Wednesday, December 5, 2012

After A Primer On Rogues, The Flash: Rogue War Puts Wally West In His Worst Conflict Ever!

The Good: Sharp artwork, Decent character studies, Fast-paced plot progression.
The Bad: Somewhat plot-intensive, To understand fully, requires the prior volumes.
The Basics: When the reformed Rogues go up against the Rogues under Captain Cold’s command, a street war devastates Keystone City in The Flash: Rogue War!

As my Flash Year runs toward its inevitable end, I have the joy of actually filling in some of the loose ends in the saga of Wally West that had been missing. This makes me very happy, especially when those missing chapters are actually engaging, well-written, and finish off some of the storylines that had been seeded in other Flash books written by Geoff Johns. The Flash: Rogue War returns most of the villains to form by exploring the consequences of revelations from earlier Flash volumes.

In fact, one of the only real detractions of The Flash: Rogue War as a graphic novel on its own is how much it depends upon other books. The Flash: Rogue War is the natural resolution to the tangent of Identity Crisis (reviewed here!), started in the Flash books in The Secret Of Barry Allen. It is also impossible to discuss The Flash: Rogue War intelligently without revealing one of the important plot points of that other volume, so those looking for surprising their journey through the history of Wally West, this is the time to stop reading this review!

After the book explores the backstories of Evan McCulloch (Mirror Master), Mick Rory (Heat Wave), and to a lesser extent Axel (the new Trickster) and Murmur, Captain Cold is sent a note from The Top. The Top is determined to lead a faction of the Rogues and Cold wants none of that. Aiding the new Captain Boomerang in tracking down the body of the his father, the first Captain Boomerang, Captain Cold finds himself cornered by the former-Rogues who have gone legit: James Jesse (The Trickster), Heat Wave, Magenta, and Hartley Rathaway (the Pied Piper). Their fight explodes throughout Keystone City and menaces everyone there. However, before the conflict can reach a permanent resolution, two things happen.

The first is the appearance of the Top, who begins undoing the conditioning he had done to the former Rogues. As the fight between the Rogues attracts the Flash, the Rogues and the hero of the twin cities is attacked by Zoom. This time, Hunter Zolomon attacks both the Rogues (who he feels are wasting the Flash’s time and attention from rising to his true heroic heights) and the Flash. This time, the time traveling villain has an ally even Wally West did not expect and Zoom’s team-up could mean the end of Wally West, Jay Garrick, and Bart Allen!

First, it is worth noting that The Flash: Rogue War is a thematically dark volume from The Flash. In fact, I was shocked at how graphic and menacing the backstory of Evan McCulloch was and while he manages to kill the sexually abusive orphan who tormented his peers, there is enough implied that it takes The Flash: Rogue War into mature reader territory. Given the themes and the complicated nature of Zoom, it is hard to imagine younger readers would actually enjoy or fully understand the book anyway.

The Flash: Rogue War is far more a book about the villains of Keystone and Central Cities than it is a volume about the Flash. For sure, Wally West is given enough menace so readers care about what happens to him and Hunter Zolomon is all about making Wally West a better hero, so the focus of the book’s resolution is all on Wally West and his wife, but in the lead-up, the book remains focused on the adversaries. And it works. The Rogues are compelling villains and when Heat Wave and Murmur do battle, there is an amazing sense of tension in the writing and in the scene.

The fight between the different Rogue factions is also well-presented and the villains are given enough motivation for the readers to care about the outcome of the fight. It’s pretty weird to find oneself rooting for the murderous Mirror Master and Captain Cold over the stuffed shirt, brainwashed forces of James Jesse. Rogue War actually looks like it is going for a total loss for the Flash and the forces of good when the story takes an abrupt right turn.

The appearance of Zoom comes out of nowhere and the surprise appropriately catches Wally West and Leonard Snart off-guard. Even so, it is entirely plausible and it forces Wally West to wrestle with the unresolved issues that came from his wife being tormented at the hands of Zoom months prior. The conflict that costs Wally West almost all of his allies puts an intriguing new potential ally in his camp, even as so much else is stripped away. Rogue War feels very much like what it is; a piece of a much, much larger story. The Flash is a heavily serialized storyline and Rogue War not only ties up loose ends, but it lays seeds for future stories (some of which, I am certain were undone by the witless “New 52” reboot and the obsession with Barry Allen’s story over the saga of Wally West).

Much of the reason Rogue War works is because of the emphasis author Geoff Johns places on the characters. Within the book, there are so many reversals that it is tough to care (many of the character reversals are the result of the plot insertion of the Top, whose character motivation is interesting, but entirely the consequences of an earlier volume). Even so, within Rogue War there is enough information on Hartley Rathaway to make the reader care about his fall from goodness. When the Top attacks him, it is hard not to feel like the good individual who was created so long ago is fighting the reversion. Rathaway, unlike Heat Wave, has been struggling for so long to be good that the reader is rooting for him.

Rogue War further reinforces my assertion that Zoom is the coolest, most dangerous villain in the DC Universe. The book helps realize his menace with pretty incredible artwork, especially for panels that are clearly drawn and use somewhat simpler color palates than comics now. The artwork has a great sense of movement within the panels and between the panels and the character designs are distinct that – even when the page includes multiple generations of the same character – the characters are entirely clear and well-rendered.

Rogue War may be the culmination of many Geoff Johns storylines, and more of an end chapter than a decent starting place for readers, but it is a good read and a must for anyone who wants a book packed with great villains and heroes that finally rise to their challenge!

For other Flash graphic novels, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Flash Vs. The Rogues
The Trial Of The Flash
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 Road To Flashpoint
The Life Story Of The Flash


For other book reviews, check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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