Reprints Rogues #1-4
Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Leomacs
Heist stories are always entertaining. It’s endlessly fun to watch as a group of scoundrels plans out a big theft, implements the plan, and then deals with all the ways things didn’t go as expected. It may appeal to a sense of karmic balance. No matter how much we think we know what we are doing, the randomness of the universe and the actions of other individuals can topple us in a second. The Flash comics have always had an interesting cadre of gimmicky rivals, outmatched only by Batman and Spider-Man. Joshua Williamson, who is no stranger to The Flash, having penned an okay run a few years back, returns sans the Scarlet Speedster in favor of his rogues’ gallery.
Leonard Snart, aka Captain Cold, has seen better days. It has been a decade since his glory days in Central City, and now he’s the object of ridicule by his probation officer. He works at a factory and has his personal access to his scientific inventions taken. But back in the day, Snart overheard some exciting gossip about Gorilla City, home to the tyrannical Grodd. There is an obscene amount of wealth in that hidden metropolis, and Snart wants it. This means he has to round up the old gang: Trickster, Heat Wave, Mirror Master, Magenta, Bronze Tiger, and Snart’s little sister, Lisa the Golden Glider. Unfortunately, everyone is in a different place; Lisa is a social worker fighting a criminal record, while Mirror Master is in rehab due to a cocktail of addictions. Snart thinks he can whip everyone into shape, but things go upside-down exceptionally quickly when they arrive in Gorilla City.
The art by Leomacs is spectacular, but I found some pages in the middle chapters to feel rushed. That’s the exception, though, because he brings European comic energy. I don’t necessarily have the vocabulary to articulate this clearly, but Leomacs style doesn’t show a strong influence from traditional, modern comics art (think George Perez or Neal Adams) or the strong manga style from artists that came up in the 1990s/2000s. Instead, his work reflects the books he regularly read growing up in Italy. As a result, there’s a level of detail and grit you just don’t find in the American floppies on the stands. There’s also an outstanding balance of bold colors and rich, dark shadows that marry the superhero & noir genres perfectly.
Who are the “good guys” in this comic book? This medium is predicated on a reductive understanding of good and evil; we seek out the “hero.” Yet, in a book like Rogues, you’re left choosing between the cocky murderous sneer of Leonard Snart or the animalistic fury of Grodd. By default, we start on Snart’s side as he narrates the text boxes that set up our story. Yet, by issue 3 and especially into the fourth chapter, Snart has kidnapped a gorilla child and is threatening to kill them if he isn’t given safe passage after murdering dozens more. Yeah, Grodd is a violent brute, but you sort of want him to squash this turd.
There is a heart-aching spread in the book’s final pages; we’re shown our squad at the height of their glory and where they are now. Snow falls on the underground Gorilla City after an explosion involving Snart’s absolute zero tech. We are reminded that this is a noir and that genre ensures the protagonist won’t see tomorrow. Noir is all about the tragedy of the human experience. No matter how well-positioned a person is or how clever they are, they can even have proof of their superior IQ; the random sting of the universe can knock you down into the gutter. With Snart & Grodd, both men fit the bill; they mutually ooze arrogance. In this case, Snart fucked with Grodd on the latter’s territory and lost big time.
What’s even worse is how the confident leader of the Rogues drags everyone down with him. Mirror Master isn’t ever getting relief from his addictions. As soon as Lisa finds someone she might have a future with, it’s all burnt away. Heat Wave’s lifelong mental disability of pyromania consumes him in the end. Magenta, a character who has suffered considerably since her introduction in the pages of New Teen Titans in the 1980s, also falls from grace. The reader sits in the rubble of this heist, shell-shocked and conflicted. Do we mourn those who died and lost everything? They didn’t have to do this; they didn’t need to go on this heist. But, when we reflect on their status back in Central City, they weren’t headed towards any great moment. Instead, these Rogues were living out their twilight years despite not being that old. They were convicts and the road ahead didn’t have many options. It could easily be argued that Snart knew he would die, but the losses he faces along the way are a tragedy. The book’s final line reminds us of this: “…he always made someone else pay his tab.”