Flash: The Fastest Man Alive - Lightning in a Bottle is, to be blunt, a failure of writing and art. What's worse, however, is that the two don't fail at the same time--there are moments where Danny Bilson and Paul Demeo's story shows some promise, just as the art offers a bright spot--Karl Kerschl--against Ken Lashley's just-wrong-for-this series illustrations. The result is a story that probably had some potential in its inception, but fails to distinguish itself in the production.
One Year Later, Bart Allen works at Keystone Motors, and Jay Garrick is the Flash. An accident reveals that Bart still carries the Speed Force inside of him, but he's hesitant to use it. A series of sabotage attacks forces Bart to wear Barry Allen's old Flash uniform, the only thing that can contain the Speed Force, in order to protect his friends, including STAR Labs scientist Dr. Valerie Perez. Bart ultimately must become the Flash in order to stop the vigilante violence of his friend Griff, facing his fear in the process.
This new Flash series had a considerably high reputation to live up to. Mark Waid defined the Flash for an era, creating the Speed Force that's become a mainstay of DC Comics lore. Bilson and Demeo set out with good intentions, revising Bart Allen's origin such that he receives his powers accidentally, much the same way as the Flashes before him. This accident, however, never really takes place (Bart reveals his powers when Griff is caught in an accident).
Similarly, Bart's internalizing of the Speed Force is rife with potential--especially when Bart can benefit from the wisdom of Flashes past--but why Bart's so hesitant to use the Speed Force is never fully explained. Supposedly the Speed Force is eating Bart alive, but we never see any evidence of this, and it's not clear why Bart's so afraid of the super-bursts of speed that he receives. As with Firestorm, the lacking comics pseudo-science here is just boring, especially after Mark Waid's efforts.
I did appreciate Bilson and Demeo's attempt to keep Bart in Keystone's motor city, even going so far as to use the detectives Chyre and Morillo that Geoff Johns created. But whereas Johns' Flash run felt fully rooted in union politics, Bilson and Demeo's intial bad guy is a stereotypical disgruntled employee. Griffen, Bart's friend-turned-enemy, needs very much to be sympathetic--but as was the problem with Nightwing: Brothers in Blood, the character is so full of slang and juvenile humor that he comes off as a caricature. Valerie Perez, the daughter of a former Flash villain, is a bright spot, offering ties to Bart's Kid Flash days; here, however, as well as in other instances, it seems the writers don't quite understand Bart's Impulse to Kid Flash timeline, and these shoddy details harm the book overall.
In comparison to Waid and Johns' Flash runs, Fastest Man Alive just doesn't reflect the same fervor. Ken Lashley has plenty of comic book experience, but his art seems flat compared to past Flash artists Scott Kolins, Mike Wieringo, Howard Porter or even this trade's fill-in artist Karl Kerschl, whose more cartoony style offers a much better fit. I was wary of Kerschl when he first did guest-spots in Superman, but the early boxiness of his work has given way to a smoothness that works great in titles like Teen Titans.
It's hard to review Lightning in a Bottle without casting an eye toward what we know is to come in the next trade. It's actually possible to believe the thirteen issues of this Flash series were planned, given some of the doom and gloom prophecies found in this trade--though even those feel largely un-Flash-like coming from the upbeat Wally West and Barry Allen. Fastest Man Alive just never offers the zip of its predecessors, though again the concept seems sound--it's just too bad Bart Allen had to pay for other people's difficulties.
[Contains full covers.]
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