There's a new big bad knocking on the Flash's door, and he cuts right to the heart of our hero's massive abuse of the time stream! Meet PARADOX! Once upon a time, though, he was a family man, a scientist determined to prove the existence of a multiverse. One night, though, all of his theories were confirmed... and that night just happened to coincide with the night an errant lightning bolt struck one Barry Allen...
His connection to the timestream and multiverse, though, proved ephemeral until he witnessed the Flash in battle with King Turtle (see: "Flash Year One"), and altered the timestream itself in winning the day. At that moment, Paradox disappeared, losing both his family and his humanity.
Trapped in a bizarre pocket dimension, Paradox mutated more and more each time the Flash abused the timestream by traveling forward or back in it. Determining the Flash was a villain instead of a hero, Paradox vowed revenge - and is willing to do whatever it takes to take his vengeance!
There’s a heck of a lot to unpack in Flash #88, the prelude to next issue’s big “Flash Age” story and more importantly, the title’s 750th issue and return to legacy numbering. But one (inconsequential, yet gallingly obnoxious) nitpick first:
NO SCIENTIST WOULD SAY THIS. Theories in scientific terms can most certainly be proven. Gravity is a theory. Evolution is a theory. Casually misusing the word “theory” is one of the laziest, most ill-informed things anyone can do, and any scientist – or student of science – can tell you this. It drives me absolutely up the wall. All for a bit of throwaway dialogue, but still…
Okay. Rant over.
Writer Josh Williamson introduces his latest addition to Flash’s rogues gallery this issue, Paradox. Let me just put it out there: Williamson does not have a stellar track record with introducing what I would call “quality” villains to the Flash’s world. The lowest of the low, Bloodwork, was a guy who could turn into a literal blood monster and get blood on you or something. (Sidebar: Bloodwork was recently brought to TV “glory” on this season of The Flash, and they somehow managed to make him even more lame by reducing the legitimately talented actor Sendhil Ramamurthy into spouting D-list villain rants about making people live forever and coming off as some weak-tea faux Venom knockoff. It’s been a rough season for the Scarlet Speedster on TV, folks.) All that is to say, Williamson’s villain creation track record is not strong.
With all that in mind, Paradox has an intriguing set-up and premise. Traipsing around the timestream and/or multiverse has long been a running theme for the Flash, and its consequences are often addressed on a grand, cosmic scale – but what about the regular folks caught in his wake. Paradox, despite the monster he would become, started off as just a regular family man with good intentions and a fair amount of curiosity. It wasn’t until he inadvertently got caught in the Flash’s wake that he gradually turned into a warped villain. That’s an interesting, man-on-the-street take on supervillainy that we rarely see out side of comics such as Astro City, and I actually love it. Treating antagonists as actual people with hopes and dreams and internal lives is not something often seen in genre fiction, and it speaks to the strengths of Williamson as a writer that he would take the time to set Paradox up in this way – actually making him sympathetic, in fact – before the inevitable superheroic fisticuffs ensue.
There’s a moment in the story when Paradox almost finds redemption (despite having committed some truly heinous deeds out of desperation while trapped in the pocket universe). Reunited with his family at last, they don’t even recognize him anymore (his body mutates every time the Flash inadvertently manipulates the timestream). He’s become a monstrous grotesquerie, his outer appearance matching the villain he doesn’t even know he’s become on the inside. His children cry in terror, and his wife screams at him to leave out of fear. Realizing he’ll never regain what he lost, Paradox retreats, and completely succumbs to his belief that the Flash is a villain. It’s a time-honored trope, but is written and presented in such a way that readers can’t help but feel sorry for the guy.
Art-wise, Howard Porter is back for the first time since issue seventy-five, and not to knock the stellar contributions by Rafa Sandoval and Christian Duce in the interim, but it’s great to see him back. Porter was born to draw the Flash and his world. His art is the perfect combination of cartoony and gritty, power and poise. He draws Paradox in such a way that even as he gradually morphs into a monster, he still carries himself like a desperate sad-sack aching to return home. In fact, it’s not until the final page that he truly becomes a supervillain, evidenced by his now-strong and confident posture. These little bits of blocking show a real understanding of humanity in body language Porter draws. He’s not just some random beefed-up bad guy. Paradox is a person, and in that, is easily not just the best addition Williamson has devised yet for Flash’s rogues gallery, but a solid, three-dimensional character as well. Job well-done all around.
In setting up the next big bad in Flash #88, writer Josh Williamson and artist Howard Porter have uniquely tied Paradox into the Flash's mythos, and also created a sympathetic antagonist. Job well-done all around!
The Flash #88: Time Keeps on Slippin’, Slippin’, Slippin’ Into the Future
- Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
- Storyline - 8.5/108.5/10
- Art - 9/109/10
- Color - 9/109/10
- Cover Art - 7/107/10
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