Catching Lightning in a Bottle…Again

Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1In recent weeks I’ve come to realize that I’m voicing some of the same complaints about Flash: Rebirth that I saw other people voice about Lightning in a Bottle, the story arc which attempted to launch Bart Allen as the Flash after Infinite Crisis.

No, seriously. Here are some of the things I’ve found myself saying (paraphrased a bit):

  • I don’t recognize Barry Allen in this book. He’s so mopey. Where’s the Barry I remember?
  • Why do all these flashbacks contradict past stories? Didn’t the writer actually read any issues of Flash with Barry in them?
  • After reading a fraction of it, I’m not enjoying the new direction.

These are some of the problems I’ve had with this book, and yet it drove me insane to see people make the exact same complaints about Bart’s book just a few years ago. Not that I loved Flash: The Fastest Man Alive, I had some serious problems with it…but I was willing to give it a chance to settle in and see what it turned into after the origin story was finished.

So I’m trying to figure out: why does it bother me now when it didn’t bother me then? Why, 3 years ago, was I willing to wait 6 issues for Bart to lighten up when the writers said he would do so by the end of the story? Why, today, am I not willing to wait 6 issues for Barry to lighten up when the writer has said that Flash: Rebirth is about the rebirth of Barry’s humanity? Why, in 2006, did I compare a 6-part comic book structure with a standard 1-hour TV show structure, say that the first issue was basically the teaser…and point out that we hadn’t actually seen the new direction, and wouldn’t until the end of the 6-part story…when today I’m losing interest at the 3-issue mark?

I’m really not sure.

Maybe I cut Bart’s series some slack because I was expecting things to change since he was new to the role, whereas this time around, it’s all about putting Barry back in the spotlight, so I’m expecting things to be more familiar.

Maybe I was willing to forgive Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo more because I knew they were new to writing comics, and could see that they were learning as they went.

Maybe it’s because I’d rather see Bart replace Wally than Barry replace Wally. As annoyed as I was that they chose to relaunch the book with Bart, at least they were moving the legacy forward. If you look at the Flash as a legacy, they’ve taken one step forward and two steps back in the last three years.

Maybe it’s just that after three years of watching DC mismanage my favorite character, I’m too bitter to cut the latest relaunch any slack.


23 thoughts on “Catching Lightning in a Bottle…Again

  1. Jason

    If it makes you feel any better, I felt that way about Fastest Man Alive, and I still feel that way about Rebirth… It doesn’t make me feel any better though.

  2. Kid Chameleon

    If I had to make any point about Bart’s run as the Flash, I would argue that Bart wasn’t ready to take over. They had to artificially age him again just to allow him to look the right age. Then they spent the entire run trying to turn him into Barry.

    As far as Rebirth goes, the biggest complaint (aside from all the niggling other big complaints) I have is that it is by the same team who did GL Rebirth (which I didn’t like for a number of reasons) and as far as I can tell, they have just taken the storyline for GL Rebirth and put Flashes in it. I’m fully expecting to see an emotional rainbow of Flashes in a few years time because everything they’re doing in Flash Rebirth is following what happened in GL Rebirth.

    As a Wally fan, I don’t like the thought of Wally pulling a Kyle Rayner and being reduced to a bit character in a secondary title, which I’m fully expecting to happen to him at the end of this series. Wally is apparently not good enough to be the Flash for Johns, and the fact that we’ve got time travelling storylines that won’t work unless Wally is still the Flash seems to be a minor issue for him. What is the point in establishing 20+ years of continuity if you just throw it all down the toilet to bring back your personal favourite Flash? The only untouchable comic book death, the first Saint of comics, has become a cash-grab and I hope it blows up in DC’s face.

    If you’re having troubles getting Wally back in the costume because of his kids, give us a brand new Flash and have Wally teaching him the ropes. This allows you to continue to develop Wally and his family and breathe some new life into the title.

  3. Omar Karindu

    I’d suggest that your more immediate dissatisfaction is because you remember “Lightning In a Bottle” and the complaints about it.

    Then, you were willing to see where DC went with it and to see if the arc (and its writers) improved or developed unpredictable qualities.

    They didn’t. Bilson and DeMeo ended up booted from the book, and Bart never really found a niche or a hook that could save his sales or reception.

