The Flash #21
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
The mystery of “The Button” gets deeper and weirder in The Flash #21. Tackling the problem like a trained CSI, Barry Allen gathers clues from the Reverse-Flash’s body in the depths of the Batcave, revealing another layer to DC’s risky Watchmen-tinged cold case. Writer Joshua Williamson picks up the thread of the crossover well from Batman scribe Tom King, showcasing Barry’s keen sense of deduction, while artist Howard Porter grounds the action and dimension hopping with his dynamic style, precise detailing inks, and expressive character models. Paired with the lively colors of Hi-Fi, the art team lifts the second installment of “The Button” out of the dark and into luminescent light of the time stream.
The Button has taken a life, and Barry Allen is out to find out why. Picking up shortly after the first part’s deadly cliffhanger, Williamson instantly sets about working the evidence, and now the crossover finally feels like the detective story that was advertised. While the Batman debut chapter aimed for a stylish opening complete more than a few Watchmen panel grid homages, Williamson starts his chapter in a relatively smaller fashion, opting to detail the grunt work of investigation after the crossover’s bone-crushing opening.
But the things Barry uncovers are anything but small, and lead our heroes to pull the Cosmic Treadmill out of mothballs to track down the unique radiation left in the Button’s wake. It is a gradual shift into this particular brand of DC strangeness, but one that Williamson sells, thanks in large part to his analytical narration from Barry as well as some nods to the post-Crisis Earth, including a particular helmet that Flash fans will be happy to see again. Once the treadmill makes the scene however, the issue turns into a race toward a telegraphed cliffhanger, but predictability aside, “The Button” now finally feels like an honest-to-goodness mystery, and that bodes well for the rest of the issues yet to come.
Adding a level of humanity to the issue’s action are the art team of Howard Porter and Hi-Fi. Porter, a marquee name when it comes to DC’s biggest guns, matches Williamson’s analytical and character-focused tone, opening with a meticulously catalogued crime scene at the heart of the Batcave; the two-page splash is littered with dull yellow evidence markers, pale tape marking Reverse-Flash’s path of destruction through the Batman’s lair, and various shattered pieces of Gotham City mythos scattered like broken Easter eggs across the page. But though this opening reads as studious, Porter throws a neat bit of propulsive style in the way the Flash runs. Instead of threading lightning through his running, Porter details Barry’s jaunts with ribbon-like streaks of his costume, drifting through the air until he comes to a stop and becomes solid again, something I am hard pressed to remember seeing before. It is a small thing but one that makes all the difference, especially after years of seeing the Flash be defined by pages and pages of lightning-filled sprints.
Porter and Hi-Fi even bring that humanity to the extraordinary turns this issue takes. After going over the information gleaned from the Reserve-Flash’s body, Flash and Batman take a long, strange journey through time. It is here that Porter and Hi-Fi kick the visuals up a notch, detailing the ever-shifting time stream as a living river pulsing with searing light. And in the gaps, Porter and Hi-Fi show us snapshots of timelines gone by, shifting their pencils and colors to match the timeline present in the windows of time. It is a a hard left turn from the grounded detective work of the issue’s opening, but Howard Porter and Hi-Fi give “The Button” some much needed heart and expansion of scope as we head into part three.
While the second installment of “The Button” isn’t nearly as (ahem) flashy as the first, but thanks to Joshua Williamson, Howard Porter, and Hi-Fi, this crossover finally feels like it has a plot beyond the titular accessory and the characters it is connected to. By continuing the event’s commitment to teasing the “forgotten” characters scattered across the "Rebirth" era Earth and finally delivering on the promise of two of DC’s greatest detective’s teaming up, The Flash #21 stands as a confident continuation whatever the "Rebirth" era has in store for us before DC’s Doomsday Clock strikes midnight.