August 26, 2009

Full Review: Flash: Rebirth #4 — “Flash Facts”

Category: Reviews — By @ 11:37 pm

Flash: Rebirth #4 Standard Cover

Well, I said I wanted this issue to knock my socks off, and Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver certainly delivered! After three issues of setup, Flash: Rebirth #4 kicks the story into high gear. Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash, stands revealed as the villain behind Barry Allen’s troubles, the mythology of the speed force expands, and everyone gets involved in a high-stakes battle for the legacy of the Flash.

The Professor is In

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Reverse Flash. Sure, there’s a reason the evil counterpart is a standard villain type. For one thing, it’s always interesting to see what a villain can do with the same powers but no scruples (as demonstrated admirably when Lex Luthor and the Flash have their minds switched in “The Great Brain Robbery” episode of Justice League Unlimited). For another, when the villain has the same powers as the hero, it cancels out the hero’s usual advantages — but the side effects of their struggle are often doubled.

The thing is, Professor Zoom always struck me as an overdone, melodramatic villain, evil or the sake of being evil — the kind who would twirl his mustache while tying Iris to the railroad tracks. Maybe that was because he never really got updated with modern storytelling the way the Rogues did, except for a single story — appropriately enough, Mark Waid’s “The Return of Barry Allen.” By contrast, I found Hunter Zolomon a much more interesting character with unusual motivations, though one who should be used sparingly. So having Zoom II taken off the playing field in Rogues’ Revenge and Zoom I brought back at the same time as his own arch-nemesis seemed, well, lazy.

This issue, however, presents a Zoom who is thoroughly menacing. Barry’s internal monologue zeroes in on the key constant in Zoom’s appearances: he’s a predatory stalker. And now he’s been reimagined as — like his opposite number — a scientist. A scientist with an obsession and no ethics committee, who has spent his life experimenting on the subject of his fixation.

Rush

There’s so much going on in this issue that the first time through I didn’t realize what a huge chunk of exposition is dropped at the beginning of the issue. For one thing, it’s interspersed with a battle. For another, despite Thawne’s academic affectations, it’s much more straight-forward than the technobabble at the beginning of the last issue.

Also: a couple of items bring home the fact that this entire miniseries (or at least what we’ve seen so far) takes place in the space of one day. The first issue established a number of celebrations and parades that were going to happen later that day — and this issue, one of the battles crashes through that parade.

I don’t think I can say much more without giving away plot points, so be warned: Spoilers after the cut.

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SPOILERS AHEAD!

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So: Zoom reveals his plan to Barry, complains that Barry didn’t do what he expected, and goes off to do the job himself — namely, killing off Barry’s extended family so that he’ll be remembered “as a monster, not a martyr.” Jay Garrick and Bart Allen battle Eobard Thawne while Wally West tries to rescue Barry Allen, and Max Mercury, and Johnny Quick (though it’s a bit too late or Johnny). Barry and Max come to an understanding about the speed force, and the three of them return to Earth as Zoom is about to kill Bart.

I was actually concerned that they’d kill off one or both of the twins, or Linda — especially when Wally ran after Barry saying, “As long as I have Linda, I’ll find my way back.” DC has a long history of killing characters shortly after their books are canceled (ask me about Hawk and Dove sometime), and of course there’s Blackest Night. And while Wally himself might not technically be expendable at this point (DC is trying to rebuild a fractured fan base, and killing him at this point would just introduce one more schism), his family is. It would provide an in-story reason for Wally to step out of the spotlight and change his costume, maybe to the more somber Dark Flash outfit that he associates with a version of himself who lost Linda…but it would also be a cliche and a cheap shot.

So for that reason, I wasn’t as thrilled as I might have otherwise been when Wally stepped up and ran into the speed force. And when Thawne invaded the West family home and prepared to kill Irey and Jai, it really was a credible threat — which made the double-page splash of Jay Garrick and Bart Allen crashing into him all the more satisfying!

There were several “Hell, yeah!” moments like that, and Ethan Van Sciver did some fantastic splash pages to drive them home. The fight between Zoom, Flash Classic, and Kid Flash, brief as it is, is one of the best Flash fight scenes I can remember reading in several years.

