Monday, October 16, 2017

REVIEW: The Flash #30

FLASH #30. Nov. 2017. Main cover
by Neil Googe. ©DC Comics

Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Date: Nov. 2017
On-Sale: Sept. 13, 2017
Cover Price: $2.99
Format: Standard, 32pgs
Variants: 2 covers

“Blood Work” (20 pgs)
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Neil Googe
Colorist: Ivan Plascencia
Letterer: Steve Wands
Asst. Ed.: Amedeo Turturro
Editor: Brian Cunningham


An interesting premise for a new addition to The Flash's world-famous rogues gallery, but bogged down by a story that is almost entirely villainous exposition and workplace talking heads. ***BARELY RECOMMENDED***

STORY SUMMARY (spoilers!):
We open as we always do in Flash stories since the advent of his CW tv show, with narration, in this case, "I'm Bloodwork, and I'm the bleedingest man alive." 

We then switch to a quick splash panel of the Central City Police Department evidence room, still on fire, by way of setting the scene, before bopping over to the paper-thin walls of the forensics department, where Crime Lab Director David Singh is reading Barry Allen the riot act while all his peers listen in from just outside the glass walls of Singh's office. Great management style there Singh! Barry thinks so, too, and simply walks out, which would be an automatic firing offense in any disciplinary hearing I've ever been in. But Barry is special. Don't believe me? He says so himself, acting in such a manner that I half-wonder if Barry has been killed and replaced by Eobard Thawne, a la Harrison Wells. 

Then Flash teams up with Superman to fight Gorilla Grodd. Er . . . no, wait, that's a Snicker's ad.

THEN Barry is a total dick to co-worker James Forrest. Yeah, that's what I love, watching my heroes act like total jerks. Good to see today's writers still following the example set by Stan Lee. Yup, I remember when ol' Stan the Man kicked off the Marvel Universe, he said, "I'm going to make my heroes more relatable by making them more human. And I'll do that by making them all complete assholes. Excelsior!"

So, Barry challenges Singh to fire him and storms out, thinking to himself that it must be recent access to the "negative speed force" that's making him act this way. So, that's good. At least we know our actual hero is still in there somewhere. Kristen Kramer then follows Barry, and snaps him out of his funk by giving him one of those somebody-always-has-it-worse speeches, making the revelation that her entire family is dead. It's a pretty powerful scene, but by this point we're nine pages into a 20 page story, and all we've had is people talking to each other, primarily in middle distance, waist-up shots. Stan Lee had another rule, that by Page 3, "Somebody has to punch somebody." Personally, I felt like punching Barry at this point.

No punching here, though, as Barry and Kristen order in a pizza, review their evidence, and Barry more-or-less instantly discerns the most logical place for the villain to be would be right there in the CCPD morgue. I thought morgues were generally kept at hospitals, not police stations, but this is Earth-Rebirth, so things are different here, I guess. 

Barry then changes into the Flash and heads down to the morgue where he conveniently finds and confronts our villain. Of course, you need to have read the previous issue to know who he's talking to, as it's not really made clear that this person is the CCPD medical examiner. Heck, we don't even get his last name. It's Rosso, by the way. But what we get here, "Ramsey!" might as well be "Gilligan!" — is that a first name, or last? Who's to say?

Ramsey does something to incapacitate The Flash — it's not really clear what — and then proves he'd make a pretty good Bat-villain by immediately launching into a grand soliloquy detailing his entire origin and nefarious scheme. Ramsey was just introduced in Issue #28, so far as I know, and I'm not aware that he was previously revealed to be a hemophiliac. At any rate, it feels like sudden, new information dropped in here to make the plot possible and it's unclear if he's always been a psychopath, or if this is a new personality trait borne of the experiments he conducted on himself in hopes of curing his disease. The weird thing though, is that there are treatments for hemophilia, so there doesn't really seem to be the motivating factor Ramsey would have needed to drive his actions, unless he always was a nutball, but we have no real way of knowing that as his previous appearance was pretty much limited to passing Barry in the  hall at work. There's also been some promising work in gene therapy in recent years that might soon lead to a cure for hemophilia, at least according to the infowebs, and it might have been nice to have Ramsey at least mention some of that research. 

Apparently, as a result of whatever it was he did to himself, Ramsey now has impenetrable skin, making him a kind of wimpy white guy version of Luke Cage, and he can control the blood of others, causing it to congeal, or "burn." It's not explained how he is able to do that, exactly, but it's not important in the long scope of things. As comic book conventions go, it just is. We accept it and move on to the action. 

And that action comes in the form of The Flash creating some sort of similarly unexplained feedback using the negative speed force he's recently gained access to, blowing Ramsey through a stone wall and into the street. The folks outside, including, it would appear, about a dozen cops, instantly accuse the Flash of having killed Ramsey. Ah, but not so quick! Ramsey gets up and declares himself to be the newest rogue. Blood then begins to emanate from his eye sockets and fingertips. That raises the question, if nothing can penetrate his skin, how does the blood get out? But more importantly, how is he making so much of it?? The human body only has between 1.2 and 1.5 gallons of blood in it, but Ramsey generates enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, at least. 

Now, granted, the effect is pretty cool, although blood can be kind of a hard thing to depict, and looking at the image you sort of have to know from reading that what you are looking at is blood. Still, once you know, the immediate reaction is, "Eww, gross," which, for my inner 12-year-old is akin to saying, "Ewww, COOL!" So, there's that. 

Finally, as the battle rages, and Flash gets a black whirlpool affect in his eyes — it seems as if he's being hypnotized, but it could be some manifestation of the negative speed force in his body (he has black pupils in an earlier scene), or simply a means of visually registering his surprise — and Ramsey adopts his new identity, declaring himself to be Bloodwork. 

Good name. Cisco himself could not have done better. And it's a classic last-panel cliffhanger, leading into the next issue.

COVER (8.25/10)
The main cover by Googe (the one graded here) is a good one. With Flash under obvious attack and the villain sneaking up behind him. Plus, the cover copy promises a brand-new villain, so there's a lot here to inscent the casual comics fan to pick this book up off the stands and take a peak inside. I do quibble a bit in that we don't see Bloodwork take this form in this issue. Although this is a great cover to lead off a new storyline, it might have made more sense to swap this one with the cover that appeared on Issue #31. 

I also have a bit of an issue with the coloring. Flash and Bloodwork are basically the same shade of red, while the copy is orange and the background purple. Thus, stand back from the stands a bit and the whole thing kind of muddles together. I might have preferred all of the background to be a lighter purple, as is done in the center of the frame, and Bloodwork a darker red, with the Flash being a bit of a brighter hue, to really make both figures, and Flash in particular, pop. But that's a minor thing. 

Oh, and is it just me, or is Flash's right leg really weirdly out of proportion to the rest of his body? Tough bit of foreshortening there, which would be more glaring if the lower half of the cover didn't all bleed together. (HA! "Bleed." See what I did there?)

There is an alternate cover by Howard Porter, but with no cover copy and Flash just appearing to fly through a red liquid, it's really not clear at all what is happening, and the image really doesn't sell the story, IMHO.

PLOT (6.75/10)
Theres' nothing particularly wrong with the plot, although, as mentioned, I'm not sure hemophilia is a serious enough condition to drive a criminal career without some serious underlying psychological issues. It might have been nice to have played that up over time, to have Barry and Ramsey become close friends, but continually drop hints that Ramsey may have a troubled background, and bad intentions. But instead Ramsey passes Barry in the hall once, a couple of issues ago, just to establish that he exists, then he's outed as a villain pretty easily, leading to a giant single page expositional dump of his entire story. 

My biggest issue, however, was that nearly half of this issue was just people sitting around taking, with no real action of any kind. 

SCRIPT (6.50/10)
Some of the interplay between Barry and Singh came off as kind of forced, but at least we got some hint of what was causing Barry to act out of character. The scene with Kristen was powerful, but took the better part of three pages. Ramsey came across as a typical comic book villain, though, which makes me kind of wonder how he was able to rise to chief coroner for the CCPD.

