By: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato (story and art), Ian Herring (colors)

The Story: Having to look at a stranger’s life for untold years would drive anyone crazy.

The Review: I often talk about “lack of direction” on this site, and that’s a stuffy, English-major type word that deserves explanation.  If you’re going to invest your time and interest into a long-form piece of fiction, you need more out of it than simply a series of entertaining tales; you need to see a clear progression in either the characters’ development or an overarching plot/theme.  If you hit issue eight and neither has changed much from the first, the title clearly lacks direction.

Now, obviously there have been a few changes to the status quo from #1: the Flash discovering the Speed Force’s effects on time and space, a couple villain clashes, a new girlfriend.  But if you take a step back and examine the book as a whole, these alterations are largely superficial.  They’ve done nothing to make our hero a different person than when he started, nor have they established a clear path or tone for what this series wants to be.

I’ve called Barry out on this at least a couple times, but here he again demonstrates that he really doesn’t have much of what you’d recognize as personality.  In everything he does, you get a vague sense of his sensibleness, his no-nonsense attitude, his strict conscience, but none of these make him a very memorable character.  Simply being a noble figure doesn’t imprint someone into anybody’s consciousness, yet that’s how Barry’s been portrayed since day one.

Certainly it doesn’t help if his foils don’t make up for his want of intrigue.  Turbine is only roughly conceived as an antagonist, and it’s even harder to get a strong impression of him with his habit of switching from fearful and traumatized (“I…I’m just trying to go home…home-home-home…”) to full-on craziness (“…you’re getting me back home…if I have to kill you to do it!”).  Aside from some useful clarification on the nature of the Speed Force, most of which is so abstract it’ll go over your head anyway, Turbine serves almost no function to the story.

You can’t really depend on the rest of the supporting cast to carry the story either.  Patty’s incessant haranguing of the Flash as a no good, “self-serving vigilante” gets pretty tiresome, and hardly expands the debate in any thoughtful way.  Forrest makes for a poor counterpoint, since he immediately discredits himself by arguing, “…my kids love him!”

Here’s an example of a character who does bear rich grounds for development: while we’ve mostly seen David Singh’s crusty, impatient side, he’s also revealed in several brief moments that there’s a deep core of compassion he wants to keep hidden inside him.  This issue spotlights that fact when, just after he joins Patty in berating the Flash, one Hartley Rathaway (AKA the Pied Piper) appears and points out, “Some [vigilantes] do actual good,” and Singh admits, “Not all vigilantes are as easily reformed as you.”  This implies Singh had some significant role in reforming Hartley, which ties into their current relationship; Hartley looks none too happy that Singh introduces him as merely his “…friend,” after a pregnant pause.

Manapul’s art has always been highly creative, which proves infinitely useful this issue when trying to convey the streams of time flowing around the Flash and Turbine as they navigate a desolate field of aimless caverns and cliffs.  He’s also grown more honed in giving punch to his action; the Flash not only looks fast, he looks like he has genuine momentum, enough to carry him right off the page.  Looking at the nuanced expressions on Singh’s and Hartley’s faces as they awkwardly interact, Manapul’s clearly gotten more subtle in the drama department as well.

Conclusion: The series’ thin character and plot work is finally catching up to its super-speed pace, leaving it only slightly better than your average comic, soon not to be even that if things go on this way.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Aside from the obvious question of how the denizens of Gorilla City went from feral to civilized, you have to ask when these naturally herbivorous creatures developed the practice of eating brains to signify dominance.

– You know, about a day after I saw the flutes in Singh’s apartment, I wondered if it had something to do with Pied Piper.  Now that we know what’s up, it sure makes my theory that Patty and Singh were going to end up together after things broke off with Barry look like typical critic’s know-it-all syndrome.