I have been very interested in the reactions to The Flash #21, and in the variety of reviews for this issue. Some have been glowing (including my review) and some have been not-so-glowing, which happens to a lot of comics these days…but the source of the debate seems a bit more consistent than with other issues. It comes down in no small measure to the characterization of Bart Allen and how different fans feel about his depiction in this issue. I stand by my review for reasons I’ll explain in must a moment…but I do understand how others feel about this subject. It hearkens back to the debates about the launch of the New 52, and to other changes in continuity over the years – and it says a lot about how we feel about these wonderful characters and about continuity changes in general.
How do you like your Bart Allen? Some readers saw Bart portrayed in this issue as being a “snotty brat”, and either agreed that this is how Impulse was originally portrayed in the pre-Flashpoint days or strongly disagreed that Bart had ever been this way. This speaks in no small measure to when you first saw Bart, and in what medium. Bart has been portrayed in his various incarnations (Impulse, Kid Flash, Flash) in very different ways, and with widely different levels of maturity. He has been the ultimate ADHD tween and the mature hero who has read literally every book in the library and is willing to sacrifice himself to save others. How you remember your first encounter with this great character certainly will influence how you see him portrayed today.
As for me? I saw this in a very different light that I didn’t fully explain in my review. I didn’t see Bart as being “snotty” at all, nor do I consider his actions to be the actions of a “brat”. I saw a scared kid here, one who is unsure of who he really is and whether he is even worthy of the “Flash” name. He doesn’t know what kind of trouble he was in before he showed up in our time, and seems very afraid of what will happen when his (future) past catches up with him. The last person he would want to see right now is the Flash, not when so much is unknown. What would the reaction of a kid his age be in this situation, where The Flash is trying to chase you down to talk? Run away…as fast and as far as you can. Bart’s actions made perfect sense to me in this light – it seemed genuine, and the story to me was excellent. That’s why I liked this issue so much…and why I still do.
Still, this brings up some deeper issues for comics fans in general and Flash fans in particular. The New 52 certainly rocked our world as Flash fans (along with fans of Stephanie Brown, Cass Cain, Donny Troy, et al). Having a fan-favorite like Wally written out of continuity was very difficult for a legion of fans, and the changes in how other characters were written have sparked strong reactions from many fans as well. How could Barbara Gordon be Batgirl again? How could Wonder Woman be the daughter of Zeus? And, how could Bart be so…so immature? If you read present issues at anything other than face value, it is a tough transition. I get that…but that isn’t the frame of mind I take in reviewing comics. I do tend to take present continuity at face value, and I view how this series is written within the framework of the New 52.
Lets talk about change for a moment. As a (very) old fan, I have seen a lot of changes over the years. The one that made me the most angry? Nope, not the New 52, and not even Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was in 1969 when DC made Dick Grayson grow up and go to college, leaving Gotham City behind. DC Editorial had Bruce move out of Wayne Manor and into an apartment downtown, leaving the Batcave behind as well. And, they made the Teen Titans into…pacifists? Yes, pacifists! Try to figure out how to stop bad guys without, you know, fighting bad guys! But, had this not happened, we might never have had Nightwing, nor would we have later had the Titans that brought us Raven, Cyborg and Starfire. The Crisis on Infinite Earths took away Barry and left Wally only able to run the speed of sound…but without CoIE we would never have had the later awesome Wally series or the Speed Force concept. In other words, exceptional things have come out of changes over the years that initially had fans very upset, even understandably so.
I miss Wally. I hope he returns soon. I’m not defending leaving him out of continuity, and please keep in mind that Manapul and Buccellato also tried to bring him back. But, we are where we are in the New 52 – and I look at all DC comics today in light of that. Are the stories good? Do they advance our understanding of the characters and are the storylines compelling? I think that Manapul and Buccellato portrayed a realistic reaction of a kid in trouble in The Flash #21 – exactly what Bart is today – and they did expand our understanding of who Bart, and the nature of his powers, may be in this new continuity. It isn’t the “old” Bart any more than this is the “old” Flash or even the “old” Barry. And, if you don’t like the story or the issue or the series, that is certainly your right. I think that how you view it says a lot about where we are with the DCU in general and where we are as fans in our understanding and acceptance of this continuity. As for me, I’m still enjoying what Manapul and Buccellato are doing with The Flash – and I’m looking forward to the next issue!