In the aftermath of "Rogues' Reign," the Flash has turned himself into the authorities, as his unpredictable powers have made him something of a loose cannon and a threat. He's sharing a ride with Captain Cold to Arkham, and the two foes have something rare between them: quiet time to just... talk. And in doing so, they realize they have more in common than either man realized.
With that conversation hanging over their heads, the duo arrives at Arkham, where Flash finds a surprise waiting for him:
The Pied Piper has been brought in to fix Flash's Speed Force connection!
Flash #87 has a lot going for it, and offers something rare in the world of superhero comics: a quiet moment where two foes talk and reflect and actually get to know each other rather than punch one another in the head. And the moment is a revelation, and brings a new level of complexity to these arch-foes’ dynamic. Flash and Captain Cold have a lot more in common than either of them realize, and while that in and of itself is psychodynamically interesting enough, their individual responses say a lot about both men, too. Flash, for his part, denies any similarities, right up until the moment he no longer can. The realization is huge, and hits him hard. Cold, for his part, has no trouble lording this over the Flash, pointing out his own feet of clay. But then he’s humbled when Flash simply states: “I don’t hate you, Leonard.” That moment cows Cold in such a way that both men quietly realize their relationship will never be quite the same again.
There’s not a lot of comics this scene could have played out in. A variation of it infamously played out between Batman and Joker at the end of The Killing Joke, though that was punctuated with a sense of conflict inevitability rather than emotional leveling. The bizarre understanding between Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus that resulted from the latter’s time in control the former’s body is too forced to really carry the same gravity. What other major arch-foes does that leave? Wolverine and Sabretooth? Daredevil and Kingpin? Superman and Lex Luthor? Reed Richards and Dr. Doom? No, no, no and no. None of those relationships function in such a way that would allow for such a human moment of vulnerability between hero and villain. But it works with Flash and Captain Cold because Cold, of all the Rogues, has been humanized in such a way that such openness is not only believable, but natural.
It wasn’t always this way, of course. There was certainly a time when Captain Cold and Rogues were treated like any other dime-a-dozen, mustache-twirling supervillain. Enter Geoff Johns in the early 2000s, who made a point of highlighting them on a personal level; his “Rogue Profile” one-shots interspersed throughout his mythic run on the title were synonymous with industry plaudits and tongue-wagging that this young, gifted writer had a big career ahead of him. Of course he did, and the Rogues have never been the same since – in the best way possible, because they’ve become fully-realized, blue-collar criminals with active inner lives, hopes, fears, and failings.
So into this comes Flash #87, which takes everything that’s been done with Captain Cold in the past nearly-two-decades and boiled it down to one thing: that at the end of the day, he’s not so different from the Flash. That humanization is a critical step forward in not only their relationship, but Cold as a character. An evolving supervillain is a rare thing in comics, especially when the villain in question has been around for as many decades as Cold has. Kudos to writer Josh Williamson for recognizing that and not being afraid to mine the notion for all its worth, finding new and interesting things to say about a guy in a parka who shoots an ice gun.
I’d be remiss as a reviewer, though, if I didn’t mention that this issue isn’t without its flaws. To start, it doesn’t really make sense for Flash and Cold to be taken to Arkham. The in-story reasoning is that Arkham is “better equipped to hold dangerous supercriminals like Flash and Captain Cold” than would Belle Reve or Blackgate or any other of DC’s assorted penitentiaries. This is, of course, complete nonsense. Someone breaks out of Arkham every other month in Batman; it’s such a point of contention that recent issues of that title have had Batman create a separate super-prison for the ones who keep escaping. (This, too, is complete nonsense, but for reasons that contradict that which Batman’s son Damian has recently been admonished for doing over in Teen Titans. Continuity is not modern comics’ strong point.)
Really, Arkham is being brought into the story here because a) it changes the scenery a bit, and b) the name itself has a certain amount of gravitas to it. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter at all because of the timely arrival of Pied Piper, who is given royal deus ex machina treatment by magically having the key to correcting Barry’s erratic and unpredictable connection to the Speed Force. He doesn’t come from actual nowhere, of course. There’s an in-story explanation for that, too, involving Kid Flash and Avery going to see speedster-scientist (and one-time Barry romantic interest) Meena, who naturally realizes the exact thing needed to rectify their Speed Force connection is a good ol’ comic book science dose of specific harmonic frequencies, which is where Pied Piper comes in. It all feels too easy, and ultimately, creates a situation in which a second god in the machine helps Cold escape while Flash is helpless to do anything about it. It’s not a total loss of a scene, but the fact that it hinges on so much coincidence makes it something of a bitter pill to swallow.
Christian Duce, on the art front, does a decent enough job. There’s nothing particularly punchy about his art; it gets the job done and echoes main series artist Rafa Sandoval’s style enough that it looks uniform with other recent issues. His Flash is a tad on the bulky side for my liking (he should have a runner’s build, after all), but overall, the art works well. The scenes between Flash and Cold are extremely well-done, especially considering they’re just two men sitting motionless and talking. A lesser artist might have not known how to make this scene feel as dynamic as Duce does, opting instead for a “single camera” approach that would have made it dull to read. Instead, the back and forth is well-balanced and even emotionally intense.
Flash #87 achieves something rare in superhero comics: a moment of honest humanity between two antagonists. Worth your time to check out even if you haven't been reading this title!
The Flash #87: “Practically Twins, Nerd.”
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Art - 8/108/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 7.5/107.5/10
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