Review: Flash: Dastardly Death of the Rogues hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Beautifully drawn and full of fantastic superheroic saves, Geoff Johns writing a Flash title again with Francis Manapul and former collaborator Scott Kolins feels like coming home. If I had wondered if Johns had exhausted his arsenal of fantastic Flash saves, there's more; if I had wondered if Johns had revealed all he could about the Flash's Rogues, there's more. And to an extent, I appreciate 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.

[Contains spoilers]

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]

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8 comments:

  1. I agree that this was a stellar way to jumpstart Barry Allen's return to The Flash, even more so than Rebirth, which wasn't entirely spectacular. It's good to see Barry falling into a status quo (even though, with Flashpoint on the horizon, it's going to be short-lived), and Manapul's art is just too gorgeous for words. (In fact, if it weren't for his art, I probably would have trade-waited.)

    What'd you make of the Brightest Day tie-in factor? Since I wasn't reading BD in single issues, I felt a little lost when Captain Boomerang disappeared and reentered the scene arbitrarily; it was as though Boomerang HAD to be in the story because he's a Rogue, but Johns obviously seems to be saving the best Boomerang moments for the pages of BD.

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  2. I'm gearing up for a big Blackest Night/Brightest Day re-reading in the next couple months, so I didn't specifically look back at my Brightest Day volume while reading Flash. I didn't necessarily feel the lack of Boomerang that you did; I understood Captain Cold had sent Boomerang off on his own for a bit, so that's where I interpreted him to be -- his vision of his Brightest Day task lined up with Brightest Day Vol. 1 as far as I remembered.

    Still hoping that Johns addresses the fact that Boomerang, essentially, had a fling with Kid Flash's mom ...

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  3. As a decades-long Flash fan, put me in the 'delighted' camp. That helicopter scene was astounding, and what some might see as gentle pacing felt to me as adding depth and weight in a respectful treatment. I agree with Zach too that this collection felt like a better fit for what I know and feel about Barry than Rebirth did.

    CE, I've been reading and enjoying the blog for a while, but something you've written here finally got me worked up enough to comment upon : "... I dislike DC Comics's move of late to give Hal and Barry greater roles than Superman". I know it's only your opinion on this, but personally I welcome Flash and GL's long overdue day in the sun rather than the usual suspects. Some of us prefer our Scarlet Speedsters and Ring-slingers to the others, and thus to me the current era is one of excitement and freshness.

    Did anyone else find the name of the collection somewhat curious and/or misleading ?

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  4. I liked this book more than I anticipated going in. It reestablishes Barry quickly and lays tons of groundwork for future stories. Funny how the 25th century is becoming a milestone future era for the DCU!

    And kudos on correcting the spelling.

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  5. I totally understand the delight Green Lantern and Flash fans must have in seeing their favorite characters, long underused, finally get the spotlight. Not only should the DC Universe not necessarily be a Superman-only place, but this obviously ties in to DC expanding their media franchises by demonstrating the viability of a wide range of characters. And I had no objection to crossovers in the past that centered on characters other than Superman, like the Wonder Woman-centered War of the Gods, for instance. And of course I like Green Lantern and Flash and their respective stories, too.

    But ...

    At the point in which Geoff Johns establishes Flash Barry Allen as the wellspring of all superheroics, and at the point in which Superman just stands around in the background while Green Lantern saves the day in Blackest Night, I begin to feel as a Superman fan that the character is being underused. I know, of course, Green Lantern and Flash were underused for years, but as Supermen often gets mischaracterized as irrelevant, it makes my teeth ache when I actually see him being useless. Wonder Woman, let's note, didn't fare much better in Blackest Night, but at least she got a ring for a while. So while I definitely get where the Anonymous writer is coming from, there's a part of me that perhaps over-interprets Green Lantern and Flash in the spotlight as a suggestion that Superman is old hat, and that's what I don't like.

    Anon, so glad I finally inspired you to write. Please come again!

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  6. Holy surprises Batman! From DC's The Source blog:

    "While the effects of FLASHPOINT will be felt throughout BOOSTER GOLD even after the series concludes, we can’t quite say the same for THE FLASH past issue #12… Why’s that?

    Issue 12 will be the final issue of THE FLASH."

    http://dcu.blog.dccomics.com/2011/03/18/flashpoint-friday-c2e2-edition-fan-question/

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  7. Highly, highly skeptical of this. It seems a poor marketing decision on DC's part, enough so that I'm lead to believe that this is just marketing fluff, and that the Flash title will be back in one form or another soon enough? Retiring Barry already for Wally? I doubt it. One Flash title called All-Flash? I imagine DC's marketing department would prefer the title be just "Flash," thanks very much.

    Not to be negative, but this is fairly in line with the rest of how Flashpoint's been promoted so far -- a lot of flash, forgive the pun, and not a lot of substance. Though -- I believe in Geoff Johns to deliver something wonderful.

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  8. Well, we all know how that Flash cancellation turned out. Too bad Johns has moved on from Flash to Justice League and Aquaman. Well, good for JL and Aquaman, but maybe not so good for Flash (which I haven't read yet). The Flashes have done well under great, long-term writers (Messner-Loebs, Waid, Johns) but not very well under the many others who have tried in between. So I'm apprehensive about an artist and a COLORIST writing the new series, but I'm certainly going to give it a shot.

    Anyway, I just finished reading this, and greatly enjoyed it. I liked Rebirth, but a lot of Rebirth felt like it was drawing on elements established during Wally's (LONG) run as the Flash. This book felt more like a Barry story. Granted, I'm still a big Wally fan, but if Barry's going to be Flash, then tell Barry stories, not Wally stories.

    I still find it weird having Iris so young again, considering she was a GRANDMOTHER in the old Wally Flash (and Impulse) series.

    Oh, and Captain Boomerang Jr's mother was a descendent of Zoom, but not his daughter (25th century vs 30th century).

    Again, too bad this series ended so prematurely. Seems like Johns had a good premise, focusing on "cases", tying Barry's police work into his Flash adventures. Hopefully the new series is successful in continuing that.

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