The only thing better than a murder mystery is a locked room murder mystery. That’s the premise of the newest arc of The Flash, a jumping-on point for new readers that focuses on a murder in Iron Heights. It’s within the walls of this superpowered supermax prison that Turbine, a relatively new Rogue, has been murdered, and no one can discern who did it or how they even escaped their cell. Luckily, Barry Allen has been transferred to working at the prison and has just the right set of knowledge, skills, and powers to work the case. The Flash #36 presents one of the best concepts for a speedster story of the past decade and does so in a way that doesn’t depend on even a single issue of prior knowledge.
Unfortunately, that excellent premise is underserved by the execution. The opening page of the issue is a snapshot series of prior mysteries following the naming pattern of classic Sherlock Holmes tales. It offers glimpses into what The Flash might be like as a detective and how alluring the combination of superpowers and sleuthing really is. Yet no sleuthing occurs within the pages of The Flash #36. An internal monologue runs at length -- too long really -- about how Barry approaches mysteries in general and his concerns about this one specifically. That monologue doesn’t reveal or connect any elements though. It simply states what is already apparent within the panels.
This mediocre presentation of murder and mystery is offset by some degree to the bright world constructed by artist Howard Porter and writer Joshua Williamson. Even the most claustrophobic shots within Iron Heights Prison make it clear that The Flash takes place in a universe packed with potential. The colorful costumes behind cell doors and many references to past adventures make the ongoing narrative feel full of life rather than alienating. It’s easy to imagine this being someone’s first comic book and engaging with them in a way very few 36th issues possibly could. Porter’s brilliant constructions of even mundane elements like a prison, built on spiraling rock in a thundering bay, make The Flash feel like a world worth spending more time in.
It’s that brilliant, page-by-page, introduction to the many elements, settings, and powers of The Flash that make the narrative itself all the more disappointing. The comic seems to quickly tire of spending time with its detective and begins to reveal many startling facts to readers by the end. Motives and conspiracies, each ripe for discovery and revelation by a detective, are thrown in with minimal fanfare. These jumps in perspective not only limit the discovery process of a great mystery, but fail to even conceal key elements in a logical manner. There is a seeming lack of faith in the world as it exists, which is unfortunate because it exists quite well.
Perhaps there is far more to the mysterious murder within Iron Heights than is even revealed in The Flash #36, but even if that’s the case this issue seems like a missed opportunity. The strengths of the art and world of The Flash built by these creators are all present, while the narrative itself is lacking. Overlong narration and a poor sense of pacing may not stop the joy of seeing so many other great elements on the page, but they certainly prevent the issue from running at super speed.
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Howard Porter
Colors by Hi-Fi
Letters by Steve Wands