“Black Hole Rising, Part One” (Flash #34 Review)

Meena Dhawan is alive! And she’s here to help Barry learn how to deal with the Negative Speed Force. Yet Wally has a lot of questions about where she’s been and how she came back. The truth is about to be revealed…

Flash # 34
Writers:  Joshua Williamson & Michael Moreci
Artist:  Pop Mhan
Colorist:  Ivan Plascencia
Cover Artist:  Neil Googe & Ivan Plascencia
Publisher:  DC Comics

What You Need to Know:

Eobard Thawne tricked Barry Allen into absorbing deadly powers from the Negative Speed Force causing him to damage buildings and endanger lives whenever he runs as The Flash.  In an attempt at reconciliation, Kid Flash AKA Wally West agrees to help Barry practice and train as The Flash so he can learn how to use the Negative Speed Force without harming anyone or anything.  But during a riot, while working at Iron Heights, Barry is rescued by an unseen speedster who turns out to be his formerly deceased love interest, Meena Dhawan.

What You’ll Find Out:

The story starts a few months ago with Dr. Meena Dhawan talking with her colleague Warren about going to a meeting with an unnamed organization where they debate how the Speed Force works.  Meena is incredulous and makes a joke about how if they can indeed hear a voice in the Speed Force then ask it why it’s raining when the forecast was for sunny weather.  She walks outside and gets struck by lightning.

As Meena recounts that story of how she got super-speed to Barry Allen, she insists she’s been trying everything to get back to him.  Barry replies she wasn’t just avoiding him or his calls; he watched Godspeed kill her and her friends.  She says she thinks about them all the time.  Barry tells her she’s not to blame.

Wally West AKA Kid Flash races up to Barry and is astonished to see Meena’s alive.  He throws his arms around her and asks how she survived. Barry asks her the same thing.  She claims the Speed Force absorbed her and she fought her way out of it so she could save Barry.  He asks from what?

She alleges the Negative Speed Force he gained from Thawne is clashing with his regular Speed Force energy and that’s killing him.  Wally asks Barry if it’s true and Barry says he has been exhausted despite Wally training him how to handle it. Meena cuts them off saying they can still trust her so just come with her.

She takes them to the Central City Demolition Derby arena where she helps them break into the place.  Barry puts on his Flash costume and Meena attaches a device around his head that she claims is a monitor.  It will collect data on the Negative Speed Force while Flash cuts loose running as fast as he can without worrying about what he hits.

But when Flash runs as fast as he can, he becomes overwhelmed with rage and loses control.  Kid Flash runs to catch up with him, counsels him to slow down and Flash regains control.  Meena says that’s perfect, but Wally is skeptical.  He questions why she won’t tell them where she’s been and why all she cares about is the Negative Speed Force.  She defends herself, but Flash says it’s okay because he and Wally have been having trust issues lately.

We cut to Kristen Kramer at a bar with 2 friends from the Central City Police Department’s Forensics Lab.  She’s complaining about how much she hates being demoted to working at Iron Heights and stuck with Barry Allen.  Burns tries to get her to relax by talking about the turf war in Central City with a mysterious crime boss feuding with villainess Copperhead.  They can’t figure out who the mystery crime boss is.

Meanwhile, Flash and Meena are watching the sunset at the Demolition Derby arena.  Barry is apologizing for everything that’s happened to Meena.  She tells Barry that he shouldn’t be so hard on himself—and then mocks him for being so gullible.  Black Hole soldiers swarm around Barry and Wally and shoot them.

That leads to Meena finally telling them both the truth…

Flash 34_page 17

She then runs around Flash and steals the Negative Speed Force from his body. She is now the Negative Flash.

What Just Happened?

We get an okay ending with a few nice surprises along the way.  In all, this issue does feel a bit padded for publication as a TPB.  There are multiple pages of Meena constantly reassuring Flash and Kid Flash that they can trust her and she’ll explain everything later; she just wants to help.  I lost count of how many times she does this and it became tedious.

Joshua Williamson continues to write the New 52 Wally West with a more vital role to play in the story.  Having him put aside his anger at Barry for concealing his secret identity as The Flash and training Barry on how to use the Negative Speed Force has given Wally much more to do.  We get to see Wally as a strong young man who has the emotional maturity and capable of stepping up to mentor his mentor when he was in trouble.  It’s an innovative role reversal and a fresh take.

Meena calling Barry gullible and then outing her true evil intentions is a dramatic scene.  But stretching out her repetitive denials and explanations over 16 pages lessens its impact.  Also, cutting away to 2 all-too-brief pages to have Kristen do a bitch session about Barry in a bar with CCPD friends felt like more padding.  There’s a bigger story with the upcoming crime war involving Copperhead building to a slow boil. The problem is it feels like both stories are being spread out over additional pages for a trade publication.  Williamson writes interesting Flash stories, but this padding dilutes their power.

Also, the fill-in art by Pop Mhan is only mediocre at best.  It gets the job done and the first and last pages are exciting.  But other than that, the pencils and inks don’t really stand out.

Rating:  7.2 / 10

Final ThoughtWilliamson tells smart Flash stories that manage to include the entire supporting cast.  Everyone—Kid Flash, Iris, Kristen, the Rogues—contributes to each chapter and isn’t left out.  But many chapters have panels and panels of characters repeating things over & over to the point that the climax has a lot less power when it arrives.  Flash is a good, decent comic book, but it could really be tightened up quite a bit.

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