The Flash #54 // Review
The Flash #54, written by Joshua Williamson, with art by Christian Duce and colors by Luis Guerrero, is the conclusion of the Grips of Strength arc, but it really feels like the tip of the iceberg on a much larger Flash story. Previously, the Flash discovered that there are three new Forces in the universe, in addition to his own Speed Force. The Trickster ended up being chosen as the first avatar of the Strength Force, and was gifted with--you guessed it--immense strength. Unfortunately, he was not at all equipped to deal with that much power, and it was clear that he was a danger to himself and others. Eventually, while Flash was trying to free him from the seemingly-unstable new Force, he ended up being infected with it, too. Now, the Scarlet Speedster and the young Trickster (each nearly as big as a house) must fight for control of the Strength Force.
Even though Trickster is at the center of this arc, the Strength Force is really what it’s all about. As the new Forces come into the light, Barry must figure out how they operate, and what they’re capable of. Trickster is just the window through which the Strength Force is shown to the audience. After teasing the readers for several issues, Williamson does deliver on the promise of giving up the details on the mystery Force. In the last issue, it was revealed that the Strength Force wasn’t just about raw physical power, and that it could actually influence gravity. This concluding chapter shows that power in action, as Barry must figure out how to use his newfound abilities to stop the Trickster. As hinted, Williamson isn’t just throwing out a bunch of new toys to play with in the Flash book. This is the beginning of a something big, and if the Strength Force is this powerful when being used by someone who barely understands it, the possibilities could be endless when it finally finds an avatar that can successfully master it.
As stated above, this arc isn’t really about the young Trickster, but Williamson still manages to work in plenty of great character development for him throughout the story. Between his feelings of inadequacy and his apparent abuse at the hands of the warden of Iron Heights, readers can easily see that Trickster is just a broken young man trying to show the world that he matters. The Rogues are the first group of people that ever seemed to care for him, but he still feels like he’ll always be the second Trickster to them, so when he finally gets real power in the form of the Strength Force, he’s letting nothing stand in his way of showing the world that he is not to be messed with. Williamson does a terrific job, particularly in this issue, showing that balance of terrifying villain and troubled youth crying out for help and a sense of belonging. Fortunately, given the surprising final page, it seems he has big plans for giving the young Trickster everything he’s always wanted.
Barry, on the other hand, continues to struggle with the new Forces, and his ever-changing world. In recent issues, he has been downgraded to the second fastest man alive, Wally and Wallace stepped away from him, and he has been coming to terms with the fact that, in addition to the new Forces, he may not even understand the Speed Force as well as he thought he did. Understandably, that is all taking a toll on him. He does eventually manage to figure out how the Strength Force works and resolve the arc’s problem, but he ends up having a fight with Iris (his only current support system). Williamson, no doubt, has a plan to set the Flash back on the right path soon, but in seeing him stumble these last few story arcs, he has been masterfully building a flawed, but stronger character for Barry Allen. In the past, Allen has been accused of being the “boring” Flash, but when Williamson is done with him, it’s doubtful that will be the case anymore.
Duce’s art this issue was strong, but lacked that certain electric kineticism that most Flash books have. This isn’t necessarily Duce’s fault, because Barry is mostly using the Strength Force here, instead of running around at super speeds, but it still felt like it was missing something. It also seemed like his inks were a little heavy for the story, but overall his work was pleasing to the eye, and it was fun seeing the oversized Flash and Trickster knock each other through walls. Similarly, Guerrero’s colors seemed a little dull, through no fault of his own. Given that he was not handed a lot of lightning or super speed running to color, there just wasn’t a lot of the usual trappings of a Flash book to light the pages up with. Hopefully, things will return to normal next issue, but the story just didn’t lend itself to the fun spectacle expected from the art on this title.
Overall, this has been a low key arc that provided big answers to mysteries Williamson has been setting up since the end of the Flash War story. This issue brings the introduction to the Strength Force arc to a satisfying close, but leaves the door open to a lot bigger stories. Next issue promises to delve into the Sage Force in, surely, a similar way to this story, so if you’ve enjoyed what Williamson has done so far with the new Forces, you should definitely stick around.