The Flash: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic Book) Review

You may remember I went a little goo-goo for DC Universe: Rebirth #1.  I’m very happy to say that The Flash: Rebirth #1 is a can’t-miss connection to that seminal issue.

The first several pages establish Barry Allen’s character and background in case anyone is new to the title.  But then Wally West appears exactly as it happened in DC Universe: Rebirth #1, and it prolongs that moment, makes it even more emotionally resonant, and provides direction for both Wally and Barry.  Then, unbelievably, it goes even a step further and takes Flash into the Batcave to discuss that yellow pin Batman found.  I won’t spoiler any of the actual conversation, but this issue absolutely seems pivotal to the imminent conflict I personally cannot wait to witness.

So from a plot standpoint, this issue is extremely important to where Barry, Wally, and even the DC Universe is headed.  In that regard, I deem it required reading.

I also want to note, though, that The Flash is one of my all-time favorite heroes, and I have to say I much prefer Wally over Barry because I grew up alongside Wally West.  (Again, check out my ecstatic raving …)  However, this issue features the most likable and identifiable Barry Allen I’ve seen since the New 52’s inception.  Joshua Williamson seems to have a great handle on Barry’s persona and, let’s face it, Barry is so much better with Wally by his side.  Like Superman, Barry has always struck me as a father figure, a pure hero.  He is at his best when he is caring for those closest to him, and he needs those closest to him present in order to shine.  I absolutely believe Wally and Barry can share the Flash mantel.  They’ve done it before after Barry’s initial return … they can do it again.

I enjoyed Carmine Di Giandomenico’s art, but it definitely benefited from Ivan Plascencia’s colors.   This is a supreme case of the coloring making the art standout.  They both work together to denote forward movement, fluidity, and ultimately speed.  They are a good team for this character.

Quite honestly, I think this is my favorite Flash comic since the New 52.  It’s got heart, soul, and it seems to be filled with crucial plot points.

DC Universe: Rebirth #1 – A Longer Than Intended Reaction

I’ll be honest with you, when I first heard about DC Universe: Rebirth, I didn’t think much of it. I’m 39 and I’ve read DC comics since about the age of 3.  I’ve always loved my Super Friends, but yet another “event” failed to engage my interest this time around.

That is, until DC executed a masterful stroke of marketing – they spoiled the book’s biggest revelation.  Believe it or not, that spoiler is what drew me into the comic book shop today for the first time in over a year.

From this moment on, I will discuss the book as though you’ve read it.  If you’ve (somehow) managed to avoid spoilers and have yet to pick up your copy, turn back now!

Last chance.

Final warning.

I’m serious.

Okay, you’re still here.

Wally West.

Or, as I like to call him, The Flash.

Allow me a brief aside.  As a  7 year old, I felt sure Barry Allen was THE Flash.  When Kid Flash took over the the mantle, I felt cheated.  Yes, even then, my comic book rage was fully developed.  They portrayed Wally as a selfish, immature, horn dog.  But then a funny thing happened.  Wally and I started growing up together.  When I reached high school, Wally realized his full potential under the guidance of Mark Waid.  I watched Wally accept his legacy and role as Barry Allen’s successor.  As I sought to discover my own identity, I cheered as Wally overcame his own doubts and achieved both the respect and friendship of the entire DC Universe.  He became the heart and soul of the JLA, the moral compass of the super hero community, and the guy everyone came to for advice.  I marveled at how a fictional character could go through such growing pains even as I endured similar dilemmas.  He inspired me to make peace with myself, to accept myself, and to realize that I have to believe in myself before I can expect anyone else to do so.

I walked away from comic books in my early 20s, but, of course, Wally reached across the multiverse and invited me back in after only  a few years’ hiatus.  This time he had to learn not just how to love himself but how to love someone else.  I don’t mean just love, I mean truly LOVE.  Geoff Johns gave us a Wally West who gave himself, all of himself, to Linda Park.  Interestingly enough, this story line occurred as I myself got engaged and married.  Just as Wally discovered true love and devotion, real loyalty and humility, I also underwent such change.  Both of us became better men as a result.

My God … I never realized until now just how much I identify with Wally West.  I mean, I knew I did, just not to this extent.  Wow.

Time progressed, and Wally took the final step – fatherhood.  Guess what?  Yep, I’m a dad, too.

Things happened, Bart Allen (aka Impulse/Kid Flash) took over the mantel, Wally returned with Linda and the kids – I loved it.  Here’s my favorite super hero and he’s also a husband and dad!  I literally grew up with this character and enjoyed the same milestones!

When I heard they were bringing Barry back, I felt nervous.  I understood why, I just hoped Wally wouldn’t be tossed aside.  Of course, Geoff Johns did the honors in The Flash: Rebirth, and he gave me exactly what I wanted.  There is a fantastic spread of Wally running alongside Barry, both in a Flash costume, along with the entire Flash Family.  Even Wally’s kids had costumes and were sprinting by their side!  It seemed a new age arrived, one that would be better than ever!  Love, family, legacy – it was all there.

But then Flashpoint arrived.  Long story short, Barry ran back in time, saved his mom, and when he returned to the present, things had changed.  Lois and Clark were no longer married, nor were Barry Allen and Iris West, Green Arrow and Black Canary didn’t even know each other, Wonder Woman was the daughter of Zeus, and Cyborg was a full member of the JLA and had never been in the Teen Titans. In fact, the classic Titans seemed to have not existed at all.  And, there was no trace of Wally West.  No one even mentioned him. A Wally West eventually appeared in The Flash comic, but this was a young African-American man who, while interesting and full of potential, was not the Wally West I’d grown up with.

Of course, this new direction had its ups and downs.  But as years went by, Wally stayed away, and no one really understood why.

Jeeze.  This has been the longest build up ever.  If you’re still reading … thanks for sticking with me.

So the spoiler I mentioned, the one that brought me back into the comic book shop?  My Wally West hugging Barry Allen with Barry saying, “How could I ever forget you?”  Geesh.  I’m tearing up just writing it.  I’m such a sap.

You got me DC; I had to know.  I had to know where Wally had been and what his return had in store for the DC Universe.

This book initiated a change in direction I didn’t even know I wanted, and it’s all thanks to the heart and soul of the DCU – Wally West.

Wally narrates the book.  He’s stuck in the Speed Force.  (This is not the first time he’s been in such a predicament.  I think it’s not even the tenth!  Surely it won’t be the last.)  He’s being held back against his will, but he doesn’t know why or by whom.

Wally needs a tether.  He needs someone to connect with and pull him out of the Speed Force.  He visits several people, all who fail to help him, but those visits set up fascinating plot devices for the future.  He even visits Linda Park, thinking that, like so many times before, she would be his anchor.  It’s a heartbreaking moment, yet not one without hope for days to come.

It’s only fitting that it’s Barry, Wally’s hero, who finally saves him.  Wally appears before Barry, says he’s made peace with dying, tells Barry he loves him, says his goodbyes, and then begins to disintegrate.  Barry, not fully understanding, takes a leap of faith, believes in hope, and reaches for Wally’s hand.  Wally is saved.  And then they remember everything.

Geoff Johns wrote this book, and you can rest assured that his one moment is the mission statement of Rebirth.  It’s incredibly symbolic, perhaps even a metaphor, and it completely won me over.

In the middle of the 1980s, a few books came out that changed the industry.  Interestingly enough, several of them were released by DC Comics.  The Dark Knight Returns was one such book.  The other was Watchmen.  Neither were considered part of “continuity,” but the gritty, adult, psychological approach won fans over and ushered in what some call The Dark Age of comics.  Of course, it devolved over the years into sheer violence without the benefit of intelligent storytelling, then moved into crazy “extreme” versions of characters.   Hal Jordan went nuts and killed the Green Lantern Corps.  Superman suffered death by Doomsday.  Bane broke Batman’s back.  It eventually ran it’s course, and some of these stories were well executed and have withstood the test of time, but several characters were never fully restored to the core of what made them heroes to begin with.

In 2010, after Flashpoint, the DCU wasn’t quite as dark or extreme as it had been, but it seemed to be missing something.  Wally pointed this something out rather poignantly.  What was this “something?”  Love.  Real love.  Family love.  Friend love.  The kind of love that grows over time and bonds people from one generation to the next.  With the New 52, DC abandoned the very thing that made it unique – love, and the legacy that consequently results from it.

In this book we see the pre-New 52 Lois with Clark with their son – love.  We see Ryan Choi working with Ray Palmer – legacy.  We see a meaningful glance between Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance – love.  We see Jaime Reyes side by side with Ted Kord – legacy.  We see Arthur Curry proposing to Mera – love.  We see the other Wally West living up to the name “Kid Flash” – legacy.  We see classic versions of Dr. Fate and Johnny Thunder – legacy.  We see the classic Legion flight ring – legacy.

And just in case Johns hasn’t made it apparent, he kills off Pandora, the driving character of the New 52.  And who kills her?  All indications point to Dr. Manhattan of Watchmen fame.

Mind.

Blown.

Never in a million years did I think DC would go there.

Oh, they went there.

Imagine.  The heart and soul of the DCU has been held prisoner by the harbinger of the Dark Age.  From a story telling perspective, it makes perfect sense.  The DCU is a multiverse, we all understood Watchmen existed in that multiverse somewhere, but I personally never dreamed they would finally integrate members of Watchmen into the mainstream DCU.

Can this renewed direction of love, legacy, and hope start off any better than by having the heroes battle the one character who most perfectly encapsulates the antithesis of those things?  This is a bold step by both Johns and DCU, and I applaud them for taking a pretty big chance.  Watchmen is a seminal work and the author, Alan Moore, has made it explicitly clear he does NOT want his creations mucked with.  Oftentimes publishers purport that a story will “change everything!”  In this case, it’s true.  This has literally never been done.

How fitting that Wally West is leading this charge into a new era.

Earth 2: The Dark Age by Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott

If you’re unfamiliar with the DC Universe, Earth 2 is a parallel Earth, one similar to our own in many respects, but different in many others.  DC has employed this parallel universe concept for decades, currently claiming that their are 52 parallel Earths within the DC multiverse.

Once upon a time, Earth 2 existed during WWII and the original incarnations of modern day heroes, such as The Flash and Green Lantern, were still very much active.  From time to time, these heroes would travel to Earth 1, for all intents and purposes, our contemporary Earth.  It proved an opportunity to keep long revered versions of characters around while still focusing on modern incarnations – and it offered some great plot possibilities.  As a kid, I loved it when Earth 2’s Justice Society of America would crossover with Earth 1’s Justice League of America.

A few years ago, DC brought the Earth 2 concept back, but instead of it existing during WWII, it is a world where Darkseid invaded and destroyed much of the planet.  Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman died protecting that world, and now new heroes have emerged, heroes such as Jay Garrick and Alan Scott.  And though these were the original men to bear the mantles of The Flash and Green Lantern in the early 1940s, they have very much been updated and have little in common with their previous versions.  They are young, they are different, and they took some getting used to, but I have grown to appreciate them.

In this forth volume, The Dark Age, new series writer Tom Taylor pushes down on the accelerator and never lets up!  I picked this volume up at the library and meant to read a few pages before bed.  Before I knew it, I’d read the whole book (and stayed up later than intended).  It’s so good, I could not put it down.

For some reason, Superman, previously thought dead, is now in service to Darkseid and destroying anything and anyone getting in his way.  A new Batman has also arisen, more violent than his predecessor, but very much against the evils of Darkseid.  Dr. Fate, the Flash, Hawkgirl, and Sandman are still fighting hard, but now we’re introduced to a new Red Tornado, a queen of Atlantis, Jimmy Olson, and an alien that may turn the tide against the evil Superman.

The beautiful thing about Earth 2 is that it is not trapped in the endless cycle of its characters’ counterparts.  On Earth 2, anything goes, and Tom Taylor has taken full advantage of that fact.  Our heroes are pummeled throughout most of this book with nonstop action, yet Taylor still builds a captivating plot and introduces new mysteries.  Truly, this is one of the most exciting super hero books I’ve read in quite a while.

As always, Nicola Scott’s pencil’s are exquisite.  She uses clean lines, dynamic angles, and fluid pacing.  Furthermore, at one point Barry Kitson helps out with the pencils, and the transition is nearly seamless.  I’ve followed Kitson’s work since the mid-1990s, and he’s never been better!

One thing that drives me away from mainstream super hero comic books, especially those by DC or Marvel, is that no matter how much things change, they will always stay the same.  It’s a necessity to the serialized business.  Parallel universes give publishers and creators the chance to really cut loose and provide unpredictable stories.  Earth 2 is a prime example of how such stories can be successfully executed, and The Dark Age is my favorite installment to date.

 

 

The Flash’s Second Wind

Earlier this month, I bemoaned the fact that I thought The Flash television show began to stale.  I said that the episodes were beginning to feel too formulaic and did not provide enough depth to the main character, Barry Allen.  Other than Eddie Thawne and Dr. Harrison Wells, I didn’t find any of The Flash’s characters particularly interesting.  (Though for the record, I find Tom Cavanagh and Jesse L. Martin by far the best actors on the show.)

