The Flash #54
With both Barry and Axel possessing the Strength Force, trapped in Iron Heights with the bloodthirsty Warden Wolfe and the seemingly traitorous Commander Cold, Barry is forced to rely on his most useful power—his knowledge of science—to escape certain death. Finally giving the problem of the Strength Force some thought, Barry quickly discovers that Strength Force powers are not merely brute strength, but rely on gravitational manipulation, a fact that enables Barry to help he and Axel rid themselves of the Strength Force. Unfortunately, Barry does so while trapped in the Rogue’s current Iron Heights hideout where the roof is collapsing, with Axel as the only hope to hold it long enough for Barry to rescue the rest of the unconscious Rogues. Barry is successful in saving the Rogues, but as the Strength Force leaves Axel, he is seemingly crushed beneath the falling rocks, having sacrificed himself for the lives of his “family”.
Although Barry was able to convince Commander Cold to assist rather than hinder the operation, the pair have an intense confrontation at the end of the affair in which Barry comes under attack for not seeing the bigger picture at work here while Commander Cold is accused of mucking around too much in the affairs of Central City rather than finding a way. As the two part ways, Iris arrives questioning who Commander Cold really is and begging Barry to open up to her, although she maintains her secret memories of Barry and Iris’ wedding. Tension mounts all around. In the epilogue, we see that Axel has been rescued by none other than the original Trickster, Jesse James.
As “Grips of Strength” draws to close, it becomes clear that this particular narrative arc was less about the Strength Force and more of a vehicle for future stories. The real star of this arc was the relationship between Commander Cold and The Flash, hinting strongly at the notion that the relationship is more complex that it would appear, while also creating a tension between Iris and Barry, isolating Barry, which could theoretically lead to him going on the “Force Quest” suggested by Fastback at the beginning of the arc. In a sense, this was a full, three-issue story that was dominantly setup with very little payoff, but it bears mentioning that these sorts of tales, dominant in the 1980s, are not without value as we move towards the next exciting chapter in The Flash.
In terms of art, Duce managed to do some very stunning visual work throughout this arc, avoiding the trap of just getting to draw a 90s-esque, Hulked-out set of characters. The splash page below is a beautiful study in comics movement, assisted by the lettering talents of Steve Wands, in which we see the power of the Strength Force as more than the static strength of a powerhouse character, but instead as a force of movement, similar to the Speed Force.
The idea of all the forces possibly being rooted in movement is intriguing and something to track moving forward, but the biggest question at hand currently is: Who is Commander Cold?
The Flash #54: A Gripping Conclusion!
Writing - 7.5/10
Storyline - 7/10
Art - 9/10
Color - 8/10
Cover Art - 8/10
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