After snapping at his boss and destroying more of his friendships, Barry Allen has been reassigned to Iron Heights. It’s somewhat fitting as he put most of the super powered villains there in the first place. Plus, since he’s burning all these bridges on a personal level, he’s now literally and metaphorically on an island. This is a very different world than what Barry is used to, however it is more in line with the Negative Speed Force coursing through his veins. He’s forced to confront people from his past in a twisted walk down Memory Lane.
Since absorbing the Negative Speed Force, The Flash has been a darker book in more ways than one. The tone has been more grim as Barry struggles with these new, and tough-to-control powers. The comic itself has taken on a darker shade, as if a cloud is permanently hanging over Central City. Its ray of sunshine has been diminished.
Iron Heights reflects this very well. When Barry first approaches it, the structure looks like Castle Frankenstein. It looms out of the water like a knife sticking out of a stab wound, appearing before a blood red sky. This is what dread looks like. There is no hope on this island.
The interior is not much better. It’s a prison, so there are no windows. It’s illuminated by fluorescent lighting, giving it a drab, washed-out look. Colorist Ivan Plascencia nailed the tone here perfectly. It removes some of the emotion and humanity from everyone that enters Iron Heights.
The warden fills a few stereotypes of the hard-nosed lawman, but takes them to a new level. This guy hates the men and women in his charge. He seems to enjoy torturing them. They’re all still wearing their costumes to serve as a reminder of who they really are. There is no rehabilitation here. This is all punishment. He even wants to get the Flash behind bars, making him like a militaristic J. Jonah Jameson.
This comes through in his appearance too. Artist Christian Duce gives him a gruff exterior. There are no soft spots in this man. He’s all hard edges and rough patches. You can see that he’s been through a lot. His face is hardened and has probably forgotten how to form a smile.
There are a number of callbacks to previous issues of writer Joshua Williamson’s run on The Flash. He’s picking up threads that have been out there for a little while and pulling them back in to a nice bow, including Barry’s former trainee, August who became the villain Godspeed. Barry is a little shocked to see him at first, perhaps because the guy is in the middle of a brawl with Heat Wave. I think as a super hero, it’s easy to forget what happens to the bad guys once he stops them from committing crime. They’re sent away and that’s that…or is it?
I love the detail Duce puts into every panel, especially with the characters. They’re so emotive. As the comic goes on, the smiles fade away, leaving only disgust and regret.
I almost forgot to mention the opening scene as Kid Flash trains his mentor in how to use the Speed Force again. Working with Wally, Barry is able to keep things under control as the fellow speedster helps regulate his powers a bit. This scene is a completely different tone from the rest of the issue, representing hope and a glimmer of the old Flash. After a heist is foiled, Barry is thrown back to reality, forced to confront all his demons once again, with what little support he has left.
The Flash #32 continues the downward spiral of Barry Allen’s life. Every time you think things couldn’t get worse for the man, something else happens to put him through the ringer. This issue is no different as he gets acclimated to his new job and confronts some of his past failures as a hero. What makes the character so special is that he’s not giving up. He keeps getting pushed down again and again, but he’s finding the strength to pick his head up and soldier on. You can do it, Barry.