Despite being members of the Justice League alongside one another, Bruce Wayne and Barry Allen aren’t exactly the characters you’d expect to team up. It’s not that they don’t have a healthy working relationship–they’ve saved the world together more times than anyone could really count–but at the end of the day, they’re just very different people. Anyone who’s seen an episode of The Flash and watched one of the many, many Batman-centric films out there in the universe could tell you that.
But the truth of the matter is, the dynamic between Batman and The Flash over in their comic book incarnations is fraught with a lot more complexity than the boiled down versions we see on screen–and that’s exactly what the four-issue mini series, The Price, by Joshua Williamson, Guillem March, and Rafa Sandoval, explores.
“When you think about characters in the League, characters like Bruce and Clark have this relationship that’s explored, or Clark and Diana, or Bruce and Diana. Barry has this relationship with Hal Jordan that’s well known–but we’ve never really explored the idea of Bruce and Barry who are like these two guys that are like nerdy science friends. They’re detective bros, right?” Writer Josh Williamson explained in an interview with GameSpot. “For a really long time, Barry didn’t have someone he could talk about [his forensic work] with. Barry is very much this like, nerdy awkward guy and Bruce is this suave cool guy but underneath that they have this connection. They have this understanding for each other as scientists and as detectives.”
That connection is specifically important, since the case currently holding their attention is not only incredibly disturbing–it’s deeply personal. In the Heroes In Crisis event series, a mass murderer targeted Sanctuary, a secret mental health facility for superheroes. One of the victims was, unfortunately, Wally West–Barry’s protege and close friend of Dick Grayson, Batman’s protege. As if the murder itself weren’t horrifying enough, the Justice League still has no real idea who was responsible or why which, on top of being grieving friends and guardians, is arguably the worst position a pair of detectives could be in.
Worse yet? Wally’s stay at Sanctuary was Bruce’s idea. There’s a certain amount of unspoken blame floating between the two heroes as Barry forces himself to reconcile Wally’s death with Bruce’s advice and Bruce is forced to stomach the guilt and responsibility for the part he played.
Yeah, it’s messy–and people like Barry and Bruce tend to take messiness to a whole new level. They may be superheroes, but neither of them are well known for their healthy coping mechanisms.
So of course, the pressure of those circumstances–the grief, the frustration, the need to solve the mystery–is starting to weigh on both Barry and Bruce’s shoulders. “There’s this growing tension between them,” Williamson said. “They’re two people who are good friends, who understand each other, but they’re both feeling so burnt out and worn down by all of this. […] It’s about not only about solving the case, it’s about solving the friendship.”
That level of interpersonal struggle is where The Price really sets itself apart. It departs, largely, from the formulaic superhero conflict that is ultimately resolved by punching, and digs into the emotional stakes at hand. Is there a place for grief and self-care in the realm of people who have to save the world daily? Can someone like The Flash ever take a break, sort himself out, and come back with fresh eyes? Is Batman ever allowed to stop and refocus?
Obviously, there are no clear right or wrong answers, making the story that much more engaging. Sure, there’s a villain–there is an immediate concern. “Stopping [a villain] is obviously the chief concern,” Williamson said, “but it becomes about what’s after that. The question becomes, okay, if we stop [the villain], what do we do with them? Whose responsibility are they?”
Thankfully, the heaviness of the theme doesn’t weigh the story down any more than it needs to–thanks, in part, to artists Sandoval and March alongside colorist Tomeu Morey, who help bring a cohesive energy and life to the forefront. The Price takes place in four issues, alternating between Batman #64 and #65 and The Flash #64 and #65 with March handling the former and Sandoval on the latter. “They make such great storytelling choices,” Williamson explained, “by the end of the process, we were actually going through and striking lines of dialogue. The art just worked better to make the point.”
The Price is a perfect story for anyone looking to dig a little deeper into the minds of their favorite heroes–whether they’re fans of the live action Barry on CW’s The Flash looking for more to read between episodes, or long-time fans of the DCU who have lapsed in their reading. It doesn’t take much prerequisite work–pick up the trade paperbacks for The Button (conveniently available on Comixology Unlimited), Flash War, and catch up with the currently ongoing Heroes in Crisis event if you’re looking to be a completionist; or hop right in with The Price part 1 in Batman #64.