Friday, April 13, 2012

A Mediocre Adventure, Flash: Race Against Time Wanders

The Good: Continuity, General character development
The Bad: Unremarkable artwork, Plot ultimately adds up to nothing.
The Basics: Even if Flash: Race Against Time is supposed to be about the journey, as opposed to the destination, it holds up less well now.

I can understand (theoretically) the inclination against long story arcs in comic books. But given that graphic novels – which anthologize monthly comic books – have become an important media industry, it seems strange that so many of the comic book companies seem to fear long story arcs. I write this as I consider Flash: Race Against Time because upon finishing it, my dominant thought was, “this would have been better if it was longer and fleshed out enough to make me care.” Unfortunately, it was not and I did not, despite liking some of the elements of the story.

Long before Bruce Wayne slowly returned to the DC Universe in the Return Of Bruce Wayne story, by progressing through different eras as different incarnations of the Batman, Wally West had a similar journey in Flash: Race Against Time. Just like Batman, in Flash: Race Against Time, Wally West is replaced as the Flash, though in his case it is a time-traveller from the future who steps in. John Fox is an interesting new Flash, but he’s not truly embedded long enough to make the reader care about him. Flash: Race Against Time is a direct sequel to Flash: Dead Heat (reviewed here!) and it is hard to enjoy without having read that book, though the two stories are distinctly different. I actually found I was happier to have read some of the even earlier volumes of Flash books more than Dead Heat to get the most out of the full depth of the events in Flash: Race Against Time.

Following his climactic battle with Savitar, Wally West is lost in time. Thrown into the distant future, Wally is disoriented and hardly amused by the 64th Century where he is treated like a god. Meanwhile, back in the mid-1990s, a new villain, Chillblaine, has emerged to menace Keystone City. Chillblaine is confronted by John Fox, the new Flash, a time-traveler from the 27th Century. Eager to make his mark, Fox makes some rookie mistakes in trying to take down a new villain who is bent on causing a new ice age.

As Fox gets closer to Linda Park, Wally West finds his tether to his time wavering. As he journeys from the 64th Century, to the 30th Century and the 27th Century, he encounters people peripherally related to the various incarnations of the Flash. As he struggles to find his way home, it becomes clear that he is not the only one interfering with the timeline . . .

First, what is worthwhile in Flash: Race Against Time. Early on in the book, Iris Allen is mentioned as missing. That becomes an increasingly important fact and the continuity with Allen’s biography of the Flash from the future is a well-executed concept. Sure, I gripe that it would have made sense for Iris to throw Polaris off by writing a completely false accounting of the future, but given that she is a victim of torture, it is hard to complain. Wally West works pretty well in Flash: Race Against Time as well. The time jumps take a toll on him, but he remains likable and interesting, even if the places he ends up are not particularly compelling. That said, it is pretty neat that Wally West appears to have inspired the Legion Of Super-Heroes in the 31st century!

Linda Park, as a character, works fairly well in Flash: Race Against Time. She seems pretty belligerent over her assumption that Wally knew he was not coming back from the battle with Savitar, but besides that, she is interesting at the very least. Linda Park interacts well with John Fox and she has moments where she actually takes on near-heroic status. John Fox’s costume for the future Flash is pretty cool as well.

Unfortunately, that’s about all that Flash: Race Against Time has going for it. The character of John Fox does not work very well at all. Writer Mark Waid is remarkably sloppy with his characterization. He begins the book vastly more confident and competent than he appears as the book progresses. While he has charisma with flirting with Linda early in Flash: Race Against Time, that spark of character quickly disappears. Moreover, for a character who is getting involved with a woman whose primary issue is her lover lied to her, John Fox is not very smart at all. Because the reader figures out very early on that Fox is keeping truths from Linda, it is only a matter of time before the relationship ends.

The temporal mechanics of Flash: Race Against Time notwithstanding (i.e. how Wally loses his tether when Linda Park loves him after the events of the book, thus ever preventing the tether from being cut), Flash: Race Against Time is put together in a way that is at times obvious and at others disappointingly sloppy. In Dead Heat, there was a visiting time traveler from the future whose character interacted with Impulse. Her character did not really work, so the fact that the book has to devote a few pages to getting rid of her is distracting (though, to be fair, necessary). Having her out of the picture also removes another asset upon whom the heroes could have called for a perspective different from John Fox’s.

The artwork in Flash: Race Against Time is erratic and suffers more from being simplistic than being actually bad. Having read enough graphic novels to know when the art is sloppy as opposed to just a function of the times, Flash: Race Against Time is limited by how comic books were made in the mid-1990s. Even so, it appears Flash: Race Against Time was not the result of DC’s a-team. Many of the panels look like a comic strip and feature a poor sense of movement within and between the panels.

Ultimately, Flash: Race Against Time is the story of how Wally West works his way back to contemporary times after a journey that it is hard to get at all excited about.

For other Flash graphic novels, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Born To Run
The Return Of Barry Allen
Terminal Velocity
Emergency Stop
The Secret Of Barry Allen
Flash: Rebirth


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the books I have read and reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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