Review: Flash: Rebirth #1 — “Lightning Strikes Twice”

Flash: Rebirth #1

Now that I’ve had time to read it through a second time, Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver’s Flash: Rebirth #1 didn’t bowl me over quite as much as it did on the first read-through, but it still won this Wally fan over at least for the duration of the miniseries. Some things bothered me more this time through, and ironically enough, it’s actually pretty slow for a book about speed.

On the other hand, it’s much faster-paced than Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1 or Flash vol.2 #231, the first issues of the 2006 relaunch with Bart Allen and the 2007 relaunch with Wally West.

The book opens with a scene that starts out looking like a retelling of Barry Allen’s origin, but quickly becomes apparent that it’s taking place in the present day with someone trying to recreate the circumstances of the lightning strike that turned a police scientist into the Flash. After that foreboding opening, it moves onto the main segment of the book: introducing all the characters and the key concept of the speed force.

Oddly enough, everyone is introduced separately: Barry, Wally, Bart, Jay Garrick, and Barry’s wife Iris are all in different places. Jay is preparing for a welcome-back party with the Justice Society, Wally with the Titans, Bart with the Teen Titans, and Iris is setting up for a family dinner, while Barry visits the Flash Museum (a mainstay of the series since the Silver Age) to catch up and runs into Hal Jordan. So they all talk about Barry, and how they relate to him and each other, but you don’t actually see them interacting.

Within this framework, Johns and Van Sciver touch on the nature of Central City and Keystone City, the way they appreciate their native super-heroes, a number of the villains who populate the Twin Cities, and even address the Wally/Barry/Bart debates (Jay is so often left out) that thrive on the internet.

Near the end, Barry suits up, flashes back to a traumatic childhood memory, and the real threat makes its appearance.

Things I Liked

Flash: Rebirth #1 followed the golden rule for a chapter that’s mostly setup: Open with an exciting hook, and finish with an exciting cliffhanger. (Come to think of it, Flash:TFMA #1 and Flash v.2 #231 tried to follow this structure, but didn’t work as well.) By the end of the issue, you know key elements of Barry Allen’s personality, what his powers are, see him in action, and have a sense of the threat he’ll be facing, even if that threat’s identity and nature are still mysterious.

Referencing Barry’s lab accident right at the beginning is a good way to start things off, and the villain introduced is suitably creepy.

The art is (not surprisingly) excellent. Barry looks like a modern American man, not a refugee from the 1950s (the sliding timeline of comics means he’s only been gone for maybe 5-10 years). Bart putting up his own “Welcome back Bart” banners was classic Impulse.

Flash of Two Worlds StatueThere were tons of “Easter eggs” for long-term readers among the celebration and museum scenes. The “Flash of Two Worlds” image made not one but two appearances, once as a parade float (looking very much like a mini-statue that DC released about 10 years ago) and once in Jay’s flashback. Logos from various comics appeared on museum banners. At one point Barry races past a series of covers and splash pages from Wally’s series. Wally’s and Barry’s hometowns (Blue Valley, Nebraska and Fallville, Iowa) are both mentioned. And even Barry’s old boss Captain Frye gets a nod.

I really liked turning the crack in the Liberty Bell emblem on Liberty Belle’s costume into the beginning of a lightning bolt.

[Edit:] Linda’s a reporter again.

The lead character appeared in costume in the first issue, and tried to do something heroic.

And a couple of speedsters I really didn’t expect to see again showed up.

Things I Didn’t Like

Some parts seemed a bit too familiar. The opening reminded me a bit too much of “Blood Will Run” (Geoff Johns’ first story arc as the regular Flash writer), for instance.

It was also kind of strange watching internet arguments played out on the page with Barry, Bart and Hal taking up different viewpoints. It really took me out of the story, though that might be in part because I’ve seen (and, I must admit, participated in) these arguments online over the past year.

