Roller Coaster Crossfire

Flash #183-188: Crossfire

October 7, 2002

By Avi Green

If there’s one thing I knew I couldn’t really do when I began this little site of mine, it’s weekly comics reviews (and besides, I’m an essayist). Aside from the fact that I live in Israel, and that, with the exception of a few flagship titles (Superman, Spider-Man), many things can get here a few weeks late, comics reviews for me are far too difficult to do on schedule and too timely in general.

However, I can do reviews in a set according to story arc, when it comes out that way. So now I’m going to review issues #183-188 of the recent Crossfire story arc from one of my favorite titles from DC, The Flash.

Speedy fandom

Current writer Geoff Johns is the writer who succeeded in renewing my interest in the Flash after Mark Waid in the past decade. He’s found ways to reinvent or write new characters taking over the roles of older ones like the Trickster, and fully reassembling the Flash’s Rogues’ Gallery in Keystone City. I’ve never had so much fun before when reading the book. Even before this year’s story arc began, Johns had already been building up towards it with some pretty exciting parts involving the Weather Wizard, Mirror Master, and a strange criminal from a Mirror World created by the Mirror Master called Plunder. And now, let me take the time to review the whole recent story arc.

Flash #183

Prelude to the Crossfire story arc. Keystone City’s police and the Flash find that they’ve got a new Trickster to deal with, this one being a young hoodlum named Axel Walker who stole some of the old Trickster’s equipment from a warehouse he owned. (The old Trickster, James Jesse, by the way, is now reformed and is working for the FBI in Chicago.) And this one’s got some pretty tricky weaponry of his own invention: chewing gum that inflates into a big ball that people can get stuck in, a soundwave shower, and even fake hands that turn into a hard candy cover when someone else pulls them off…and right onto them (get it?).

Trickster pulls off a few heists around town, even succeeding in making a fool out of current Flash Wally West, and erasing the KCPD Rogue profiler Hunter Zoloman’s computer files on all the Rogues to disrupt the peace and harmony of Keystone and Central City in the past few years. His main motive for doing this? To get a free entrance card into joining up with the new Rogues Gallery in Keystone, or, more precisely, The Network, a crooked operation run by a strange gangstress named Blacksmith. There, he, and we too, get to meet Mirror Master, Weather Wizard, Plunder, Magenta, an ex-lover of Wally’s who's rather mentally unstable (and who first appeared in Teen Titans back in 1982), Murmur, a psychotic mute armed with two knives, Girder, a metallic giant turned that way by getting exposed to some chemicles from S.T.A.R. Labs, and plenty of other sinister fiends.

As for Wally, well, it looks like he’s going to have to battle this current threat to the harmony of Keystone City alone: Jesse Quick’s business has been burglarized of millions, Vic Stone, Wally’s former partner in the Teen Titans whose codename is Cyborg, is strangely missing, Jay and Joan Garrick, the Golden Age Flash and his loving wife have gone to Denver so that Joan can get cancer treatment, and Hartley Rathaway, the former Pied Piper turned local priest in Keystone is locked in Iron Heights on charges of murdering his parents, which Wally can’t believe, and is hoping to prove false.

The most interesting part here is with Detective Jared Morillo’s Mirror World duplicate, whose name is the same, but wears a mask and goes by the codename Plunder. Sgt. Fred Chyre is suspicious of him after he addresses him in a way he normally doesn’t, and his suspicions are confirmed after Plunder refuses to answer a telephone call from Morillo’s wife, and after seeing that a mole Morillo’s got on the right side of his chin now appears on the left. He doesn’t have much time to question Plunder much further about what happened to the real Jared Morillo when the Mirror Master sneaks up behind him and then, well, let’s just say that talks less than he does, letting his following actions speak for him, which are nothing short of startling: he throws Chyre directly inside a glass window pane on a door in the police station!

Mirror Master and Plunder are both very enjoyably menacing, with the latter acting evil in an impressively slick manner, and the new Trickster is deliciously written as a troublemaking – but still very dangerous - nuisance.

