Review: Flash Vol. 4: Running Scared (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

I had high hopes for Joshua Williamson's Rebirth Flash Vol. 4: Running Scared, coming off both the Button crossover with Batman and also this series's smart, emotional third volume. But with Scared, Williamson is back to his sad sack Barry Allen, a character so oppressively morose that he forgets his own birthday and then can't crack a smile at his own surprise party. And then mopes about it. If Barry's sadness is part of some grand Rebirth storyline on Williamson's part, that's tenable, but the book isn't doing near enough to clue us in that this isn't how things are supposed to be (especially since we do otherwise understand explicitly other problems with the fabric of reality). And to that end, Williamson bridges a couple of continuities here; nothing wrong with that on its face, but Williamson is inconsistent about what happened and who remembers what in ways that ultimately drag the story down.

[Review contains spoilers]

I'm amazed there's not more outcry about DC's Rebirth Flash series. Given that two Flashes were the linchpin of DC Universe: Rebirth, the point of which was to herald a brighter DC Universe, one would surely expect an upbeat Flash series, which ought not be that difficult given that Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato's Flash series previous was plenty upbeat already. But even despite the elder Wally West's return, Williamson's Barry has been full of worry and angst from the beginning -- about silly things even, like not having enough time to watch sunrises -- despite that every single character that Barry encounters, hero and villain alike, ludicrously, tells him how optimistic he always is. Surely this is not what people want from a Flash comic.

I though perhaps we'd turned a page with Flash Vol. 3: Rogues Reloaded, which ended with a slightly more upbeat Barry out on a date with Iris West. But Williamson's takeaway from Batman/Flash: The Button is more doom and gloom, as apparently the disappearance of Jay Garrick (who Barry doesn't know and who was only around for a second) and the traumas Batman encountered are enough to totally devastate Barry to the point where, again, he forgets his own birthday, can't enjoy his own party, and is totally dismissive of his friends and his just-released-from-jail father (not to mention he's so distracted that he almost gets Green Lantern Hal Jordan killed fighting Multiplex). It's understandable Barry might be a little distracted by all of this, if for no other reason than for Williamson to recap the events at the start of the story; it's another for Barry to go on and on, as such: "Iris put the party together for me ... and I was so lost in thought and rude to the guests ... it would have been better if I hadn't shown up."

Again, it's entirely possible that Williamson's doing a bit here, where we'll come to find out that Dr. Manhattan or someone is manipulating Barry to sadden what we keep being told is the most optimistic hero ever (which would be much more believable if everyone didn't keep saying it). But for instance, we're very clear on the fact that time has been changed and characters like the Reverse-Flash remember the pre-Flashpoint continuity while Barry doesn't. If Barry's attitude is similarly affected, it's less clear; obviously Williamson has a right to some mystery, but twenty-five issues in, nothing should still be this subtle. When Hal says, "I've seen you race into a horde of Parademons with a smile on your face. I've never seen you this afraid before," just because Barry's worried about his relationship with Iris, we've ventured into melodrama.

I will say that, while Williamson's kerfuffle in the 25th century between Barry and Reverse-Flash Eobard Thawne is no big deal as compared to earlier stories, it is always fun to see Barry face off against his arch-nemesis. And one of the book's best sequences is where Williamson really does something unexpected and shows a potential future where Barry and Iris's children, the "Tornado Twins" Dawn and Don Allen, have gone rogue and are trying to destroy Central City, drawn with gusto by Howard Porter. The Allen children are saintly figures in DC lore, killed off as young adults, and so to see them as villains is the kind of new ground Williamson ought be breaking, especially facing off against a troubled-but-resolute Barry with Iris at his side.

As I mentioned, we're clear on Thawne remembering the events before Flashpoint, with references made to Iris's marriage to Barry and Thawne apparently killing her (I'm still mad Flash TV didn't go the "Iris died and was reborn in the future" route), Wally West the elder, and Impulse Bart Allen. At the same time, Williamson offers a bizarre two-part origin for Thawne that, near as I can tell, is totally original to this book -- one where Barry meets and befriends Thawne in the future but then has to arrest him for bad deeds, and another where a reformed Thawne seeks out Barry in the past but goes crazy when he believes Barry likes the original Kid Flash more than him.

What Williamson does accomplish here is to integrate the events of Barry creating the Flashpoint reality linearly into Flash's timeline, when previously in the New 52 it didn't make sense because Thawne didn't "exist." But, on one hand we have Flash, Kid Flash, and Iris all remembering the events of the New 52 Flash Vol. 4: Reverse in which Daniel West became Reverse-Flash, and on the other hand Barry actually narrates this first meeting with Thawne, which couldn't have happened in this timeline for any of a number of reasons. I am not so wedded to any one continuity that if Williamson were to establish that Barry remembers differently, like he does for Thawne, then there wouldn't be a problem here. But instead, Williamson gives Barry an essentially nonsensical memory without context, which -- like Barry's incessant unhappiness -- reads like simply a mistake without the requisite integration.

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Disappointingly, Joshua Williamson ends Flash Vol. 4: Running Scared with Iris, newly aware of Barry's identity, rejecting him and sending him away. If we posit Iris as one of DC's most capable supporting characters, on par with Lois Lane and Alfred, here too Williamson's depiction seems unnecessarily angst-ridden -- rather than Iris understanding Barry's tough spot and the decisions he made, Williamson has Barry's overwrought girlfriend make it all about herself (just the same as he did with Barry's overwrought sidekick). Running Scared is a fine-looking book, with art by Carmine Di Giandomenico, Ryan Sook, and long-time Flash stalwarts Howard Porter and Paul Pelletier, and even an interesting read, but all the characters take a step back. I'm eager for Williamson to show his hand or turn this around, whichever one needs to happen.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches and process images]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Flash Vol. 4: Running Scared
Author Rating
2.5 (out of 5)
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4 comments:

  1. I'm with you: I'm getting really tired of reading sad-sack Barry Allen. I want a hopeful, upbeat, happy Barry!

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  2. I just couldn't get myself to even buy this book. I got the 3rd book because I wanted to be up to date for The Button. But unlike you I thought that one was the worst of all until now. So I decided to wait buying this until your review and I think this was the nail in the coffin for me.

    This Barry + the story just doesn't work for me.

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  3. Honestly, this just proves why Wally should have been the primary flash. I am sorry, but this comic and dc have not given me a reason to care about allen at all. I want to like allen, but I have yet to find a reason to like him, aside from his rogues gallery.

    Will better have a plan for flash war, because I am getting sick of this.

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    Replies
    1. I'm a Wally fan too, and of course you're entitled to your opinion, but I think good stories can be told with Barry too. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato told good stories with a perfectly likable Barry who still had his share of problems. It just seems to me there's a line between "superhero with a lot on his mind" and "morose person whom everyone says is great even though he does nothing to live up to it," and so far this book has had trouble toeing that line.

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