Thursday, April 02, 2009

Flash Rebirth

I've just read the most important superhero comic book in the last 20 years.

Obviously, I'm discussing Flash Rebirth.

Central City. Really, the opening panel is all I needed. The skyline is much too long. The buildings are too tall. The buildings are too thin. All their lights are always on. In other words, it's perfect and looks exactly like Central City should. Delightfully, this panel and the other panel of the unnamed river that separates Central City and Keystone perfectly depict the two cities. Keystone is short, industrial city with factories (as indicated by smokestacks) along the river. Central City is ... well, you know what Central City is like.

Not only is the look of Central City firmly re-established, but its character is being fleshed out. In Central City, people are in a hurry, pressed for time, all about speed; this make the Flash the perfect hero for them. It also reinforces that Barry Allen -- the slow, methodical police scientist-- is their perfect 'anti-hero'. And the death of the scrupulous lab cop in the opening scene reminds us of that.

The Opening Scene Narrator. Well. THAT wasn't exactly what I expected.... and I'm glad. This negative re-creation of Barry's origin was gory, dramatic, creepy, mysterious, and yet obviously deeply rooted in the character's history somehow. I know these characteristics are what some of you hate about Geoff Johns' work; but it's what I love about it. Geoff Johns is the anti-Morrison; with John's work you don't know what's going on until it's over, when all is revealed and it makes sense, whereas with Morrison's you think you know what's going on until it's over, when it's revealed that it didn't make any sense at all.

Who/what is that in the opening scene? After lots of thought, I've come to the conclusion that... I have no idea. And that I like it that way; I don't want to wrack my 12-level comic book brain to deduce everything that's going to happen in a story like this, I just want to enjoy the ride. Whatever it is: it doesn't revere Barry and his worldview; it dresses just like him; as a foe of haste, it represents the opposite point of Central City and the Flash. Smells like the new Reverse-Flash to me, folks.

Bart Allen. Many readers will surely complain that Bart's lack of respect for his grandfather is mischaracterization. I don't mean to dismiss those feelings; I myself almost fainted when Bart referred to him as "Barry" rather than "Grandpa". Make no mistake; yes, it is a very dramatic change in the way Bart is portrayed. But, after a bit of thought, I don't think of it as "mischaracterization" but as "re-characterization". Bart's essential characterization hasn't been changed (like it was when they grew him up and made him grim 'n' gritty; that was mischaracterization). Only his attitude toward one character has been adjusted.

Shocking though it was at first, I'm okay with it for two reasons. One; it makes more sense. Bart never really knew his grandfather; heck, he never really knew his parents. Bart's father figure was Max Mercury, and I think Geoff Johns implies that Bart resents the fact that Barry came back and Max didn't. Add to that the fact that Barry's return has completely overshadowed Bart's and seems like a "demotion" of Wally, and Bart's current lack of respect for Barry makes a lot more sense than his former veneration of him.

Two, the viewpoint he now embodies is a necessary one. Quite obviously, Bart now represents 'the doubters' among the readership. Barry isn't "his Flash"; he doesn't really know Barry; he doesn't understand why people revere him and are so willing to "put aside" Wally, who's been the only Flash he's ever known. This gives the writer to "prove" to the reader that the return of Barry Allen is a good thing, rather than just positing it as a unquestioned fact. And, really, there's no other Flash character who could be given this sceptical viewpoint.

Iris Allen. Well, naturally, I'm not ever going to be happy until Iris is portrayed as the vicious ball-buster she's traditionally been, with Barry Allen being the only man perfect enough to meet her high standards. But the main thing that Johns has done with her in issue 1 is clever: like Bart, her attitude is the opposite of her traditional portrayal. It may have escaped you, because lots of younger readers don't really know Iris from the Silver Age. Iris was a pushy, nosy, in your face reporter, as we are reminded by the frames articles on her wall. To have her first words be "I'm not asking any questions" is a virtual slap in the face to wake up the reader and say, "Oh, but there are LOTS of questions that need asked, and soon". But even more confounding to my than Iris's ostriching, even more mysterious than the visitor to the crime lab is ... the dog. WTF? In Iris's house?! It's not Bart's former dog, Ivan; did Joan bring it with her? I can't imagine the Garrick's having that kind of dog. My theory is that the dog is, in fact, Iris's, but that it's stuffed and that she bought it that way. The only other possibility is that it's not hers, it's there recuperating because does neutering free as her hobby; who better?

