual reader: one who is familiar with everything in Death Metal, but less so with some character arcs operating at the fringes. As it stands, it’s perfectly readable, and might have greater value for those with more of a stake in the story! Hell, even I might like this more if I come back to it in the future. For now, however, I remain worried about if the promises of this issue hold any weight: or if, like Rebirth, they’re unable to make it to the finish line.

Score: 5.5/10

——————

Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.

Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch