Best Shots Review: THE FLASH #22, ARCHIE #20

"Archie #20" cover
Credit: Archie Comics
images from The Flash #22
images from The Flash #22
Credit: DC Comics

The Flash #22
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

FLASH FACT! SPOILERS AHEAD!

Team Flash brings “The Button” to its conclusion in The Flash #22. Joshua Williamson, who has proven to be “The Button’s” scripting MVP by delivering evocative and focused chapters, brings it home with dynamite artist Howard Porter, who aims to break the Internet with the issue’s intriguing Dave Gibbons-inspired final pages. While I can understand critiques about this event not being a meatier lead-in for DC’s recently announced Doomsday Clock series or even fully committed to its premise as a superheroic murder mystery, The Flash #22 still has enough characterization and spectacle going for it to not be considered a complete letdown.

And that’s because what this finale does well, it does really well, thanks to Joshua Williamson, Howard Porter, and Hi-Fi’s unconventional and emotional approach. Much of The Flash #22's action takes place seconds before the Reverse Flash’s atomization as Batman and Flash attempt to chase down the rogue speedster, even as Barry is called to by another voice from the past. Williamson’s slightly stodgy but sincere take on Barry Allen has hamstrung bits of his ongoing series, but here it actually shines — Barry’s down-to-earth characterization leaves him a relatively level-headed participant in this Speed Force craziness as he focuses on the problem in front of him, rather than ruminating on the possible Multiversal reverberations he and Batman’s case has caused.

The Flash's “Button" issue have also enjoyed one hell of a set designer and director of photography in the form of Howard Porter and Hi-Fi, both of whom take the visual touchstones and easter eggs of the crossover and warp them into the most stirring and interesting takes on them yet. This month we get not one, not two, but three nine panel grids - the first being particularly moving as letterer Steve Wands carefully inserts Thomas Wayne's final words to Bruce into a haunting depiction of Bruce standing in front of his window, wondering if he should answer the Bat-Signal or not with Porter ever so slightly changing Bruce's blocking to really sell his indecision and conflicting emotions.

Porter and Hi-Fi even try the homages in subtler ways, ones that amp the existential creepiness of the whole crossover. For instance, when Thawne finally meets the owner of the Button, it is rendered in a tight six-panel grid, one rack focused on Thawne and Porter’s volatile emoting. But eagle-eyed readers will notice that the cracks in the floor he is standing on are twisted into a perfectly rounded and eerie shape, one that looks suspiciously like the constantly grinning face of the titular piece of flair. The very next page Hi-Fi gets in on the fun by drenching Thawne’s death in Dario Argento-esque deep reds, garish yellows, and pale blues that readers will instantly associate with Jon Osterman. While the return of a certain upstanding member of the Justice Society will surely be the watercooler moment of Flash #22, Howard Porter and Hi-Fi have one last theatrical go at the visual tools of Watchmen for a cool visual dismount.

But let’s get to the actual letdown — namely, “The Button” doesn’t really have an ending, at least not in the literal sense. The Flash #22, despite its good qualities, confirms what I and probably many of you suspected in that it doesn’t reveal anything new about Dr. Manhattan’s mucking about with the DCU, the real narrative significance of Comedian’s button, or why he killed Reserve-Flash, which is doubly confusing as he’s being advertised as the next big bad for the title’s next ongoing arc. Instead, this issue is largely a tonal exercise and character piece that undercuts the portentous nature of the marketing — and given that this is a final issue, it kind of lets the steam out of the entire event. While I wasn’t naive enough to think that we would get some huge revelation, it is still a bummer that Joshua Williamson, Tom King, and their art teams didn’t get to contribute anything particularly lasting to the upcoming Doomsday Clock event, despite setting the stage for it very well.

The overture is now complete, and we don’t really know much else that we didn’t already, and that will probably end up being “The Button’s” real legacy. Though chock full of mood, great character moments, and wonderful artwork, The Flash #22 stands as a particularly well made example of style over substance at the Multiversal level. Now all we have to do is wait for the clock to tick to Midnight with Doomsday Clock to find out if all this setup was truly worth it.

Credit: Archie Comics

Archie #20
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Pete Woods
Lettering by Jack Morelli
Published by Archie Comics
Review by Kat Calamia
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“Over the Edge” has been promoted as the arc that will change Archie forever, and the first issue doesn’t disappoint. Archie #20 ends with characters dangling on a cliffhanger – literally! — leaving fans wondering exactly which of Riverdale’s favorite teenagers will make it out in one piece.

This issue focuses on Betty and Archie’s pet project, which is refurbishing Archie’s grandfather’s 1969 Mach 1 Cobra Jet Mustang. This has been their baby since they’ve been kids, and now they finally have a chance to take it on a joyride. But Archie’s relationships are tested when Reggie blackmails him to use the Mustang in a drag race.

The introduction to “Over the Edge” does a great job at building the suspense to the ultimate ending of the story, all while stoking readers’ investment thanks to the relationship between Betty and Archie. One of my favorite attributes Mark Waid has added to Betty’s character is her passion for cars, and that part of her personality truly shines here, as she and Archie put the finishing touches on her passion project that has taken years to finish. She’s the true director of the project, and it’s hard not to like her as much as the rest of the Riverdale crew as they band together to help her succeed.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to watch Archie put a strain on his relationship with Betty by quickly accepting to use their car to take on Reggie in what proves to be a potentially deadly drag race. Fearful of what Veronica will think of his social status if he says no to the race — not to mention if she finds out that he may be kicked off the football team — Waid has been masterfully building up this stress has been throughout the whole series, bringing up this simmer to a raging boil following Veronica’s return to town. Archie wants everyone to be happy in his life, but he quickly realizes he can’t please everyone — and unlike usual Riverdale stories, the price he pays for his flightiness might be more than he can bear.

My only nit-pick with this perfectly character driven issue is the few pages that force the Blossom family into the story. While Waid has been building up this subplot across the past few issues, Jason and Cheryl’s family drama sticks out like a sore thumb against the tense drag race storyline building in the rest of the issue. While one can hope Waid will be able to weave this in better with future issues of this arc, it’ll have to have a hefty payoff the justify the detour, even if it’s just been a slight one.

Meanwhile, the artwork by Pete Woods is solid. His pencils shine through the most with his work on the many cars showcased in this issue, which is important for a story surrounding its narrative with a drag race. He does a great job at showing the different designs and features of the cars as it leads into the story’s devastating ending.

Woods also does a good job at expressing the emotions needed for this issue with his great use of facial expressions. The only downside with Woods’ artwork is the lack of detail when there are several characters in a panel. He does good work with close-ups, but when there are multiple events going on in the panel the characters start noticeably sketchy.

Archie #20 proves that “Over the Edge” can live up to the arc’s own hype. Juggling long-standing dynamics but injecting their daily routines with some surprisingly high stakes, it’s an introduction that leaves the reader wanting more, and provides long time Archie fans with great character and relationship work — which is all you can ask for from a slice of life comic.

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