In particular, Bart’s antipathy seemed at odds with the feelings he’s displayed about his grandfather in the past, but in this case I think they’ve earned it with his remark, “Why’s Barry the only one that escaped the speed force?” That, to me, makes it clear that Bart isn’t upset that Barry’s back so much as he’s upset that Max isn’t.

There were a few places that the art bugged me. Wally’s children looked too young (they’re supposed to be roughly 8 and 10, physically, but look like they’re closer to 6), and Green Lantern Alan Scott looks almost sinister in the one panel in which he appears.

[Edit:] No sign of Linda except for a voiceover, and Liberty Belle, one-time Flash heir-apparent Jesse Quick, is reduced to background scenery. (Though at least she’s acknowledged as a speedster.)

What really bothered me was a major retcon to Barry’s past that completely changes the character of his family life, which I’ll go into below after the spoiler break.

Spoilers ahead!

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SPOILER WARNING

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Near the end of the issue, Barry flashes back to a childhood memory in which he comes home and finds the police at his house, his mother dead, and his father being led away in handcuffs, ending with him running after the police car and being unable to catch it.

It seems that Geoff Johns is trying to give Barry Allen a traumatic backstory to set up his career in law enforcement, and his obsession with running. I really don’t like this for a number of reasons.

First, one thing that makes Barry unusual among today’s heroes is that he doesn’t — or, rather, didn’t — owe his super-heroics to any sort of trauma. He became a super-hero because, when he gained powers, he just felt like the right thing to do was to help people.

Second, it’s way too similar to the backstory established for Hunter Zolomon, a.k.a. Zoom, whose career in law enforcement was spurred by a desire to find out why his father killed his mother.

Third, it’s a huge change to Barry’s character. This is actually more of a change than the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths retconning of Wally’s childhood from Norman Rockwell perfection to dysfunctional and emotionally abusive. It’s more of a change than introducing a separated-at-birth evil twin. It’s like changing Superman so that Ma and Pa Kent died when he was a child, or changing Batman so that his parents weren’t killed in that alley. (And then there’s the fact that Barry’s parents appeared alive throughout the Silver and Bronze ages, including in stories that Geoff Johns himself referenced recently.)

I did a whirlwind tour of message boards this afternoon, and someone [Edit: I think it was Lia] suggested that it might be a false memory picked up from other speedsters, in which case the similarity to Zoom’s origin makes more sense. We’ll see.

[Edit:] I also didn’t like that they brought Savitar back for two pages just to kill him again. He had serious potential as one of those villains who shows up only occasionally, but for really big stories.

Mysteries

There are three big mysteries set up in this issue.

Who is the villain recreating Barry’s origin? The lightning-shaped blade reminds me of Cicada, a Flash-obsesed cultist. The Barry fixation reminds me of Malcom Thawne (Cobalt Blue — yes, I went there) or Eobard Thawne (Professor Zoom). The chemistry knowledge reminds me of the Rival, whom Geoff Johns plucked from a 50-year absence to bring back in the pages of JSA. He could be any of these, or he could be someone we haven’t seen before.

Why did he bring Barry back? Or is he just giving himself too much credit, the way villains often do?

What killed Savitar and the Black Flash and zapped Jay, Wally, Jesse and Bart? How did Savitar escape in the first place? And just how can you kill a personification of Death? It certainly looks like something’s gone wrong with he speed force.

Actually, there is one more, lesser mystery: How did Captain Frye know that Barry was back?

Conclusion

I’ve been half-dreading, half-anticipating this miniseries for nearly a year now. And while I still don’t know whether I’ll want to pick up the post-Rebirth relaunch, I definitely want to keep reading this miniseries. Geoff Johns has said that he wants to write a Flash who’s all about speed. Let’s see what he can do.

See also:

30 thoughts on “Review: Flash: Rebirth #1 — “Lightning Strikes Twice”

  1. Jason West

    FREAKIN LOVED IT!!!

    from Barry’s nervous awkwardness in a large, cellphone-filled crowd to Bart’s classic self-gratifying posters to Evan McCulloch saying “We’re gonna need more Rogues…”

    BRILLIANT!!!

