Review: Flash: Rebirth #5 — “Mother, May I”

Flash: Rebirth #5

Flash: Rebirth is closing in on its conclusion. Mysteries are revealed, heroes battle villains — well, a villain anyway — and change is in the wind for more than one speedster. The sense of urgency that started building in issue #4 is present in full force here, as Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver build the story to one last cliffhanger before the end.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Wally West’s new costume debuts in this issue. If you’ve read it already, or don’t mind being spoiled — or want to be spoiled — you can read my comments and see a scan in my previous post. The change itself is a little forced, but works well enough — and, interestingly enough, isn’t played up at all by the characters themselves.

So: Barry Allen solves his cold case, Jay Garrick demonstrates that super-speed is more than just running, the West Twins reach a turning point, Liberty Belle makes an impression, and Professor Zoom proves himself petty and vindictive as well as vicious.

Purpose

A lot happens in this issue, but I can’t help but feel that it ultimately doesn’t matter. The plot of Flash: Rebirth is secondary to the book’s real purpose:

  1. Rearranging characters to put them in the roles that DC wants for 2010.
  2. Restructuring the Flash mythology.

Along the way, it does a lot of what one of my friends in Star Wars fandom calls “spackling:” patching over rough spots or outright holes in continuity. Last issue we got an explanation of why Barry never learned about the Speed Force in the form of a completely new interpretation of how it works. This issue we get an explanation for why Barry’s flashback has his parents in Central City instead of Fallville. We get yet another layer on why Jay and Joan Garrick look 50 instead of 90, and a new explanation for why Jai and Iris/Irey West don’t have super-speed. We even get an explanation for “hot Iris.”

In that way, Flash: Rebirth is a lot like World War III, which existed solely to explain what had changed between Infinite Crisis and the “One Year Later” books. That this miniseries is the best Flash story since 2005 has less to do with it being a good story than it does with the fact that the comics from 2006 through 2008 were incredibly haphazard.

Well, I’ve reached the point where I can’t say anything more without giving anything away, so if you don’t want any spoilers, stop reading now!

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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SPOILERS! RIGHT HERE!

Okay. So….

Cold Case

We now know that Professor Zoom went back in time, killed Nora Allen, and framed her husband for it. Or rather, we now know for sure. Not only that, but he’s been jumping through time, messing with Barry throughout his life: pushing him down the stairs, burning down his house, letting his dog out to get hit by a car, and probably drinking the last of the milk when little Barry could really use something to wash down those cookies. Eobard Thawne is a mean, petty, vindictive bastard. But then, he has a history of obsessing over Barry Allen and stalking Iris.

So any discrepancies in the flashbacks, from the blazingly obvious (weren’t Barry’s parents alive?) to the not so clear (weren’t Barry and Iris already dating by the time he got his powers?) can be explained away by Professor Zoom traveling through time.

That doesn’t make them any less retcons, though, unless Barry finds a way to *ahem* reverse them all next issue. It just makes them retcons with in-story explanations…just like retcons explained by Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, etc.

It also doesn’t make them any less cliche. There are plenty of super-heroes out there who have childhood traumas associated with the death of a parent (or both parents). It still seems pointless to tack on that kind of trauma to the Flash.

Changes

Wally’s new costume works as a further evolution of the design. Jesse Quick gets the latest in a series of bad costumes, though since she seems to still be wearing the Liberty Belle outfit in upcoming JSA comics, it’ll probably be either a one-time or occasional thing. (I’ve added some commentary on Jesse and Irey’s costumes to the new costume post.) Irey as Impulse, visually, works surprisingly well. I’m not sure how well it works as an identity, though.

Remember how I said there was a lot of spackle in this book? The West Twins have been a millstone around the series’ neck since they were introduced as characters in their own right for the 2007 relaunch. Personally, I liked them, and thought they opened up new story possibilities, but a major part of the audience wanted them gone. So, something about the dynamic had to change.

