May 22 DC previews
Credit: DC Comics
Credit: DC Comics

The Flash #20
Written by Frances Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art by Frances Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
Published by DC Comics
Review by George Marston
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10

It's been almost two years since the launch of DC's "New 52," an epithet that seems less accurate every month. While many books have already come and gone, and others have seen massive swings in quality, The Flash is just starting to find its footing. Pretty ironic for the "fastest man alive." The biggest problem with Frances Manapul and Brian Buccellato's Flash has ever been consistency, and now, with several major storylines under their belts, it's something they are finally starting to achieve. With a new status quo for both Barry Allen and his archenemy the Reverse Flash finally forming, the chances of leaving the chaotic, poorly paced nature of the early issues of the series behind are looking good.

Flash #20 sees Frances Manapul's return to the book's art chores, a much-needed return to form. Though artists like Marcus To and Marcio Takara are competent and often exciting in their own right, it's by Manapul's charming vision that Flash lives or dies. Manapul's often drastic and exciting layouts add more to the atmosphere of this title than any other element, so when they're missing, even if the fill-in art is worthwhile, the difference is palpable. That said, Manapul does seem to be playing it safe this issue, with less innovative or unexpected elements than his usual output, but with his trademark charm and energy thankfully intact.

The fact that Manapul's art is so gripping may be part of why the writing, also from Manapul and partner and colorist Brian Buccellato, seems to fall flat so often. With so much kineticism in Manapul's work, the stagnation that has occasionally plagued The Flash seems even more disruptive of the title and the stories. Still, with the build up surrounding the introduction and reveal of the new Reverse Flash, Manapul and Buellton seem to be getting a handle on how to organically introduce their high concepts and unfold a plot, as there's more intrigue than impatience in the Reverse Flash story.

Still, there's something about the whole thing that lacks weight. Flash #20 spends a lot of time focused on Barry Allen rather than his costumed alter ego, and while, with many characters, that would highlight the disparity between a hero and his mysterious nemesis, in this case, it feels like a weight around the Flash's ankle. The problem with Barry Allen as a character is the same as it has ever been; he's just not compelling. He's got his high-minded heroism, his never say die ingenuity, and his heart of gold — all of which were explored with good effect when he was briefly powerless last issue — but no real flaws to balance those things. Nothing to humanize him. He's far more interesting as the Flash, which may seem like a no-brainer, what with the red costume and super speed, but there's very little to set Barry apart from almost any character who could don the costume of the Flash, other than possibly some name recognition. With Allen's traditional relationships to Iris West and, as show this very issue, even Kid Flash also very much in flux, there are few things that make Barry Allen a necessary component of his own story.

Flash #20 continues the steady rise in the quality of this title. With a solid mystery afoot and the promise of finally caching in on some questions that have been dangling since DC's relaunch almost two years ago on the horizon, forward movement — the right way — seems to finally be in Flash's purview. It's just a shame that Barry Allen isn't really coming along for the ride, allowing himself to be swept along by his stories, rather than setting the pace for them. If Manapul and Buccellato can wrap their heads around making Barry Allen as compelling as the world he lives in, the last piece of this puzzle will finally fall into place.

Uncanny Avengers #8AU
Uncanny Avengers #8AU
Credit: Marvel Comics

Uncanny Avengers #8AU
Written by Rick Remender and Gerry Duggan
Art by Adam Kubert and Frank Martin
Lettering by Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10

The Age of Ultron has taken another casualty — the momentum of Rick Remender's Uncanny Avengers! Featuring the Apocalypse Twins as they navigate the twisted Marvel Universe in the wake of Wolverine and the Invisible Woman's time-travel hijinks, this issue has decent pacing and nice artwork, but not enough twists to make this feel more than a fill-in.

To their credit, Rick Remender, joined this issue by Deadpool's Gerry Duggan, take this forced detour and try to spin it as best they can by humanizing the Apocalypse Twins. Similar to Archangel and Evan in Uncanny X-Force, it's much harder to brush aside these two when you see how they've been raised by Kang the Conqueror — there's that combination of adoration and fear, and watching these two struggle with their adopted father's expectations make these figures into actual three-dimensional characters.

That said, the actual Uncanny Avengers feel a bit more like stand-ins in their own book. Since Wolverine turned the Marvel Universe on its head by going back in time and killing Hank Pym, we've seen some superficially redesigned Avengers over in Age of Ultron, and it feels almost perfunctory that Remender has to bring in Colonel America, Havok and Rogue. (Although there is a cool beat where Rogue refers to Havok as "The Man in Black.") That said, aside from a couple of semi-obvious romantic pairings, this alt-universe version of the Uncanny Avengers doesn't feel more than a variant costume version of the old ones.

But if you're going to have a fill-in tie-in book, you can't go wrong with Adam Kubert on the art. His character designs are as fluid as usual, and even the body language he gives the young Apocalypse Twins makes them seem so much more human and sympathetic. The way he breaks up his pages — preferring vertical panels to horizontal ones — really plays up the off-kilter nature of this fractured new universe, and plays well to the fight choreography when Colonel America gets jumped by his time-traveling opponents. It may look a little bit sketchy compared to Daniel Acuña or John Cassaday, but Kubert does feel like a good fit for this bleak new world.

Much of Rick Remender's stories have been about necessary evils, and in today's comic marketplace, I'm sure Marvel and company felt Uncanny Avengers #8AU would be one of them. This isn't a bad book by any stretch of the imagination — given the constraints and lack of detailed information elsewhere, I'd argue that Remender, Duggan and Kubert did an admirable job — but with this crossover ending soon, this particular comic doesn't really flesh out this new universe very much. Unless you're a completist, you can probably wait until next issue to catch up.

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