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The Flash #20 represents the beginning strokes of one the most highly anticipated story-arcs to hit the title since the advent of the “New 52." One that has a lot of weight on its shoulders to carry. The rebirth of one of The Flash’s greatest enemies - the return of the Reverse-Flash!
One of the reasons why the shoulders of this story arc is burdened from the start is that it carries with it, on the title page, a dedication to the late great Carmine Infantino. Infantino, who was one of the main minds who ushered in the Silver Age of Comics, and who was one-half of the creative team who helped rebirth The Flash into what we know him as today. It was nice to see Manapul and Buccellato pay homage to the master but it also means that this story arc has a lot to live up to, and a lot to earn.
What has helped it along in that respect is that it is perhaps one of the first issues in a long while, at least since "Zero Month", to have a balance between the story and the art halves of the series. Manapul has returned from his due break after “Gorilla Warfare”, but while his art is a joy to experience on this title it is also one of the things to hold it back, as it has been shown time and again to be a bit too self-indulged at times, engaging in multiple spreads and creative layouts. It’s visual stunning, but hinders how much one issue can tell, but this finds a medium point and reads like the opening act of a mystery, which it is. In any case it is the most balanced issue written by both Manapul and Buccellato, since the latter has proven capable of writing a finely paced story solo already.
One of the biggest feathers in the cap of The Flash #20 is that, as with the aforementioned Buccellato solo story, it helps to develop Barry Allen as a true character. Given the inquisitive nature of the story, as it is set so far, ie. the investigation into who exactly is behind the attacks on those affected by the Speed Force, it allows us to get a larger perspective into the mind of Barry Allen, the man. Too much time has been spent on the character inside the costume doing normal super heroics and too little on him as a person and as his own character. It’s great when a character is shown to actually be competent at the job that they are supposed to be doing,
What also helps out in the area is that it also leads into the development of Patty Spivot. In the beginning of the “New 52” she was nothing more than the standard cookie cutter love interest but due to the stories since then she has really grown into her own. She’s well on her way to being fleshed out and has already expanded into a new role, that of “confidante”. Growth for her not only benefits Patty but also, in turn, Barry as well. The tightening bond between them makes clearer the inter-character relationships and the center for their various driving forces. It also adds an extra layer to this story arc at larger since it means that life is good for Barry Allen. It means that there is something available for the Reverse-Flash to threaten, to tear down.
When I previously mentioned that this arc has a lot to live up to it was not merely in reference to Carmine Infantino, but also to the previous versions of it’s featured villain – The Reverse-Flash. The latest of which was the fan favorite Hunter Zolomon, who proved to be a fleshed out and developed/interesting villain, and all previous versions have shown the propensity for sadistic and unrelenting strikes against The Flash. While we are not yet deep enough to see enough of the former the opening pages of this issue show that this new Reverse-Flash is quite possibly as every bit as brutal and as dangerous as his forebears in his attacks – having caused the deaths of two side characters in one fell swoop. There is a plan at work here and this villain seems intent on crumbling everything down around Barry Allen to put it into motion.
The Flash is a title that has carved a niche within the “New 52” as being one of the more lighthearted series, relatively. The Reverse-Flash is a villain that necessitates a turn for the darker edge and so far the title seems poised to do so. Manapul and Buccellato have kicked off on a great start in all areas, writing and art, and this story-arc has a lot of potential just waiting to be delved into. Escpecially given that it will, in next month’s issue, be host to the first meeting between The Flash and Kid Flash. Here's to this story-arc and to the hope that they make Infantino proud.