Hal Jordan. The relationship portrayed here between Hal and Barry is all note-perfect, so I don't have a lot to say here. There are a couple of nice "comic book irony" points Johns' makes that I want to re-emphasize. For one, other than Bart and the Rogues, the only person who's not thrilled that Barry is back and accepting it unquestioningly is ... Barry himself. It's a nice irony and a clever hook for those who are still sceptical of his return; Barry, it turns out, is one of you. Also, Barry Allen and Hal Jordan are often thought of as contrasting characters (which, yes, they are, and their differences still shine in their scene together). But reminding us of their common like as policeman (terrestrial and extra-terrestrial) is a useful irony. My favorite irony is this scene is the "catching up" reference. Johns shows that world now operates at a much faster pace than it did when Barry was introduced, that speed is now more important than ever. This is the ingenious irony... The common wisdom for a decades had been "Barry Allen is dated character, his time is over, he's a symbol of the past." Johns is saying, "Barry Allen was ahead of his time, his time isn't over, his time has only now finally arrived." And, really, who could symolize modern crimefighting in the information age better than a police scientist with superspeed?

But most important, Johns has re-established the essential irony of the character. Most great characters have an essential irony. Bruce Wayne, the gazillionaire who fights muggers in alleys. Superman, the passive office schlub who can shove planets around. Wonder Woman, the ass-kicking warrior of peace and sisterhood. Hal Jordan, with a ring that can do whatever you imagine on the hand of a rock-headed moron. Barry Allen's essential irony used to be that, even though he was the fastest man alive, he had a reputation for being slow, lazy, and always late. Johns has re-established that irony with a new twist: Barry Allen, the one person who you'd think of as having all the time in the world, feels he has no time for anything, is terrified of being late, and can't afford to slow down. Suddenly, a modern person can identify with Barry Allen more than ever before; no matter how fast you are nowadays, there still never seems to be enough time.

Johns takes pains to build this essential irony into a new backstory for Barry, which naturally involves a gruesome childhood tragedy. Now, I'm sure a lot of you are rolling your eyes, and Pantha's head, over Geoff Johns' brutalization of your childhood (and Barry Allen's). And I will admit that it's all a bit familiar. One of the first things Johns did in retooling Hal Jordan's origin was to give him a Tragic Death of Parent Before Child's Eyes story as a mechanism for explaining why they character is how they are. Now he's doing it with Barry Allen (and what a story it is).

No, it's not the most original origin of all time. But it's classic, and unlike many modern writers, Geoff Johns doesn't try to pretend that he's smarter than the writers who created the likes of Batman, Superman, and Dr. Fate using just such origins.

Labels: ,


Comments:
Oh, I just found this one long streak of misery. I'm less willing to forgive what are, in fact, mischaracterisations. This man isn't recognisable as Barry, death experience or no; heck, we're told he was a man who saw the world through black and white tinted spectacles even before he was Flash. Which isn't true, Barry had compassion, and as Flash would try to rehabilitate his foes.

Iris came across as dim (and 20 years too young), Bart was a snot, Wally a rubbish dad . . . and Mopee is narrating, that's obvious ('I brought you back, Barry').

Worst of all was the retcon around Henry and Norah, a retcon which changes the man we knew Barry to be.

And count me in as one who thinks Johns gets too gruesome.

I liked the art, but is having Flash actually run on the cover passe? What IS he doing? The fastest dump alive?
 
"I've just read the most important superhero comic book in the last 20 years."

I could have sworn that was Green Lantern Rebirth #1! But then, I'm just a rock-headed moron.

I suppose being trapped in the Speed Force for 24 years can lead to some personality changes, but I thought Barry came back a little too broody/angsty. And it's a shame that, after being gone that long, Barry now has to share the spotlight with the "cast of thousands" that have cluttered up the Flash landscape since the Crisis.

