Monday, June 15, 2009

Rearview Mirrors (DC)
Where: Flash: Rebirth #3 When: August 2009
Why: Geoff Johns How: Ethan Van Sciver

Strength: Superman 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Flash 5 (Professor)
Speed: Flash 7 (Lightspeed)
Stamina: Flash 6 (Generator)
Agility: Superman 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting: Draw 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Superman 5 (Lasers)

Math: Superman
Ranking: Superman (#5)

In 2009, the DC deck has been stacked so totally, they've practically trampled on their own feet week-to-week with a rapidfire succession of pseudo-event release that are defining the various corners of their universe!
Batman: Reborn has already successfully reinvigorated the IP with Dick Grayson's ascension to the titular role; while the Green Lantern books have been an event unto themselves, with the War of Light playing prelude to the company's summer blockbuster event (two years in the making) -- Blackest Night!

With events like those, you'd be forgiven for being a little short sighted, but you would be doing yourself an absolute disservice if you were to allow yourself to forget the first major mini to launch DC's event season -- Flash: Rebirth.

It began with Grant Morrison's universe-spanning epic, Final Crisis, but the return of Barry Allen after a twenty-two year absence has really only taken hold in the pages of Geoff Johns' considered reintroduction of the Silver Age's definitive Scarlet Speedster.

If you're a regular Infinite Wars reader, you know that the series, despite being uncharacteristically restrained, has delivered enough action to allow us -- The Comic Book Fight Club -- the chance to talk about all the first two issues [Flash: Rebirth #1, #2] and even include the first in our mid-year DC recap [Cover to Cover].

This is exceptional because the series really hasn't been about the mindless fisticuffs superheroes are prone to finding themselves in. Rather, the series provides a deeply introspective look at a character who once rivalled Batman and Superman for significances, but an entire generation of readers will have only a passing knowledge of.

I've been somewhat puzzled by how inoffensive the return of the legendarily self-sacrificing character has been. Though the overlap between our lives was brief; a childhood of back issues ensured Barry Allen stood firm as 'my' Flash, even if I was whole heartedly accepting of the then-contemporary Wally West character.

On the page, Barry Allen famously sacrificed himself to save the multiverse from the machinations of the Anti-Monitor in DC's company revamping maxi-series, Crisis on Infinite Earths. Since then, the hero's sacrifice has been canonized as one of the most significant milestones in the DC Universe. It gave the hero a truly mythic aspect, which has been shared by degrees of separation with each subsequent generation of the Flash mantle. In many ways, it has been one of the most prominent examples of DC's penchant for the 'legacy' model of transition.

So, you can see, how it might be disappointing to have this significant moment lessened by a revamp that takes away from the character's defining story. Yet, under the subdued direction of current DC architect, [Geoff] Johns, it has been as if accepting a matter-of-fact to welcome back the "original" Flash, even at the displacement of a beleaguered Wally West.

Death has taken on a hollow meaning in the world of superhero comics.
Where once the cliffhanger question of a hero's survival was bread and butter to writers looking to wrap-up a story with a hint of mystery, the increasingly visceral (and hyper-realistic) nature of the medium has seen an awkward compromise between the conventions of the genre and demands of modern audiences.

In recent years DC has slaughtered some of it's most beloved characters, all in the name of telling a story, or in lesser examples, driving sales. Few examples, even of the most significant characters' deaths, have come remotely close to holding the power of Barry Allen's conceptually epic, if vague, 1986 demise.

In many cases, hereoes have found their way back to the land of the living through a convoluted series of circumstances, usually contrived for the simple duty of undoing what should never have been done.

I'm a firm believer in accepting the decisions made within any given canon, and expect careful consideration to go into them so as to avoid disrespecting the continuity and versimiltude of a fictional universe out of regret. It's a hard line approach that's been terribly obscured over the years, in part, possibly, due to the regular cycle of comics publishing creating confusion through volume (that novelists do not suffer), but also possibly due to a new generation imposing vocal stupidity and laziness on a medium struggling to stay alive, and keen to pander to the ignorant.

That said -- I'm not so stubborn that I can't be persuaded to make exceptions, which brings me back to the unsettling calm Barry Allen's return has inspired.

Perhaps it's the fact that we've had a long time to get used to the idea of the return, from announcement, to 2008 appearances in Final Crisis, to Rebirth. Or, alternatively, maybe it's the plausibility afforded by the pseudo-science of the Speed Force and the role it played in allowing Allen to outrun death. Either way, it's a move that seems very easy to accept as we move forward in the DCU.