    .-= Jason West’s latest blog post: 1 Week!!! =-.

    Reply
  2. OzBat!

    The more I think about it, the more Geoff’s comments about returning the series to being purely about “speed” irks me. AFter the “Return of Barry Allen”, every single Mark Waid-penned issue opens with “My name is Wally West, I’m the fastest man alive.” It was a declaration right then and there about what the book was about, and Wally’s place at the top of the heirarchy. No quibbles, ifs, buts, or self doubts. It’s only once Geoff was on the title that Wally began regressing. It was Geoff who turned Wally into Barry-lite, losing everything that made Wally unique. This can’t bode well for Wally’s future career, with Barry back.

    Reply
  3. Kelson Post author

    @OzBat! Yeah, it does seem a little disingenuous for the person who wrote ~5 years of Wally’s book to complain that it wasn’t about speed. If he wanted to write a book about speed, he had every opportunity to do so.

    Reply
  4. papa zero

    I think Bart’s reference to the speedforce served two purposes – first of course to explain his dialogue… but also to foreshadow what he doesn’t know… and his eyes seem to show.

    Taking note of the opening scene we may gather that someone reeally doesn’t like what he perceives as Barry’s sense of justice. This person knows who Barry is, how he got his powers, and knew when lightning would strike. A disgruntled time traveler with an axe to grind? I’m guessing this traveler touched on a theme we’ll see again – “haste makes waste.” This suggests a villain that plots, manipulates, and waits. Maybe even kills family members or spouses.
    I think Barry was completely mischaracterized in the issue but you definitely get the feeling that haste makes waste when Barry ditches time with his respective family(ies).

    Kudos to EVS for great fisheye lense shots in those opening scenes as well as a the best “speedster in action shot” of the issue with Wally over his kids.

    Two questions I have:
    Forensics in 2009 is a COMPLETELY different animal than that of 1985… evn if he picked it up in the future, he wouldnt fit on a conventional team. If you were a caveman that learned how to operate an mp3 player – that doesnt mean you’d understand a reel to reel.

    If Black Flash is dead, how can any speedster die?

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      @papa zero: Remember, in the DCU, Barry hasn’t been gone since 1985. Wally’s in his mid-to-late 20s, so it can only have been 5-10 years.

      Reply
  5. Jason West

    @papa zero: dude…have you never seen a Flash speedlearn? Bart memorized a whole freakin library, man!

    (but interesting point about Black Flash…)

    .-= Jason West’s latest blog post: 1 Week!!! =-.

    Reply
  6. papa zero

    I don’t think he was complaining that the book hadn’t been about speed in the sense that Wally’s powers – but moreso about the value of time. I think Geoff wants to impose a plot device inherent in the character compelling him to “run.” This may be quick and decisive justice and/or a notion of “time is precious” and “I can never get enough done.” This would actually instill a Wally like quality ironically enough – No matter how fast Barry is – he always feels it’s not enough.

    Reply
  7. Ralbalboa

    One thing that boders me too much, besides the fact that Wally is going to be replaced (tears falling down)is that Iris West was drawn in Wally’s and Bart’s comics as a 40-50 years old grandma, and Van Sciver draw her as hot and near 30’s as my girfriend is!!! So, wtf?
    Years are very slow in comics as you people said, supposing she was 20’s when going into the future (I don’t think so), when she had the twins and they grew up, at least up to 16 or 20 years I suppose she have aged that much too, so doing the maths it’s impossible!!
    Barry Allen… people who buy comics I think they are from 5-8 to 30-40 yers old. They/we all grew up practically with Wally (I’m 29). A lot don’t even know Barry, why bring him back? I think Bart would have been good as Wally did back then, eventually (though he should have been kept as Impulse). Passing the torch, the legacy, that should be the thing as it always was with The Flash. Barry’s back and for me now he is the one that will have to fill Wally’s boots.
    This discussions could run forever… run, speed, that’s the thing. So although it hearts a lot Wally being replaced (AGAIN!), the concept of The Flash, anyone wearing that red overall costume running at super-speeds is the thing that attracts me, so whether I like the character wearing that costume and doing flash things or not, depends on writers and DC’s choices (very stupid choices the last few years).