Still. . .it's Barry Allen. MY Flash. And he's back.
 
Like I said over on my blog, this may be a generational thing, but I'm having some trouble with Flash: Rebirth so far.

Being twenty-six means I was barely walking when Barry died. So I'm clearly in the Bart Allen camp on this. I have hope for the story, though, precisely because Geoff Johns recognizes that there are people like me out there who have doubts.

And re: Steve's coment, I take some exception to the idea that the "cast of thousands" has "cluttered" up the Flash landscape. For me, that cast is the Flash just as Barry Allen is yours. And just like with Green Lantern we're all going to have to live with the other idea. Because I just can't see Geoff Johns doing away with it all.
 
Mart, re: cover - He's pulling on his boot.

And although it's always fun to trash a book based on one issue, I would guess that Barry Allen's story arc will be to give him a reason to be the compassionate, happy Barry. So he starts dark and confused about this new world and then lightens up.

Kind of like Howard the Duck. Except Howard the Duck never lightened up.
 
I can certainly identify with Bart's sentiments. Even though i was born in the seventies and Barry Allen was the first Flash I was exposed to, I didn't read the Flash title until Wally West was in the role. Wally West IS the Flash for me. But I'm still hoping that if Jay Garrick and Wally West co-existed as two Flashes before, the same could be true for all three of them.
 
Thanks re: the boot Joe, but please don't characterise me as having fun 'trashing' a book. I gave my reaction, then made a few comments relating to why it left me feeling down.

If you're going to say don't judge a book on one issue, say it to the people who had a more positive experience too.

And I figured out the likely 'dark to light' character arc, it's nothing new. Something new would be letting a character come back as the man he was.
 
"But I'm still hoping that if Jay Garrick and Wally West co-existed as two Flashes before, the same could be true for all three of them."

Oh, absolutely. In fact this frees Wally up to be Wally, now that he won't be burdened by having to carry on Barry's legacy. Barry can do that just fine; Wally is his own man (and a dad no less!) and doesn't have to be seen through the lens of "Barry's successor".
 
Bart did have plenty of time to get to know Barry, though. There was a virtual simulation of Barry in Bart's VR environment, plus the two years Bart spent in the Speed Force were supposedly in Barry's company.

His 'grandpa' moment in Infinite Crisis was correct with regards to his characterization; his bratty behavior in Rebirth isn't, barring some as of yet unrevealed falling out between the two.
 
Well, sir, I am coming to DC this weekend and plan on visiting your fine establishment. Perhaps you can sell me a copy of this since I haven't bought it yet.
 
Well pooh, I liked it, and I liked it a lot, and I'm glad that I'm apparently not the only person to do so.

The art was lovely, and it had Hal in it, though sadly, not Hal's behind. If only Hal had hit him up for a loan, it would have been perfect.

I also find it interesting, that Wally is simply delighted that Barry is back, interesting because of all the angst that people are suffering on Wally's behalf. The discussion amongst the Titans about their mentor's differing teaching habits was great. I can hardly wait for the next issue.
 
Diamondrock, my thought was about about keeping the focus of Flash: Rebirth on Barry Allen. I know that Wally and Bart and family and friends are not going away. But we've seen plenty of them in the past two decades, and precious little of Barry. So for the miniseries, I would have been glad to see them kept in the background. . .way in the background. . .and let Barry be up front and center throughout.
 
Ah, I understand and don't necessarily disagree. It should be Barry's story in the same way that GL: Rebirth was Hal's. But I think that at least at first they need to at least address the toher speedsters.

I'd say that the last page might indicate that the others won't be running quite as much through the rest of the series...
 
"Well, sir, I am coming to DC this weekend and plan on visiting your fine establishment. Perhaps you can sell me a copy of this since I haven't bought it yet."

Indeed we can! When will you be there? I'll try to be there at the same time. How will we recognize you?
 
"I'd say that the last page might indicate that the others won't be running quite as much through the rest of the series..."

