September 30, 2011

Review: Flash #1 (The New 52)

Category: Reviews — By @ 8:45 am

I had no idea what to expect from The Flash #1. Actually, that’s not entirely true: I knew I could expect fantastic art by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, and it delivered. But I wasn’t sure what to expect from the story, the pacing, the characterization. And after five years of Flash relaunches, Wally’s disappearance, Bart’s death and rebirth, Barry’s return as Captain Angst, Wally being pushed so far off the sidelines that DC acted like they didn’t even recognize his name, and a general trend among the mainstream parts of DC moving away from the characters and stories that I wanted to read, I was beginning to wonder: Is it time to hang up the boots for a while?

Well, after reading the first issue, I can say: Today is not that day.

Some of the things I liked:

The art. This was my favorite part of last year’s Geoff Johns run, and it’s even better here. Not only does it look good, but Francis Manapul continues to experiment with layouts as well, going far beyond the standard grid-and-splash-page patterns. I particularly liked the fall from the helicopter and the page showing Barry in his apartment. And when was the last time you saw a splash page of the Flash standing still (and not posing dramatically) look so good?

With DC’s newfound emphasis on deadlines, I really hope these guys can keep on schedule!

The speed. While it’s not a headlong rush from beginning to end, it never drags. As much as I liked “Dastardly Death of the Rogues,” I still felt like it would have been better at 2/3 the length. This doesn’t feel padded.

Everything you need to know is here. What the Flash’s powers are. Who Barry Allen is, and what he does in civilian life. Who Patty and Iris are, what they do, and how they relate to the main character as both Barry and the Flash. The role of super-science. The dynamic in Barry’s workplace. What the police think of the Flash. Who the villain is for the first story. And none of the exposition feels forced. (That was a problem I had with, for instance, Justice League Dark. Every other page it seemed like someone was saying something solely to give the reader more background, rather than something they’d say naturally.)

The only thing missing from the story is how the Flash got his powers, and that was described in a narration box in the title page.

Barry Allen smiles. I’ve always felt that the Flash should be a book about adventure, not angst or violence. They can be present, certainly, but come on: he wears bright red and runs super-fast. He should be awesome, not badass.

In retrospect, I get the impression that Geoff Johns tends to focus more on the badassery, which makes him a great fit for villains and some of the more imposing heroes, but ends up conflicting with writing a good Flash tale. That he’s been so successful as a Flash writer is due, I suspect, in large part to his incredible work with the Rogues.

One of the (admittedly many) problems I had with Flash: Rebirth was that Barry Allen had been retconned into a tough guy shut-in. “Dastardly Deaths…” lightened him up a bit, but then “Road to Flashpoint” jumped straight into the shut-in aspects.

This Barry Allen is a lot more like the one I remember from my back issues…and a lot more likeable: Yes, he’s introverted, but he’s able to enjoy what he’s doing, whether it’s taking in a technical exhibition with a date, or trying to stop a troop of thieves.

Iris West refuses to be written out, and Patty Spivot makes a strong case for her presence. In “The Road to Flashpoint,” it seemed weird that Patty was brought back from supporting-cast limbo with a new backstory. Here, she’s part of the cast from the beginning and has more of a role than just “Barry’s girlfriend.”

Barry’s boss chewing out the team…and then getting chewed out by his boss.

Mystery. What’s going on with Dr. Elias, his gene re-coder, and his research into alternative energy sources? What’s going on with Barry’s old friend Manuel? Who are the gang of masked shock troopers, really, and what do they want with the genome re-coder? (Actually, I have a guess based on the body, the last page, and reading 5,000,000 scifi books, but I’ll leave that for now.) And who’s the original?

No bow tie. I’ve always considered the bow tie to be an artifact of the time the original comics were written, like Clark Kent’s hat in the 1950s — not a character trait. And after such a big deal was made over it in Flash: Rebirth, I’m glad to see Barry’s wardrobe updated.

On a related note,

No mention of Barry generating the speed force. I still think that was the worst, most ham-fisted retcon to come out of the last three years of Flash stories.

Things I didn’t like

A much shorter list, but….

The mask. The side pieces and chin strap combine to make his face look too closed-off for the Flash. It’s better here with the more watercolored look than it is in other places I’ve seen, with sharper, more defined lines, but it still bugs me.

Barry’s tragic past retcon is probably still intact. Technically this isn’t actually in the issue, but from what we’ve seen elsewhere, it sounds like Barry’s mother still died, and his father probably still died in prison after being framed for the murder. I still think the dead-parent cliche is overdone and shouldn’t have been grafted onto the Flash.

Hiding the secret identity from the significant other. I know it’s a staple of the genre, and when the lead is only casually dating at this point, it makes sense not to trust the girlfriend with the really big stuff…but to me, it gets old really fast.

There’s very little room for Wally West in this universe. If Barry Allen has been the Flash for five years, and he’s been working with Patty for at least two, then chances are (1) Wally’s too young to have taken on the Flash mantle at any time and (2) Barry either didn’t die in the Crisis, or didn’t die for long enough for Wally to succeed him for any significant length of time. I’m happy to read about Barry if the stories are good, but I still resent the way Wally’s been written out of history.

Overall

This combines my favorite aspects of Flash vol.3 with my favorite aspects of the Bronze Age Flash with modern storytelling. Unfortunately, it’s missing my favorite aspects of Flash vol.2, and with the current editorial direction, I don’t expect to see them anytime soon.

The Flash (vol.4) #1
Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul

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