The Flash #56 // Review
Heatwave and the Sage Force merge to create major mental problems in The Flash #56, written by Joshua Williamson, with art my Scott Kolins, and colors by Luis Guerrero. Previously, Barry Allen and Wally West broke the Speed Force barrier, unleashing new Forces (Strength and Sage) into the universe. First, the Strength Force reared its ugly head, possessing Trickster, and Flash barely eked out a win by severing their connection. Now, Heatwave has been taken over by the Sage Force, gifting him with immense telepathic powers, and Barry and Detective Burns are trapped inside his mind as fire demons manifest outside of his body in the Iron Heights penitentiary.
Up to this point, Williamson has done a great job introducing the concepts of the new Forces and doling out little bits of information about them as he goes, but this issue slows all of that down in favor of a character study of Mick Rory, aka Heatwave. Unfortunately, readers aren’t given much more than what was already known of Rory’s history. This leaves the story feeling like it’s treading water, trying to stretch to three issues. Rory’s obsession with fire, leading to the death of his family when he set their home ablaze as a child, has been at the center of his character for years. Flash and Burns being in his mind to see it firsthand doesn’t change much in understanding how he ticks, so it doesn’t serve much purpose to the story until the very end of the issue. Williamson tries to marry the inner workings of a rogue with the new Force, much like he did in the Trickster/Strength Force arc, but he isn’t quite pulling it off with the same level of success here. Had he chosen a Flash rogue that wasn’t quite as fleshed out as Mick already was, the concept could have worked better.
The real star of the arc, the Sage Force, takes a back seat in this issue, too. Whereas, readers learned a good deal about the Strength Force last arc, they are learning almost nothing about the Sage Force now. It has simply manifested in Heatwave, giving him mental powers and somehow allowing him to create fire creatures that can attack seemingly independently of his consciousness. How that is possible is not explained. Is there a connection between fire and the Sage Force, much like the connection between the Strength Force and gravity, or is Rory simply manifesting telekinesis in his own, unique way? Not the slightest hint is given in this issue. Granted, Williamson does have another chapter to wrap things up and provide explanations, but the storytelling was much more evened out in the previous arc, so the lack of information is disappointing this time around.
Kolins does an adequate job of telling the story, but it is far from his best work for a character he has drawn many times to great fanfare. Guerrero, on the other hand, gets plenty of time to shine, between the glow of fire and bright blue mental energy that radiates through virtually every panel of this issue. He not only makes the most of his opportunity, but manages to elevate Kolins’ work, as well, providing a story that is eye-catching to say the least.
All-in-all, this chapter of Williamson’s Sage Force arc doesn’t have the same magic as most of his recent issues, but the potential for great storytelling is still there. The problem lies with the choice of villain for the arc, because there just isn’t much left to explore in Mick Rory. Hopefully, Williamson will provide more answers on the Sage Force next issue, and then move on to Barry fully pushing the boundaries of his powers and his connection to these new Forces.