Perhaps. But honestly, I thinking the opposite it possible...

Barry's return apparently became a conduit for the return of Savitar. Might the same phenomenon allow the return of Jonny Quick and Max Mercury?
 
"Indeed we can! When will you be there? I'll try to be there at the same time. How will we recognize you?"

I'll probably be the tallest person to come into your shop all day.
 
"Oh, absolutely. In fact this frees Wally up to be Wally, now that he won't be burdened by having to carry on Barry's legacy."

...because apparently Wally hasn't been himself all these years?
 
"If only Hal had hit him up for a loan, it would have been perfect."

I would have preferred it if while they were walking through the museum, Barry's nervous vibrations accidentally loosened a ceiling tile that would have come crashing down on Hal's head.

A yellow ceiling tile.
 
"...because apparently Wally hasn't been himself all these years?"

He's been "Barry's successor" more than you might recognize. It's been the elephant in the room, vibrating at exactly the right frequency to make it difficult to see sometimes:

- For the first eight or so years after Barry died, Wally was way slower; he only got his speed back when he realized he was subconsciously making an effort to not supplant Barry. Even after that, Wally encountered Barry a couple more times via the magic of time travel, and it was never ever a peer relationship between the two (at least from Wally's perspective).

- The Rogue's Gallery is composed of Barry's old foes.

- Wally can't go two issues of first-person narration without bringing up memories of Barry.

- Hell, Wally even wears Barry's old costume (with only the tiniest modifications).
 
I wish I could agree. But I found the characterization off. If they wanted to justify Bart being down on Barry (after years of him yearning for contact with his sainted grandfather), they should have had Barry actually DO something that disappointed Bart's expectations - not merely attribute this emotion to Bart with no convincing explanation (IMHO).

As for Barry, he has always been very family-orineted and community-oriented. Loved his wife, cared about his nephew, had close friends, was committed to his city. Everybody thought he was dead for years. Now he's going to blow off their celebrations - and their feelings - because of a deep-seated, angsty feeling that he has to do something else, even though he's not sure what? That's not very Barry.

It seems like they're taking away all the joy from the characters, on what should be a joyous occasion.
 
"It seems like they're taking away all the joy from the characters, on what should be a joyous occasion.

If it was all la-di-da joy there wouldn't be much of a story. I for one would be pretty annoyed if this was five issues of people dancing around being happy that Barry was back.

That may be what some hardcore Barry fans are interested in, but I'm in this for a good superhero story.
 
> If it was all la-di-da joy
> there wouldn't be much
> of a story.

I think that's a false dichotomy - take all the joy away from the character OR "all la-di-da joy."

I think you can have a good superhero story without the hero so absorbed by angst on his first day back that he turns his back on his family and friends.
 
Thank you for at least admitting that Wally was Barry's successor and not just the temp that DC hired while Barry was on vacation.
 
"Which isn't true, Barry had compassion, and as Flash would try to rehabilitate his foes."

Oh, really?

When?

Sometimes I wonder where exactly people are getting their impressions of what Barry was like. It seems mostly from discussions about him after he became sainted. Certainly not from his Silver Age stories...
 
A BIG THUMBS DOWN.

Why is it just a ho-hum atmosphere that Barry's back from the DEAD? Marvel & DC have overused this story so much that EVERYBODY is bored by it. The writers, the readers, hell even the characters are blaise about it all!

I would MUCH rather be reading a storyline where Barry's return is unknown to anybody, and that he spends some time trying to figure out the best way to reintroduce himself to old friends. Much more suspense that way.

Flash: Rebirth #1 is just BORING.
 
"I would MUCH rather be reading a storyline where Barry's return is unknown to anybody, and that he spends some time trying to figure out the best way to reintroduce himself to old friends."

Hm. That doesn't sound particularly exciting to me.

In fact, that sounds... rather boring. But then, I'm old-fashioned enough to read a comic for plot, action, and mystery. Like murders in the crime lab. Skull-faced mystery speedsters. Corpses in the cornfield. Superhero's powers running amok for no apparent reason. Iris's dog. Stuff like that.

