Flash Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice never feels over-long or too padded, which is a sign Williamson has a handle on what he's doing. And indeed Flash gets hopping by the end and makes some valid jabs at the good and bad that fictional superheroes do, and art by main series artist Carmine Di Giandomenico restores some of the maturity that's been missing from Flash comics of late.
At the same time, the trajectory of Williamson's story falls easily into a common comics trope, repetitious of both a variety of previous Flash stories, recent DC storylines, and innumerable other comics. Also I fundamentally disagree with Williamson's characterization of Flash Barry Allen, which affected my enjoyment of this story overall. I'll grant that as the Flash writer, Wiliamson has probably done significant study of Barry, but I haven't had this same disagreement with Barry's portrayal by previous writers.
[Review contains spoilers]
When I read a Batman comic, I expect Batman to be gloomy and angst-ridden; it's Batman. But Flash Barry Allen, of all of DC's pantheon, is supposed to be the one hero with his work/life balance pretty much in check; even setting aside the recent additions of Barry's mother's murder and father's imprisonment, Barry's the one who (in other realities) married Iris West, whose city dedicated a museum in his honor, who was so inspiring that his sidekick took up his mantle.
Consider the first issue of the New 52 Flash series, where we find Barry a little nerdy, a little awkward, but out on a date with Patty Spivot, making quips at the bad guys, and generally being in control of his powers. Compare that with the first issue of Joshua Williamson's Rebirth Flash series, where less than a dozen pages in Barry's already complaining about how overwhelmed he feels, how he wishes he could do more, and at the same time tries to do so much that he's constantly falling short.
Williamson's sad sack Barry continues throughout the book, lamenting how being the Flash gets in the way of his police job, how he never even stops to watch the sunrise, and chastising himself for his mistakes. The tag line of Williamson's Rebirth special is that "Barry Allen ... makes mistakes"; when the villain Godspeed suggests "the only thing that gets Barry Allen out of bed in the morning is death," it's so true to the story that I tended to wonder just how much Williamson himself even likes Barry. (I know Williamson is an avowed Flash fan and I don't doubt that, but his take on Barry is awfully dark.)
So whereas there is an interesting story in Lightning Strikes Twice that involves Flash trying to train a Central City full of speedsters, it's weighed down by my sense that the Barry Allen in the story isn't really the Barry Allen we usually enjoy, and furthermore, isn't a lot of fun to spend time with. The story is further dulled by the sheer predictability of Barry's friend August Heart turning out to be the villain Godspeed, because of course the friend is the enemy. Add to it that we just saw Barry betrayed by his friend Darwin Elias in the last Flash series, Wally West betrayed by his friend Hunter Zolomon in the series a few before that, and the three-for-three reveal of Barry's friend-as-enemy in each season of the Flash TV show so far (as well as similar storylines in Batman Vol. 1: I Am Gotham and Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 3: Casualties of War), and it starts to get ridiculous.
Oddly, it seems the ultimate point of all this talk of Barry's loneliness and busy-ness is to justify in the end the utility of Wally West (the younger) as the new Kid Flash. The story feels a bit lopsided because Wally doesn't take much of a role until the end, but we find a Barry harried and overwhelmed become one who feels new purpose as a teacher of the new speedsters (returning to what he had with the older Wally West), to finally all of the Speed Force being centralized in Barry and young Wally with the singular, ongoing partnership restored. Williamson over-sells it, to be sure, to the point one might wonder about Barry feeling this fulfilled by his friendship with a teenager ("Wally reminds me of my old partner ... They have the same heart, and I know I can trust this new Kid Flash to run by my side. Never thought I'd meet someone who was like Wally again ..."), but if it's OK for Batman and Robin, we'll leave it alone here, too. I do like that this sets back up again the Flash-Kid Flash-Iris West partnership, and clearly this is all meant to go to Rebirth's themes of legacy and friendship, but it feels heavy-handed.
It might not seem this way, but I did enjoy Flash Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice. Let's not understate again that Joshua Williamson makes nine issues on one story eminently readable, and there's a fine (if short-lived) supporting cast here that includes Wally, young speedster Avery Ho, scientist Meena "Fast Track" Dhawan, and Iris West. It does not seem that artist Carmine Di Giandomenico is sticking around, but his work is very pleasing in the book. Though Williamson's comics science is particularly strangled (including a scientist who has a "sample" of the Speed Force, which as I understand it is kind of like holding gravity), there's plenty of fan service bits here in references to Crisis on Infinite Earths and "Trial of the Flash," letting alone upcoming appearances by Wally West the elder and how this book might tie into DC's Rebirth/Watchmen storyline.
All of that's likely to bring me back, though I do hope the new Kid Flash is the kick in the pants this series needs for its Barry Allen to lighten up a little.