Blimey, this has been a long and drawn-out resurrection, hasn’t it? It was prior to Final Crisis that Barry “Flash II” Allen officially returned from the dead, subsequently showing up briefly in the pages of Morrison’s event mini – but having very little actual impact on the story or even much in the way of page time – and now, finally, Geoff Johns gets to sit down and tell the tale of the icon of DC’s Silver Age making his return to modern-day comics, reuniting with Ethan Van Sciver for a thematic sequel to their Green Lantern : Rebirth (oh, and a note to DC – if a title like that becomes a franchise? You’re DOING IT TOO OFTEN).
If I’m honest, I’m still struggling to see what the point of it all is. I have no small measure of affection for some of the classic Barry stories, and his death remains one of the greatest in comics history. But he’s very much of his time, a fact that Johns even alludes to (intentionally or otherwise) when discussing his particularly simplistic moral stance. He’s iconically representative of a certain era – that was kind of the symbolic point of killing him off in the original Crisis – so how do you make him relevant to this one when he hasn’t even been around to experience the world changing in twenty years?
Still, such concerns are probably for the longer view, and needn’t necessarily be reflected in what this is like as a comic and an introductory issue. And it’s… well, it’s as you’d expect from a Geoff Johns tentpole book. It’s entirely, thoroughly and inextricably rooted in “DCness”, and hugely reliant on prior knowledge of the identities of just about everyone that shows up. Make no mistake – if you’re wondering what the Flash is all about and you’re looking to start following his adventures, this ain’t the place for you. There isn’t even an explanation for why Bart is suddenly (a) alive and (b) a teenager again for those of us who haven’t read Final Crisis : Legion of 3 Worlds (I had to Wiki it just to find out that that was where it had happened).
And yet despite its impenetrability for the casual reader, from a technical point of view, it’s a pretty well-made comic. Despite approaching things from a different starting point to Hal Jordan’s return – Barry’s already alive when the book opens, for one thing – there are parallels in the way the layers of mystery are stacked up, with the hero’s apparently joyous return possibly not all that it seems, and there’s an intriguing twist to that effect in the closing pages. And if there’s one thing Johns is good at, it’s hopping around a universe he knows like the back of his hand and instantly slipping comfortably into assorted characters’ voices and setups – the page or so spent with the Titans instantly feels more like the “proper” versions of the characters than Judd Winick could manage in three or four lifetimes. That said, from a character point of view, he struggles to really make us care about the straight-laced and somewhat boring Barry – let’s hope that can be rectified, as the character’s past deserves it.
Visually it’s excellent, of course – when van Sciver does one of these big events, he usually brings his top form to the table, and this is an appropriately pacey and powerful-looking book, with strong use of vibrant colour. He gets Barry’s out-of-costume look spot on and instantly recognisable, and there’s a terrific panel of Wally reprimanding his kids that suggests he knows how to nail the sense of speed a Flash book requires.
The reader unfriendliness hampers the book somewhat, though, and there are elements even within its own framework that are frustratingly unexplained (just what’s going on with Barry – not the Flash, but Barry – suddenly having reappeared in everyone’s lives? What’s the “explanation”?) But it’s a solid, well-put-together slice of “event” comics, and even if it doesn’t answer the question of just what Barry’s eventual role will in the DCU be (given that Wally West, Jay Garrick and now Bart Allen are all still active), it does enough to suggest that he could have one.