The third issue finds our hero where we left him last, suffering a transformation into the dreaded Black Flash -- grim reaper to speedsters. It's a fact that feels as if it's all part of a tour through the Flash mythology, connecting new readers with a volley of references to the Speed Force, while no doubt also elaborating further on the circumstances of Barry Allen's "return" from death.

After the disintergration of Lady Flash in the last issue, the heroes of the DCU have flocked to help contain Allen's increasingly erratic (and deadly) energies. It's a chance to connect with the character's alienated perspective as he notes those he recognises, those who've changed, and those he has no knowledge of.

The Hal Jordan relationship is obviously going to be a major one as Johns juggles his work on both, but the (Black) Flash's containment serves up much anticipated interaction between he and Wally West, Bart Allen [Kid Flash], and Iris Allen.
A throughline of flashbacks lends credence to the humanity of the character, and specifically his relationship with his wife, by retelling some of Allen's pre-hero history. By interrupting the flow of action in the present, these scenes do have a way of feeling plodding, but such explicit humanity will do well to induct those confused readers who've absorbed the absurd theory that DC characters are "less human" than their marketted Marvel counterparts.

Red lightning and extending black talons signal the Flash's growing instability and demand Green Lantern get him away from those most vulnerable to his lethal touch. The Justice League's most senior members (Superman, Wonder Woman) escort the duo, but Flash opts for a familiar sacrifice of himself to save others.

Allen vibrates out of Green Lantern's containment construct and goes on the run, fully intending to return to the Speed Force for a final time. He finds himself, however, pursued by Superman, whose phenomenal inherent speed allows him to represent those devoted to keeping Allen among the living (without fear of speed force consumption by the Black Flash).

The Man of Steel stubbornly takes chase, debating the importance of the Silver Age Flash while the speedster outruns his dark powers. Allen continues a tone of negativity in perceiving his return. It's difficult to know if it's out-of-character, or just a reasonable response to coming back from the dead.

IMAGE EDITED FROM PRINTED VERSIONThe race between the pair -- something that feels like another reference to key Flash mythology -- ends with the utterance of a simple revelation that refers to those famous tales of competition between the pair of heroes: "I've raced you before, Barry. I even won some of those races." "Those were for charity, Clark."

Strictly speaking, you might have noticed that this isn't exactly a fight, per se.
It's the second time we've made a concession for a Superman/Flash race [the first being Flash #209, another Geoff Johns book]. I would argue the combative undertone of both instances justifies their inclusion, even if resolutions were sought through non-violent means. Hopefully you Infinite Wars enthusiasts will just accept that it's really cool to have the two race -- especially when the Flash wins. I mean, come on. Being fast is his thing! Superman can't win!

Not that Superman's made to look like a chump...!

Like so much of Geoff Johns' work, there's a nostalgic cool and reverence for the characters that seems ironically contradictory, given that this is a series about bringing Barry Allen back from a significant death. I'm sure introducing new readers, and reminding old ones, of the list of things that make the Flash great was given some consideration in the creation of the book, but I doubt that it's as literal a list as it might potentially be speculated.

The book treads a wonderful line between playing to the strengths of reverence and the referencial nature of bringing the character back from a past, while also being very contemporary in it's presentation and structure. As slow as the script feels, the artwork of Ethan Van Sciver (and Brian Miller, colorist) bursts off the page with kinetic energy!

Flash's return to the Speed Force is a particular treat, reminding me of scenes from one of my emotional favourites, the 1988 Secret Origins Annual, which ultimately told the tale of Barry Allen's origin and death as a cyclical revolution.

The return of Eobard Thawne [aka; Reverse-Flash, aka; Professor Zoom] is an unsurprising conclusion to the issue, but I don't think solid consistency is something to fault the series for. That said, with the villain's arrival so early in the piece, I'm very interested to see what the latter half of the extended six-issue series is really about. I suspect we're in store for something that dances the line between a finite tale, and a preview for the relaunched Flash series.

I suspect we'll get a chance to share the answers together with subsequent issues of the mini. To the landscape of Season 2009 of Infinite Wars competition, Barry Allen really has been the stand-out character. It might be nice to add a bit of history by revisiting the Secret Origins Annual I mentioned, as well.

The Fight: 3.5 The Issue: 5
Winner: Flash

Flash: Rebirth is a six issue mini-series currently being released monthly by DC Comics! Multiple printings of issues should be available at local comics stores, but you can pre-order the entire tale in a collected format for convenience! By using purchase links provided, you help sponsor future entries on the Infinite Wars. You can find many more releases in our Online Gift Shoppe, collecting almost all the issues reviewed in our Secret Archive! Among the stories you'll find, Green Lantern: Rebirth and Final Crisis, so be sure to browse to see what you can find!

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