Last week was a busy one for comics to review. So here I am, over a week out since its release, reviewing the print version of Smallville Season 11 #11. And I still have one more book from last week to talk about!
Smallville has been a happy accident for me, a book I grabbed because of Bryan Q. Miller as writer more than it being a Superman book. So far, this book has stunned me with how great it is. We have major plots running through 'episodes' while subplots percolate in the background. We have a more classic take on Superman and a very strong Lois Lane presence. There have been more and more characters from the DCU worming their way into the book. And there is just a great mix of action, drama, and humor! There isn't enough humor in the New52. There isn't enough heroism in the New52. There isn't enough Lois in the New52. And so this comic is where I go for those things.
This 'episode' is Haunted, a Flash-centric story about Bart Allen trying to outrace the Black Flash of death. While I don't know if I follow all of the Speed Force philosophy details that are revealed here, the basic story is strightforward. How can Superman save the day, save his friend from dying?
As with prior issues, one of the answers comes from some true comic book science delivered by Emil Hamilton. I worry that the character might become something of an easy crutch, always having the technology to provide a solution to a tough problem. That said, the device he creates this issue is pretty slick.
The art on this issue is done by Jorge Jimenez. He has a great handle on what camera angle impacts the story best. And I think his speed effects are very nice, in particular the more inky speed trail left by the Black Flash.
The main plot, as I said, is the Black Flash stalking and trying to kill Bart Allen. Part of the problem is that 'speed storms' are erupting around the Earth, aging and killing nearby people. With nowhere else to turn, Superman and Impulse seek out Jay Garrick, the Flash from the JSA.
The inclusion of more DC characters creates a richer universe in this book. Here, we had seen Jay (at least in photos and paintings) in the JSA episode so this just builds on some internal continuity. It seems as though Jay also saw the Black Flash in the past. His way of avoiding death was to simply stop running. His leg was injured in an adventure and he decided not to get it fixed. This avoidance of danger rather than facing it head on is an interesting plot point and slightly diminishes Jay.
That said this a great panel, a nice shot from below accentuating the status of Jay.
There are a couple of subplots brewing out there. While the Tess/Lex story is my favorite, the Crisis on Earth 2 one is also fascinating. Last issue, our Chloe went memory diving into the mind of the dead Earth-2 Chloe. (That machine allowing her to do that was one of those magical Hamilton moments.)
It seems that interaction allowed Chloe to absorb the memories of her doppelganger. In a great flashback, we see the Clark of that world killing his Smallville classmates at high school graduation, an elimination of all 'meteor freaks' in one blow. I love that Miller put a couple of the 'freaks' into the scene, even Amy Adams fat-guzzling killer.
That world's Chloe only escaped by bring some Green K with her.
The origin of the Flash's and Bart in particular comes into a bit more sharper focus in the story. In the initial Impulse episode, we saw that Bart had several fake identities he was using, all names we recognize. Now that there is actually a Jay Garrick, that coincidence needs to be explained.
Bart states he awoke with his powers and has little memory of his life before the speed. The names he chose 'came to him'. The amnesia is an interesting wrinkle. Is it that the Speed Force basically washes away everything once it 'possesses' the runner? At the very least the words 'Wally West' made it into the print of a DC comic. Man, I miss Wally!
Of course, you would think this would have come out at an earlier date. That's a minor quibble.
As I said before, the Speed Force stuff here doesn't make the most sense to me. Miller does his best to tell me what I need to know ... and maybe I do understand it ... but it doesn't feel like I do.
The Flashes don't create their speed, they get it from the Speed Force. The Black Flash, I guess, is some manifestation of the Speed Force, coming to reclaim this energy. To sustain itself, the Black Flash must 'feed' on speed energy. So it is the Black Flash which is sending out this speed energy into people, having it rev up people, and the reclaiming it ... increasing the Black Flash's energy.
Okay ... I don't get it.
Bottom line, the only way to avoid is to stop running (like Jay). And Bart doesn't like that answer.
Meanwhile in the memories of E2 Chloe, we see that she seems a bit more devious than our sweet E1 Chloe. She ends up sleeping with Oliver, even though that Earth's Ollie was committed to Lois.
It seems to be more of a physical relationship. But Chloe also seems to be training Ollie to be the weapon that kills the evil Clark of that world. Could she be taking advantage of Ollie, using passion as a means to an end, manipulating him into taking on Ultraman? Either way, Chloe ends up sleeping with her cousin's near-fiance.It has a high creepy factor even if this a darker Earth. Creepy that Chloe would do it either for thrills or strategy. Creepy that Ollie would cheat on Lois.
I have to admit, I don't recall the episode well enough to know how all this turns out.
When Jay calls his speed powers a curse, Clark steps in with some inspirational words. Powers can be a blessing if they don't own you, define you. Jay recognizes that sort of leadership in Superman, akin to Hawkman's in the JSA.
It was the emo, angst-ridden, listless Clark that made Smallville the show sometimes maddening. Since donning the outfit and going public, at least here in the comic, he has shaken off that ennui and been much more the hero I expect in Superman. Nice couple of panels here showing how powerful a hero like that is.
As I have said before, the Tess/Lex subplot is my favorite. Unfortunately it sort of takes a back seat this issue. Lois is close to getting all the answers, having discovered a Lex-penned note was done with Tess' handwriting.
When Lois can't get more information out of Otis, she calls upon
I do love how
Emil Hamilton has turned machines that can download human personalities into robots into tech were living beings can absorb the memories of the dead.
So I shouldn't be surprised when he converts a suit designed for Clark to absorb solar energy into one that can absorb Speed Force energy.
With Paris in the midst of a bad 'speed storm', Clark races over and uses the suit to absorb the speed energy being stuffed into the citizens there. So while he gets juiced on speed, they survive.
Now that is an interesting look for Clark ... reminiscent of others ...
While I definitely think this is a riff on the Electric Superman look from the 90s, there are enough elements to make me wonder if Miller and Jimenez were trying to invoke some John Fox Flash into the design.
I suppose they look similar.
No surprise, the Black Flash shows up, all inky and nasty. The speed fight is on.
I love this ending. Despite being told to stay put because of the danger, Bart can't let Clark fight his battles for him. Clark is family. He races off to also engage.
Now, we know there is a Crisis in this book. We know Supergirl is coming back. Could Miller be truly playing off of THE Crisis? He wouldn't kill off the Flash and Supergirl ... would he?
As a 'print guy', I suppose the end of this story is already known. Maybe reviewing these digital first/print later comics doesn't make sense?
Anyways, this was another solid issue. I had more problems with this issue than prior ones. I don't quite get the Speed Force threat. I think the E2 Ollie/Chloe affair has a sliminess to it which belittles both characters a bit. And Hamilton again uses tech in a new way. But these are more like a popcorn kernel stuck in my back teeth, a little annoying but not enough to take away from the deliciousness of the bag of buttery goodness.
Overall grade: B+