Another design/art element that stuck in my mind: the parallel presentation of Wally’s run into the speed force this issue with Barry’s run into the speed force last issue, as well as the page alternating Wally running into the speed force and Barry running out of it until they meet.

Rebirth #4: Alternating Speed Force

The Speed Force

The big revelation this issue is about the speed force. First, that Eobard Thawne is generating a “negative” energy to counteract it. And second, that Barry Allen generates the original speed force, which extends forward and backward in time and crosses all universes and dimensions.

On one hand, it’s a nice way of explaining how speedsters travel through time and across universes, and manages to reconcile several of the explanations given for what happened to Barry after he “died.” He merged with the speed force (“Terminal Velocity.”) He traveled back in time and became the lightning bolt that struck his past self. By merging with the speed force his awareness spread out through time and “there are no accidents.” Geoff Johns is very good at making his retcons add to existing continuity rather than contradict it.

On the other, it feels like a cheap trick to enforce the standard of the current Flash being better/faster/etc. than the rest. I understand the purpose, but the method seems…Barry Stu-ish? Imagine if in Green Lantern: Rebirth it had turned out that Hal Jordan himself created the original power battery on Oa millions of years ago, and convinced the Oans to create the Green Lantern Corps — and the central power battery actually draws its power from Hal Jordan.

And that’s the other problem: It also violates one of the key purposes of the speed force: to explain where speedsters get their energy. (The other was to unify their origins.) So Wally, Jay, Bart, etc. get their energy from the speed force, which gets it from Barry. Where does Barry get the energy?

Oh, well, it could be worse. At least they didn’t explain that the speed force was Barry, as some fans speculated. And there are two more issues in which it could turn out to be an incomplete picture. (Or it could still turn out that the speed force is Barry Allen himself, so it’s a mixed bag.)

Still, that is my biggest problem with this issue, which is a nice change. (I’m still hoping they’ll undo Nora Allen’s murder by the end of the miniseries, but it seems unlikely given the conversation in Blackest Night #0.)

Random Thoughts

In the scene in which Thawne prepares to “untangle” Jai and Iris’ connection to the speed force, he looks an awful lot like the Flash stand-in from Planetary #1 and the fall of the pulp heroes.

Professor Zoom still doesn’t remember the events of “The Return of Barry Allen,” does he? He would have recognized Linda.

I don’t think Max Mercury’s real name has ever definitively been established before. He used the name Max Crandall when he set up in Manchester Alabama to train Bart, but it was never clear whether that was his real name or an alias. Professor Zoom calls him “Maxwell,” implying that Max, at least, really is his name — or else Zoom is being excessively formal.

Is Wally still using the uniform made out of concentrated speed force? (Or as someone said, the uniform made out of “goes fast”?) I’m trying to remember what he settled on after “Ignition” (in which he used one of Barry’s old uniforms). If it is, then he should have been able to seal up the tears made by Christina in issue #2. Obviously, he didn’t so that it would be easier for the reader to tell him from Barry in costume.

I doubt it’s intentional, but the DC Nation page with the write-up of Green Lantern: First Flight, with a full-page Green Lantern charging toward the reader, is a very close match to the final splash page next to it, with a full-page Flash charging toward the reader.

Rebirth #4: Charge!

Conclusion

This is the first issue of this miniseries that has left me excited for more since, well, the first issue of the miniseries.

See also:

26 responses to “Full Review: Flash: Rebirth #4 — “Flash Facts””

  1. papa zero says:

    …and we get the inevitable shot of the heroic speedsters just as Jesse rattles off their names followed by “The Speed Force.”

  2. Kevin says:

    While I definitely like this issue more than the first three I did think it was weird how Johns explains that Barry is the speed force. It makes the Speed Force over complex as we don’t know how Barry gets his power when he is the Speed Force. Is it like the Lantern power rings where how powerful he is and how fast he can run depend on will or one of his other emotions? Or is it something else?