What Geoff Johns has gone for appears to be this: depower Jai completely, and upgrade Irey to the standard speedster power set. This cuts down the number of Wally’s sidekicks, and having her take on the Impulse identity gives her a connection to Bart, so that she could show up in either Wally’s backup stories in The Flash or Bart’s stories in Kid Flash. I’m not big on the idea of “Impulse” being a heroic legacy, but they at least sold it as a personal choice with Irey’s “I want to be like Bart” comments last issue. It’s not so much honoring a legacy as emulating the cool older cousin.

The choice of which sibling to keep empowered is a tricky one. On one hand, you’ve got a boy and a girl, and women are extremely underrepresented among the Flash characters. On the other hand, Irey looks white and Jai looks Asian, and the lightning brigade is very Caucasian. So either way you’re kind of stuck. In this case, though, the choice is made a bit easier by the fact that some version of Iris West II has been shown as a speedster in future stories since Kingdom Come in 1996.

Observations

I can’t believe we get more of the bow tie, but it was a nice twist that Iris’ first gift to Barry was bought from the tailor who made the Rogues’ costumes. Nice easter egg there.

Professor Zoom seems to be taking lessons from Abra Kadabra: eliminate the anchor, and you’ll eventually eliminate the speedster.

Issues #1 and #2 read really slowly now, after having read #3–5.

I like the irony that Iris is constantly drinking coffee, but Barry never touches the stuff.

Great shot of Liberty Belle stomping on Professor Zoom’s face.

I like seeing Jay use the helmet, rather than just wear it. I could never get into JSA, but I don’t recall seeing that very much in the pages of The Flash.

I can no longer think of the phrase “Mother, May I?” without thinking of the Teen Titans animated villain, Mother Mae-Eye.

Overall

The second half of Flash: Rebirth — the half that’s been taking longer to come out — has been solid. I just wish we could move on from the setup and get to some story that’s actually about a story. Here’s hoping Blackest Night: The Flash will be a little more in that vein.

See also:

40 thoughts on “Review: Flash: Rebirth #5 — “Mother, May I”

  1. kukheart

    i enjoyed it, maybe just maybe we can get #6 in december and move onto the regular series in april or may, if it wasn’t however for geoff writing it i would probably trade wait the series, but hopefully good/interesting things planned

    Reply
  2. Aleclom

    I love Irey’s new role, it just fits her to try and be like Bart. Cool costume change for Wally, too. And I think it’s absolutely hilarious that Zoom traveled back in time just to push Barry down the stairs. So diabolical.

    Reply
  3. hawkwitch

    “Eobard Thawne is a mean, petty, vindictive bastard” <– that nails it so well!

    I liked the issue, but still think #4 was better.

    Reply
  4. Perplexio

    I’d like to see Zolomon come back and have words with Thawne– “I’mmm tryingggg to make Wallyyyy betterrr. You’rrrree jusssst messsing with Barrry beeecaussse you’rrre annnn a–hole!”

    As for Irey. I’m wondering if there are plans for an Impulse sub-feature in the upcoming Kid Flash ongoing. 22 pages of Bart and 10 pages of Iris. I think it opens up some interesting story possibilities. Bart having that pesky younger cousin following him around all the time. And Iris having that super cool older cousin she wants to be just like! I can almost see a Buttons & Mindy dynamic developing there with Iris repeatedly getting herself into danger and Bart rescuing her. I also like the bits in the earlier issues of Rebirth that set the stage for a bit of conflict developing between Bart & Barry with Bart wanting to follow Wally’s footsteps instead of his grandfather’s.

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      As fun as a Buttons & Mindy vibe would be…the Flash family has picked up its first present-day non-temporary female speedster in 17 years (Jesse Quick was introduced in 1992). It would be a shame to shove her into the damsel in distress role.

      Reply
      1. Perplexio

        I think it would be fun to see her in that role temporarily… while she’s still getting used to having all of her powers and not having to share them with Jai. Then I’d like to see her earn Bart’s respect when the roles get reversed and she’s able to save his hide and get him out of a jam.

        Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      As I understand it, it was always intended to be Professor Zoom. Ethan Van Sciver mentioned in a podcast a few months ago that the covers used in previews for issues #4, 5 and 6 had all been altered to remove or disguise spoilers.

      So, based on that, #4 got the colors switched in the background to make the Zoom reference less obvious. #5 had Zoom recolored (and his face redrawn) as the Black Flash. #6 has Barry in front of a swirly, generic background…which will probably have the whole Flash crew behind him when it actually hits the stands, including Max, Iris as Impulse, and Wally & Jesse in their new costumes.

      Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      Yeah, I was going to comment on that, but then I looked up pictures of marathon runners and they’re all wearing shorts. It still looks more suitable for hanging out at the pool than running, but I realized that calling for pants didn’t make quite as much sense as I thought it did.

      Reply
      1. Jesse

        I’m not a fan of her new costume, but maybe bare legs actually make sense. Honestly, no one’s costumes ever seemed practical for running. Can you imagine running in jeans with your long-sleeved shirt tucked in? (Although it does seem like something people would have done in the ’40s.) If they were all really runners, they’d have just a pair of loose shorts and a shirt on. Maybe Jesse will be the only one now who doesn’t sweat to death.

        Reply
  5. mattchee

    Good assessment. I enjoyed this one a lot, even if the retcons and explainations were a little thin. Hopefully this is a good base to springboard into something awesome in the regular series.

    I was never a fan of the twins, so their treatment of that situation, was a little pleasing to me. As long as they can handle the Irey/Impulse thing well. I liked the suggestion (whoever said it) about Impulse being a back up feature in Kid Flash.

    I wonder if that bow-tie easter egg was a little jab to people (myself included) who groaned over the “Bow Tie: Secret Origin” a few issues back.
    .-= mattchee’s latest blog post: Viva La Resolution! =-.

    Reply
  6. papa zero

    I think you’re right on with the whole series feeling like positioning. There just seems to be more unnecessary layers added that seem like “spackle.”
    All the self-referencing to cover holes – where many of them don’t even explain anything… they just serve as tribute. It almost devolves to the point where I expect everyone to just start chanting “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich.”

    I’m guessing the Flash family will have new incentive to maintain the time continuum like Lanterns protect sectors now?

    I did love the cover idea – and the art inside was great though EVS seems to have continued to skimp out on a lot of backgrounds relative to the first issue letting color, lightning, and wooshing fill it in.

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      “I’m guessing the Flash family will have new incentive to maintain the time continuum like Lanterns protect sectors now?”

      I love that idea…

      Reply
  7. Andrew

    Thanks for another excellent review. I really enjoyed this issue, but I agree the story as a whole feels more like a set-up of things to come than anything else. That said, I think that is the mandate here, and it is getting me more and more excited for the future of the franchise.

    Reply
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  9. Jesse

    About the cover … is this supposed to illustrate another point in history when Reverse Flash interfered? Did he stop Barry and Jay from saving that man? That would have seriously changed DC history.

    Reply
  10. Perplexio

    DC is certainly planting the seeds for a lot of potential storylines and themes to use in the Flash and Kid Flash ongoing series when they start:

    The resurrection of the Thawne/Allen feud storyline.
    Possible friction between Bart & Barry as Bart seems to view Wally as the Flash, not his grandfather and sees Max as more of a father figure than he sees his grandfather.
    The developing cool older cousin/pesky youner cousin dynamic between Bart & Iris.
    Jesse Quick possibly taking on a mentorship role with Iris West and the possible friction that could develop between Linda & Jesse as a result.

    I would like to see the resurrection of Thad Thawne though– as Eobard Thawne/Zoom’s sidekick instead of Zolomon/Zoom II’s sidekick.

    And I wouldn’t mind seeing the Owen Mercer/Bart Allen/Meloni Thawne relationship fleshed out a bit better.

