Monday, April 06, 2009

Lightning Strikes Twice (DC)
Where: Flash: Rebirth #1 When: June 2009
Why: Geoff Johns How: Ethan Van Sciver

Strength: Draw 3 (Athlete)
Intelligence: Flash 5 (Professor)
Speed: Flash 7 (Lightspeed)
Stamina: Flash 6 (Generator)
Agility: Draw 2 (Average)
Fighting: Flash 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Draw 1 (None)

Math: Flash
Ranking: Flash (#29)

Since we're trying to get out of a month's backlog of updates, I've been trying to avoid any unnecessary deviations. In the case of the return of Barry Allen, this was just too big an event to ignore during a period of week-to-week reviews!

The re-teaming of Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver on a Rebirth title was always going to draw comparisons to their 2005 project of the same name.
It would be clumsy to claim the return of Barry Allen after a twenty-plus year absence isn't a big deal, but for a hero whose death was accepted as such a concrete moment in the canon, there were far fewer questions demanding answers than when the duo resurrected fallen Green Lantern, Hal Jordan.

As icons of the changing guard from Golden to Silver Age; Flash and Green Lantern have come to share a similar meaning to the comics zeitgeist.

When Barry Allen and Hal Jordan redefined superhero identities originally held by Jay Garrick and Alan Scott, they began a tradition that embodied a differentiating philosophy between DC Comics and the House Across the Street. History would observe the 1950's revamps as permission to accept plausible change to a world where characters were free to defy the laws of time. Most recently, you know this as; Kyle Rayner, Conner Kent, Rex Tyler, Courtney Whitmore, or Jaime Reyes.

However creatively profitable the notion of legacy in superheroes has been, we can now see those ideals of succession are about to evolve.

I believe there is a distinct pattern of logic behind this new mentality steering comics, but, before we get to that, it might help to understand a few more details about the larger pieces of puzzle.

Through rumor and supposition, certain "facts" have crystallized within the comics readership.

Ever since Brad Meltzer forced the heroes of the DCU to deal with a harsh case of hyper-realism in his mini-series, Identity Crisis; discussions regarding a lightening of subject matter have come semi-regularly from both sides of the fandom. As DC wheeled out subsequent events [Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis], popular theory supposed conclusions that each story's mysteries would allow various facets of DC's past to be resurrected (such as; a segregated multiverse isolating different characters to their own universes). Considering these lingering, recycled theories have been floating around for the best part of this decade, it puts into perspective how long it's taken to really establish a sense of what any reductions in "darkness" have meant from a DCUniverse perspective.

Barry Allen's return in the pages of Final Crisis [#2], alongside other ideas and characters lost over time, finally gave theorists something tangible to hang their long running theories on. Despite the major return of Hal Jordan, Sinestro, and the Green Lanterns in 2005, it was '08's Final Crisis that provided some of the most overt connections to the already mentioned Silver Age of comics.

The "Silver Age" of comics is chiefly attributed to the post-Comics Code Authority resurgence of superheroes in the 1950s. Chiefly positioned as starting points are popular introductions like the Barry Allen Flash, and the Hal Jordan GL, whose sanitized adventures against evil helped define the period as a singular dimension culminating in the likes of, The Super Friends. Theorists presume the end of this era came with the 1970s revolution of darker, more mature elements of stories, which were channeled through characters like Conan, Morbius, Swamp Thing, and others, eventually ushering in logical conclusions of the shift, popularly defined by The Dark Knight Returns, and Watchmen.

Just as he had been a beacon for it's beginning, Barry Allen took significance at the demolition of Silver Age, famously dying in 1985's rearrangement of the DCU for a modern age, in, Crisis on Infinite Earths.

The 1990s attempt to run furiously from their Silver Age past?Is the Silver Age here again? Yes, and no.

Longtime readers of the Infinite Wars will have read enough entries like this to recognise a weaving net of references that tie works from various eras, to various periods before them. Now, in this modern age of carefully constructed and written comics, we have a great awareness of the history that defined our medium.

It would be utterly naive to say the comics of today, particularly stories like Final Crisis, or Barry Allen's return, aren't informed by the Silver Age of comics. It would be equally naive, however, to say they've turned their back on the modern conventions that have established the very comics that supposedly defy the Silver Age. Every word is as well spoken, every image as well crafted, and every plot as enfused with the intelligence of the modern era as any other.