Flash #184

However, it turns out that the newly assembled Rogues Gallery in Keystone’s not the only enemy that Flash is going to have to face down. As he leaves his apartment to go out on speed patrol, his wife Linda’s laptop computer is infiltrated by an electronic menace who calls himself the Thinker. This fiend of the cyberworld is looking to assimilate the minds of many to make room for more thought and to conquer the country, starting first with Linda’s mind and then taking over the minds of each and every human living in Keystone. Clip wires, it appears, are stored by the Thinker in virtually every part of the city, with the possible exception of a few places in the suburbs, and when attaching themselves to anyone who’s made out of flesh and blood, take control of their minds, combining them into one big think-tank.

Flash doesn’t get to discover about this right away, however, as he first discovers that the Mirror Master’s trapped Cyborg and several police officers in one of his own mirror prisons, and that duty calls over in Central City, his late uncle’s place of residence, where the Rogues have launched an assault on the local police precinct, forcing him to evacuate all the building’s occupants, and then finding himself face to face with the Rogues, and, while he faces them valiantly, they nevertheless prove to be quite a deadly challenge to him, with Mirror Master and Murmur’s concoction of poisoned glass shards soon giving Wally a dangerous injury. And this is where the Thinker first identifies himself to both him and them as well.

Flash #185

Wally, worried as hell about what to do next, and realizing that he’s sustained a dose of Murmur’s deadly poison, finally decides to go search for a cure for the poison, and wisely so, since if he doesn’t save his health, and his life, he’s got no chance of saving either city. In S.T.A.R Labs, he gets some unexpected help from the Thinker (yes, he can warp from location to location, being the computerized being that he is) in finding the cure for the poison that he needs to save himself. And why? Because, as the Thinker tells him, his brain is the most powerful of all, and he needs it for data space!

We also learn that the Thinker was once a district attorney named Clifford Devoe, whose own origin can be traced back to the Golden Age Flash stories in the 1940’s with Jay Garrick (All-Flash #12, Fall 1943).

Meanwhile, over in Central City’s local cemetery, Plunder’s taken Fred Chyre, whom he’s had removed from the mirror cell he was put in, to a freshly dug grave where he intends to murder and bury him. As he told Chyre in an earlier encounter 183, Chyre also had a duplicate of his own in the Mirror World, a corrupt cop who killed for sport and who tried to kill him, and that’s his excuse for wanting to kill him. But before he’s able to, a most astonishing surprise occurs: turns out that thanks to an encounter that the real Morillo had with a villain named Cicada, he’s become a vampire-like immortal, able to heal any wound to the body, even to the head. It’s a quirky element that brings the X-Files to mind, but that works far better than anything that TV show had to offer. Morillo rises from the grave – literally - just in time to stop Plunder from killing his partner, giving him the banging he deserves.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see that Morillo survived Plunder’s assassination attempt on him back in issue #181. He’s been a very cool and likable character and I was really sorry to see him die, which, luckily, he didn’t. So of course, I was more than glad to see that courtesy of Cicada’s attack on him in an earlier storyline, he’s gained de-facto immortality.

Back in Keystone, however, Wally’s discovered that his own lovely wife Linda Park West is one of the victims of Thinker’s own assimilation program, and is told that if he doesn’t want her mind getting deleted, he’s got to surrender his own mind to the Thinker, which he does, and it sure isn’t pretty. So when the Rogues catch up with them in a city steel mill, they find themselves up against more than they bargained for, facing a Thinker controlled Flash.

Flash #186

The Rogues attempt to deal with the Thinker controlled Flash, but don’t find it easy, as Flash’s controller anticipates most of their attacks, commanding a steel worker under his control to spray Magenta with Rusto-Protect and then Flash to blow away Trickster with a spin of the arm. That part really amused me. And then, wouldn’t you know it, Thinker ambushes the Weather Wizard and commands him to strike with lightning at the other Rogues.

During this distraction, Flash suddenly disappears, but before we get to how it happened, let’s turn back to Chyre and Morillo, who’ve been offered unexpected help in locating Cyborg and the police officers who’ve been trapped by Mirror Master from Captain Cold, one of the oldest foes of the Flash since the Silver Age. Why’s he helping them in rescuing the trapped allies is a good question, and there may be an explanation about it later.

Now, how did the Flash get away from his pursuers, even the Thinker’s cables? Turns out that Keith Kenyon, the mayor of Keystone, was the one who helped rescue him, and it turns out also that he’s a former crook whom Wally’s uncle Barry once dealt with: Goldface. (It also turns out, in case anyone’s wondering, that no, Wally’s mind can’t be damaged when disconnected from the Thinker’s wires.) He’s taken him and hidden him in a sewer shelter underneath the steel mill.