    It would be interesting to see Prof. Zoom try to play on Mercer’s Thawne background to try to turn him back into a rogue. He seems to enjoy messing with people’s heads so it wouldn’t be out of character for him to play on any “Daddy issues” Owen has regarding his dad’s death.

    In the past Eobard Thawne was so one-dimensional and cardboard. I’m loving how Johns is fleshing him out so much more and giving him so much more depth.

    Reply
    1. papa zero

      I don’t see Thawne caring too much about Owen Mercer or the Rogues. He is definitely a “master villian” manipulator but he hasn’t really worked well with others.

      I don’t think this particular story expands on his character (unless you’re talking about the speedforce bits) – it only riffs on the obsessive and sadist persona they’ve established over many decades.

      Reply
  11. !

    I liked it, but i gotta be hones the 3 months delay tired me out. And on the other hand i cannot understand why DC HAS to have certain characters… I really don’t get the Bart-Kid Flash and Iris-Impulse thing. I know wally cant be kid flash again, but personalty it’s a character i dont quite like. sorry if i hurt some feelings but Come on it’s a sidekick!!! And that is something Impulse has never been. He has always have that “impulse” that made him bot a sidekick role turned into the moment he started been kid Flash… He stopped been impulsive, childish and even dumpy which to my point of view made him such a great character and have him an special spark since the beginning. And turning Iris into a female version of Impulse? I wonder why they didn’t just put Bart back as Impulse and got Iris on her Iris costume on an early Kingdom Come character… Lack of creativity o need to recycle characters? Am I the onlyone feeling like this?
    .-= !’s latest blog post: Computers evolving from mouse to cat =-.

    Reply
  12. Angel

    Perplexio: That extra feature of Irey’s would raise bart’s book to $4 no doubt and to include ten pages of whining. Irey does look visually impressive in her Impulse outfit but as a character shes just a little girl. How much depth can her story really contain? It is annoying really, Bart was such a cool character and she will never live up to that.

    I vote those extra pages for Bart and Irey to you know…get her hope destroyed and give up the costume. Oh! Or maybe they can write her off and act like she never existed at all, that’d be cool.

    Reply
      1. Angel

        Alright, you got me. I did enjoy Coraline and she was a little girl, and you get the idea.

        I’m just a huge Bart Allen fan, but I was rethinking it and perhaps I was a little harsh. I’m just tired of all the $4 books and double features when what I really want to read is the story on the cover. I did like the idea of Impulse coming back, just didn’t know it would be this way.

        Reply
  13. huffa2

    I think your review sounds overly harsh. I LOVED this issue and everything about it. Really great to see that the Flash will remain one of the few books with a true sense of history and family.
    Only thing: Nice they please fans of Wally and Barry by keeping them both Flashes, both strong heroes, and strong characters, but will having 3 flashes be too much to juggle…?

    Q: Is this the first time something has been taken from the DC cartoons and added to its comic lines (Wally’s new insignia).

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      Renee Montoya, for one. Supergirl’s costume in the later part of Peter David’s run, with the dark miniskirt and white top. Beast Boy’s current purple costume. The Hall of Justice. The Wonder Twins. (Yes, they showed up in Justice League Task Force in the 1990s.)

      That’s just off the top of my head.

      Reply
  14. Omar Karindu

    On the one hand, the time-travel expanation solves a lot of the worries I had about the new Flash backstory, since it’s meant to be something Thawne introduced “recently.”

    On the other, Thawne’s secret plan is making less and less sense the longer this goes on. Based on his dialogue, he’s planning to “resurrect” himself. But given that he can apparently pop up whenever he likes in time and appear in the present and stage a physical battle with the present-day speedsters, isn’t he…err…already resurrected?

    Seriously, I’m not seeing what possible status change “resurrection” would offer Thawne that would be any different than his apparent status in Rebirth already. It’s a bit like that Chuck Austen story with the villain who plotted to escape his otherdimensional prison by traveling to Earth repeatedly and at will. He wasn’t all that banished, and Zoom’s not particularly dead as it is, y’know?