    Reply
  8. DuckPuppy

    I’m 35, and Barry Allen got me into comic collecting. The Flash was the first comic I ever bought with my own money, and the first that ever made me come back after the first one (my own money or not). I now have an unbroken run starting with The Flash (silver age) #200 to now, with scattered issues back to #107 (and even some Flash Comics issues, though not in great shape). You’d think I’d be excited to see him back. I’m not. I’m a bit reserved. He ran a good run and had an excellent ending to his story. Wally grew into the role (Mark Waid and the EXCELLENT “Born to Run” story arc – one of the best bits of character establishment ever written – helped tremendously) and became his own character. Why bring back Barry? It’s Geoff Johns, though, and I gave him the chance to show me why.

    My problem with the issue is that it’s a bit clumsy in it’s delivery, as has been noted in a couple of spots. Look, for example, how much we’re hit over the head with the “guilty/not guilty” thing. It was established up front in the opening. Do we REALLY need the overly-melodramitic “He killed lots of people. He’s a murderer. He’s guilty”… complete with dramatic closeup on the eyes. I expect Geoff Johns to handle that kind of character building with a bit more finesse. I’ve gotta be honest, the only part of the story where Barry really seemed like Barry was in the museum with Hal… I’m not sure I like the single-minded determination he shows. At the end, it seems he’s more like Wally than Barry… Barry is the one man in the DC universe that could give Captain Marvel and Superman a run in the “boy scout” category.

    The other thing that caused me GREAT pain was Bart’s reaction to Barry returning. The scene from Young Justice immediately flashed (no pun intented) through my mind… Bart seeing the group photo on the wall of the first JLA headquarters and just standing there quietly saying “Uncle Barry?”… there was a reverence there, Bart seeing a picture of his grandfather with the JLA. I really felt that was a character building moment for him, where he began to see his heritage. That seems completely thrown out the window in this story… maybe Geoff can pull out a reason for that, he seems to be building toward something in that respect. We’ll see how the next two issues do.

    Reply
  9. Hawkwitch

    Flash Rebirth is a big hype for sure. But I can’t deny, I was excited to see it.
    What Bart says – what’s the big deal about Barry coming back – I think it reflects the thoughts of many Wally fans. (Wally is the Flash I’m most familiar with myself.)
    Now that you mentioned that Bart is probably disappointed that Max hasn’t come back, I think it also makes an excellent point. I hope Max shows up too. Heck, I want to see as many speedsters in this series as possible. Also would be a nice touch if we got a glance at depowered Zolomon. 🙂

    Reply
  10. Cenzo

    Fantastic issue, from the story to the art, it was all I’d hoped it to be!

    POSSIBLE SPOILER!

    The villain is, Rival in my opinion. When last we saw him if I’m not mistaken, wasn’t he in possesion of Max Mercury’s body? That explains the white hair the villain had in the splash page where he is doused by the chemicals… Doesn’t explain why he needs the accident to have speed or why he brought Barry back…

    Reply
  11. Heatwave the Rogue

    I don’t think Barry Allen’s parent retcon is bigger than many of the other retcons over the years.
    Examples:
    1. the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths retconning of Wally’s childhood from Norman Rockwell perfection to dysfunctional and emotionally abusive.
    or
    2. A separated-at-birth evil twin.
    or even
    The Tornado Twins becoming the actual kids of Barry Allen rather than his distant decendants.
    Barry Allen’s parents have had little impact over the years on his character. To change them to motivate his Police Scientist career is logical, if that is indeed what is happening.

    FLASH: REBIRTH like it or not was the best Flash comic since… well, since Geoff Johns wrote the book. Although Rogues War could give it a run for the money if one considers that a Flash book and not a Rogues book.

