One thing about a Rebirth is that when you finish it, invariably you're left with a handful of easily encapsulatable nuggets that help to sum up the newly reborn character.
One of these after Flash: Rebirth is this: the Silver Age Flash Barry Allen is one of the few fellow heroes that Batman genuinely likes. The significance of this, of course, is that if we understood nothing else after Green Lantern: Rebirth, it was that Batman didn't like Hal Jordan. But Batman likes Barry and Barry likes Hal, and all of the sudden fans know exactly where Barry fits in the DC Comics pantheon -- even if you were thirteen when Barry died and never really experienced him inside the DC Universe.
Someone who was thirteen when Barry Allen died, by the way, is Rebirth writer and newly minted DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. Sure, I recognize there's back issues, and Johns is undoubtedly familiar with the entirety of Barry Allen's history by now, but I can't disregard that there was never a time for Johns when Barry was "the" current Flash. Whereas I overall enjoyed reafing Flash: Rebirth, the story distinctly like a modern-era recreation of Barry Allen by someone approaching him second-hand, and not a rejuvenation of the original character.
Johns likely had first-hand experience with Hal Jordan prior to resurrecting him in Green Lantern: Rebirth, and that story served to present all the cool things about Hal Jordan that had already been there but we never fully realized. Flash: Rebirth makes up a couple of things about Barry Allen that are indeed pretty cool and make one want to follow the character, but they're made up nonetheless and not true to the original source.
For instance, if the most a modern fan knows about Barry Allen is that he had a penchant for bow ties, is considered DC Comics' enduring patron saint (by virtue of his long-standing sacrifice and death in Crisis on Infinite Earths), and otherwise seemed like something of a stiff, Johns turns all of these on their ear. Barry himself confronts his reputation as a saint, repudiating it with a host of "angsty" bad deeds including killing the Reverse Flash and abandoning his friends to live in the future. As for the bow tie, Johns retroactively reveals, Barry didn't even wear one until it was slipped on him last minute and his wife Iris liked them. So, Johns seems to say, not so much a stiff as you might have thought.
All of this is clever, especially Barry's sainthood being within the DC Universe as well as without. But, it's a far cry from Johns re-explaining Green Lantern's yellow weakness in light of new evidence; rather it's more like Identity Crisis re-imagining earlier adventures of the Justice League. What we learn in Flash: Rebirth is that Barry Allen truly is so much of a stiff that Johns needs a villain to alter the time-stream in order to make Barry cooler; that it's not enough for Barry just to be a police scientist and a good Flash, but that he needs some kind of "edge" to appeal to audiences, something I thought comics outgrew in the late 1990s.
Even as Flash: Rebirth heralds the return of Barry Allen, it also apologizes for Barry's lack of coolness, when really no one expected Barry to be all that cool to begin with. In this way, we find in Rebirth that Barry Allen isn't returned so much as the DC Universe now has a new Barry Allen-Prime, so to speak -- but I like this Barry Allen-Prime. Rebirth is heavy in Speed Force double-take, but Johns suggests that the forthcoming Flash series will be more of a police procedural, something that's often suceeded in the DC Universe. Barry will solve cold cases against the backdrop of a corrupt police force -- this has worked for most every CBS police drama (complete with an equally "angsty" murder that Barry witnessed in his childhood) so likely it'll work for Flash, too, and I'm excited.
Not to mention that, even as Johns wrote a dynamic Flash Wally West for a number of years, here Johns surprisingly serves to suck most of the remaining fun out of Wally, leaving Barry as the only viable Flash choice. The best part about writer Mark Waid's recent brief return to Flash was how charmingly cute he made Wally's children; Johns presents them here as absolute brats. Even as Barry is the mentor and Wally the sidekick, Barry ends the series seeming the more youthful of the two. Wally gains a new costume reminiscent of his metallic, white-eyed costume again of the 1990s; whereas this does speak to the era from which Wally is best-known, it makes him look dated and Barry the more "modern" Flash.
Yet, there is plenty for Flash fans to like in this story, though as with Johns' Superboy: The Boy of Steel, some might venture it suffers from too much nostalgia. At the end of Rebirth, the Flash-family status quo is essentially the same as around issue #100 of Mark Waid's Flash run, with Jesse Quick back in the Flash fold and Max Mercury resurrected. This latter item is one of the few great surprises of the book, and as happy as I am to see Max, it feels like something of a regression for the Kid Flash character to have his teacher looking over his shoulder again.
The book's other great cameos are of Wally's villains Savitar and Lady Flash; again, I like these characters and I'm glad to see them, but they've each been out of comics for fifteen years, such that Rebirth's intended audience does seem to be fans who've followed the Flash that long, and not necessarily ones who might've joined the DC Universe more recently. In fact, a good 99% of the knowledge you need for Flash: Rebirth comes from the one story where Savitar appeared, Dead Heat -- now, that's a great Flash story, but it makes Flash: Rebirth feel more insular whereas Green Lantern: Rebirth was more expansive.
Early in Flash: Rebirth, the Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick explains how Barry Allen actually inspired him to become a hero again after Jay's initial retirement. Johns is being cute here, too; this is a not-so-subtle reference to the Barry Allen character heralding the Silver Age of comic books in 1950s, which itself helped return the Golden Age heroes to popularity. As such, Johns posits Barry Allen as the DC Universe's preeminent Flash (Barry created the Speed Force, we learn, and gifted every speedster past or present with their super-speed [though completely by accident]) and perhaps even the DC Universe's preeminent superhero (I, for one, like that accolade to go to Superman, but what can you do?).
The irony of the story, ultimately, is that even as Johns takes great pains to suggest that Barry isn't as perfect and unrelatable as we all thought he was, Johns also offers a dozen reasons why Barry is the greatest superhero who ever lived, not to mention having created a multi-dimensional cosmic force that apparently contains the answer to every question ever asked in the entire universe ever. It's a lot to live up to, and I'd venture Flash: Rebirth might've done well to have reigned itself in just a bit. If one detriment of Barry Allen the first time around was too much perfection verging on sainthood, Geoff Johns toes a dangerous line this second time. I'll be watching to see what happens to Barry Allen next in the DC Universe, but if the skies turn red again, he might just want to watch out.
[Contains full and variant covers, introduction, original proposal by Geoff Johns, Ethan Van Skiever sketchbook]
I hope you've enjoyed our Flash week at Collected Editions. Don't miss this week's other Flash reviews, Flash: The Return of Barry Allen, Flash: Emergency Stop, Flash: The Human Race, Flash: The Wild Wests. Tip of the Flash hat, of course, to Kelson Vibber of the Flash-centered Speed Force blog for his guest reviews this week, and also to everyone who posted and re-tweeted about the Collected Editions Flash Week -- thank you!