One of the reasons Flash stories always bored me was because they were so SLOW. I don't want to spend time watching Barry figure anything out, I want to watch the Flash figure things out.
 
"I don't want to spend time watching Barry figure anything out, I want to watch the Flash figure things out."

Damn straight. One thing that's always worried me about "Barry coming back" is just that -- so many people seemed to focus on Barry, Barry, Barry. If Barry is coming back, I want him to be the Flash. I want a superhero story. I'm not interested in Barry running around "introducing himself to old friends." That sounds excruciating.

Luckily, Geoff Johns knows how to do a fast paced superhero story. Like you said, there's mystery villains and corpses in fields. What more could a person ask for?
 
"Thank you for at least admitting that Wally was Barry's successor and not just the temp that DC hired while Barry was on vacation."

Wally absolutely deserves credit for his history as Kid Flash and later as the Flash -- anyone who were to see him as just a temp would, in an ideal world, be institutionalized and neutered.

But he has nonetheless been filling in for Barry, and now he doesn't need to. And I'm wondering if there's an interesting trend building: we know the Flashes are going to form an ongoing legacy for a thousand years or longer, and I wonder if the Flashes are going to find themselves as the ongoing caretakers of new generations of heroes? Jay certainly cleaves to it, Barry was a natural role model. Now Wally ... Wally was a poor guide for Bart, but now that he has kids of his own and doesn't have to fill in for Barry, maybe he'll find himself taking to the role as well? I could think of worse "meta" roles for the Flashes than to usher in new generations of heroes. That's what Barry did with his first appearance, after all.
 
Not for me, I'm afraid - typical, tedious DC gore and violence. Suddenly Barry has Dexter's origin (and I don't mean Myles!)? Johns always appears to be recreating 1982 but can't seem to resist his slasher/serial killer motifs.
I also thought the cover was poorly designed; why show the Fastest Man Alive putting his shoes on? What's dynamic about that?
 
Where did I get the idea Barry cared enough about people to try and help his foes get back on the right path? Can't rightly tell you at the moment - perhaps it was Bill Loebs' Wally issue in which he attended a Rogues party (19), maybe it was the Life Story of the Flash, it could just have been a recent comment in a story (which would still make it more canonical than Barry as son of a murdered mother, which directly contradicts stuff we've seen - I read dozens of Sixties Barry stories as a kid, and read the last 110 or so as they appeared).

In the absence of a citation though, I'll cheerfully withdraw the assertion. Nevertheless, I stand by the notion that Barry Allen had compassion and didn't see criminals as simply scumbags. Anyone got evidence of that?
 
Nevertheless, I stand by the notion that Barry Allen had compassion and didn't see criminals as simply scumbags. Anyone got evidence of that?

Actually, I recall a story that may be evidence to the contrary. It was a Flash story done in one of the "Dollar Sized" (sigh; remember when that meant big?) issues of Adventure Comics. The Weather Wizard had apparently reformed and was using his weather wand to do good deeds. Barry couldn't believe it was possible for this career criminal to change and figured something must be wrong. (Which, of course, it was; sunspot activity was messing with WW's mind through his weather-wand.)
 
The problem with trying to gauge Barry's black-and-whiteitude is that his big enemies were typically incorrigible criminals -- if he doubted the Weather Wizard was suddenly changing his ways, it had everything to do with a long history of the Weather Wizard trying to kill people in the course of bank robberies.

That said, I don't think it's a stretch that a guy with a patient demeanor and police training would acknowledge shades of grey among those who break the law. And for the record, the best way to interpret Mopee is that Barry was humoring the Earth-1 Julius Schwartz through a psychotic episode, rather than locking him up or going all Joe Friday by-the-book on him.
 
Cheers Toyz, good research!
 
"Wally absolutely deserves credit for his history as Kid Flash and later as the Flash -- anyone who were to see him as just a temp would, in an ideal world, be institutionalized and neutered."

Would that be Adolf Hitler's ideal world?
 