    Great review Kelson.
    .-= Kevin’s latest blog post: Previewing this Week’s Releases: 8/24/09 – 8/30/09 =-.

    • papa zero says:

      If they’re going to keep going to the speedforce well – I wish they would just keep it vague. Saying the idea that a multi-dimensional plane was CREATED by lightning and a number of undetermined chemicals from a crime lab is shortsighted is kind at best. We’re talking Higgs Ocean and quantum theory… this is definitely like taking a knife to a gun fight.

      Yeah, I know it’s a comic book and no one will look that deep into it… but the more they build storylines around stuff like this, the more likely those stories will become changed in the near future. If the CERN supercolider confirms existence of the Higgs-boson (coined the god partical since it is key to understanding the nature of the fabric of the universe) in the next few years – the upcoming Flash movie will at best require some changes in the script. 😛

      • Kelson says:

        Yeah, I agree that comics are usually better off leaving the mechanics of super-powers vague. It makes it easier to explain, easier to suspend disbelief, and harder to contradict.

  3. papa zero says:

    In regard to the peril the West’s faced – it was effective in establishing Thawne as menacing in the issue but the very fact that they establish all of the “loved ones” of the speedsters as lightning rods nessecitates that sometime down the road some writer will off someone if only to distinguish the heroes.

  4. Perplexio says:

    I agree that Zolomon was a more interesting Zoom than Thawne and I think bringing him back would have made things a bit more interesting. Just because he’s one of Wally’s rogues, not one of Barry’s doesn’t mean the motivation isn’t there.

    I think Zolomon could have been brought back– his motivation being that Wally is the one true Flash and in order to make Wally a better Flash he needs to somehow get Barry back out of the picture. OR Zolomon could approach Barry about using the Cosmic Treadmill to change the past– since Wally didn’t. And when Barry also turns him down that would motivate him to try to make Barry a better Flash by trying to expose him to tragedy the way he used to do with Wally. He’d then see Wally as a usurper to the mantle of the Flash and be trying to kill Wally to make sure there’s only one true Flash and to make Barry experience a tragedy that would make him an even better Flash.

    That being said– the pure evil Thawne… I see an opening for them bringing back Inertia/Kid Zoom as Thad seemed to be cut from the same cloth as Eobard (his pure hatred of Bart). And genetically speaking they are cut from the same cloth. Those two make a better pair than Zolomon and Thad did. Thad’s motivation would be to kill Bart… again (I killed you once, next time I kill you I’ll make sure you stay dead!).

    • Kelson says:

      One of the things I liked about this was that they actually alluded to the Thawne/Allen feud and Bart’s role in it. Geoff could have swept it under the rug now that he’s gotten rid of Inertia (for the moment, anyway), but instead has incorporated it into the new take on Professor Zoom.

      • papa zero says:

        One of the things I really liked about the issue is that they got Thawne right – he is a “mastermind” villain that lies in waiting with a plan even though he is one of the most powerful supervillains out there… his plan to make Barry into a monster to destory his reputation is exactly what Prof Zoom would do.

        I didn’t immediately think of Blackest Night when Thawne said he had a ressurection coming since he left it so open ended. In fact, I would think Reverse Flash is someone the Lanterns REALLY wouldn’t want to become a Black Lantern given his power.

        • Perplexio says:

          His power not to mention his intelligence. He’s smarter than many of the other super-villains too.

          Admittedly my initial comments were posted prior to reading #4. Now that I’ve read it, I must concur. WOW! I love how Thawne has been written and I hope they do figure out how to bring back Inertia/Kid Zoom as I can see Thawne viewing him as the “more pure” version of Bart (without the Allen genes polluting his gene pool).

          And what will Zoom’s take on Boomerang be?

          I also read the Batman titles and with the idea that Bruce Wayne will come back eventually there are questions as to what will happen with Dick Grayson once that happens. Back, shortly before Barry was brought back– I once read of the idea of a spin-off comic where Dick Grayson and Wally West open a detective agency together. I thought that was an interesting idea. Although I’ve got a feeling that something is going to happen to Wally to cause him to go “Dark” or at least partially dark. Not dark as in evil (a la Jason Todd going from hero to criminal) more dark as in being a bit more morally ambiguous but with similar motivations (like Tim Drake becoming Red Robin).

