Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Flash: Rebirth by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver

Ever since childhood I've always been fascinated with the Flash. There's just something appealing about the Flash as a character - or as a myth, since DC characters lend themselves more readily to operatic, iconic and mythical storytelling. Certainly the idea of instantaneous, high-speed travel has a lot to do with my childhood fascination, but there was also something else, some working class ethic and overarching sense of rightness that was present in the character of Barry Allen that wasn't in Hal Jordan, Bruce Wayne or even Clark Kent. It's that core, almost indefinable motivation of the Flash that writer Geoff Johns and artist Ethan Van Sciver have tapped into in their effort to bring Barry Allen back from the dead and back into the living pantheon of DC characters.

If you haven't followed the Flash comics for a while, you might be in for a surprise. A LOT has changed, and the introduction of a wealth of supporting characters can be daunting for new readers. Barry Allen, probably the most iconic of those who have worn the mantle of the Flash, has been "dead," inasmuch as any comic book character CAN be dead, since around 1985, when he gave his life to save the universe. Since his death, Barry's Kid Flash apprentice, Wally West, has been the Flash, and I suppose there's a generation of comic book readers out there who have known no other Flash but Wally. To add to the confusion, there is a "Golden Age" Flash (Jay Garrick) who is miraculously still around, and another Kid Flash (who WAS the Flash briefly, then was murdered, but now is back.....oh, you get the idea). With this many Flashes running around, you'd think Johns would have a heck of a time making any sort of narrative sense out of this mess. However, the opposite is true.

What writer Geoff Johns does is what so many other writers for the Flash have avoided. Rather than streamline characters, plot lines and conflicts, Johns embraces them all and in doing so creates a sort of "Flash Family" that exists around Barry Allen. There's no confusion...no muddled narrative...just a living, breathing family of characters who have more depth than you might expect. Heck, Johns even dives headlong into Barry Allen's own backstory, which has never been developed or plumbed appropriately. What he creates in Barry's past is a motivation for the character's actions, something that even DC's mythic characters need. After all, what is Bruce Wayne without his parents' murder, and what is Clark Kent without his childhood in Smallville? To this, add the unsolved murder of Barry Allen's mother and his undying love of Iris West. These are the touchstones of Barry Allen's life, and they are the kind of stuff that finally fleshes out an all-too-often two-dimensional character.

On top of all of this psychological depth lies a rollicking good action story, complete with a distinctly dangerous villain. There's melodrama a-plenty, don't you worry; it's just more sophisticated and engaging.

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