After nearly three months of voracious reading, working me way through the comics of the Golden and Silver Ages, I finally reached what I considered a major turning point on “the shelf”: The Trial of The Flash.
Honestly I have no idea why I thought this was a crowning moment on “the shelf”, especially since Mistah J keeps reminding me that it’s the book that directly follows this one, Crisis on Infinite Earths, that’s supposedly a much bigger deal. (Also, apparently I’m the absolute last person on any of the infinite Earths to realize that).
Still, this book was at the very least the precursor to that major story, and I was instantly excited to begin reading, knowing that everything to come was likely going to be exciting and thrilling.
Before I get into the actual storyline, I must first address one point: this particular collection was printed in black and white. I was warned of this beforehand (apparently this storyline isn’t collected anywhere else yet) but I wasn’t sure how I’d react to a 588-page trade without any color.
Truth be told, I think the story suffers. I know there are plenty of comics published in black and white, but a Flash comic just shouldn’t be one of them. Plus, the comics were originally published in color, and so an entire facet of the comic is missing from how it was intended to be read. The artwork may have been drawn differently had it been intended for the comics to lack color. As they are though, there are numerous instances where the comic is difficult to follow.
See the hand here? Sure, it’s not exactly an Eye-Spy book, but the hand doesn’t jump off the panel either, which makes following certain narrative-free panels a bit difficult. There was more than one instance of me having to study a panel for a few moments to even realize what I was supposed to be seeing. Sure, this forces you to stop and really absorb the comic, but at times it just slowed down the story.
Also, don’t even get me started on the scenes featuring Flash and Reverse-Flash. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to follow a fight between those two in black and white?? I couldn’t discern which figure I was supposed to be rooting for from panel to panel. Some guy gets hit in the face, but I have no idea if it’s Flash or Reverse Flash. Should I be cheering or worried?
I can’t handle that sort of emotional ambiguity.
I know that’s a bit of a rant, but it helps to explain the mindset I had while reading this trade.
Now, on to the main plot of the story: Essentially, Reverse Flash shows up on the day of Barry Allen’s wedding to Fiona Webb, attempts to kill Webb, and is killed when Flash tries to stop him.
As a result, Flash is brought up on charges of 2nd-degree murder and must stand trial.
(It’s sad to admit that when I read the title of this trade, I thought it solely referred to some sort of “trials and tribulations” of the character, and never made the connection that it could be referring to an actual trial. All those years of English lit classes have prevented me from taking anything at face value, apparently.)
Reading this trade, I was impressed with the sheer scope of the storyline. Flash’s trial is covered over the course of two years worth of comics, a lengthy continuation the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen yet on “the shelf”. I was impressed the way the writers were able to carry the story over so many issues (though I admit, the incessant summaries at the beginning of each trade were a bit heavy since I was reading these in such quick succession.)
The issues themselves were interesting enough to read, with the trial being the most intriguing element. It was surprising to see the trial used as a continuing storyline, yet at times it wasn’t at the forefront of the issue. There were plenty of appearances of various Flash villains, often engaging in criminal capers that did not directly relate to The Flash’s court case. In some way though, the issue would always relate back to the trial and the public view of our embattled superhero.
It was refreshing to see a storyline in which the superhero’s inherent “goodness” is called into question, with the public divided on whether or not Flash should be held accountable for Reverse Flash’s untimely death.
The moral ambiguity of the story was enough to carry it throughout numerous issues (even though I personally don’t think it was very ambiguous), but towards the end of the trade I got a bit frustrated when, presumed dead, the Reverse Flash appears to make a miraculous return:
The story was starting to feel less like a comic and more like a soap opera with each page. Barry Allen even undergoes facial reconstructive surgery after a fight, completely changing his appearance, a common MO in countless soap operas (don’t ask how I know that.)
The reappearance of Reverse Flash was bad enough, but then it got even weirder.
It turns out this new Reverse Flash was not, as was suspected, the real Reverse Flash back from the dead, but was in fact Abra Kadabra masquerading as Reverse Flash in order to trick Flash into traveling to the 26th century.
…Yes, it’s as convoluted as it sounds.
Essentially, the entire comic boiled down to Abra Kadabra wanting to mess with the space-time continuum and keep Flash from returning to the 20th century.
For me the entire story got a little hazy at this point. It felt like the writers were forced to wrap up the entire storyline in one issue and rushed to tie up all the loose ends they had created. The trade ends with Barry traveling to the 26th century where he discovers that the soul of his long-dead wife, Iris, has been transferred into the body of another woman. The two share a loving embrace and the story ends.
My summation might sound flippant, but quite honestly it happened that quickly. We leave Flash in the future, reunited with his lady love while his jilted fiancee remains in a mental hospital in the 20th century, assuming Barry is dead. It felt like the writers were trying to create a “happy ending” but it was anything but happy. I felt sorry for a handful of characters, while many others were left hanging with no additional information given. I realize that those questions may be answered in future issues, but as it stands I can’t say the story felt wrapped up.
Without giving away spoilers to me, Mistah J has hinted pretty heavily that I really need to read the next trade, leading me to believe that whatever happens in Crisis on Infinite Earths might answer some of my lingering questions.
I’m optimistic enough to believe that “The Trial of The Flash” storyline will serve a greater purpose in stories to come. As a standalone collection though, it was somewhat lacking. I found the “superhero stands trial” premise intriguing, but the way in which it was executed fell short of my expectations. I’m hoping future trades will shed some more light on the concepts hinted at in this collection. Only time will tell.