It seemed to me that Bart was bratty about one thing--that some people come back from the Speed Force and some don't. While he may have "known" Barry from his VR youth, he truly knew Max Mercury, who was the closest thing he ever had to a father. Bart has come back somehow. Wally has come back. Even Barry has come back. But despite this pattern, Max has not, and Bart is affronted by the unfairness of it. That may sound juvenile, or bratty, but at its core is a logical question that the illogic of comics avoids--why do some people come back and some don't? (Because the writers decide!) Maybe Bart will get an answer to this or perhaps Max will come back, but I think he has every reason in the world to be a little snarky.
 
Re : Fictive Speculator

I don't think that's the core of the mischaracterization - Bart's never really been a fan of Wally. They have a failed mentor/mentee relationship. So while Bart may be miffed at Max not being back, for him to suddenly assert Wally as the true Flash over "Grandpa Barry" is downright bizarre.
 
Well, I could definitely have done without the excess of "Where's Poochie?" speeches about Barry's wonderfulness.
 
Help! I'm trapped in a loop, clicking on the link at the end of the third paragraph over and over again.
 
"Well, I could definitely have done without the excess of "Where's Poochie?" speeches about Barry's wonderfulness."

And, yet, one of the complaints people are making is, "Why wasn't this more joyous?"

Why? Because Barry is still the same serious stick in the mud he always was.
 
In fact, that sounds... rather boring. But then, I'm old-fashioned enough to read a comic for plot, action, and mystery. Like murders in the crime lab. Skull-faced mystery speedsters. Corpses in the cornfield. Superhero's powers running amok for no apparent reason. Iris's dog. Stuff like that.

I don't see how anything I posted conflicts with what you're saying.

And I'm pretty sure "mystery" is exactly what I was talking about.

One of the reasons Flash stories always bored me was because they were so SLOW. I don't want to spend time watching Barry figure anything out, I want to watch the Flash figure things out.

That's precisely why I kept getting bored with Wally's run. After Baron stopped as writer, it seemed the only time I saw Wally in costume was on the cover. Inside, one endless drama about Wally's personal life and not enough of Flash solving problems.

The only reason to bring Barry back is to FOCUS ON BARRY. I don't see these characters as nothing but costumes and powers. Maybe you do. Maybe that's what thrills you. But I'm at the point where I'm interested in the people inside the costumes. Which should not be confused with wanting to read about them out of their costumes. Nothing I suggested means it has to be done with Barry out of uniform. That was just your assumption.

I was suggesting a storyline where Barry would be CRIME FIGHTING on one hand, and trying to ease his way back into his life on the other. HEADLINE: "Trickster captured by big red blur!" And Wally knowing it wasn't him. Superman seeing TWO red blurs rushing to solve a crime, and can't figure out who that second one is (because he can't run fast enough to see his face). That sorta thing.

What we got instead was a complete skipping over of all the REALISTIC parts of coming back from the dead. Just because WE THE READER knows Barry's back shouldn't automatically mean the whole DCU knows he's back. That time will come.

Instead, we're getting the WORST of the Silver Age era... like stupid parades and junk.

I was BORED with Flash:Rebirth #1. There was no point in having a "rebirth" story if you're going to just SKIP TO THE END.
 
And, yet, one of the complaints people are making is, "Why wasn't this more joyous?"

Why? Because Barry is still the same serious stick in the mud he always was.


That's Geoff Johns's fault. There are ways to present a straightlaced person without making them humorless. The trick is that Barry needs someone with whom he confides.

For example, we've all had straightlaced bosses or teachers who were always serious and all business. But if you knew that person outside of work, you'd know that person had a sense of humor and enjoyed himself. But he didn't show it around many other people. Barry's that way. He's serious because he's in a serious business.

Johns should be using Barry's longtime friends to show that less stoic side. If he doesn't, Barry's gonna have a hard time selling books.
 
Dan the place where people couldn't believe Barry was back was in Final Crisis.

He and Wally have a conversation about how he could have come back, Jay explains that he's back to the Flash wives and even Supes is stunned when they run the Black Racer into Darkseid.

You can blame DC for putting all that in a completely different comic, but that's where it is.
 
Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link



<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?