Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Outside The Lack Of Color And The Corny Dialect, The Trial Of The Flash Is Worthwhile!

The Good: Moments of engaging character, Decent enough plot
The Bad: Lack of color, Repetitive plot, Corny, antiquated dialect, Missing chapter
The Basics: The Trial Of The Flash tells the story of the demise of the Flash when he is forced to take the life of a killer to save Barry Allen’s bride-to-be and the fall-out of that split-second decision.

The Trial Of The Flash is a vital story in the life cycle of Barry Allen as the Flash. Immediately before the Crisis On Infinite Earths (reviewed here!) that saw the death of Barry Allen as the Flash, in attempting to save the DC multiverse, Barry Allen’s incarnation of the Flash was largely discredited when the hero did the unheroic in killing the Reverse Flash. Of course, the story is nowhere near as simple as that; the death of Eobard Thawne is in the defense of Barry Allen’s new bride-to-be, Fiona Webb and is, arguably, an oversight as Barry Allen is distracted after being goaded at super speeds.

This story, it bears noting, is only the second complete story I have read where Barry Allen is the protagonist. Outside the vignettes that pitted Barry against each of his adversaries that form the Rogues Gallery, I had not read any of the Barry Allen stories, save the very latest ones that began with Rebirth. Unfortunately, the Showcase presentation that is encapsulated in The Trial Of The Flash is both underwhelming and incomplete. Despite including a number of chapters that are distracting, but include necessary serialized elements (like the divergence near the beginning of the book that includes Gorilla Grodd), the book does not include issues 337 – 339 and, apparently, there are some vital plot points included in them that would make the end of the book much more believable.

On the day of his wedding to Fiona Webb, Barry Allen is called into service as the Flash to stop the Reverse Flash. Eobard Thawne appears to menace Webb, reminding Allen that he killed Allen’s first wife, Iris Allen. After a chase around the world and into outer space, the Flash chases Thawne to the wedding sight and in the very instant before the Reverse Flash is to put his hand through Webb’s skull the way he did Iris Allen’s, the Flash catches him and inadvertently kills the Reverse Flash.

Willingly arrested, the Flash prepares to stand trial. Calling his old friend, Peter Farley, to defend him, the Flash prepares for trial while the Central City Police Department begins searching in earnest for Barry Allen, who has gone missing. Waiting two years to go to trial, the Flash is beset by all manner of villains. A young friend of his becomes a pawn for Grodd, which leads Barry to Gorilla City. When Farley is almost killed, he is replaced on the case by Cecile Horton, a woman with an apparent vendetta against the Flash. As the Flash’s allies turn against him, compliments of the Pied Piper, Barry wrestles with guilt over Fiona Webb having a breakdown due to him abandoning her at the altar. As the Rogues exploit the absence of the Flash, the Flash fights to keep Horton alive and get a fair trial.

But, as such things are, the trial of the Flash itself is manipulated by powers much bigger than Barry Allen. The Trial Of The Flash sees Barry Allen as a pawn in a temporal war that finds his alter ego discredited and his life put in danger now and in the future!

The Showcase collection The Trial Of The Flash captures the strength and weaknesses of the serialized comic book. As a graphic novel, The Trial Of The Flash includes editorial notes and repetitious aspects that reference character or plot events, often in the prior chapter! Editorial notes refer to the prior issues for events, many that readers will have just read, which comes across in this form as utterly ridiculous. Conversely, some of the editor’s notes problematically reference the missing chapters, most notably 338, which seems much more important than the Showcase editors assumed it was.

Another weakness comes in the storytelling itself. Writer Cary Bates, occasionally with John Broom, seems contractually obligated to have the Flash do a heroic act in each chapter. As a result, stories like the meandering story of Angelo, the local street punk, seems more distracting than enlightening. The Flash, as a result, saves police officers, the mayor, and his own lawyer with a frequency that makes him hardly seem like a man released on his own recognizance. Ultimately, The Trial Of The Flash is hardly a solid, direct story. There is a long build-up to a very brief trial that is interrupted by more vignettes that involve Rogue attacks, attacks on the Rogues, and the entire backstory of Kid Flash.

Cary Bates also seems to be writing with an antiquated vernacular that is cringeworthy. I grew up in the 1980s, same as Angelo, and there are a number of phrases he uses (“Cripes!” being the least of them) that sound utterly unreal for the time and place he exists. Maybe we were just raised in completely different places, but there are enough places where Angelo’s lines (and several of the police officers’) do not read as right, making one think that they were reading a story much, much older than one from 1985.

The strength of The Trial Of The Flash is that it can tell a more in-depth story and focus more on the character. There are moments of intricacy – the subplot involving Goldface and the Flash’s lawyer, for example – that realistically flesh out the larger story of the Flash make the giant tome worthwhile. Despite that, there is a sensibility that is very much alien to me. As one who fell in love with graphic novels largely after reading some of the darker books, like The OMAC Project (reviewed here!) where Wonder Woman takes a life, the plodding moralizing of whether or not Barry Allen was justified in his accidental killing of Eobard Thawne seems philosophically dull.

The Trial Of The Flash is problematically presented as in black and white. While Green Lantern books are much more dependent upon color, so many aspects of The Trial Of The Flash feature the Flash (in red) and the Reverse Flash (virtually identical costume in yellow) that are lost in the black and white presentation. The Trial Of The Flash lacks a sense of artistic robustness and given that there are colorists credited in the unedited credits, it seems odd that Showcase did not present it that way.

As it is, The Trial Of The Flash is Barry Allen at the end of his career and the end of his rope. Given how little reaction he has to Fiona Webb’s breakdown, the character never truly pops for me and when the verdict is delivered and contested, the Rogues actually are presented in a far more interesting way. While The Trial Of The Flash might lead into the final main story featuring Barry Allen’s main character arc, it rambles far too much to be a compelling, highly-recommended trade paperback anthology.

For other Flash graphic novels, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Flash Vs. The Rogues
Born To Run
The Return Of Barry Allen
Terminal Velocity
Dead Heat
Race Against Time
Emergency Stop
The Human Race
Blood Will Run
The Secret Of Barry Allen
Full Throttle
Lightning In A Bottle
Flash: Rebirth
The Dastardly Death Of The Rogues
The Life Story Of The Flash


For other graphic novel reviews, be sure to check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page!

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