That rascal James Jesse, A.K.A. the Trickster, has not only taken control of Central City, but has also used nefarious means to transform the populace into mind-numblingly happy zombie-people!
The Flash, though was holding himself at a low-level molecular vibration so Trickster's device wouldn't work on him. With his captor thinking he's harmless, Barry gets to the work of setting things right! The first obstacle he runs into is Axel Walker, the second Trickster!
Flash makes short work of the little pest, and sets his hostage Commander Cold free. Cold explains what's going on, and as it turns out, the Trickster's scheme is related to Flash's recent turns against the new forces.
And with that, the ringmaster makes his grand entrance - enter: the one, true Trickster! Trapping Flash and Commander Cold with extreme ease, he elaborates on his plan and how he came to harness the Sage Force, let alone know about it. He also lets on that he's been operating behind the scenes for far longer than anyone realized...
Commander Cold breaks them free, but before Flash and he can beat Trickster, he makes a stunning realization: Trickster has been using the falling snow outside to transmit his "happiness virus" to Central City's population - and that populace will do anything to keep it! Happiness turn to rage and the city quickly devolves into chaos!
But before our heroes can do anything about the rapidly-devolving situation, the Trickster has one final prank up his sleeve... one that turns the tables on Flash in a way he couldn't have seen coming!
The Flash would have a lot fewer problems if he would just run up behind his foes and punch them in the back of the head. But, hey, that wouldn’t make for very good storytelling, would it?
Let’s be honest: the Flash falls into the vintage DC mold of heroes who should have absolutely no trouble at all overpowering their foes, because they themselves are so massively overpowered. Now, DC has done a lot to scale that problem back and humanize its pantheon of heroes in the three-plus decades since Crisis on Infinite Earths made the DCU more functionally similar and down-to-earth to Marvel, but in Barry Allen’s case, the fact remains: dude can run through time if he wants. A ding-dong with a fire-gun shouldn’t really pose a threat.
So, what to do? Mark Waid famously augmented the entire Flash mythos with the introduction of the Speed Force, which created an entire run of new and deadly speed-related challenges that were able to up the ante for the Flash himself and what he could do at every turn. Geoff Johns went smaller scale, and focused on more intimate, character-based tales, and used that to really humanize and reinvigorate the Flash’s perma-Silver Age rogues gallery. And since the advent of DC’s Rebirth era, Josh Williamson – after a lot of dodging and weaving to get there – opted to expand upon the very concept of the Speed Force to include other forces: Sage, Strength, and Still. Each one presents a unique expansion of the Flash’s world (although their very existence seems to contradict Johns’ assertion in Flash: Rebirth that it was Barry running really really fast in the first place that created the Speed Force, but I digress), and each represents a new obstacle for our scarlet-clad her to overcome that can’t be fought simply by running and punching it in the back of the head. (Again, if it were that easy, Flash would be a really dull read.)
Williamson’s sticking point seems to have been how to present these forces in unique and interesting ways, and so far he hasn’t succeeded very well. The Strength Force made Axel “Trickster 2” Walker into a big hulking brute; the Sage Force bestows various psychic abilities. (Much is still unknown about the Still Force, but as a storytelling conceit it’s being played out in Justice League at the moment.) Having the Trickster utilize the Sage Force in a sideways manner by filtering it through Commander Cold’s 25th century machines to turn its victims into perpetually happy zombie-types shows Williamson is willing to have fun with these new concepts and play with what they’re fully capable of – it just doesn’t necessarily translate into the most original story.
Writers, though, shouldn’t necessarily be held to the wholly unrealistic idea that they should forever be coming up with unique and original stories. It just isn’t possible. It’s far more important that they write in their own voice, and in doing so give characters unique insight into situations and others that no other author can.
Williamson’s Flash tenure has been marked by a maddening level of inconsistency, but he’s typically at his strongest when dealing with Flash’s traditional rogues gallery or pre-established Speed Force matters. This arc, while not the most original, has been a lot of fun – and a breath of fresh air after extended storyarcs dealing with the nebulously-defined MacGuffins the Strength and Sage Forces. Sure, it’s utilizing those newfound storytelling blocks, but filtering them through James Jesse. And I do like the notion that he’s been plotting in the background for awhile now – at some point, I’m going to have to go back and see if his claims are legit or not – it’s the mark of a mature writer to be able to think several moves ahead and plant seeds for future stories.
But, about that last page…
Without getting too spoilery, if you believe that’s actually a thing that’s happened, you need to read more comics! Shock value is one thing, but what Williamson bestows upon readers is pure nonsense, and will be easily rectified in a couple of pages next issue.
Artistically, it’s always a treat for a certain generation of Flash fans to have Scott Kolins at the wheel. He was such an important player in Johns’ run, and excels at drawing a Flash who keeps a smile on his face. Kolins’ style is pretty singular unto itself, too, putting him on a short list of pencillers whose art can be immediately recognized at a glance.
So, although I can’t chalk this issue up to being great, it’s not bad either. It’s entertaining, forging ahead with the saga of the new Forces, and has some really fun and unique art, though I wish Williamson had come up with something more realistic for the cliffhanger.
Josh Williamson's Flash run has been markedly inconsistent, but this issue - and the story it's a part of - has been very solid, if not wholly groundbreaking. New readers might be a little lost as to what all these new Forces are, but Williamson is a decent enough writer that nothing is too vague. A good time can be had by all!
The Flash #68: Shiny Happy People
Writing - 7.5/107.5/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Art - 8/108/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 6/106/10
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