Ben Reilly Happens While You're Busy Making Other Plans

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Flash #2: The Whirlwind Adventures of the Fastest Thinker Alive!

The Flash is about speed, but we often forget it's really about motion.

Luckily, Manapul and Buccellato are there to remind us. When I read their first issue of The Flash, I said it was the Barry Allen we'd been promised since his return. I wasn't quite sure what that meant until this month. I had an idea, but it was hard to pin down. I kept returning to vague platitudes that meant little more than, "I love this comic." You know, things like, "A return to Silver Age glory." What does that even mean, right? Especially for a guy who wasn't even around during the Silver Age.

It means a lot, actually.

The first Flash story I ever read was Mark Waid's The Return of Barry Allen saga. So in a fun twist, my first exposure to Barry Allen wasn't him at all! The story was really about Wally shedding the dead weight of his uncle's legacy before he could fully embrace it. "Barry" was none other than Professor Zoom, the hopeless nostalgic destined to die at his idol's hands years before Wally took up the mantle. Waid, the ultimate Silver Age enthusiast, was sending a clear message:

It's time to move forward.

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Well, message received. From that moment on, Wally was "my" Flash. I knew who Wally was and how he was connected to the Flash legacy. His story was about being your own man. In the coming years, he'd learn to do things his uncle never dreamed of. When Waid returned for a second run, he'd even become a father. Things had come full circle. 

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Perhaps it's that sense of completion that did Wally in. I still think there was more to be done--he was, after all, "my" Flash. But it's undeniable that some people viewed Wally's status as a family man in the same way they'd look at Peter Parker waking up one day and not feeling guilty anymore:

The End.


So I was excited about Barry Allen's return when DC teased the possibility of a Flash Family backup feature. It felt like the logical place for Barry and Wally's journeys to meet. Maybe their new dynamic would be mutually beneficial. They had a lot of catching up to do, after all, and the idea of flipping their relationship so that Barry had as much to learn from Wally as vice versa was exciting. Geoff Johns had put Hal Jordan front and center without neglecting Kyle Rayner, so there was precedent. But thenWally pretty much dropped off the radar after Flash: Rebirth, never to return.

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Equals at Last!
 Looking back at Geoff Johns' post-Rebirth Flash, I can see why DC felt the need to take Wally off the table. There was nothing especially bad about Johns' take. But when you compare the way he re-integrated Hal Jordan and Barry Allen into the DCU, I think it's fair to say that lightning didn't strike twice. It makes sense that DC wasn't in any hurry to pile on competitors for the Flash mantle, because Barry Allen was already in a race with himself that he couldn't win.

That's why I think Geoff Johns' Barry Allen never quite gelled for me. I had all these preconceptions going in about what Barry Allen's return would mean, and the reality didn't line up. I expected we'd get a gentle, smiling hero of the old school variety, the kind who's not motivated by guilt or greed and loves what he does. Instead, Johns locked Barry's return into a new arc where Zoom changed history and killed his mother. Barry suddenly seemed like oh-so-many other obssessive superheroes who can't let go of the past.

It was The Return of Barry Allen all over again, only this time I was playing the role of Wally West. I kept falling back on Will Rogers' adage, "Things ain't what they used to be, and probably never was." Maybe I had unrealistic expectations about what the Silver Age would look like filtered through a modern consciousness. But I couldn't shake this feeling that Barry Allen came across like a poor man's Bruce Wayne. In spite of the fact that I had a paid subscription to the Flash, I left several issues unread and never picked up Flashpoint. I moved from excitment to disappointment to apathy.

Enter the DC relaunch. I picked up more comics in the month of October than I have in years, and was pretty impressed. So I entered Manapul and Baccullato's Flash #1 with cautious optimism. I went in thinking maybe--just maybe-- they'd tap into something the character had lacking, which makes it sound kind of like a vitamin deficiency. Barry had struck me as a character who could use an extra cup of coffee, at any rate.

So no one was more surprised than me when I came away feeling like I'd plugged into everything the industry has been missing.

If that sounds like hyperbole, well maybe. But I tend to think that every comic should make you feel that way. When I put down $3 for an issue, you owe me something I can't get anywhere else. A voice, if you will. So now get back to that vague platitude: a return to Silver Age glory. Only now it doesn't seem so empty.

If there's one character who embodies the Silver Age more than any other, it's Barry Allen. He is, after all, the guy who kicked the whole thing off in Showcase #4. And we're talking about more than a template, an aesthetic or a sensibility. Barry Allen very well might have saved the mainstream superhero from extinction. So what exactly made Barry so special?


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That iconic image of the Flash bursting out of a film reel is about so much more than a guy who runs fast. Only you or I would even call it running. Barry would see that description as crude, like telling the Buddha he's just sitting under a tree. This is a man whose entire world is defined by motion. This is the hero who's living life in 4D.

When we talk about getting back to Silver Age basics, I think we mean that you have to constantly sell this idea that the Flash doesn't look at the world the same way we do. It's more than throwing out some wavy motion lines and calling it a day. You need to convince readers the Flash is different at the celluar level.

That's why I think The Flash benefits so much from having the artist and colorist as co-writers. They seem less likely to draw crude distinctions between word and art, right down to the lettering. Manapul and Buccellato know it's all connected, and that puts them more in tune with Barry's worldview.

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Is this what it was like to be a kid when SHOWCASE #4 hit stands?
The costume change and title sequence from issue #1 have that same POP! factor as Barry's debut. THIS is a guy I want to read about....if I can keep up with him, that is. Manapul and Buccellato sell a man who pushes the limits of physics by doing the same with the comic book format. And they take it to the next level in the their second issue, when Dr. Elias points out that Barry Allen can think as quickly as he can run. Check out what happens when Barry taps into the power of probability:

So what makes this something comparable to Barry's Silver Age debut? I guess if I had to sum it up, I'd just say this:
It's more about what heroes (and the medium) can do than what they can't.   


  1. Great read! Loved the way you articulated WHY our version of Barry resonates with you. Francis and I have had high hopes that our audience would both understand and ENJOY our version of Barry.

    Clearly you are doing both, sir. Thanks for letting us know it.


  2. And thanks for dropping by, Brian! You and Francis are doing amazing work.

    All the Best,