Comics Time: Flash: Rebirth #4

Flash: Rebirth #4

Geoff Johns, writer

Ethan Van Sciver, artist

DC Comics, August 2009

32 pages

$3.99

If you know Geoff Johns, and particularly if you know his work on this project’s thematic predecessor, Green Lantern: Rebirth, you knew this was coming. This is the issue where Johns redefines, organizes, and expands the Flash mythos, tying together various elements and explaining how revived hero Barry Allen is an indispensable part of them all. The following thoughts about this aren’t quite Flash Facts–maybe they’re Allen Opinions?

This was nowhere near as elegantly done as the reveal of the “emotional spectrum” concept in Green Lantern, or even the “Parallax was a separate entity” reveal from GL: Rebirth. I think that’s because the core concepts being utilized here aren’t as easy to instantly grasp. With Green Lantern, if you were gonna bring back mass murderer Hal Jordan you had to come up with a reason why it’s okay for us to like him again, and “he was possessed by a demonic yellow fear elemental at the time he killed all those people” is a pretty easy one to get behind. And once you’ve established that arch-enemy Sinestro’s power ring is fueled by fear in much the same way that GL’s ring is fueled by willpower, it’s a logical leap to other colored rings being fueled by other states of mind.

By contrast, the big revelations here…well, I’ve never quite understood what the heck the Speed Force is supposed to be anyway. For years I labored under the misapprehension that it was some pseudomystical thing, like what J. Michael Straczynski did with that horrible “Spider-Totem” idea in Amazing Spider-Man–so that instead of that accident with the lightning striking Barry Allen while he was holding some chemicals giving him his powers, that just opened up some portal to the Speed Force or something, just like how in JMS’s justly ignored origin revamp the spider was magical and the radioactivity was just a coinicence. I’ve since learned that I was wrong and the Speed Force was just something out there that people who got super-speed through whatever means became able to commune with or tap into or whatever the proper term might be. Either way, this is a much wonkier concept than “rainbow of space armies,” and so rejiggering things so that now Barry Allen’s accident created the Speed Force doesn’t have the same oomph as “the reason Green Lanterns were vulnerable to yellow is because of the giant yellow Fear Monster inside the Power Battery.”

Same with the revelation that there’s a Negative Speed Force embodied or utilized or whatever by Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash. To convey this idea, Johns and Van Sciver tie it to the fact that the Flash’s speed lightning is yellow while Zoom’s is red. Frankly, I’d never noticed this before–it’s certainly not a famous concept like Green Lantern’s green ring vs. Sinestro’s yellow one, or even just “the Flash wears red while the Reverse Flash wears yellow.” Without that easy-to-envision visual hook, it’s a much tougher sell; all Van Sciver’s little design flourishes and neato ways of showing superspeed Van Sciver can’t quite make up for it.

However, there were quite a few things I liked in this issue. For starters, I appreciate the way Johns has shifted the generative spark for the Flash’s powers back to that lightning/chemicals accident instead of positing some preexisting speedster ether floating around out there. Now it’s all a result of Barry’s accident, ripples from which apparently spread throughout all of time and space–which moreover is as good an answer as any to the question “Why is this Flash different from all other Flashes?” Plus, I feel like we’re closer than ever to a speedster team book called Speed Force, which is far past due, and since I don’t have a dog in the Jay vs. Barry vs. Wally vs. Bart vs. Max Mercury vs. whoever the hell else race (no pun intended), it could star any of these guys and I’d be fine with it. The prospect of the Flash Family being its own little squad centered on one of DC’s coolest superhero concepts, like the Green Lantern Corps or Batman and his Robins or the Super-people, is pretty appealing.

But I suppose the main reason I’m not letting my problems with Johns’s solution to the Flash equation is that I’m not convinced we’ve seen the end of it. For example, I have to assume an explanation is in the offing that ties the new, time-jumping Zoom in with Professor Zoom’s negative Speed Force. Maybe Johns will explain (by which I mean invent, of course) why non-Speed-Force-using Superman is able to keep pace with the Flashes. Maybe that turtle villain who slows things down will be revealed as some sort of Slow Force avatar. Maybe there’s some sort of Superhero String Theory in the offing that connects the Speed Forces to the Emotional Spectrum to Anti-Life to the Purple Healing Ray to New Order’s “Blue Monday,” I dunno. I appreciate the effort of imagination needed to put it all together and await its continued rollout.

One Response to Comics Time: Flash: Rebirth #4

  1. Will says:

    In the 1980s, Secret Origins had a Flash story

    that Barry Allen was in fact the lighting bolt (after being turned into energy during the Crisis) that struck himself, completing a circuit (get it).