Read Time: 9:20
Words: 1,563
Words/Page: 78.15

  • “This is why I told you to worth with the team, Barry! To follow my orders. To report to me! Because where Barry Allen goes . . . trouble follows!” ~Director Singh to Barry Allen. 
  • "Before I came here, this lab's rep was a joke. You had two kinds of cases. Cold cases that would never get solved. Or rushed cases that wouldn't hold up in court. If it wasn't for me . . . the streets would be overrun with criminals!" ~ Barry to Sing.  
  • "There is no boat, Forrest. No boat." ~ Barry to James Forrest. 
  • "No one else has to get hurt."  
  • "Someone always gets' hurt, Flash." ~ Flash<-->Ramsey Rosso.  
  • "I can't be cut. I'm invulnerable. I'll never bleed again." ~Rosso. 
  • "I've lived in Central City long enough to know all your enemies take on monikers that say exactly what their specialty is, am I right? It's all a bit on the nose, but it's fun. Captain Cold. Heat Wave. Weather Wizard. Mirror Master. What should I call myself . . . ?" ~ Rosso to Flash.

LAYOUT (7.0/10)
I'm not sure there's a lot Googe could have done with this issue, but for scenes like this I always think of the Marvel Try-Out Book, where Stan Lee instructs on the difference between a panel where two characters are talking, and another where the speaker "is really laying into him," in a markedly more dynamic pose by John Buscema. There also could have been more variation in poses here, as the "camera angle" really only shifts a couple of times during the entire crime lab sequence. This, of course, unless the point had been meta-textual, to stick us with a series of static poses to convey the mundane nature of office life. 

Once we get to the actual fight, however, the layouts become stronger. Not crazy panels all over the place, just more dynamic in the action, and the back half of the issue is much more visually compelling. 

Panels: 97
Panels/Page: 4.85

ARTWORK (7.50/10)
Just as there is a change in the layout from the front to the back half of this issue, the finished art also seems to evolve, although it's all credited to Googe. In the beginning, there are a lot of thin contour lines and the characters, especially when expressing strong emotion, appear to take on an almost manga-like cartoon quality. I'm also not a fan of how Googe draws Barry in profile, with a flat nose and triangle head. Color his hair black and put some wings on his ankles and he'd make a pretty good Sub-Mariner.

But once we get to the fight, the work really shines, with the characters really standing out from the background, though still firmly grounded within it. We've still got a bit of the big-mouth syndrome, but Googe draws a couple of  Flash reaction shots — most notably the two-panel sequence where he mulls the possibility of having killed Ramsey — that are, I think, as strong as anything in any Flash comic, ever. 

EDITING (5.75/10)
As usual, I don't have a ton new to say by the time I get to this section, in part because I've already said it as I hold the editor responsible for everything. 

Still, I think even without a prolonged build-up in previous issues, there could have been more set-up in this one to make the entire revelation of Ramsey as the villain seem to come less out of left field. Presuming the medical examiner actually is part of the CCPG forensics team, then maybe Rosso could have been present during the scene were everybody listens in on Barry getting chewed out, and then tries to talk him off the ledge. Something could have been written into the dialogue to establish who Rosso is and maybe foreshadow his involvement in what Barry is getting yelled at for. I'm not sure how the hemophilia thing could have been worked in during this proposed scene, if not mentioned in previous issues and part of Rosso's established character, but it would have been nice if that was not introduced as part of the expositional data dump, as well. 

As editor, I might have asked Googe for a do-over on some of the Barry profiles, I guess, but they're not that horrible. I would have changed the last two panels on the first page, however. I'm undecided on whether it should have been made clear this scene took place in the morgue. Not everything has to be a surprise and there is sometimes an advantage to letting the reader know certain things in advance of the characters. Knowing from the start that the villain was right there in the crime lab would have made the Ramsey revelation less jarring, at least. But the real problem on Page 1 is that we switch from the character in silhouette to his shadow. That made it somewhat confusing for me to make out exactly what was going on. 

I get that given the decision to have it a total mystery where and with whom this opening scene takes place, we could not show the character. Still, both panels should have been been of the shadow, or the silhouette. Or better, yet, given that we do see the arms and hands (and those are covered in gloves and a lab coat to disguise race and gender) it might've worked best to show the villain actually injecting him/herself, then have blood come exploding from the injection point, thus avoiding both shadow and silhouette. After all, from what we get here, we know the villain is a thin male,  we just have no idea who until we actually meet him.

