All FLASH, No Substance

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Ever since writer Mark Waid redefined the Flash in the early 90s, the fastest man alive has been one of DC Comics’ strongest franchises.   But ever since the departure of Waid’s spiritual successor on the series, Geoff Johns, DC has consistently stumbled in the handling of the Scarlet Speedster.   First they got rid of Wally West, replacing him with his younger cousin, Kid Flash, aka Bart Allen; giving a confusing new status quo and an ill-equiped writer.  Shortly thereafter they killed off Bart and brought back Wally as part of the JLA/JSA crossover, The Lightning Saga; a story so confusing, convoluted and just plain horrendous that I can’t even explain what happened.  Even the return of Mark Waid ended up much ado about nothing and only lasted a few issues.

It seems the latest incarnation of the Flash may be it’s last chance race for glory.  Enter Silver Age Flash Bary Allen to the rescue! (oh, and Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver)

Since the announcement of Flash Rebirth, I was certain that along with Johns’ other big story, Blackest Night, it would be one of the two biggest events of 2009.  After reading the first issue… I’m less sure.

There’s nothing technically wrong with Rebirth #1.  On the surface, all the makings of greatness are in place.  Van Sciver’s artwork is outstanding.  There are plenty of interesting developments including the return and deaths of a few Runners.  Johns’ characterization work is strong as usual.  So why is it all so… underwhelming?

I think the problem is the subject himself, Barry Allen.

When Johns and Van Sciver reinvigorated Hal Jordan with Green Lantern Rebirth, they redefined and redesigned the entire concept, expertly weaving through the complex continuity while adding depth and new dimensions to both the Lanterns and Jordan himself.  Ultimately they made you care that Jordan and the GL Corps were back rather than just giving you another typical hero reborn story.

Unfortunately, in this case, it seems as though Johns expects you to care simply because Barry is back.  You’re never truly given a reason why.   As the story’s title expresses, DC simply expects lighning to strike twice.  But Allen isn’t Hal Jordan.  He’s portrayed here as a kind of boring, whiny old man whose rigid beliefs seem almost anachronistic despite his claims that the world is finally catching up with him.    In the 20 years Allen was absent from comics, the argument for keeping him that way is that Barry Allen has always been more interesting as an unseen mentor and motivation for Wally West to be a better hero.   Lightning Strikes Twice seems to prove the point.   Not only is Barry kind of boring, but the story only seems to shine when he’s not there (which is a large portion of the issue).  Johns’ artificial attempts to add weight to Allen’s personality don’t quite work.   For instance, when the original Flash, Jay Garrick tells some of the younger heroes that “Barry Allen made me the Flash.”    Stargirl says what we’re all thinking.  “That doesn’t make any sense Jay.  You were the Flash decades before him.”    Garrick’s explanation makes even less sense than the original statement.

“Yeah well… he … uhhh… I was retired… and… he called me Mister… and we raced, sooooo… look my writer really digs the guy.  Give me a break, okay?” 

Another problem, albeit a minor one, is the way Allen is reintroduced as part of Final Crisis.  The fact is that Final Crisis was the biggest failure of an event comic in recent memory.  And bringing Barry back during the event was just another layer of unnecessary subplot that only served to complicate the story instead of adding to it.  Furthermore at the end of Final Crisis the entire multiverse is destroyed only to be brought back by Superman by a magic wishing machine (hey, I’m just reporting it, I didn’t write it).  Rebirth seems to take place shortly thereafter, and yet, the story begins with the entire world celebrating Barry’s return.  Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like a REALLY bad time to be throwing a party.

“We all just died!”  “Who cares?! Barry Allen is back!  WOOOOOO!”

“Who?”

I think one of the biggest problems is the question at the crux of the series.  Why is Barry back?  

One of DC’s biggest advantages over their competition is the sense of Legacy.  Heroes die, and are replaced.   Yet now we have dozens of Batmen, Wonder Women and even a planet full of Supermen and women.  Currently there are four men named Flash: Jay, Wally, Bart (also back from the dead recently) and Barry.   All it does is weaken the brand.  And in the end, it proves that Barry is only back because of the creative team’s fond childhood memories of him.  All the other three incarnations are far more interesting and at least two of them are faster.

I really hope that Johns pulls this off.  I love the idea of Rebirth.  I love Johns’ work.  But so far, he’s off to a slow start.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. […] My Life as a Country Song – “In the 20 years Allen was absent from comics, the argument for keeping him that way is that Barry Allen has always been more interesting as an unseen mentor and motivation for Wally West to be a better hero. Lightning Strikes Twice seems to prove the point.” […]

    Reply

  2. […] about the revival. It’s no surprise that the critical reaction, to judge by other reviews so far, is decidedly mixed. A bad first issue doesn’t always doom a book, and I’m sure […]

    Reply

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