I’m on-record as being generally against killing comic book characters. It reduces the overall number of interesting stories that can be told, and puts later creators in the unenviable position of having to rationalize resurrection to tell those interesting stories.
Barry Allen was different. Maybe it’s because my exposure to Barry Allen was rather limited; I came into mainstream comics after Crisis on Infinite Earths, and as a kid I think I read as many Johnny Quick stories as Flash ones. In any case, my Flash was Wally West, Barry Allen was dead, and the universe was better for it. The DCU had its patron saint in Barry Allen, Wally West had the father figure whose shoes he was, quite literally, trying to fill, and Barry had enough holes in his history that he could reasonably pop up when the story was big enough to call for it.
And perhaps most importantly, his absence (and idolization) was a nice way to distract from his status as the blandest man alive. I have read interesting stories using Barry Allen as a major character; I cannot think of one that wasn’t written by Mark Waid. Otherwise, he just lacked a decent hook; there wasn’t enough to his personality to hang drama or development around. Go back to Showcase #4 and you’ll see it: the man is so terminally boring that he responds to getting hit by lightning by going to a diner. Barry Allen’s only interesting aspect was in the clever ways he used his powers; otherwise, he was Ward Cleaver. As such, he’s one of few comics characters who got more interesting after he died.
The last couple of years of Flash comics have served to validate that position; Flash: Rebirth was a mess, going so far as to retcon a defining tragedy into his past to give him something approaching a personality or drive. The last volume of the series meandered around until it stumbled into Flashpoint, which meandered around until it stumbled into this relaunch.
That, added to the decision to jettison all the interesting members of the Flash family and undo Barry’s marriage, had me approaching this newest Flash with trepidation — exacerbated by having yet another artist-turned-writer at the helm, something which has not worked out so well for Batman: The Dark Knight or Detective Comics, by most accounts. Color me surprised when I say that Flash #1 is the first Flash comic I have actually enjoyed in years.
It helps that the art is gorgeous. Francis Manapul’s pencils have always been a joy to behold, but it seems like co-scripting his own work (along with Brian Buccellato, whose coloring work is stunning) has really allowed him to spread his wings. The book’s double-page title splash, which has been passed around in pencil form already, is amazing to look at, dynamic and full of detail, like something out of the best bits of Wednesday Comics. In a time when reduced page counts have made most double-page spreads feel like a lazy waste, Manapul manages to make them work.
The plot is a compelling one, drawing on its hero’s science connections in a much better way than Mister Terrific did. Over the course of a pretty fast-paced first issue, we’re introduced to some interesting-looking green technology, a scientist who looks a bit like Richard Feynman, and a CSI-flavored mystery with a sci-fi spin.
The one lingering worry for me is Barry. So far, the book has side-stepped his personality issues by surrounding him with somewhat interesting people, but it makes me wonder if the hero himself can carry the book. It’s really not a problem for this issue — for all his clean-cut, white-bread blandness, Barry comes off here as smart, witty, and self-effacing in a refreshing way. Still, I wonder if the book can keep it up — and I similarly wonder how the book will differentiate reporter Iris West from her counterpart in the Superman books, because so far I’m not seeing it. Maybe Iris is more cheery? Or maybe the reason for the break-up and the Patty Spivot relationship was so only one of DC’s leading men was dating a strong brunette reporter.
Overall, this is a strong issue, and much stronger than I would have suspected based on the last few iterations of Flash comics. I’m excited to see where the story is going, and I hope Manapul and Buccellato can keep up this momentum.
Pull List Verdict: KEEP IT
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more