21st Oct2011

Adventures West Coast – The Flash: Rebirth

by Will

I’ve been putting this one off for some time, but there’s no better day than today to get this out. You see, earlier today, I was tweeting about how I didn’t understand the appeal of a certain guy who makes old school rap about Marvel characters. I was nowhere near as mean as you know I can get, but he still found out and decided to retweet it to his followers. Why he did this, I do not know. Maybe he wanted to rile up his army or something. In any case, I ended up getting 3 @replies from fanboys & girls who were defending his honor. Well, this led me to think back to another time I was talking trash about comic folks on Twitter.

A little over a year ago, I was talking to my good e-pals over at OAFE, and we were talking about Geoff Johns’s love of Silver Age concepts. The discussion turned to Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash, who had been “dead” in real people time (RPT) since 1986. Well, Johns was bringing Allen back to assume the mantle of The Flash, despite the fact that nobody wanted this to happen. By this point in time, everyone had pretty much settled on Wally West (Barry’s former apprentice, and current Flash) as THE Flash. I mentioned how Johns wasn’t going to stop until the current DC Universe looked like it did during the Silver Age of the 60s.

Now, I’m usually good about covering my tracks. I knew not to include Johns’s actual twittername, as I didn’t necessarily want him in this discussion. OAFE, however, had other ideas, and Johns’s username was inserted in one of the replies in our discussion. I noticed this, but thought nothing of it and went to sleep. When I woke up, I had a DM from Geoff Johns, where he said that he really wanted me to give the book a chance. He included his email address, and asked me to send him my mailing address. Well, when the Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics beckons, you answer! I quickly drafted an email, thanking him for actually appealing to me, while sheepishly backpedaling on what he’d probably read from my discussion thread. About a month later, I received a box containing The Flash: Rebirth HC, as well as signed copies of The Flash #1 & 2. A better person would’ve jumped right into these books, and changed his tune about what he’d said. I, however, am not a better person. I sent Geoff an appreciative thank you email, and then I proceeded to put the books on a shelf for the next year. After finishing up Flashpoint, and realizing that Rebirth was actually kind of the start of it all, I thought it might finally be time to check it out. So, the other night, between Family Guy and China, IL, I finally got through it.

I should’ve had a disclaimer at the beginning, but the most interesting part of the whole saga was HOW I obtained the book. The story itself, not so much. You see, while The Flash: Rebirth is a decent enough story, it relies WAY too much on prior knowledge of The Flash. This series was not written to introduce Barry Allen to a new generation of comic fans; it was written to change the minds of the current generation of Flash fans. Did I confuse you there? It’s like this: if you never gave a shit about The Flash and his franchise, this book isn’t going to change that. At all. It relies on the reader to already know who Barry Allen, Wally West, Bart Allen, Liberty Belle/Jesse Quick, Jay Garrick, and Max Mercury are. That’s a whole lotta speedsters! Plus, it makes reference to the fact that Max somehow disappeared, Liberty Belle at some point had some attachment to the speedsters, and Bart “came back” from somewhere, and I can’t remember if it’s from a trip to the future, or the time that he “died”. Then, there’s the whole matter of the Speed Force, which is where all of the speedsters draw their power. It was already as convoluted as Star Trek: The Next Generation technobabble, but then they had to throw in the idea of a Negative Speed Force. Plainly put, it is NOT a great introduction to the world of the Flash. It’s an “Everything but the kitchen sink” approach to the franchise, which isn’t great for the casual reader.

As the story starts, Barry Allen is trying to get used to how the world has changed since he’s been gone, while everyone around him is preparing to celebrate his return. Through the magic of decompression, this whole thing is told over the course of 6 issues. Basically, he runs really fast (’cause that what The Flash does), and he ends up finding a bunch of other speedsters within the Speed Force. Some good, some bad, but they all seem to die when he touches them. It turns out that it’s all the work of The Reverse Flash, or Professor Zoom, or whatever he’s called now. For the sake of clarity, we’ll call him Yellow Flash. You know he’s bad because his suit is ugly (even though the “hero” basically dresses like a hornless devil, but that’s a debate for another time). Then, through a whole bunch of flashbacks, we also deal with the fact that Barry was constantly driven by the desire to clear his father’s name for the murder of his mother. I don’t know if this is true or a retcon, as Barry died shortly after I became my parents’ happy little “surprise”. Haven’t read very many Barry stories, and that’s not a Flash Fact I’ve seen printed on Underoos and cereal boxes. In any case, he wants to solve his mom’s murder. In the present day, he gets possessed by the Negative Speed Force, making him EEEVVVIIILLL! It’s because he hates the modern world, and wants to go back to the comfort of The Speed Force. Remember in Shawshank Redemption how the dude couldn’t handle the outside world and hanged himself? Yeah, kinda like that. I’m gonna cut to the chase: Yellow Flash killed Barry’s mom. Like you didn’t see that coming. But here’s the real kicker: it turns out that Barry’s family had actually grown old and lived a long life together. Yellow Flash wanted to torment Barry, so he went back in time and killed the mom. So, the mom’s death was an in-story retcon. Mindfuckery! Yellow Flash can’t kill Barry because he needs him in order to eventually exist, but that don’t mean he can’t kill the people around Barry! In the end, Barry realizes that his wife, Iris, is his “anchor”, and he decides he wants to LIVE! The world celebrates his return, and Yellow Flash is abducted by some other Flash villain that I guess I’m supposed to know.

I’m not gonna be your typical internet fanboy and say “that fucking sucked!” Honestly, I can’t say that. All I can say is that it wasn’t written for me. I have a friend who worships at the altar of The Flash, and I’m pretty sure he might enjoy it when he gets around to reading it. I just don’t have enough history with the franchise for it to resonate with me. It’s like a giant speedster family reunion, but you really need to know about all of them to really grasp the weight of it all. I went into it thinking that the point of the miniseries was to make me care about Barry, but instead it seems to be intended to make the reader care about The Flash Legacy. This would all be well and good if they hadn’t done away with all of that in the New 52. As far as we can tell, Wally doesn’t exist, Jay doesn’t exist, Jesse & Max may not exist, and Bart is kind of a different person. We know Yellow Flash existed up to Flashpoint, as that was all his fault, but I don’t know about post-Flashpoint. So, in a lot of ways, it could also be seen as a farewell love letter to the speedsters. Whatever it was, I don’t think it was for the casual fan and, as a casual fan, it didn’t leave me with the feeling that Barry Allen was the rightful speedster to bear the mantle of The Flash. He spends most of Rebirth, telling those around him that he didn’t need to come back. You would think that would force the story to prove that he is, in fact, needed in this world, but i don’t think it accomplishes that task. Anyway, since he’s The Flash of the New 52, it’s not like we really have a choice. So, I guess I’ll have to learn to like him. In closing, it was totes awesome (I got that phrase from my pal over at The Robot’s Pajamas) for Geoff to reach out to me like he did, and I only wish the story could’ve resonated with me the way that I think he felt it would. Honestly, I think that’s what makes me feel the worst about this whole thing.