DC’s The Flash is the Fastest Man Alive. That has been his moniker for decades now, but he’s also poised to become one of the most important characters in DC Comics, thanks to a staring role in the company-wide mini-series “Blackest Night,” as well as his own mini-series “The Flash: Rebirth.” Since I’ve already covered “Blackest” on this blog and because that focuses more on Green Lantern anyway, today’s focus is going to be “The Flash: Rebirth.”
To get you up to speed on the life and times of Barry Allen, here’s what you need to know.
He’s been dead for about 20 years. That’s been the legacy of Barry Allen aka The Flash: Fastest Man Alive. Back in 1987, DC’s comic universe was a wee bit convoluted. They literally had the potential to have infinite universes in their books, thanks to something they had set up called “The Multiverse,” so they launched the mini-series “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” which did several things.
2. It ended the Silver Age, which was the period of time where most modern pop culture comic book conventions were established.
3. It led to the “retcon” (recreation of an event/person/story to fit into the new comic book status quo) of the origins of many DC super heroes, most notably Superman.
4. It killed Barry Allen.
The death of Barry Allen allowed for something unprecedented (and frankly, something that hasn’t been done successfully since) and that is establish a new person in the identity of super hero, this case being Barry Allen’s nephew, Wally West aka Kid Flash, taking over the identity The Flash. In one of the longest battles for public acceptance, Wally West eventually established himself as The Flash in the minds of comic book fans, thanks to runs on his book from Mark Waid and “Rebirth” scribe Geoff Johns. Allen became a symbol of the Silver Age for comic book fans and the example of a true super hero as he died sacrificing himself to save the world. But then he returned in the recent mini-series “Final Crisis” by Grant Morrison and JG Jones. But Barry Allen is back and in need of a re-introduction and a new purpose.
“Rebirth” finds our hero on a day of celebration as the whole world rejoices in his return, with The Flash being an almost religious symbol for his home town, Central City. A more accurate description may be the small town that fanatically follows and supports the high school football team. But while the world celebrates, Allen can’t seem to figure out why he is back. He was more or less at peace, so why be brought back. The world had moved on, his friends and family had moved on and he can’t wrap his head around why he has to come back and run a race he feels he has already run. Why bring back Barry Allen?
The main problem with this story is Barry Allen himself. Johns has given him an excellent voice but it is really hard to care about a character who has meant more as a dead person than a live one. Ed Brubaker had the same problem with Bucky Barnes (Captain America’s sidekick who had been dead since the 40s both in publication history and in the fictional comic history). But Brubaker had three years and 30+ issues to re-cultivate an identity for the character and get the readers to care about him. Johns is hoping to do this in six issues and is fighting against the fact that Johns himself is the reason that Wally West is so popular as the third Flash. There also wasn’t any real demand or need for Barry Allen to return. To go back to Brubaker and Barnes, Brubaker created a need for Bucky to be there by killing the original Captain America. That wasn’t there with the Flashes, who now have three people using the name in the DC Universe, with two of those (West and Allen) being dressed almost the same. This really isn’t an attack on what Johns has done, but just a way of showing that he, and DC, are going to have an uphill battle in having readers care about Barry Allen again. But this is a start.
There is also the major problem of two mini-series (“Blackest Night” and “Flash: Blackest Night”) happening while “Rebirth” is finishing up that show the results of the story. There is no fear of real danger because the reader knows that everyone gets through the story in one piece and are better for it. Why finish the story when the results are already known? What’s ironic about this is that “Rebirth” revealed the fate of Allen’s newly resurrected grandson, Bart Allen (Kid Flash), who came back to life in the 31st century in another Johns’ mini-series “Legion of Three Worlds,” another heavily delayed book. The return of the Allen family has become an excellent example of what delayed stories can have on the whole of a comic book universe and just comics in general.
But while these are glaring issues, Johns still shows himself to be a great story teller. He has the ability to make something that is completely saturated in comic history seem fresh and new and accessible. A person with no knowledge of The Flash could follow this book and that has always been Johns’ greatest strength. He knows the characters he is writing inside and out and that is necessity for a good writer, especially a comic book writer. Everyone has a solid world-view and that leads to solid characters. Barry Allen is shown as a black and white, cop-type hero, which has turned him from being the symbol of true heroism to an almost cynical hero, with his hard-nosed view of his rogues gallery and the fact that he has killed in the line of duty (a point that is essential to Barry Allen’s history). But great comic characters can only go so far in a comic book without art and luckily, Johns was able to get his frequent collaborator, Ethan Van Sciver, on the book.
Van Sciver first starting making waves this past decade with his stint on a Johns’ penned, “Flash” mini-series called “Iron Heights” (about the prison where The Flash’s villains are sent), as well as a short run on Morrison’s beloved “New X-Men” run. But the most notable thing he’s done is Johns’ “Green Lantern: Rebirth” in 2004-05, which brought Hal Jordan back to life. His art is very sleek, and stream lined. Its also beautiful. That is both my feelings on his work as well as a description of it. His characters are very striking, looking like classic Hollywood actors. And his lines are very detailed. There are some artists out there who will leave out details in some of their smaller panels, but Van Sciver does not slack and includes incredible detail in his work. He also does a good job in the difficult task of making Barry Allen and Wally West distinguishable in their Flash costumes, which, as mentioned previously, are 98% identical through most of the mini-series (spoiler – Wally West gets a new costume!)
All in all, “Flash: Rebirth” is a strong title. While it isn’t as good as “Green Lantern: Rebirth” and DC still hasn’t given a good enough reason to replace Wally West and bring back Barry Allen, it is still worth the read because of the excellent art of Van Sciver and Johns, who always delivers on stories no matter what they are.
“The Flash: Rebirth” is a six issue mini-series, with issue five just being released. Issue six is set to be released at the end of January.
And to poke fun at the constant delays, I just found this closed poll from speedforce.org (which is where I got the release date)
Here is THE POLL (and Marvelman is a comic out of Britain from the 80s that is part of one of the most legendary legal battles in comic book history)
All artwork drawn by Ethan Van Sciver and copyright of DC Comics