    From experience, then, you shoudn’t extend the same courtesy this time when you see many of the same features in this arc. Your charity was extended in the same or equivalent circumstances, and you got burned for it. Fool you twice, and it’s shame on you.

    My own problem with Flash: Rebirth is that it’s doing a remarkably awful job of convincing me that Barry’s return or Barry as the Flash are particularly interesting in and of themselves. It’s not that the mystery of the Black Flash or Barry’s return or whatever aren’t serviceable plots, but rather that the solution to the questions seems thoroughly uninteresting.

    GL: Rebirth has flaws, like any story, but it had a number of advantages that Flash: Rebirth lacks. For starters, Hal Jordan’s removal from the GL title was trend-driven plot contrivance, and even at the time was considered a desperate and arbitrary execution of editorial fiat. Even if you didn’t care for Hal Jordan, GL: R was also the restoration of a whole set of characters and premises, from the Guardians to the Corps to the other Earth-based Lanterns like John and Guy. It actually altered and reestablished the architecture of the post-1940s GL mythology.

    In short, it was addressing a badly-constructed story and the plot developments that followed it, and explicitly was about more than just its protagonist character’s return.

    Flash: Rebirthcan’t do any of that, because the mythology of the Flash has never really been dismantled in the way Green Lantern’s was. There’s nothing much to restore in terms of setting and characters, since Barry’s the only element being brought back here. NNor was Barry’s original demise either out-of-character or especially galling. His title had been cancelled and gotten a relatively thorough narrative closure, and he went out as, in the words of Mark Waid, “DC’s patron saint.”

    Everything else, from the Rogues to Jay to the nature of Central and Keystone City has not only been undamaged but, in general far improved since Barry perished. There’s no destroyed hometown to rebuild, no post-heroic career of crazed villainy or misplaced redemption to tie off, and no real sense of a B

    1. Omar Karindu

      …a Barry-shaped hole in the DCU. Instead, his return is narratively and even thematically superfluous, to the point that an incredibly contrived circumstance like Barry being “possessed” by the Black Flash has to be introduced for Flash: Rebirth to contain conflict and direction.

      All fiction is gratuitous, but good fiction makes its gratuitousness either a moot point or takes the issue on head-first, making a case for its necessity. Flash: Rebirth isn’t doing either.

      (Sorry, that last bit was cut off by accident.)

    2. Kelson Post author

      Your charity was extended in the same or equivalent circumstances, and you got burned for it. Fool you twice, and it’s shame on you.

      Yeah, that’s probably a big part of it. We’ve been down this road before, and all that.

      Flash: Rebirth can’t do any of that, because the mythology of the Flash has never really been dismantled in the way Green Lantern’s was.

      What makes this doubly odd is that even the book itself makes this point. I think it was near the beginning of issue #2, when Barry was looking at the dusted corpse of Savitar, that he mused about how without Hal, everything fell apart, but without Barry, “everything was fine.” Maybe it’s just lampshade hanging, but it’s odd for a book’s main character to point out in text that the whole thing is unnecessary.

  4. papa zero

    Kelson – you put it best when you said “why should I care?” Every comic character has to answer this question to remain relevant. This was the question when Wally took the mantle, which was posed again when he resolved his character arc… and so on with each new launch of the franchise. There are elements of Rebirth I like and ideas I don’t like – but given the way this particular story is shaped, the jury is still out on whether they’ve created an effective character engine or any direction at all. It is the fault of the story teller if he can’t keep you engaged but to say this is a bad story (and I don’t think Kelson is) is seeing the other side of the hill before the climb is done.

  5. Shagga

    Kid Chameleon wrote “What is the point in establishing 20+ years of continuity if you just throw it all down the toilet to bring back your personal favourite Flash? The only untouchable comic book death, the first Saint of comics, has become a cash-grab and I hope it blows up in DC’s face.

    Throwing away 20 years of continuity is what happens every so often. That’s how Wally became the Flash.

    The tables have reversed now, that’s all. THAT’s the super-obvious, no-one-wants-to-admit-it truth: Wally’s being flushed, and it’s a bitter pill. You guys are in the same position Barry Allen fans were circa 1995, and that sucks.

    1. Kelson Post author

      No, Wally’s fans were in that position three years ago, when DC replaced Wally with Bart. Some of us got over it. The resulting book wasn’t the best it could have been, and I for one don’t think it was the fault of the character but of the storytelling style.

