The Flash #50
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Howard Porter and Hi-Fi
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by DC Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
The need for speed might have some serious consequences, as writer Joshua Williamson and artist Howard Porter stick the landing in style with their giant-sized anniversary issue of The Flash. With a feuding Barry Allen and Wally West going head-to-head with an newly overpowered Hunter Zolomon, Williamson and Porter throw everything and the kitchen sink at readers in terms of winks and nods to retconned continuity, making The Flash #50 a high-octane bit of fan service that longtime readers will be sure to enjoy.
It’s to Williamson’s credit that he is deeply ambitious with this storyline, not just driving a deeply earned wedge between Barry and Wally, but also by including so much new and classic material back into the DC Universe. Zolomon, who was dangerous enough as the homicidal Zoom, has now been upgraded with the Strength Force and the Sage Force - he’s not just the fastest man alive, but the smartest and strongest, as well, and he’s looking to use his newfound power set to fix time as he deems fit. With the three Flashes racing into Hypertime, there’s a sense of heady possibility to Williamson’s script, as we’re reaching Crisis levels of scale and stakes.
But anchoring all this cosmic spectacle is a sense of human drama, as Williamson brings Wally and Barry’s dynamic to a breaking point - not only would the former Kid Flash rail against his mentor’s time-travel conservatism while his children are missing, but even deeper than that, the two Flashes have such heightened expectations of one another that they could never truly be fulfilled. In that regard, all the continuity winks and nods (as terrific as they are) almost take a back seat, because for the better part of a generation, Barry and Wally haven’t coexisted as equals — so watching them blow up at one another feels like something that’s been a long time coming.
Artist Howard Porter, meanwhile, pushes himself to the limit with this 28-page story - and when you see how many six- and seven-panel pages he’s churning out, you realize just how overstuffed this story is. It’s to Porter’s credit that he never seems to skimp on his linework - and given how much of the story is just Barry and Wally running, he’s able to make that same action look different and dynamic on a number of different pages. (Furthermore, the fact that he, Hi-Fi and Williamson are able to work in tandem to make it clear where Zoom is in the story, despite him wearing almost exactly the same outfit as Barry, is a real win.) Occasionally, Porter’s panel layouts seem to strain with all the action that’s being asked of him, but when he’s able to really get some space to work with, his artwork is terrific, particularly a beat where Barry, Wally and Hunter pierce into Hypertime.
If this story ever falters, it’s that sometimes this issue has a tendency to tell us things as opposed to showing them - calling it preachy is overstating the case, but on occasion Barry explains things to Wally so much that it feels a little like spoon-feeding. (Additionally, Barry’s never really interrogated for his passivity in the face of his nephew’s horrific personal crisis - because Wally is so aggressive in his pursuits, Barry of course feels like the rational one.) Meanwhile, there are a few side beats featuring Iris, Wallace and the 25th century Commander Cold that hamper the main story’s momentum a bit, even if I’m certain Williamson will pay these beats off later.
Still, for an anniversary issue like this, Williamson, Porter and company deserve a lot of credit for swinging for the fences in the way they have with “Flash War.” In many ways, a story like this represents the best that modern DC has to offer - it not only plays with larger-than-life cosmic forces, but leverages character dynamics and continuity in a way where these superheroic icons keep growing and changing in a way that feels satisfying and internally consistent. Combine that with some superb artwork, and you can’t go wrong with The Flash #50.