As the former Goldface begins to tell him, Blacksmith is his former wife, and aside from being a criminal herself, she’d been helping to finance the Rogues Gallery in Central and Keystone City for many years, even when Barry Allen was still alive. Goldface tells him that he himself got some of his powers from an extraordinary gold-based energy source in the bay of Coast City, the Silver Age Green Lantern Hal Jordan’s place of residence, but was stopped from grabbing more of the stuff by the Emerald Warrior. Blacksmith got her powers from very much the same place too, and later became a syndicate leader together with Goldface. He later wanted to quit and tried to persuade her to do the same, but she refused, and they broke up.

But then, lo and behold, who should find the hideout of Kenyon and Wally other than the Thinker, aided by the now plugged in Weather Wizard, who raid the sewer shelter they’re in so that Thinker can go after Flash again (“Time to plug you back in again.”). But just then, along comes Cyborg to the rescue with Chyre and Morillo in tow. They’ve read a profile on Goldface by Hunter Zoloman that Captain Cold gave them, and they’d like to bring him in. But meanwhile, Cyborg, in dealing with the Thinker finds that the cybernetic villain is capable of grabbing at his mind too! But before Thinker can fully control him, Cyborg sends out another cable to Wally, telling him that if he thinks fast enough, he can beat the Thinker!

So what happens next? Indeed no, the Thinker cannot seem to handle Flash’s ability to think so fast (“Am I thinking too fast for you? Come on…” ). What happens next, as Wally says to him on the last page is, “Welcome to MY mind.”

Flash #187

So then, the Thinker finds himself right inside Wally’s mind this time. But while Wally can think really fast, it’s still not that easy. As the Thinker says, Wally’s mind is where he can do the most damage.

No, don’t worry, he doesn’t cause him any damage in the end, but still, he proves himself to be a very worthy nemesis. But then, with a little more fast – not to mention fast – thinking by Wally…The Thinker is deleted. And whoa, seeing how Wally’s got to spit out what looks like a whole bindle of binary and other computer codes, well, as I’m sure, having a whole bunch of electronics in your mind is no pleasant experience.

With the Thinker deleted from existence, all of Keystone’s citizens, including Wally’s lovely wife Linda and his aunt Iris and her adopted son Josh Jackam are freed from the computerized trance they were put in and the townsfolk start to try and recover.

But what of the Flash and friends in the sewer clearing? Are they out of the woods yet? No way. Now, they’ve got the Rogues’ to deal with, starting with Girder, who crashes his way down into shelter and knocks Cyborg up through the hole in the ceiling he’s created, and menaces the other occupants save the Weather Wizard, who luckily manage to escape from their brutal assault. While Chyre, Morillo, and Goldface jump clear from the sewer, Wally rescues his best friend and former Teen Titans partner Cyborg from Magenta, who’s attempted to assault him herself, and after bringing him to S.T.A.R Labs for treatment, takes to the streets of Keystone again to battle the still at large Rogues! One of the parts here that most impressed me was where the Mirror Master attempted to attack Wally using some distorted reflections of him from his high tech mirrors, commanding them to attack by calling out backwards! Johns’ portrayal of Mirror Master is by far one of the best, depicting Evan McCulloch as quite the evil and cunning fiend that he is. Luckily, Wally reacts bravely, and destroys the menacing reflections of himself by throwing some balls that the Trickster threw at him in a stream to try and bowl him over at the mirror images, shattering them to pieces.

Meanwhile, the ever cool team of Chyre and Morillo are searching through the streets for more signs of the Rogues’, and Morillo is attacked by Murmur, but of course, his new power keeps him from being killed by Murmur’s knives. I liked the part where Chyre then smashes that psychotic troublemaker in the face, knocking him to the ground. Chyre may be quite a veteran in the police force, but he can sure pack quite a punch for a guy who’s getting old. When returning to the police precinct, however, they find that they’ve still got something – or someone – to worry about, that being Plunder, who managed to untie himself from the tree and keeps a tracer in his rifle in case it gets stolen and has tracked them to the station, where he’s holding Zoloman hostage.

