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: