Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues, a story about a man who can accomplish things very fast, the most because of how it wastes time -- with scene setting, with conversation, with silly bits of humor. All of it suggests that Johns's intention here is to give the reader a firm introduction to the character of Flash Barry Allen and his supporting cast, even if this story might proceed more slowly than Johns's audience is used to.
It is not just because of Francis Manapul's art that Johns's first book of the Flash ongoing series reminds me of his Superboy: Boy of Steel. As with Superboy, this Flash volume is a slow, methodical book, from the initial splash page not of our hero, but of Central City, to seven pages of the Flash restoring a decimated apartment building that has no real tie to the ongoing story. This includes a page and a half dedicated to the Flash fixing a little girl's doll; Spawn this is not. That sequence is followed by two pages of Barry chatting with his wife Iris, and then again Barry and Iris sit down for coffee for four pages an issue later.
I'm not complaining, mind you. Johns writes Barry's saves with the right mix of fun and exhilaration, as when Barry leaps into midair to save the pilots of a crashing helicopter (and I appreciated that Johns knows Barry's limits; the Flash saves the people, but the helicopter crashes in flames). Barry's relationship with Iris and their meetings over coffee form the backbone of this book; they are exactly the right mix of confidantes and professional rivals, and Johns makes the writing of the relationship seem so effortless that its a wonder scores of Superman writers haven't been able to accomplish the same over the years. Johns's circuitous route in the story -- Barry fixing the girl's doll, for instance -- seems to me to stem from the same place as Johns's Justice Society riding in a fire truck with cutesy dalmatians, but this feels much more natural, maybe because Manapul's art lends itself better to the pastoral than Dale Eaglesham's did on Justice Society.
Time travel plays a large role in this story (one that will likely increase with the coming Flashpoint crossover), but I liked that Johns didn't cover ground already well-tread in Booster Gold. Flash's time travel issues are less "is it OK to go back in time and kill Hitler," and more determinism -- if the future exists somewhere, do I have any say over my own actions? Am I destined to make my mistakes or can I change them? Johns cleverly has Barry interpret time travel not as physically changing the past, but rather as overturning the wrongful conviction of a young man. The future Reverse Flash Task Force arrest Barry because they're trying to prevent all crime in their time; Barry works to do the same, but by uncovering the truth rather than shaping the truth to his own ends.
I chuckled at Johns's assertion on Flash: Rebirth that Barry Allen is the wellspring from which all other heroes emerged. Johns is accurate in that we credit the Barry Allen Flash for launching the Silver Age of comics, including Green Lantern Hal Jordan and the Atom Ray Palmer, though for Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick to give Barry that credit in-story seemed too much Barry worship (let alone that I dislike DC Comics's move of late to give Hal and Barry greater roles than Superman). Barry is perhaps a bit too perfect in this story, too, always dutifully worried about others, whereas even Hal Jordan gets overconfident or runs his mouth off once in a while. Johns reinforces Barry's "wellspring-ness" in a scene toward the end of the book where he single-handedly convinces the Central City police to re-open all of their hastily finished cases for the past six months; the scene is true to Barry as Johns presents him, though I worry if Johns presentation of Barry as never tripping or sneezing might at some point get old.
Johns certainly differentiates the adventures of Flash Barry Allen from "previous" Flash Wally West at least in Barry's approach to superheroics, which is always dutifully steeped in the language of police investigations. As a fan of Johns's last Flash series, however, I was glad artist Scott Kolins played a role here, and in a "Rogue Profile" issue no less (Kolins' art even blurs a bit to look more like Manapul's). I'm not sure we learned much more about Captain Boomerang Digger Harkness than we knew before, though the villain is a favorite of mine and I was happy to have him in the spotlight nonetheless. Boomerang's face-off with the Reverse-Flash was interesting, since I believe Reverse-Flash's daughter was the mother of Boomerang's child -- this was not addressed in the issue, but I hope Johns gets to it at some point.
The hardcover of Dastardly Death of the Rogues, at least, contains a couple of Johns's one-page "Flash Facts" backups, and a teaser for Flashpoint. As an advocate for collections readers getting as many of the little extras as the monthly readers, I was glad to see these here. Johns emphasizes both in one of the "Flash Facts" and in the story that the first Mirror Master Sam Scudder had control over forces in his mirrors that the reader never knew; if I thought Johns had said all he had to say about the Rogues in his first Flash run, it's interesting how he's now even exploring the history of dead Rogues. My guess is that the "alternate reality" that Barry sees here in Scudder's mirror is in fact the way events were "supposed" to unravel, with Barry's mother alive to old age; I wonder if one aspect of Flashpoint will be Barry having to decide between the life of his mother or preserving DC Comics reality as we currently know it.
Flash: Dastardly Death of the Rogues will be intriguing for fans of Geoff Johns's Flash new and previous, and certainly if you intend to pick up the Flashpoint crossover, that all starts here. It's clear Johns is playing the long-game with Flash, however, and this book's story delays and digressions will delight some but potentially alienate others. Johns's Green Lantern, to be sure, doesn't move this slow, and I wonder how well the Flash title will support a major crossover in just a few short months, with all the world watching.
[Contains full and variant covers, "Flash Facts" and Flashpoint teaser. Printed on glossy paper]
More reviews on the way!