I’m happy to report that last night The Flash hit its stride again and matched the action, emotion, and charisma of its premier episode.  The man in yellow, or the Reverse-Flash as comic book aficionados refer to him, brought a whole new element to the show.  Seeing Flash battle one of his greatest enemies with excellent special effects was a true joy.  Plus, they brought the perfect level of creepiness to Reverse-Flash, especially by keeping him in a constant blur with those glowing eyes.

For a life-long fan of The Flash, last night’s episode satisfied on every level.  I like that they finally pushed Barry’s love for Iris in a new direction, that Ronnie Raymond is back and very cool as Firestorm, that Caitlin Snow is rounding out a bit, and that Eddie may have a developing problem with Barry that could become very serious in the future.  I love that they made Firestorm look cool, and that when he flew, it felt more like an ignition than anything.  But, the big moment, the huge reveal at the very end, that was what made me jump out of my seat.  I had my suspicions as to the man in yellow’s true identity, as I’m sure you did, too, but it’s a whole new game when it’s laid right out there.

Of course, I don’t think it’s completely cut and dried.  But now The Flash has a much-needed new layer of complexity, and there are myriad directions for this plot twist to take.  I can’t wait to see how the man in the yellow suit story plays out, what they do with Ronnie and Caitlin, and what the new dynamic is between Iris and Barry.

The Flash picked the perfect time to catch its second wind.

The Flash Versus Arrow

I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Arrow when it first arrived on the CW a few years ago.  Don’t misunderstand – I love the character Green Arrow, but I wasn’t much of a CW guy.  (I thought I was too old for the station.)  The show didn’t strike me as perfect, but it got a lot of things right, particularly the way it continuously built upon its own mythos.  The flashbacks, the twists, the sheer angst – it hooked me.

Because of Arrow’s success, I felt positively giddy when Barry Allen appeared on the show and then nearly passed out when they announced a Flash series.  I have loved the Flash character for as long as I can remember.  And though I’m really more of a Wally West guy, Barry Allen was my first Flash in the early Eighties.

The Flash’s premier hit all the right chords.  It was a home run.  Since then, though, it’s fallen a little flat for me.  It’s still my favorite show, don’t get me wrong, but it definitely seems a bit inert and even formulaic to a fault.  All of the actors are terribly charismatic, especially Grant Gustin, but they aren’t being given much to work with.  Other than the scenes between Barry and his father, emotionally speaking, I’m not all that invested.

Seeing Arrow on The Flash drove this point home even more.  Watching Oliver and Diggle interact with Barry, Joe, Cisco, and Caitlin helped me realize that other than Dr. Wells, the Flash’s cast doesn’t have much depth.  Not like Arrow’s.  Granted, The Flash is just starting, but Arrow had already established a deep mythology with the Island by this time in it’s first season.  We had the Queens, the Merlyns, Diggle, the Lances – an assortment of characters each with their own problems to overcome.

Truthfully, I don’t want The Flash to be as dark as Arrow, or as violent.  I like Flash as a hero the people can look up to, a positive force of light.  At the same time, though, I really don’t know any more about Barry Allen than I did in the premier, and I get no sense there is more to Barry Allen.  I think it’s fascinating that the two characters I’m most interested in, Dr. Wells and Eddie Thawne, appear to be the greatest threats to Barry.

I have no doubt Arrow will continue to be excellent – last season’s Deathstroke story line absolutely satisfied.  I also believe The Flash will find it’s way, I just didn’t expect it to stumble after such a strong start.  But, when it finally finds it’s footing, I’ll be cheering the loudest.

The Flash: Rogues Revolution (Volume 2) by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato – A Book Review

I love the Flash.  I’ve loved the Flash since childhood.  I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: I especially loved Mark Waid and Geoff Johns’ runs on the Flash. I loved Barry, then I loved Wally, and then I loved Barry again (and I’m anxiously awaiting Wally’s return).

The New 52 felt unnecessary when it came to the Flash.  After all, Barry Allen had only recently returned to the role and Geoff Johns went to a lot of trouble to adapt the Flash’s world to accommodate Wally, Jay, and Barry.  But, even with that said, I didn’t mind the (sort of) reboot.  Comics are a perpetual medium, and companies must freshen things up as a whole every so often.