      Today we’re in a very different position. We’re in the position that Bart’s fans were in two years ago, where the current Flash isn’t being replaced by his successor but by his predecessor.

      That’s not “time marches on.” That’s, “Oh, we should never have replaced that character!”

      Imagine if DC had decided to recenter the Flash around Jay Garrick back in 1985.

      As I said in my post, I was much more comfortable with Bart replacing Wally than I am with Barry replacing Wally, because at least they were moving forward.

      Now? It feels like instead of electing a new President last November, the US had resurrected Ronald Reagan and put him back in office 20 years later.

      1. Shagga

        That’s not “time marches on.” That’s, “Oh, we should never have replaced that character!”

        You make a fair point. But 1st, I don’t think bringing Barry back was a smart idea (by itself anyway). Nor was making Bart the Flash.

        The notion of inherited superhero codenames, costmes, villains and friends is – frankly – rather silly in this day and age. No doubt certain writers made it SING in the 90s – Waid, Robinson, etc. But the notion to replace the person behind the mask every years to drum up business? Good for that ol’ illusion of change, and perhaps in-story continuity, but little else. Like Infinite Crisis’ Flash “graduation” and its repetition of COIE.

        “Legacy”, or repeated spinoffs, as as a defining concept plays to a very limited audience of hardcore, longtime fans. See 24th century Trek as an example of how that plays out.

        I think DC may have finally realized that simply switching out Wally for Bart, or Bart for Barry, isn’t going to solve the direction issue, plus drum up extra sales the way it did 15 years ago.

        Ergo, legacy as a concept should be retired, at least as THE defining model of updating a concept. In that sense, bringing back Barry makes *some* sense; he is the template character, so he makes a good starting point to build around. I’d have liked to see Wally remain the Flash, but that’s just my personal comfort zone talking. Conceptually, it really doesn’t matter, they represent all the same concepts and story ideas.

        All that said, while I understand your reasoning, I have a feeling that most web-based Wally fans would NOT be complaining if Waid was still writing him, poorly or not, in his most recent return.

        I think the perceived permanence of Barry’s return, undoing one of comics most undoable stories, is a worst-fear-come-true for a lot of them. Kind of like…the shadow you tried so hard to step out of comes back, larger than ever, and isn’t going anywhere. It puts a capstone on Wally’s career with a measure of finality that Bart – yet another legacy/sidekick doing Wally’s schtick – never could.

        Put simply: When Bart took over, it didn’t strike anyone as being all that permanent. This seems a lot more permanent…ish.

        1. Kelson Post author

          Most web-based Wally fans complained a lot when Waid came back to write him. That’s why he bailed on the book so quickly.

          I see what you mean about a sense of permanence, though. Moving on from Jay to Barry to Wally to Bart does give a sense of the Flashes being transient in some way, speeding through the DCU one after another. Bart didn’t feel permanent — but to me, it wasn’t a sense that Wally would be back, but rather a sense that DC was now committed to cycling through a new Flash every 20 years. Bringing back Barry is a statement that they’re halting the treadmill, rather than continuing it.

          1. VegasVargas

            “Bringing back Barry is a statement that they’re halting the treadmill, rather than continuing it.”

            And that is the problem with the books. The Flash legacy has already been in a state of moving forward. We have gone so far into the Flash history that we have to conclude that each Flash will pass the mantle down eventually. That was the case with Jay and Barry, Barry to Wally, and Wally to Bart. Wally had a strong run as the Flash, yet Bart wasn’t given a fair chance. Plus, Bart as an adult wasn’t the Bart people came to appreciate. It was essentially a cookie cutter character with Bart’s name. The book needed someone who not only knew how to write Bart, but WOULD write Bart the way he was meant to be written.

            Barry is being written in the same way. First, it feels like bringing him back not only cheapens Crisis on Infinite Earths, but also cheapens a lineage we already know will happen. The sense that Wally will be regulated to a secondary character cheapens the history of the character and is a slap in the face to its fans. Same with Bart.

            It’s a dilema, overall, within the comic book industry. Instead of moving forward with your already establish characters, some of which are built to practically succeed other establishes characters; the industry just chooses to retcon and bring characters back under impossible circumstances. Two years from now, Barry will be just as boring as he was a year before he was killed off.

