The Flash #25: Starting Line
(This review contains some spoilers: character appearances, and interactions)
Watching Barry Allen – the Flash – working as a police officer years before he received his super powers is a bit like watching a time travel story play out. Comic book story lines seem to be using time travel repeatedly this year. It’s possible the popular time travel themed program – Doctor Who – has recently had an affect on comic book writing alongside its lasting impact on popular culture.
The Flash #25 is only a bit like time travel, however, and issue #25 is a flash back to Barry Allen’s past – a newly graduated forensic scientist and police officer. The comic wraps together a detective story, with romance themes in a younger versions of DC comics universe where Super heroes are emerging, and characters like The Batman and Superman are urban myths.
The most striking moment in this comic’s art is the shift in style brought about halfway through the comic. Barry encounters a set of dangerous chemicals – one that predates the contamination that triggered Barry Allen’s evolution into the Flash – we see Barry’s world shift and change. His perspective morphs, and the art reflects the giant leap his sense have experienced.
Playing out from this moment is a vivid hallucination. Barry sees himself as a golden age, DC super hero. His costume is near identical to the first appearance of Superman back in 1939. Spots of orange and red lights are dotted throughout the key panels of the story, which make the artwork interesting to look at. These are usually bright bursts of light that highlight a characters actions, or the tiny flames lighting candlewick – the comic is set in a blackout, which means that sources of light are difficult to find, and stand out vigorously when they do appear in panels.
The art and the character interactions build up a solid romance narrative between Barry and the young journalist Iris West: Fire and Ice symbols play a role here, establishing the back and forth, hot and cold interaction between Iris and Barry. For example, Barry starts a fire in a makeshift Laboratory, and Iris is seen wielding a fire extinguisher, and being associated with Ice. Iris West is a significant character in The Flash‘s comic book history. Her appearance here does not require the reader to know her backstory, however, since the comic is a flashback to a time before Iris and Barry built a relationship.
There was only one point where I questioned Barry Allen’s character development. He’s not yet a DC superhero, and has just recently graduated from the Central City Police Academy, and completed his Forensic Science degree. While visiting Gotham city, he hears stories about a new urban legend known as The Batman. His impression of The Batman is that he is a vigilante trying to help.
Barry has not seen a superhero in the DC universe before, however: nobody has.
The Batman and Superman are just emerging in metropolis and in Gotham. Barry’s comment serves to set him up as heroic – he can understand The Batman’s motivations, because he shares an interest in heroics. I thought that it didn’t seem completely consistent that Barry would recognise a vigilante as heroic, however, having studied and trained as a police officer for several years. Despite perceived inconsistencies early on, the comic addresses this attitude. As mentioned above, the comic art gives a glimpse into Barry’s inner thoughts – he shows a per-occupation with super heroes.
Themes, Ethics, Values.
Chemistry helps build up Barry Allen’s character. His role as the hero and protagonist combined with his interest in chemistry makes scientific knowledge a key value of the comic. It’s his work ethic toward the case he is investigating in Gotham that helps solve it rapidly, and the information drop that white phosphorus ignites and burns bright at temperatures above 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) establishes scientific knowledge as valuable.
Some interesting points about police work are raised when the comic compares Barry Allen’s enthusiastic approach to solving criminal cases with Gotham police officer Harvey Bullock. Barry is a younger Police Officer from a different city, with an entirely separate ecology (different crime types and rates, different offender demographics). Bullock’s age and cynicism contrasts with Barry’s youth and optimism.
While this might explain the motivations behind Bullocks decisions regarding a character named Officer Spence, research into the affect of age and cynicism on crime rates shows their is no relationship between a Police Officers interest in solving crime and their age of outlook. In their research for the Journal of Criminal Justice, Sobol (2010) did not find any relation between crime solving vigor, age, cynicism, or crime ecology.
This is only a single study however, and Sobol concluded that their may be other factors that change and reshape Police officer interest. What’s valuable about this comic is that through it’s story and characters, it re-frames and poses the question of what effect experience and cynicism have on Police Officer interest. Without declaring an ethic one way or another, however, the question of who’s approach is better is posed, but not answered. Could Barry’s quick and lawful ethic be superior to Harvey’s shady but discrete choices?
A bit more on The Flash #25
The comic does tie itself into the events of a large story arc called Zero Year. The story of The Flash #25 happens under the Zero Year umbrella, but can be enjoyed without having to read a series of other issues about different characters. Particularly toward the conclusion of the comic, the power of the art picks up momentum. Without damaging the foundations DC comics created for the Flash in the past three years, this issue presents a good detective story that values science, alongside it’s science fiction centre.Works Consulted: Sobol, J., J. (2010). Social ecology and police discretion: The influence of district crime, cynicism, and workload on the vigor of police response. Journal of Criminal Justice: Vol 8, Issue 4. pp.481-488.