Moving back to the Flash, unfortunately then, Weather Wizard initiates a thick, blinding fog through which the Flash can’t see, after which he ends up getting struck down by the Rogues’ with a stun to the head. They’ve also captured Goldface, whom Blacksmith intends to kill and holds responsible for causing them all their problems in taking over Keystone, and parted the curtains of a Network storage to reveal a whole army of other henchmen, including a few robotic drones, with whom they intend to loot the city with before getting away. And then Girder picks up Flash, and Magenta tells him to do her a favor and – kill him!

Flash #188

Girder is about to do this, but then, in a brilliant miracle for the Flash, his captor makes an annoying comment to the mentally unstable Magenta that she perceives as sexual harassment, and literally shatters him to pieces, right before the eyes of her formerly fellow Rogues!

That’s right, by having blown Girder to bits, she is now deemed a traitor to her group, and Blacksmith knocks her down senseless. Meanwhile, back at the police precinct, Plunder and Murmur are holding Zoloman, Chyre and Morillo at gun/knifepoint, and Plunder wants Murmur to try and behead Morillo, but luckily, Morillo knocks Plunder aside, enabling his two other colleagues to react as well. Most impressively, even Zoloman, with the limp in his leg that got him discharged from the FBI, proves to be a good fighter, warding off Murmur’s attempts to stab him as well. Chyre, who’s been fighting with Plunder for a moment, then knocks both of the Rogues’ out the window (yes, they survive). And then, much to Zoloman’s bewilderment, Morillo comes into view again, little the worse for wear, and says, “ he missed.

Back at the Network’s area, Goldface slips out of sight, but Blacksmith feels that she can deal with him later, since now, she’s got her foot on top of Flash, whom she wants to kill too. But before she’s able, he initiates a vibration that enables him to free himself from under her foot. And this is where we find out that like Goldface, she too has undergone some very strange transformations that turned her into metal-like creature herself.

As he swings round to face the Rogues’, she tells him that with all his exhaustion and their backup army, he doesn’t stand a chance against them. But then, well now, what a surprise, Goldface, it turns out, has summoned the whole workers union of Keystone to help battle the Rogues’! This was one of the most entertaining showdowns with the criminals I’ve read about in quite awhile, and it was quite a roller coaster ride too. I was amused by the part where one of the female union members uses staple gun to clash with one of the crooks, and the union had some of their own robots to counter those in the Rogues’ too.

Blacksmith then flees to the Van Buren Bridge, the bridge that connects between Keystone and Central City, and attempts to destroy it, but Wally, amazing man that he is, fixes it within mere minutes and practically turns it into a masterpiece as well. Impossible? Well as Wally then says, “I was born to DO the impossible.”

Makes sense.

There are two epilogues, the first with Weather Wizard, Trickster and Mirror Master finding themselves near a river wondering what to do next. Mirror Master’s a bit annoyed that they were foiled again, but Weather Wizard actually feels a bit satisfied because he still managed to get back at the Flash a bit. And then, much to the delight of all three, Captain Cold comes along and tells them that what they need is some real leadership. As it appears, his reasons for helping the good guys behind the backs of the others was because they’d left him out in the cold, so to speak, and also because he didn’t like Blacksmith’s leadership.

The second? Well, back at S.T.A.R Labs, Cyborg turns out to be okay, but it appears that he can’t morph into a more human form now, probably because of some after effect of dealing with the Thinker, but aside from that, he’s fortunately alright. The real surprise, it turns out however, much to that of both Wally and Linda too, is that Linda is pregnant!

Summary

To conclude, this was one of the best adventures I’ve read with the Scarlet Speedster in the past few years, and the possibility that the former Kid Flash Wally will now become a dad (and his lady fair Linda a mom) is certainly intriguing. Geoff Johns, to say the obvious, has written a near-classic masterpiece, and a role model for many other writers to come. It’s like a classic tribute to the best days of the Silver Age, and if you haven’t read it yet, go on and do it.

I’m looking forward to next year with great anticipation. This is something to look forward too.

Avi Green, who’s fast on all fours, can be reached at avigreen2002@yahoo.com

2010 update: as of this writing, I no longer stand by this review. I have since changed my opinion and written this off as garbage, as explained over here.

Copyright 2002 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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