– This post was originally published on my now-defunct site, New to Comics. –
New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic-books, explaining their background, reviewing them, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium. The title is a reference to a former university project that I carried on as its own site for several years before laying it to rest.
We’ve looked at two of the biggest super-heroes (Superman and Spider-Man) of all time so far in our comic-book breakdowns, as well as one of the most well-regarded pieces of comic-book fiction (Watchmen), but now it’s time to branch out.
Continuing the theme of ‘Super-heroes’, this week, we’re looking at another important DC Comics figure and founding member of the Justice League, The Flash; specifically, his modern-day reintroduction: The Flash: Rebirth.
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Geoff Johns
Art by: Ethan Van Sciver
Real Name: Bartholomew Henry Allen
Affiliation: The Justice League
First Appearance: Showcase #4 (October 1956)
Young Barry Allen’s life was thrown into upheaval when his mother was murdered and his father, Henry Allen, was arrested for the crime. The slow, laid-back man became determined to exonerate his father, and Barry spent years working towards becoming a Forensic Scientist, often working late nights and falling behind to the chagrin of his reporter girlfriend Iris West. But it was one of those late nights that changed Barry forever, as a bolt of lightning burst through his laboratory window, dousing Barry in chemicals. From that moment on, Barry was linked to the ‘Speed Force’, extradimensional energy that allowed him to move at super-human speeds. Driven by that same sense of justice that leads him to try and prove his father’s innocence, Barry resolved to use his powers for good – becoming the Flash; the fastest man alive!
WHAT’s THE STORY?
There are very few comic-book characters who have died and stayed dead. Inevitably, at some point, a new writer will come along and revive characters to enhance their story, leading to the point we’re at now where death is essentially meaningless in mainstream comics. Now, when a comic-book character dies, there’s less importance placed on how they’ve died, so much as how long they’ll stay dead.
In the past decade, Captain America, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Batman and the Hulk are just a few of the big-time heroes who have passed away, only to return within a year or two.
But it wasn’t like this a few decades ago. Back then, characters could die and it would feel important because there was no guarantee that they would ever return. One such character to have an impactful, meaningful death was Barry Allen, better known as The Flash. The Flash ‘died’ way back in the DC event series Crisis on Infinite Earths, where, after having been kidnapped by the villain of the story, The Anti-Monitor, the Flash used his speed powers to sabotage one of the villain’s plots and in the process, disintegrated.
Following his death, his sidekick, Wally West, took up the mantle of The Flash. Similarly, the previous Flash, Jay Garrick took a more central role in DC’s stories, and eventually, Barry’s grandson from the future, Bart Allen would also take on the mantle. So, with all of these substitutes in place, Barry could stay dead, because there wasn’t a void left by his death that couldn’t be filled by other characters. As such, twenty-three years passed before it was decided Barry would return to the land of the living in another DC event, Final Crisis.
In The Flash: Rebirth, writer Geoff Johns took on the unenviable task of taking the revived hero and reintroducing him to a new generation of comic-book fans who had moved on to thinking of Wally West as THE Flash.
WHAT’s THE PLOT?
With word of his return spreading across the world and throughout the super-human and civilian communities, Barry Allen a.k.a. the second Flash, can’t shake the feeling that his rebirth isn’t as permanent as everyone hopes.
Reintroduced to a world that he left years ago, Barry must reconnect with his friends and loved ones, while fighting off adversaries who believe his return threatens the ‘Speed Force’, the source of their power. With the Black Flash, Savitar and Professor Zoom standing against him, Barry must make some impossible choices about his future, his present and even his past before he can reclaim the mantle of the Flash.
IS IT ACCESSIBLE?
You would think so, what with this being an introduction of sorts to the character of Barry Allen.
Fortunately, it’s not quite that simple. And I’m thankful for that because although I’m a big fan of characters like Spider-Man and Superman, my knowledge of The Flash was previously confined primarily to the ‘New 52’, the TV show and the graphic novel Flashpoint (as well as some Justice League comics, I suppose) so for the first time in this new New to Comics era, I’ll be judging the accessibility of this comic as someone who is themselves new to (Flash) comics.
I mean, there’s like ten different Flashes in this story. This comic gives the appearance of being accessible until you actually get to reading and you find it’s pretty tough to get into.
WHAT’s THE VERDICT?
In my past few break-downs, I’ve given things a fair amount of praise. Primarily because they were good stories, but also because none of them had any barriers in the way of them being good stories to people with or without a good knowledge of comic books.
Here, however, that lack of knowledge can really get in the way of appreciating this comic. For starters, the fact that the Flash is being ‘reborn’ relies on the knowledge that you know he ‘died’ back in the eighties. And the way DC push Barry as if he’s the first and sometimes only Flash these days would probably lead you to believe he always has been. Secondly, this ‘Rebirth’ doesn’t even occur in this comic. It happens in Final Crisis, so if you’re going into this blind, you’re already being given the wrong idea. Thirdly, there’s so much going on in this comic that it’s hard to keep up if you don’t have an adequate grasp of the Flash’s history.
Every issue, things happen seemingly unrelated to the last, and although things do get tied up by the end, in the midst of reading it, it’s just a bit relentless: The Flash is back, BUT THEN..! he fights Savitar BUT THEN..! he fights Black Racer BUT THEN..! he fights the Lady Flash BUT THEN..! the Justice League are there BUT THEN..! Professor Zoom’s returned BUT THEN..! there’s trouble with the Speed Force BUT THEN..! the other Flashes arrive BUT THEN..! etc. etc.
I know The Flash’s super-power is super-speed, but considering he spends a good deal of the comic thinking on how he’s always been laid-back and a rather slow person, this comic doesn’t really do much slowing down.
In a way, this quick succession of events could read like a love letter to the Flash mythos; everything is being crammed in at super-speeds, and you get the feeling that writer Geoff Johns really is a Flash super-fan from back in the day. But to an outsider, someone who wasn’t around to read the original adventures of Barry Allen, it’s hard to get invested in all the excess stuff, which feels like all flash and no substance (pardon the pun).
It is only once all that is cleared out, and you get to your central conflict between Flash and Zoom or the one-on-ones with Flash’s love interest Iris West – the points where there’s emotion, exposition, character building – that you can really get invested in Barry Allen as a hero.
ie, not the points where it’s just a flurry of colours and super-speed and random characters who all seemingly have the same shtick (I know they don’t, and there’s more to them all than Super-Speed, but you won’t get much of that from reading this comic alone).
The art’s good though. Sciver does well in depicting all the madness and mayhem that’s contained in these pages, and there are some cool trippy visuals when the Speed Force is involved, so that’s something.