I wonder if Geoff Johns would hesitate if someone asked him which characters he preferred to write, the Flash or the Rogues?
[Contains spoilers for Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge]
In Final Crisis: Rogues' Revenge, writer Geoff Johns reunites with artist Scott Kolins and proves sometimes you can get the band back together again. Johns' five-year run on The Flash remains one of my favorites (see my retrospective of Johns' Flash run), and in Rogues' Revenge he not only returns most of the series' main supporting characters for a final bow, he also builds on a couple of the characters in the process. Add to that Rogues' Revenge's perfect position as a bridge between the disparate Countdown to Final Crisis and the miniseries itself, and it combined for a story I literally didn't want to end.
Even more clearly than in Flash, Johns demonstrates here the dichotomy of the Flash's Rogues. These are quite remarkably deadly foes, as Johns proves in the brutal second chapter when the Rogues torture and decimate a group of replacements. At the same time, they are to a one wracked with guilt over having killed the Flash Bart Allen, believing in a warped sense of fair play where they don't kill anyone who wouldn't kill them in turn. But we can't forget that each Rogue emerged from a terrifyingly damaged family situation, so much so that Captain Cold hardly blinks before ordering the death of his own father.
What we find is a group of bad guys near unquantifiable among the other villains of the DC Universe. While every other villain (including, Johns points out, Superman's Lex Luthor) joins Libra in Darkseid's cult of evil, Captain Cold quips that he doesn't believe in evil, only "different shades of grey." All of this is Johns' invention -- the Rogues weren't nearly so complex in previous eras -- but indeed it helps to define them as something different that the patients of Arkham and the Sinestro Corps. The Rogues are on one hand rational villains who commit crimes only for gain, not maliciousness; but they're all also on the bleeding edge of plum crazy, and Johns doesn't let us forget it.
At first I thought it something of a waste that DC included the already-collected Captain Cold profile at the end of this book, but Johns offers so much detail about Cold here that I found myself reading that story again. Johns' posited Cold in his Flash stories as leader of the Rogues and the antithesis of the Flash Wally West -- from a broken home like Wally, Cold is essentially what Wally could have become if not for the guidance of Barry and Iris Allen. Though Cold's arc essentially ended in Flash, Johns unexpectedly brings Cold's abusive father into the scene, and pages of violence are followed by quiet interaction between Cold and his father -- which itself gives way to more violence. The sequence is, if you'll forgive the pun, chilling, and cements Cold as an oft-overlooked villain worth watching.
I also appreciated that Johns took a few pages to fill in a gap in the history of the Weather Wizard. Whether by design or the fallout of retroactive continuity, the Weather Wizard's origin has historically been a little murky; he's at different times been believed to control the weather either on his own or through a staff invented by his brother, who either died of a heart attack or whom the Wizard himself murdered. In Rogues' Revenge, the Rogues end up in the selfsame observatory where Wizard's brother died, and Johns finally reveals the truth -- no big surprise, and indeed the entire scene in the observatory was hardly necessary, but I appreciate that Johns took the time to tie up this loose end.
Like DC Universe: Last Will and Testament, Rogues' Revenge serves as a mediator between Countdown to Final Crisis and Final Crisis, neither one of which itself quite fit into DC Comics continuity. The Rogues murdering Bart Allen was one of the lynchpins of Countdown, and this series addresses that in terms of Final Crisis, as Libra takes special interest in the Rogues for having killed a speedster. This volume acknowledges not only the death of the first Trickster from Countdown, but also the Pied Piper's semi-comprehensible ties to Darkseid's Anti-Life Equation in the same series.
(As a side note, one has to acknowledge that DC Comics has had a pretty rough time of it in the run-up to Final Crisis. Fans generally panned Countdown to Final Crisis, and for the success of Sinestro Corps War there was also the failure of Amazons Attack; more than a handful of the One Year Later titles were cancelled. With Batman RIP and New Krypon, DC seems back on track, but I remember the outcry over the death of Bart Allen, and in that way the Rogues represent a trying time for DC. When Captain Cold delivers a lethal blow to the comics-arbiter of Bart's demise, Interia, in thanks for "one $%@#$@-up year," I have to think the Rogues are getting their revenge on a couple of levels.)
[Contains full covers, Captain Cold and Zoom reprint stories]
Final Crisis: Rogues Revenge is hardly a necessary story. It doesn't add much to Final Crisis on one hand, and likely isn't essential before you read Flash: Rebirth on the other. But this is a good story, a good crime story, a good DC Universe villain story, and hands down one of my top recent favorites.