Review: Flash: Year One hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

March 1, 2020

Flash: Year One is a perfectly workable origin tale by Joshua Williamson. The concern with a new origin at the time when many DC series are themselves confused as to what continuity they're working in is that it'll just further confuse things. But ultimately, if Williamson trips over anything at all, it's only his own continuity, and moreover "Year One" serves as an excellent bridge to bring together some of the best of Williamson's Rebirth run and the New 52 together with DC's classic continuity. Flash: Year One is nicely self-contained, enough to appeal to a casual reader or TV fan, but long-time readers can see where this might fit into Williamson's larger run — though such won't fully be apparent until the next volume of the ongoing series.

It no doubt behooves DC to have a whole series of these "Year One" books that could be co-branded or sold as a box set — Frank Miller's classic Batman: Year One, of course, and Greg Rucka's more recent Wonder Woman: Year One. I imagine, because it's named such, that Miller's Superman: Year One would also join this group, though (without having read Superman: Year One), I imagine a re-titled Superman: Secret Origin might be more fitting; at the very least, I can say that in its made-for-TV-movie aesthetic, the simultaneous preservation and changing of the old, and the seeds lain within for the future, Flash: Year One reminded me a lot of that decade-old Geoff Johns work.

[Review contains spoilers]

Two things really sold Williamson's Flash: Year One for me. The first is that, right from the first issue, Williamson brings in the Flash Barry Allen from the future, whom we previously saw in Flash Vol. 4: Running Scared; that is, yes, this is an origin story, but fortunately not just an origin story (since I've felt for a while that we're at peak origin story). Rather, it's an origin story with time travel shenanigans, with ties to a fascinating alternate timeline where old Barry might've had to fight his children Don and Dawn, the so-called Tornado Twins. That alternate timeline sequence, some 50 issues ago, was one of the high points of Williamson's run (and also drawn by this volume's artist, Howard Porter), so bringing it all back into play again at the outset gives this story some extra verve.

The second thing is that long-time Flash artist (among many other things) Porter not only does a great job here, he does a really, really great job. We've been spoiled on the Flash front lately, with two key Flash artists of the modern era, Scott Kolins and Howard Porter, each drawing full volumes of the series (Flash Vol. 11: The Greatest Trick of All and this volume, respectively). Porter (surely with some credit to Williamson) packs this story with tiny panels, sometimes as many as almost sixteen per page, such to demonstrate the swiftness of Barry's actions (or how his foe, the Turtle, slows him down), up to an amazing sequence in the third chapter where Barry goes so fast, he breaches the panel walls with aplomb to save Iris. When an artist illustrates well the Flash moving fast, it's a sight to see; Kolins could do it, and surely we've seen Porter do it before, but he does it especially well here.

At some point I wondered if this whole origin might not be revealed to be some alternate timeline related to said future Flash, mainly at the point in which we see Barry Allen and Iris West engaging in a significant (even physical) relationship. Rebirth notwithstanding, there's something of a tangible throughway for recent Flash comics from Robert Venditti's "DC You" issues to Williamson's (if not also tracing back to Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato) in which, as far as I understood, Barry and Iris were not that close, only starting to date for the first time after Barry began to mentor Iris' nephew Wallace, the New 52/Rebirth Kid Flash. But all of this story is ultimately "true" (at least till Generation Zero), so if there's a big continuity change (for the moment), it's Williamson bringing (or re-bringing) Iris back to the beginning of Barry's story as his girlfriend all along, excising now at least some of Manapul and Buccellato's run (and poor, ill-used Patty Spivot).

Then again, Year One's kicker of an ending (leading, perhaps one day, into Year Two) is to introduce Barry to both Wally and Wallace West, just before Wally becomes the first Kid Flash — to flatten the pre-Flashpoint, New 52, and Rebirth continuities, essentially, so that they all happened within Barry's single timeline. (Further, Williamson and Porter's lovely final two-page spread offers the best of Williamson's new characters alongside the classic pre-Flashpoint Flash family.) Far from rewriting Barry and Iris' relationship, when you think about it — if Barry and Iris were each mis-remembering their own pasts until they reencountered Wally — then a lot of what we've seen so far in Flash has been the "alternate" reality and Flash: Year One is the truest depiction of Barry's Rebirth past so far.

Again, I do admire and agree with Williamson's decision to make Flash: Year One self-contained; the last volume saw new character "Steadfast" (more on that name some other time) admonishing Barry to "remember ... something you have forgotten" (hence this trip down memory lane), but Williamson doesn't reference that at all here (I've later found that Steadfast is in a second story in Flash #75, not collected here). That's as it should be, allowing Year One to serve double duty as part of Williamson's run but also its own thing. That leaves, however, a big question mark as to what extent this new "flattened" timeline will be evidenced going forward (seeing Barry with Jesse Quick, does he now remember Jesse Quick?), and also, with all the talk here and in the last volume about Barry being more optimistic now, whether we're about to see Williamson's "sad Barry" get an attitude change. All of that will have to wait until Flash Vol. 12, coming in June; it's not really until that volume that we'll know whether Year One is really game-changing or just an enjoyable diversion.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Flash: Year One

So, Flash: Year One is worth the time, and for the effort involved, hopefully Generation Zero won't make it moot so soon after it hit the stands. Not unlike the recent Batwoman reprints with TV covers, one wonders if the paperback of Flash: Year One wouldn't benefit from the same thing. Joshua Williamson resists the urge to get cute with a STAR Labs or Cisco Ramon, but CW fans would surely recognize some of the early hospital sequences here after Barry's fateful lightning strike.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches and cover and page progressions by Howard Porter]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Flash: Year One
Author Rating
4 (scale of 1 to 5)


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