  5. Wally East says:

    Definitely my favorite issue so far.

    So, Eobard will be among those who rise in BN: Flash? That’s what I took from the comment about having his own resurrection because of a friend of Barry’s.

    I, too, felt as if Linda and the kids were in legitimate danger, which is unusual.
    .-= Wally East’s latest blog post: Free Ice Cream =-.

    • Kelson says:

      Yeah, I also figured Prof. Zoom meant he was coming back in Blackest Night. It’ll be interesting to see how (if) that happens…particularly since it implies that Black Lanterns really can be brought fully back to life as fans have been speculating.

  6. CM22 says:

    I pretty much spot on agree, and also it kind of presents another problem. When you start assigning qualities to the color lightning, you limit costume choices. And really that’s what they did. It wasn’t the POINT, but ultimately Yellow=Good Red=Bad. The red lightning eats at Max, corrupts Barry etc etc. Before it was just an artistic tool, red wings, red lightning. Now it’s EVIL. So what does that mean when Bart runs? Kid Flash costume is red wings, it makes no sense for it to be yellow lightning. So will Bart shoot off red lightning but still contribute to the yellow? Or is he generating evil lightning because he just happens to wear a modified version of one of the all time greatest costumes? It’s silly, and one of those things that bothers me.

    Also, the same problems with the “origin” of the speed force. Silly.

    Every single Wally page was fantastic, and a freaking testament to exactly why I love Wally West. His entire attitude, Superman and Hal tell them Barry is dead. “Yeah…. no, not gonna buy that.” Barry’s in the speed force again? No big deal. Wally will just dive in there and get him out. Does it all the time. Oh yeah, Max is there? Wally’ll get him out to, and shoot for Johnny while he’s at it. And then he just DOES IT. Geoff said it best, Wally lives to do the impossible, and every step of the way it’s fantastic.

    Barry, I’m still not caring for. And inflating his importance by making him the CENTER from which the speed force emminates really just serves to make me resent him more. Jay was the first, and Wally was the kid who wanted it so bad he EARNED being the Flash. It kind of feels like they didn’t REALLY have a reason to say that for now Barry should be THE Flash, so they’ve created this one using him as a larger focal point for the mythos.

    I’m making it sound worse than it is though, like there are tons of problems when really it’s just one. Especially when I just absolutely loved all of the other scenes and characterizations.

  7. fastest says:

    I really loved this issue. There were some more little goodies that I wanted to point out that you didn’t get to. When Irey dresses up into her costume and wants to go help in the battle, she says “I wanna leave too. I wanna be like Bart. Bart’s cool.” I think this might be the setup for our new Impulse. Irey obviously thinks highly of Bart, and with their powers becoming “untangled” in this issue, we may be looking at another speedster. And I really like that Jai and Irey would think that Bart is cool, because he totally is cool.

    There were so many dynamic moments in this issue. The 2 that stood out for me the most were when Wally was like, “f this, I’m going to get Barry. And I’m gonna get Max and Johnny too.” Then he does the get ready stance, then runs off on the next page to the speed force, obviously showing that he is one freaking awesome master Flash. It reminded me a lot of the scene in the Matrix where Neo accepted his destiny and went into the Matrix to save Morpheous.
    The second dynamic moment that I loved was when Max, Wally and Barry all returned in bolts of lightning, just at the right time. Very exciting.

    Although the Bart, Jay, Zoom fight was awesome, Bart didn’t do much in it (except for put out Jay’s fire). Rematch!

    And the scene where Barry explains that Max is Bart’s father, and Bart is Max’s lightning rod, well that almost made my cry.

    Great issue. I ended up buying 3 copies, one regular, one regular to read 1000 times untill the staples break, and the variant. Excellent issue.

    • I.Strange says:

      And the scene where Barry explains that Max is Bart’s father, and Bart is Max’s lightning rod, well that almost made my cry.

