Review: Flash Vol. 1: Lightning Strikes Twice (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Though it collects nine issues in just one storyline, Joshua Williamson's Rebirth 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.
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14 comments:

  1. Hm, I thought this first trade was supposed to have the first 7 issues. Oh well, more to read :D

    I haven't read much of Barry Allen's Flash, and I was exposed to Wally's flash through the cartoons and whatnots throughout my life so I never really got the connection that this Barry is a little dreary. However, I thought it worked because in life you will have pockets of over taxing yourself and working too much that you feel like you don't have any time, and while it could have been done better I really enjoyed this series. Definitely in my top 3 favorite Rebirth titles.

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    1. Through issue 8 plus the Rebirth special.

      Interested to hear (and glad) that this is among your favorite Rebirth titles; gives me hope for the next volume. This one is divisive, definitely; you really liked it and then I've got people on the Facebook page who didn't. Makes me curious to read the next one (and "The Button!").

      I'd encourage you to compare the first issue of Flash (2016) with Flash (2011), though. I think the difference in Barry portrayals is pretty apparent.

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    2. So I took your advice and did reread the first issues to both series, and compare. Like you said it does sound like Barry is a little more glum in Williamson's run, but wouldn't he be at this point? I haven't read Venditti's Flash issues yet, but from what I've heard it sounds like they were heavier stories, plus Barry just learned about Wally (classic) returning and the big DC Rebirth mystery of taking ten years away from everyone. With all of that in his head I can see him being a little more mopey, but I also think that's just how Williamson writes. He likes to take the darker side of humanity and focus on that with his characters. Prime example: his image book Nailbiter. Anyway, I think he'll lighten up, especially with Wally (N52) taking the mantle of Kid Flash.

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    3. Maybe it's just how Williamson writes. You could argue Barry's a little mopey after Venditti's (really Jensen's) stories, but it all wrapped up in the end, and further, when we're talking Rebirth, you'd think Williamson would want to return the character to root (happy) form for the launch; that's all Williamson's choice how Barry comes off. I don't know, maybe mopey Barry is supposed to be a super-metaphor for the supposed mopey state of the DC Universe now (part truth, part invention) ahead of what it'll look like once Rebirth comes to a head and the ten years are restored, etc. I am hearing that Flash improves; for me, as I've probably overstated by now, this Barry was just too whiny.

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  2. "...which as I understand it is kind of like holding gravity"

    I'd have thought so, too, but considering the previous creative teams' retconning of the Speed Force into a sort of Skartaris-like pocket universe full of dinosaurs and biplanes, who knows?

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    1. Yeah, that was a sore spot with me when Manapul/Buccellato did it, too, letting alone Williamson's "sample" of the Speed Force.

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  3. I only just bought this book, so I'm a bit late. But I'm with you that I don't like the gloomy tone in a Flash story.

    The new character being the bad guy gets tiresome, it was really predictable. But unlike other recent stories this time it didn't really help the story. It wasn't as predictable as with Midnighter, but there it actually has a purpose, make the guy that can predict anything not see what everyone else who's reading the book can see. Here it's just: they want a big reveal, but not put the time in to make the guy an established character. If August had been an established regular for multiple story arcs it might have been a surprise. Now it just feels as if they rushed it and it detracted from the story. This would have been so much more effective if they had stuck with the multiple speedsters for a while and did the Godspeed issues in the 3rd Volume or so.

    I also didn't like Barry revealing his secret identity just because he met a girl that he might be interested in.

    Overall, I wasn't to impressed with this book. Certainly because it could have been so much better if they didn't want to rush every thing. The sad part is that you can quote this book to know what went wrong: Some people try so hard to do everything that they end up doing nothing(Iris said this to Barry at the start of the book.) The silver lining is that we have a Kid Flash again.

    On a separate note, every time I read a Flash book these days I'm a bit saddened that there are no special effects with the art, Francis Manapul spoiled me.

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    1. I thought August was part of the New 52 leading up to this. Not necessarily at the forefront, but enough to make it sensible.

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    2. He was not; August was a new Williamson creation. Which possibly underscores my point; not to read too much into what you're saying, but maybe you're thinking of Darwin Elias from Manapul and Buccellato's run, who at least was built up for a volume before "going rogue" in another.

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    3. @PeterB Though, re: Fast Track, the shout-out to Crisis on Infinite Earths gave me chills. It made zero sense, but chills.

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    4. You mean the scene where he finds her suit? That was indeed a strange moment, that one didn't do much for me. Because it almost certainly was done just to bring her back later. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't mind if she came back. But in my eyes the character of Meena was already given to much importance in such a small time frame (I really didn't like the the reveal of Barry's identity here) and this felt just as another thing that made me dislike how fast the story was going.

      The reference that stood out for me was the obvious one where Barry grabbed Godspeed from behind, with it being changed to choking him and him saying: "No not again. Heroes don't kill, we find a better way". It was a good reference, but again it would have been much more effective if there had been a better buildup. The Godspeed arc really needed to build up more slowly over a longer period. If only the book had followed the advice it tried to give Barry this could have been so much better.

      I'm repeating myself a bit. It's a good thing I also got myself the Nightwing and Detective Comics TPB to get my mind of it.

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    5. The flashback (?) to killing Professor Zoom was interesting, too. I guess we're supposed to understand Barry doesn't remember these things (didn't, supposedly, experience them?) but they're all coming back to him now? I wonder if other titles are doing the same.

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    6. I think it's only Barry (and Wally) that remember those things, But then again I've only read Flash and Batman related titles so far. Batman doesn't seem to be influenced even though he's been in contact. Although it's not as if Bruce is an open character so we don't really know there.

      The next big title for me to check will be Wonder Woman, it will be interesting to see what Greg Rucka his focus will be on.

      I'm wondering how they're going to handle it in Titans, because Wally is from another timeline, but on top of that they've got the extra memories that they just regained of something that happened in the post-Flashpoint timeline. Will they focus on one or on both... I really can't wait to get my hands on that one.

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  4. Although I wasn't a big fan of the art, (I stopped reading the last series when Manapul left) but I did get used to it. I found the Black Hole group of rogue S.T.A.R. Labs scientists to be more interesting than Godspeed. It seemed obvious who the character really was, even though Williamson tried to have us think differently. I did however love the character's design.

    Avery and Meena were fun additions. Barry's first meeting with Avery was especially heartwarming. I hope we get to see more of them in the future.

    I was slightly bummed that the revelations of Rebirth were only mentioned in The Flash Rebirth, number 1 and then circled around to again in the final issue for a casual mention. I understand why this was done, I am in favor of slow burns for stories, but it would have been a good c-storyline.

    Overall a nice reintroduction to Barry and those in Central City. I'm awaiting for the next volume to drop.

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