[THE NEW 52] The Flash: Move Forward

Sometimes it feels like there are particular heroes that should really be given greater focus than they’re currently afforded. Take someone like Batwoman – her stories seem to fly mostly under the radar, even though they fare better than some of the other Bat-crap that’s out these days. It seems if the character isn’t marketable as a merchandising icon, a potential film adaptation or just someone they’re trying desperately to reestablish as a potent hero again, then they don’t deserve as much attention.

The Flash seems to be a victim of that process. Despite the fact he, y’know, started this thing in the first place, he really doesn’t seem to have the spotlight on him quite the way Batman, Superman or their other cohorts do right now. It’s a shame, really – Geoff Johns’ pre-Flashpoint was really fun, bouncy and had just the right amount of seriousness to make it a great read. So, can Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato inherit Johns’ mantle and make a story worthy of the Speed Force, or will the Flash’s red outfit become a stop sign for another horribly bland superhero outing?

Yeah, I really should be more selective with my metaphors.

Like Superman, the Flash’s story has been heavily retconned to remove any trace of wife, extended family or anyone else to ever take up the Flash mantle. Compared to stories like The Flash: Rebirth, where there’s a whole host of speed force users making one big, happy, hyper-consuming family, Move Forward feels a little bit empty in that respect. It’s not a markdown against it, but I do miss the sight of four generations of Flash taking on Professor Zoom with a whole “world’s most kickass family” vibe to it.

In this reality, Barry Allen seems to be have been the only person to bear the Flash name (which infuriated no small number of Wally West fans back in the real world) and is entering into a relationship with fellow forensics officer Patty Spivot, rather than the marriage he had pre-Flashpoint to Iris West who, in this story, is as annoying and persistent a journalist as Lois Lane was in Action Comics. Part of me wonders if Manapul and Grant Morrison compared notes before writing their respective stories, coz there’s a lot of similarity on that front.

The Flash is tasked with taking down random goons when he suddenly gains the inexplicable ability to speed up his mind as well as his muscles, becoming, by his own admission, the superhero equivalent of an ADD sufferer. The super-sped ends up causing more problems than he solves, including an EMP blackout throughout Central City and an accidental move that seriously pisses off arch-nemesis Captain Cold, who’s gone through a bit of a power-boost since last we saw him. Working with Patty and a very polite doctor, with a city blaming him for their issues and a supervillain bent on ruining his day, the Flash needs to sort stuff out quick-smart or else be doomed to run for the rest of his life.

I might sound like I’m taking the piss a little here, but I’m really not. I actually really enjoyed Move Forward. It defied my previous complaints about artists being writers and failing at the extra task, since Manapul does a pretty decent job as a writer and as principal illustrator. It’s not as hard-hitting or cerebral a story as some others I’ve read this year, but it’s still good, popcorn fun with an undercurrent of character development, some good interpersonal stuff between Barry and Patty, and a nice – if rather abrupt – sequel hook at the end, which makes me pray I don’t have to wait until November next year for Volume 2. That seems to be something a lot of New 52’s stories are doing at the moment, sequel hooks that make me long for the next one. Those cunning DC penny-pinchers.

The artwork is solid, though at times the positioning of comic panels during the Flash’s “superhero ADD” moments can get a bit schizophrenic and hard to follow. I’m all for non-linear storytelling, but it broke up the flow a little too much for me. I was looking forward to Manapul’s artwork here since his work on the last Flash run looked fantastic, and while it’s not his best effort it’s still really enjoyable. Bright colours, great use of shading and line articulation, and to my mind the female characters’ most obvious physical traits seems to be toned down and realistically proportioned compared to other works (lookin’ at you, Rob Liefeld).

Dialogue is…a little disappointing. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s not great either. I wasn’t expecting Shakespearean levels of wordiness when going into this book, but a lot of it feels very Hollywood, like it was written for a Michael Bay film rather than an intelligent graphic novel. It is nice that they showed Captain Cold has a little bit of depth beyond “kill Flash, steal money” but the scenes where that happens feel a little schmaltzy and overwrought. Still, at least Barry’s not running around ranting about how awesome a dude he is on every bloody page.

To answer my previous question, yes, Manapul and Buccellato have written a story I think worthy of the Johns Flash mantle. It’s not going to light the world on fire but it’s a nice time-killer, with some good story, great pacing, nice character moments and lovely artwork, even if the dialogue’s a bit spotty. I would definitely recommend it, but I’d recommend reading the Johns run first. Even if most of it gets retconned out like Ant-Man’s domestic abuse traits, it gives a bit more background on Flash and the Speed Force than you get here.

That is, until the “superhero ADD” gets introduced.

STORY: 3.5/5
ARTWORK: 4/5
DIALOGUE: 2.5/5

OVERALL: 10/15

BEST QUOTE: “Unless this is some sort of ‘cosmic’ treadmill, all you’re gonna end up with is spare parts.” – The Flash

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