      Almost? I loved the following bit too where Max and Barry clasp arms, and then Barry and Wally. Meanwhile, Jay and Bart are protecting Wally’s family at home, ensuring they can all make it back. The team spirit in this issue was great.

      • awkwardpenguin says:

        I love how on the last page all of them are looking ahead at barry. Except for bart, he’s looking at max.

        • fastest says:

          Only “almost” made me cry cause I was in a public place. If I was reading a comic and crying, I’m pretty sure that would have been it for me.

          • Angel says:

            That did it for me as well, couldnt hold back my excitement first when Barry clasped Max’s hand I blurted out a “YES!” I think I looked at that page for a few seconds. Then when Max saves Bart at just the right moment….i’m going to read it again now. I bought two =X I want the variant now.

            And again I can’t wait for EVERYTHING thats to come, including Bart’s new book which not to jinx it, but…SHOULD include Max in it!!!!

  8. Heh. “Barry Stu” is exactly what I was thinking, too! Kind of a bold move for Johns, considering that he already gets criticism for being too rah-rah about Hal Jordan as BEST GREEN LANTERN EVER. And he’s doing “some colors are good, some colors are evil” here too? Weird.

    Anyway, without knowing the whole story yet, these latest retcons do seem to be making things a little more complex than they need to be, yeah? I always liked the vaguely semi-mystical speed force idea because a.) since the Flashes are so based in science, it’s interesting to have them to have to accept that their power comes from somewhere beyond their understanding, and b.) because no amount of science is going to remotely explain all that Flash-y stuff anyway.

    (By the way, when did *everybody* get lightning trails? I remember in “Terminal Velocity” it was just Wally who had the electrical effect, but pretty soon every speedster had it. Was there ever an in-story explanation? Because I always just assumed it was artistic license and was cool with that, but now that it seems to impact the actual narrative…)
    .-= Justin Zyduck’s latest blog post: This week on MightyGodKing… =-.

  9. I haven’t read the issue, but just going off this review, I kind of dig the idea that Barry is the starting point for the Speed Force. It pseudo-explains:

    1) Why Barry never “discovered” the Speed Force like Wally, he was the source.

    2) How Wally happened to get coincidentally struck by lightning just at the right moment in Barry’s lab. Maybe Barry made the lightning happen subconsciously? (Of course, if that’s the case, that would mean he could create a speedster whenever he wanted. Step 1: arrange chemicals, Step 2: will Speed Force lightning to strike individual.) Might also explain why Wally’s the best Speed Force tapper, if his power came directly from Barry (the source).

    Eh…over thinking aren’t it?

  10. Margaret says:

    HELL YEAHS! abound in this one. And yes, as it turns we DID have the same “oh they had better NOT!” moment.

    2 more issues. I hope they’re on time!

  11. Luke says:

    After re-reading the issue last night, I am now of the opinion that when all of this is over, Wally is going to be wearing a version of the Johnny Quick uniform. Van Sciver made a point to show the uniform in the Negative Speed Force and that’s what made me think of it.
    .-= Luke’s latest blog post: Super Powers Collection Puffy Stickers and Album =-.

  12. I.Strange says:

    Regarding the Barry Stu, I’m thinking Johns’ larger plan is to rebuild the Allen-Thawne feud. He means to have an Allen Force versus a Thawne Force. That’s why he’s killed off the evil SF users and given Barry a pivotal role; it’s not just for the validation. Something to consider…

  13. Brian says:

    HELL YEAH…The best Art and fight scenes I have scene since the 70s. Zooms after effects were great …awesome splash pages..excitement on every page. I dont like all the lighting after effects crap, but I can deal with that. Keep this guy doing all Flash stuff.

  14. Ben says:

    the line from Prof. Zoom”i’ve hurt barry in more ways than you can imagen” makes me think that he killed Barry’s mother. Just like GJ’s run Wally, i think at one point that, this will get fixed and she won’t have died.

    • Ben says:

      That could be the case, writers have trends or cliches they continue to write about in stories. The trick to writing is finding different angles on the trends or cliches to make them not get stale. Also nice to meet another Ben on this website.

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