    Thumbs up!!!

    -Heater

    Reply
  12. Kelson Post author

    It would bother me a lot less if…

    1. He wasn’t riffing on Hunter Zolomon’s origin.

    2. He didn’t have a pattern of using dead family members and childhood trauma for motivation: Piper’s parents murdered, Captain Cold’s father being abusive, Heat Wave burning his home down with his family in it, Zoom’s father killing his mother, Mirror Master taking out a contract on the man who turned out to be his father, Jay and Joan’s adoptive son dying and never being mentioned again, killing off Pa Kent, killing Iris and Jai before they were born…

    3. He simply said, “New Earth, new history” instead of claiming that the territory had never been explored before (see the IGN interview)

    4. He wasn’t basically saying, “Actually, Zoom’s right: heroes do need to face as much tragedy as possible.”

    I’m beginning to get the impression that Geoff Johns doesn’t think heroes or villains can be motivated without someone dying.

    And yes, it’s much bigger than the Tornado Twins or Cobalt Blue, because those changes didn’t change Barry’s character at all. During his entire career, he didn’t know about Cobalt Blue. Neither did his parents. Inserting Malcolm Thawne into Barry’s history did not actually change Barry himself. And the Tornado Twins didn’t factor into anything until after his initial career as the Flash. It was a huge change for their characters, but a very minor change to Barry up through the time of his death. It certainly should factor in now, but would have no bearing on who he was up to that point.

    And yeah, I’d say changing a loving mother and father to a dead mother and possibly murdering father is a bigger change than changing a loving mother and father to an emotionally abusive mother and father.

    Reply
  13. Ben

    Can’t wait to get this in a few weeks(i live in the middle of no where and the nearest comic shop is about 2.30 hours flight lol).

    but i think the villian is hunter Zolomon. He seems to be quite low down, almost as if he was in a wheel chair.

    Reply
  14. Ben

    what i really dont like the sound of is the traumatic childhood incident. A great part of the flashes were they got there powers and we inheriently good ppl, who decided to help others.

    Reply
  15. Omar Karindu

    I think the villain may be Hunter, indeed. Take a look at Zolomon’s walking stick in Flash Secret Files #3 and elsewhere.

    Reply
  16. Luke

    I finally got to read this one last night. Travelling and work and doctors appointments play havoc with trying to read comic books.

    Anyway. I liked the issue, and am eager to see the next installment. I started reading Flash during Waid/Augustyn’s run (“Presidential Race” was the first storyline I read) and have been on the title since. So I got a good amount of W/A as well as Johns, plus TFMA (a series which I enjoyed from the start) and Wally’s second run. I got into Barry Allen after I already was a fan of Wally West, reading back issues snagged from discount bins and the first Showcase volume.

    Barry’s attitude here reminds me of something I read about the contingency plan to bring Barry back after COIE. I forget which writer had come up with it, but the idea would be that he was snagged from time right before he ran himself to death. Being thus saved, Barry would use ever waking second running as fast as he could to stop as much bad as he could. Definitely the vibe I got from this issue.

    Not thrilled with the retcon but we shall see what that brings. Overall, a good issue which hopefully will bring forth many good things for Flash fans.

    Reply
  17. Chris

    Anyone notice Barry’s shirt is white in the first shot and becomes red for the rest of the issue? Anything to that or just a mistake?

    Reply
  18. Kelson Post author

    @Chris: Well, he is the fastest man alive. Maybe he grabbed a hot dog, spilled mustard on his shirt, ran home and changed it, all in the time it took Hal to say, “Hey, Barry!” 😀

    Reply
  19. Alexrules

    I thought Barry Allen came back to life in an issue of Quasar. I wonder what happened to that ‘character’.

    Reply
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  22. Rudra

    I’m not really sure i want to follow this storyline. The past Barry had really screw the characteristic of Barry Allen. If.. you remember the movie, the only thing traumatic about being a hero is his brother dead

    Reply
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