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“I’ve got to keep running the course
I’ve got to keep running and win at all costs
I’ve got to keep going, be strong
Must be so determined and push myself on”Iron Maiden, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.
There are few characters in comics with such rich lore as The Flash. Regardless of whether you are a Barry Allen, Jay Garrick, Wally West, or even Bart Allen fan, the Scarlet Speedster has some of the most fascinating storylines in the entire medium, and there is an element of consistency to the mythos of the character that makes it all the more appealing because it feels like everything fits.
In that regard, the Flash: Rebirth miniseries, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Ethan van Sciver in 2009 and 2010, served as the official comeback of the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen, as a result of what transpired in the Final Crisis event. Barry had seemingly died to serve the universe in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths event and his nephew, Wally West, took over for the vast majority of his absence. But now he was back and this miniseries deals with our hero adapting to a world that moved on without him and trying to find his place in it.
Widely regarded as one of the most popular Flash stories and created by two titans of the industry, it’s quite easy to understand the appeal that this comic has had throughout the years. But is it as good as we think it is? Let’s find out.
The comic begins with a violent and vivid scene drawn by Van Sciver where a murder is committed, but then we quickly switch to people like the Justice League, the Titans, and Keystone in Central City preparing welcoming parties and parades for Barry, but he finds himself in the Flash Museum looking over the history of the Scarlet Speedster–both with him and without him.
Geoff Johns is a longtime fan of the Flash, the Silver Age, and DC Comics as a whole, and this particular period of his career was very special in the sense that you know he is digging deeper into the lore and adds these little tidbits here and there for longtime readers to grasp. But above all, he is asking a very direct question through Barry’s hesitation and soul-searching: Where does he fit in this new world?
It’s no secret that the world of comics has changed a lot during Barry’s departure–heroes got more ambiguous, villains got more violent and the Flash mythos moved forward without him. Wally West proved to be a worthy successor (and to some fans, even better than Barry), so Johns, in his very meta way of doing storytelling, seems to be suggesting that perhaps Barry coming back was a thing of celebration, but he doesn’t belong here.
It’s an interesting topic to address and the comic does a fascinating juxtaposition by having Barry going through these doubts while the rest of the DC comic superheroes highlight how important he was and is. Jay talks about how Barry brought him back from retirement in the iconic “Flash of Two Worlds” storyline, Wally talks about how much of a good mentor Barry was and Iris, Barry’s longtime love interest, highlights how much he means to her and how happy she is to have him back.
But Barry doesn’t seem to find peace and this is when his greatest enemy comes back: the Reverse-Flash.
The whole comic works as a way to celebrate Flash mythology and the Reverse-Flash serves as the antithesis to that. He is anathema to the core values of good, honesty, and courage that have defined this mantle throughout the years, and perhaps this story shows him at his most vicious–as if Johns knew that if Barry has to come back, then the Reverse-Flash has to make a very similar stand in his own dark, twisted manner.
It’s through this comic that Johns makes two very controversial decisions that still live on to this very day in the Flash mythos: making the Reverse Flash the one responsible for the murder of Barry’s murder and the reason he eventually became the Flash and making Barry himself the creator of the Speed Force, where all the Speedsters get their powers from.
This can be quite controversial even now because it makes the Flash mythos even more Barry-centric and I personally don’t know if that was a good idea. The fact that the Speed Force begins with Barry and that he is the one responsible for all the Speedsters that came afterward seems a bit forced as if DC Comics is trying to justify the character’s return after so many years.
As far as his origin story goes, there have been some readers that have said that this change, which added an element of tragedy to Barry’s origin (his mother getting killed by the Reverse-Flash), made him less unique. In a medium where most heroes have tragic upbringings, Barry being a normal, stable person seemed refreshing and even more so logical to the Flash’s ethos.
I can definitely see that because it seems, at least from Johns’ perspective, that Barry had to go through pain to feel like a more “valid” hero in this day and age, which to me is a bit illogical. Barry chose to be the Flash because he was a good guy and there is nothing wrong with that. There have been some interesting adaptations of this origin story, but I could personally take it or leave it.
On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of how this story gets all the different Speedsters together and how all of them have a little role to play in this story. Even Wally’s kids get to have a role in this equation. Johns has a good knack for keeping the new characters active even if they are playing second fiddle and we can see this with Bart Allen, who is doubtful of Barry’s return but ends up contributing to the defeat of the Reverse-Flash.
Of course, Wally, being the only Flash equal in stature to Barry in terms of legacy and popularity, has a big role here and the scenes where he saves his mentor when they are in the Speed Force is one of the best moments in the history of the franchise.
This being an Ethan Van Sciver comic, the art is of course superb. It’s detailed, it’s dynamic and it has aged extremely well. Some people have criticized him by saying that he adds too much to the page, but I think his style adds a lot to the Flash and every page feels alive, electrifying, and filled with power.
I also like how every character looks their age. I know this is something that may sound weird, but it is no secret that time is a weird trait in comics and it is cool to see someone like Wally, who at this point in the comics was an adult with a wife and kids, actually looks like a grown-up. Same with Barry and many other characters.
But the whole comic is beautifully drawn and it certainly lives up to the hype of what is one of the most important books in the Flash mythology.
Overall, Flash: Rebirth is a very interesting read, especially if you have been following the character for years and a paradigm shift that has proven to be quite important over the years. Barry’s return has had a direct influence on a lot of different characters, most notably Wally, and this is a hot topic among Flash fans even to this very day.
But the comic itself? Certainly great and one of the best projects done by this dynamic duo of Johns and Van Sciver.