    Reply
    1. Jesse

      If his goal is to stop himself from dying, that makes sense. Let’s say Barry killed him at (R-Flash’s) age 35. He only lived 35 years, no matter how much he traveled through time in the meantime. Unless he sucessfully changes something in the past, he will always end up back in the spot to die at age 35, right?

      R-Flash’s motivation in general is the one thing in this series that bugs me. (Barry’s new backstory was another, but now they’ve explained it.) He’s just an obsessive jerk who wants to devote his entire life to taunting Barry? Why?

      Reply
      1. Omar Karindu

        Thing is, Zoom can already alter the timeline drastically. It doesn’t seem that he’d require a massive scheme if this is about somehow preventing his original timeline death. (Come to think, if he can kill people in the past, as with Nora Allen, why’re any of his enemies still alive? I can see where he’d need Barry and perhaps Jay to keep his own origin possible, but why the others?)

        In any case, issue #4 seemed to indicate that Zoom recreated his powers in the accident seen in the present-day beginning of Rebirth #1; and Zoom is shown with long gray hair and a walking stick in the flashback to that moment in #4 and in #4’s “present” when he unmasks. I take that to mean he’s physically older than he was when he originally died.

        And he also mentions having returned after Barry’s death, which can’t refer to his clash with Wally, since that was not a return but a preamble to his Zoom career. There’s also that business about Barry leaving the gateway open when he turned up in Infinite Crisis.

        Remember, according to #4 Zoom was able to send the “subliminal” pulse that brings Barry back for keeps in Final Crisis. Using this, he manages to return long enough to repower himself as his own narration indicates. Zoom is quite clear that he “transformed [him]self into a NEW kind of speedster only after Barry’s Final Crisis return. And we saw him do that in Flash: Rebirth #1, which was labeled as occurring in the present day, not the past. Of course,t hat rather confusingly means he can already time-travel to get to thepresent in the first place….guh.

        Reply
  15. Esteban Pedreros

    I’ll comment further once I’ve read the other comments.

    I didn’t like this particular issue. I like some of the reinterpretations of continuity that Geoff Johns has made in the past, they work particularly well when the character doesn’t have much background and needs and update. However, I don’t like the idea of The Flash being a tragic hero, it doesn’t suit the character that I’ve read for almost 20 years. It’s not tragedy per se what I don’t like, since there’s been plenty of tragic storylines over the years, but making the characters tragic at their origin point makes them more grim than what I want to read with a Flash comic book.

    The idea of Zoom traveling back in time to mess with Barry’s life in order to make him miserable is not all that bad, but having him pushing Barry down the stairs or opening the door so his dogs gets killed is absolutely idiotic.

    I’m rather disappointed with this story, is not good at all, it has a function and it’s doing so well, but as a story is rather simple and uninteresting. I haven’t liked EVS’s work either, he certainly take his time to work on every panel, but the more simplistic part of his work which is to depict an action and draw the human figure accurately (as much as it can be done), has been done poorly, he often makes the characters take awkward poses, and the perspective is weird at best.

    Overall, I’m not particularly fond of this miniseries, but I guess that if 3 years from now The Flash is as important a character as Hal Jordan is nowadays, I won’t be complaining all that much.

    Reply
  16. Rob

    I thought this was a good solid issue!
    Problem is, as it was 3 moths late, I had to go back and re-read the series so I could remember where the hell we were at!
    I LOVED the “Flash Family’ Waid created during his tenure, and I’m wrapt to see it return. With Barry back, EVERYONE’S here!

    Reply
  17. Carl

    So Booster Gold can’t stop Barbara Gordon from getting shot by the Joker or save Ted Kord’s life, but Zoom can change whatever he likes just to be a sadistic d!ck? He didn’t even affect history all that much. He’s just being a pain in the a$$.

    Reply

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