It's not as if this recognition of the past is the death touch to "now."

After expanding the mantle of some heroes into third (and fourth) generations, the corporate requirement of maintenance has forced a rethink. While the future belongs to isolated tales and alternate realities, intelligent and informed comics have gone back to readdress and reassess decision of the past.

Similar investments are still being made in the iconography of these characters, but instead, now each iteration has proven deserving of distinction, allowing a more total sense of value to be spread amongst them. Geoff Johns is a chief proponent of this tempered approach, and certainly doesn't take any shortcuts in his introductory issue to the Rebirth of the famous Silver Age Flash.

Lapsed time takes on significant meaning for the scarlet speedster who embarks on a mission to acquaint himself with the years he lost during his supposed death. It's still unclear, even to Allen himself, how his sacrifice to save the multiverse from the treacherous Anti-Monitor has remained intact, despite his apparent survival which brought him hurtling into a world on the verge of being dominated by Darkseid and the Anti-Life Equation (in Final Crisis).

Without the burgeoning controversy of a final decline like Hal Jordan's, the Flash return simply doesn't have the loaded premise of his counterpart. It's hardly surprising, then, that the first issue of Flash: Rebirth lacks the same bombastic action of the Green Lantern mini. In place of stoked anticipation, Johns takes a brief tour through references and set-up for the series, framing the reactions of various characters, good and evil, whilst inserting some revisionist history to form context for the following issues.

Barry Allen's return quite clearly is a major element of the story.
Those unfamiliar with the character should remember to understand the plot even if they aren't immediately connecting with the lead protagonist. Circumstances behind the return are unknown to the character himself, which weighs heavily on the speedster who, despite his advanced perception, comes away with a need to squeeze every last moment of it's potential usefulness.

The plot thickens before issue's end when Savitar -- a mid-nineties Wally West villain of questionable fashion sense, and Flash-like speed -- emerges from imprisonment within the Speed Force directly infront of a blazing Barry Allen!

Aware of his nephew's clash with Savitar and his speed cult thanks to a quick dash through the Flash museum, Barry takes immediate chase!

Unconcerned with how the villain escaped, Flash pursues to Savitar's dismay. Crackling with energy Flash reaches out to the shirtless speedster, only to somehow reduce him to a withered corpse that soon fades to ashes.
With his dying breath Savitar delivers a cryptic message, "You... You were the beginning, Allen... and you're the end." Simultaneous to the villain's death is a wild disturbance that resonates throughout the speed force, quivering those touched by it's energies.

If I didn't know better, I almost would've guessed that by escaping death and it's form of the "Black Racer," Barry Allen had somehow inherited the role himself.
Clearly there is a larger plot at work. We know a mysterious figure with long grey hair (who begins the issue recreating the accident that created Flash) is responsible for Allen's return [Prof. Zoom?], and we know a skeletal Black Flash crash landed and turned to dust in field of corn in Iowa. The result of Final Crisis, a larger plot affecting the Speed Force, or perhaps a combination of both?

Apparently I'm not the person to speculate, but damned if I'm not going to enjoy the ride! As incredibly reluctant as I am about the undoing of one of comics' most significant deaths, I find the quality of story, and craft of DC's overall editorial approach, very difficult to criticise. As meaningless as death has become in pop superheroes, DC have made great use of their corporate obstinacy, finding strong plot-driven reasons to utilize it as a positive, be it through the meta-recognition of resurrections [Final Crisis: Requiem], or dramatic resurrection [Blackest Night].

As to apparent inconsistencies in the character's history -- are these the makings of harsh retcons akin to those used by Geoff Johns in revamps of lesser heroes and villains, or are there in-fiction forces at work? Other characters were given a second chance at life through the universal reboot of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Is it possible in our universe Barry Allen has lived another life? Could time travel have altered his past? I think answering these questions will be a lot of fun.

The Fight: 4 The Issue: 4
Winner: Flash

Flash: Rebirth is a five issue mini-series from DC Comics. While soft and hardcover collections will no doubt be announced soon, the series still has a long way to go. Keep your eye on shipping list updates for more information on issues, and be sure to find the single issues on shelves as they come. If you're hungry for some trade reading, you'll find Green Lantern: Rebirth, Flash editions, and other issues reviewed in the Secret Archives via our online Amazon Store. Using purchase links provided helps sponsor future entries, so may the Speed Force be with you!

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