  6. Wally West

    If it makes anyone feel any better, “Rebirth” already has “crash and burn” written all over it. Sales have dropped pretty consistently, and I can’t find any evidence of the lionshare of Flash fans being anything but disappointed by this entire development.

    I think what’s going to happen–because Johns won’t admit he’s wrong–is that, if sales on the last three issues of this book dwindle, there won’t be a new Flash monthly for a while. Maybe the occassional miniseries, but mostly we’ll be stuck with Barry in Justic League books, and I’m stuck with the Titans.


    Dammit all to hell.

    1. Wally West

      Replace “Johns” in the above post with “Dimeo”. Typo. My bad. He’s the guy doing this to me.

  7. Kid Chameleon

    I know this isn’t the point of the original post, but does nobody have any comments about my suggestion of an all-new Flash? Are we really so stuck in a rut that we would complain if they had a no-name character, like Kyle Rayner originally was, become the Flash?

    Let’s face it. Barry is failing as the current Flash, Bart didn’t work (in my opinion, he wasn’t ready as a character), Wally had issues as soon as he had kids, and nobody really seems to honestly want Jay Garrick as the Flash (though I was kind of hoping he was the mystery villian, purely for some sort of focus on him). Give a new face a try. They could do so much with it. Bart would have issues with someone horning in on his legacy. Wally could teach him the ropes, keeping Wally in the story to develop his character as a father and develop the kids as heroes. They could even have Wally teaching the new guy and his kids at the same time. Jay is always willing to accept a new face. And I honestly don’t have a clue how Barry would react (presuming this entire Rebirth series isn’t a six month long April Fool’s Joke or a coma dream of Steve Rogers).

    Wouldn’t some of us like to see a new face instead of seeing them screw up the established characters?

    1. Kelson Post author

      I think it’s a little early to say that Barry is failing. We’re still in the remodeling stage, and only have hints of what the new house is going to look like. I’m not impressed by the hints at this point, but who knows what things will look like when everything’s established? Plenty of landmark buildings were originally derided as eyesores.

      As to your question: I think a brand-new Flash might have worked after Infinite Crisis, but a brand-new Flash today would have people thinking like the Flashes are like the Impact version of the Black Hood: follow the costume, but don’t get too attached to the person inside.

      Also, one of the reasons Wally was so well-accepted by fans (compared to Kyle), and stuck around for 20 years, is that he (a) had a connection to the previous Flash and (b) had been around as a related character for a while. It’s not enough on its own (see Flash: TFMA), but it’s a big help.

      If DC were to try an entirely new character in the role, like they did with Blue Beetle or the Atom, it would really be an uphill battle.

      On the other hand, if they were to take a member of the supporting cast — say, make Jesse Quick the new Flash instead of the new Liberty Belle — it might have a chance.

      But if the Barry relaunch doesn’t work, I think yet another relaunch is the worst thing DC could do. They’d be better off either accepting low-tier sales for a while and trying to build up an audience slowly, like they did during Geoff Johns’ initial run on the book, or just putting the character on the back burner for a while like Marvel did with Thor.

      1. Wally West

        Barry is failing as the current Flash. It’s better than I thought it would be, but that’s just saying that it doesn’t completely suck, it just sucks by a preponderance of evidence.

        As for me, I think I started to go down hill as soon as I regained a secret identity. Actually, scratch that. I miss my shiny costume with the eye shields.

        1. Shagga

          Barry isn’t failing as the current Flash. Flash Rebirth # 2 was the 4th best-selling book of May. Is a top 5 book automatically a failure these days? By putting Johns and Van Sciver on the book, DC has pretty much guaranteed its success for a few years. But thank you anyway; You extol exactly the silliness I spoke of earlier: Wally fans condemning a Barry series because it threatens his eligibility as a headlining character.

          Also- Jay isn’t the model for the Flash. He’s been a supporting charater for 50 years. The Flash is a guy in a red costume fighting villains with silly names like Gorilla Grodd, Captain Cold, Mirror Master and Professor Zoom.

          The Flash legacy starts THERE – with Barry. So restarting with him as the foundation makes sense. Though it deflates his death 25 years ago. On the other hand 25 years is a long time, and noble sacrifices don’t sell comics. And so here we are.

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