I’m telling you all of this because I like the Flash.  I really like the Flash.  I want to like the Flash.  And while I love The New 52 Flash’s art and its dedication to interesting layouts and an unrelenting sense of forward momentum, I can’t help but feel the stories are a step behind.

For me, and this is only my opinion, this volume of The Flash feel frenetic, and that’s good when it comes to art depicting the Fastest Man Alive, but not helpful when it comes to coherence.  The plots are rushed, the characterization is spotty (Barry’s a bartender now?), and the dialogue … Well, that’s one of my main sticking points.  The dialogue is clunky.  I really hate to criticize, but all of the characters’ sounded the same to me.  I did not get a sense of a distinct personality from any of them.

Finally, granting the Rogues super powers is another step in the wrong direction.  I believe part of the Rogues’ charm was their ridiculous technology.  Next to Batman, Flash has some of the best villains out there, but unlike the Batman, they were really just crooks with some nifty gadgets.  Did anyone ever really think they stood a chance against a man who can move in the blink of an eye?  Johns did a wonderful job of conveying this irony during his first run on the title.  I understand the intent may be to make them more of a challenge to the Flash, but giving them super powers isn’t the way to achieve it.  I would instead have perhaps amped up their equipment, given it a more modern touch somehow, or, perhaps, rounded out their characterization.  Again, between Waid and Johns, it would be hard to add more depth to them, but simply giving them powers seems too easy and, ultimately, boring.

Now, I admit that I could be wrong.  Perhaps there is a master plan in the works here, maybe I’m jumping the gun a bit.  Perhaps Manapul and Buccellato are playing the long game, and what seems haphazard and disjointed will ultimately be a complex, interwoven tale that satisfies.  As of right now, though, I’m hesitant to believe this is the case.

Will I keep buying The Flash?  Probably, because I love the character, the art is some of the best in the industry, and, from what I hear, creative changes are looming.  I’ve followed this character since the early 80s and I see no reason to stop now, even if the actual storytelling isn’t my cup of tea at the moment.

The Flash: Lightning In a Bottle – A Graphic Novel Review

Yeah … so … um, I swear I’ve been meaning to write a review of this collection for about a month now, and just when I sat down yesterday to write it, well, we got some news about Bart Allen and The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive Issue #13. I promise you, the recent news did not alter my thoughts on this work whatsoever.

When this new series began, I honestly didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why they ended one of my all-time favorite runs with Geoff Johns’ Wally West as the Flash. What initially put Wally on the path to greatness, after a bit of a rocky start, was Mark Waid’s fun and fanciful writing, and Johns just kept that sprint moving.
So, even though I didn’t understand why they were relieving Wally of his duties, I also didn’t get very upset about it. After all, Wally was once Kid Flash, and he had to step into Barry Allen’s boots, and, though it took many years, he eventually became a top-tier character in terms of roundedness and dynamic. I didn’t see the point in tossing Wally aside, but I also had faith that Bart would come into his own one day. I love the character of the Flash, no matter who’s in the mask, so I was going to stick with it.

Oh, but the fanboys cried havoc! I kept hearing the news series was terrible; Bilson and Demeo, the new writers, didn’t have a clue what they were doing. Blah, blah, blah. As is my habit, I waited for the trade.

Guess what folks? It’s not bad.

Granted, it’s not up to the level of Geoff Johns’ or Mark Waid’s run, but those guys are seasoned all-stars. I thought it was a nice intro to a new series with some interesting plot points, art ranging from the very good to the serviceable, and while Bart wasn’t as fun as he use to be as Impulse, or, to a lesser degree, Kid Flash, he also seemed to bring an interesting perspective to the character that I felt would be interesting to follow.

Did I like Bart as much as Wally? No, but once upon a time I didn’t like Wally as much as Barry, and that changed in the early nineties when I was in high school. Bart had been around for a long time, I felt fairly confident he would come into his own and the writers would get into a groove with who they wanted him to be and where they wanted to take him.

Well, if you’ve heard the news, it’s all a moot point. I don’t want to give anything away, but the second volume of this series will be the last. I’m looking forward to reading it, and, with the news of Mark Waid returning to a Flash book picking up where the other series left off, I’m fairly stoked to read those, too.

But, don’t let the disgruntled readers fool you. Lightning In a Bottle is not bad and, if you’re a Flash fan, despite who’s wearing the uniform, I think you’ll enjoy it.