Having followed The Flash in the comic books pretty faithfully since the early ’90s, I can safely claim TO have a good working knowledge of the character, the lore, and the general tone that a proper Flash comic book story should have: a wild and slightly lighter tone than some of his grumpier fellow Justice Leaguers, fast-paced action, and something that throws your physics textbook far out of the window. Oh, and it should probably star one of the many men to have held the mantle of the scarlet speedster, be it Jay Garrick, Barry Allen (star of the CW’s The Flash), Wally West, or Bart Allen. Given that, I can also claim that this week’s issue of the DC comic book, The Flash #66, does not feel like it fits in with the aforementioned criteria – specifically that last one. As a quick aside/preface to the rest of this review, Joshua Williamson, current writer of The Flash since DC launched their “Rebirth” run back in 2016 (now rebranded “DC Universe”), has been doing a bang-up job. It’s been abundantly clear from the starting blocks of this continuity that he has a strong grasp on the character and his mythology. Why, then, does this week’s issue stand out as such a far stone’s throw away from the rest of his body of work on the book? I have a theory or two about that, but we’ll get there later.
The Flash #66 stars James Jesse, or as he’s better known to Central City and its Scarlet Speedster protector, “the Trickster” – one of the Flash’s many infamous rogues. You can think of him as a hybrid of sorts of the Joker and the Riddler from Batman’s own rogue’s gallery, and when I say “Joker,” I mean more on the Mark Hamill animated end of the spectrum and less the Heath Ledger sadist from The Dark Knight. His shtick is playing tricks (well, waddaya know?) and pulling cons, and at one time he was quite good at it – the best, actually. But he’s been out of the picture for some time now, locked away inside Iron Heights Penitentiary. While he’s been serving his time, with escape attempt after failed escape attempt under the watch of Warden Wolfe, a young man who idolized the once-great con man has taken up the title of the Trickster and is running with the Rogues. This doesn’t sit well with James Jesse, who vows to reclaim his status as the greatest trickster in the world (or at least Central City) and ensure that the city, his city, rues the day that they forgot about him. We spend the entirety of the 20-page issue (which is still titled The Flash, mind you) reading about James’ backstory and his terrible upbringing with abusive parents who themselves were con men whilst also being high wire circus performers, the “Flying Jesses” (they actually commandeered that title from the Flying Graysons upon hearing of their deaths and thinking it would bring them more publicity). His parents, if they can truly be called that, constantly forced him to perform, despite his fear of heights and preference for reading about old west outlaws like Jesse James (that’s not a coincidence with the name).
So what’s the issue with this issue? It’s not a Flash comic. The Flash isn’t anywhere to be found in The Flash #66 beyond a quick flashback cameo panel, and that’s kind of a problem, as he’s supposed to be the star of the show here. On those panels themselves, Scott Kolins’ work is not for me. Compared with the clean and detailed art befitting the book that we’ve seen and been accustomed to for some time now, Kolins’ choppy and inexpressive style is an ugly duckling (one that isn’t going to turn into a swan any time soon). While getting a deep dive into James Jesse’s childhood in The Flash #66 was great and all, the story could have been markedly shorter, or just a separate one-shot altogether. If you’ve been following along with The Flash in its current run, then you know that Joshua Williamson is setting up something big with the Trickster, but this was simply not necessary. If the point was the tried and tired trope of the “tragic villain,” then it failed, as no one cares enough about Trickster to begin with. From where do I feel this noticeable drop in quality stems? A little dumpster fire of an event called Heroes in Crisis written by Tom King, and its everything that is wrong with DC comics right now. Williamson had been building up to something of quality and vast fun for months with his story arcs, especially last summer’s Flash War, but a lot of the pieces to that puzzle are presently in limbo due to Heroes in Crisis. I won’t dive into that event’s details here (that’s a rant for another day), but there you have it.