So, yeah, I would have asked Williamson and/or Googe to make clear that the opening scene takes place inside the CCPD, so we know it's an inside job. Then I'd've asked Williamson to include Ramsey with the other crime lab workers in that scene, toning down a bit of the Barry-being-a-dick aspect and instead have everybody acknowledging that he screwed up, but then chiming in with theories for how to solve the case. Then have Barry storm off in frustration with everyone, not just his boss. The advantage here is that we could toss out and dismiss a few possible scenarios, making Barry's ultimate breakthrough more of a process than a spark of divine, plot-required, intervention. If done right, knowing, or at least suspecting, that one of the assembled is the baddie from the first page, this would have set up a Clue-like whodunnit, giving some payoff to the ultimate discovery that it was Mr. Ramsey, in the morgue, with a needle.
  • Promo/Indicia Page — "Spotlight on the Music of DC," promoting the Wonder Woman movie soundtrack and an upcoming Music of DC, Vol. 1 release.

  •  "Celebrating 25 years of the Clown Princess of Crime" — Two-page spread featuring Harley Quinn added to classic Batman covers.

PRODUCTION (8.25/10)
My catch-all for everything else: Coloring, lettering, design, packaging, printing, and even advertising. Overall, not much to say. Everything is of the highest standard, which one would expect from DC Comics. I do like that DC does seem to have backed off a bit on the hi-gloss paper. I understand we'll never go back to the newsprint of my youth, but I always found the heavy, super-gloss pages hard to read under any kind of indoor lighting, having to constantly move the page around to adjust for the glare. 

There is one weird aspect to the coloring, however. The scene with Kristen and Barry starts off in normal, deep hues, but then switches to a more muted palette. This might have made sense, I guess, for the last page of the sequence. Given the half-eaten pizza on the desk behind them, we can presume they've been at it for a while (even if the dialogue makes it sound like they're just getting started) and the sun is starting to come up through the lab windows. That would make the palette change make sense, and even be a nice non-verbal cue as to the passage of time. It's just that, if this was the intent, the change happens one page too early.

Oh, also, and this is a super minor thing, but I would have changed the hair color of the female cop on Page 2. Because of the similarity of style and color, I thought at first this was supposed to be Kristen, but I don't think it is.

Ad Pages: 33.33%
Paid Ads: 25.0%

  • Snickers Flash & Superman vs. Grodd comics page (only second page of two-page ad that appeared in DC Comics last month. 

  • HARLEY AND IVY MEET BETTY AND VERONICA upcoming mini-series. 

DOLLAR VALUE (5.50/10)
This one has a fairly low value to my mind, even at $2.99, just because it was such a quick read.

 Page Value 
(Cover Price/Pages)
Story: 15¢/pg
Total: 12¢/pg

 Entertainment Value 
(Cover Price/Reading Time)
Story: 32¢/min
Total: 28¢/min

This one could shoot up, given that it is a the first appearance of a new rogue, at least "in costume." Still, the newer rogues have always had a tougher row to hoe as far as becoming household names, and the nature of Bloodwork's powers make it unlikely that he will ever make the transition to television. Still, there is a chance this issue will be more desirable in coming years than the ones immediately before or after it, even if that is not reflected in market prices, and you'll probably want to retain this one in your collection.

Well, the nature of Bloodwork's power does have the ick-factor that excites my inner 12-year-old boy, as previously mentioned. The problem is that the story gets a bit bogged down in office politics and heart-to-hearts that there's not much room for excitement once we get to the exciting stuff. Frankly, by the time we got to the fight I was itching to just get the issue over with, when things finally kicked into high gear. It's also worth mentioning (again) that while I'm not too hung up on exactly how Bloodwork's powers work, there is the question of where all that blood is coming from, which is hard to get past, creating some lingering doubt that prevents me from being too caught up in the sheer awesomeness of this new villain.

I won't have too many more issues of THE FLASH to review here. Following Issue #31, I came to feel as if I was buying the title mostly on inertia and habit. I've dropped it from my December pre-order at my local comics shop, as mentioned in my most recent Pull List column.

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