This week starts the comic book event of the year, as far as I'm concerned, as the first issue of The Flash: Rebirth by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver hits stands this Wednesday. The Flash is my favorite DC Comics character and the past few years have seen some of the most awful Flash stories of all time. I got into The Flash right before Johns' epic run on the title in the early 2000s, and much of my enjoyment for the Scarlet Speedster has been derived from Johns' depiction of Wally West as The Flash along with the Rogues and Keystone City.
The Flash: Rebirth picks up the story of Barry Allen, after his return in Final Crisis. In the pantheon of characters that simply cannot be brought back from the dead, Barry Allen has resided with Jean Grey, Bucky and Jason Todd for over 20 years. Now of course, we all know that Jean Grey, Bucky and Jason Todd have all been brought back from the dead, and with great success, so why can't Barry Allen be brought back? Johns answered a similar challenge when he returned Hal Jordan to his Green Lantern prominence in Green Lantern: Rebirth, as he salvaged the mess of Hal Jordan as Parallax, and then The Spectre. Johns has proven himself to be the best thing DC Comics has going for it these days and while I have no doubt in the fantasticness that he will bring to The Flash: Rebirth, I can't help but have some concerns.
With that, I present to you the 6 questions that The Flash: Rebirth is going to need to answer:
1. What happens to Wally West?
When asked which Flashes would appear in The Flash: Rebirth, both Johns and Van Sciver have responded without hesitation, "All of them." Once the Flash fanboy in me stopped giggling – I am happy because The Flash is one of many DC characters that have a legacy, with a large family sharing the Flash mantle – I realized something. "Wait a minute. Wally is 'The Flash' currently…." Now having multiple Flashes isn't anything new, Jay Garrick (the Golden Age Flash) has kept his honorific while both Barry Allen, Wally West and Bart Allen have all held the title of "The Flash." But Wally and Barry are different. Besides the fact that they have essentially the same costume (with minor differences), they have never been "The Flash" at the same time, with Wally stepping up to take the mantle after Barry's "death" in Crisis on Infinite Earths and much of Wally's story over the past 20 years has been the story of his growing maturity and acceptance into that role, with Barry even returning from the Speed Force, or the future, or wherever he may be, to bless Wally's position as "The Flash." Except now Barry's back. So what happens to Wally?
The answer to this question is not simply just what costume is Wally going to wear, but much deeper than that. Johns has to make sense of the mess that Wally West has become. With his marriage to Linda and the emergence of their two children who have powers, Wally has become a shadow of his former heroic self, dragged down by having to provide for his family and deal with his (freakishly) powered kids. I'm sure Johns can sort out the costume and the mantle question, but I don't see anyway of redeeming Wally as a character without ditching the kids. Which might be too much for even Johns to do, which means that most likely The Flash: Rebirth will lead to the fading of Wally West in prominence as he's shuffled off somewhere (or somewhen) in the DC Universe for the time being. Which is kinda sad to me, as I grew to love The Flash as Wally West.
2. What is the status of Barry Allen's relationship with his wife, Iris West?
Ever since Barry died in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Iris has been on a roller coaster of an emotional journey as she's dealt with her personal loss and her stewardship of the Flash legacy. For Iris, the past 20 years or so has been a tangled web of living in the future and raising what is an astonishing number of children (both her own and adopted children of people such as Weather Wizard and others). Iris finally returned to the current time period of the DC Universe as a mysterious hooded figure who worked with Zoom to challenge Bart Allen (who had just become The Flash) to become a better hero. The challenge ultimately led to the death of Bart Allen, who was weakened and then killed by the Rogues (as much as DC would like us to forget).
As Final Crisis came to a close, Barry was able to save Iris from the Anti-Life Equation and one of the longest running (no pun intended) couples of the DCU was reunited. A very nice moment, but what I'm interested in is the long talk they have AFTER that moment. Iris sits Barry down and takes a deep breath and says, "So, I'm in the future and I…" and explains the long list of things she's done since he died, including being somewhat responsible for the death of his grandson. That's going to be a long and awkward conversation in which I would love to be a fly on the wall. Do Barry and Iris get to be happy together even after all that has happened? That has to be a main plot point for The Flash: Rebirth.
3. How does Barry Allen's return affect the "sacrifice" at the end of Crisis of Infinite Earths?
The Crisis that started them all, Marv Wolfman and George Perez's masterpiece Crisis on Infinite Earths, featured Barry Allen becoming the greatest hero there ever was by sacrificing himself to save the universe. It was this legendary death that has built up Barry Allen as the example of what it is to be a hero is in the DC Universe. How does his return affect that? Sure the sacrifice still happened, but isn't it lessened a little bit by having him survive it? Additionally, how do the other heroes react? Are they aware of the sacrifice? Do they treat Barry differently knowing that he's been the one who saved the universe? As usual, it's another list of question of questions driven by a Crisis. I don't really think Johns can bring back Barry and not have some sort of fallout/reaction to the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
4. Will Barry join the Justice League of America again?
The latest issue of Justice League of America (issue #31) showed us the breakdown of the League as we know it. One of the pieces to fall in that breakdown was Wally West, despite rededicating himself to the League just a few issues ago, quitting so that he could attend to his family (those damn kids, again) and focus on his duties in the Titans. So with the Justice League in splinters and minus a speedster, does Barry step up as a League founder and re-join and attempt to bring back the glory of the league? They sure could use some help, especially after issue #31.
5. And what of the Rogues Gallery? Game on?
The little taste we had of he Rogues in the excellent mini-series Final Crisis: Rogue's Revenge, written by Geoff Johns with art by Scott Kolins, reminded us of one of the greatest aspects of Johns and Kolins run on The Flash years ago: the Rogues. While Mark Waid's run on the Flash was great, he barely even used the Rogues, the collection of Flash villains including Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Mirror Master and others. These villains who once seemed foolish and simple on the outside were evolved by Johns, written as complex and fascinating villains. When Johns left The Flash, no one ever was able to come close the depiction of these villains in comics. This was evidenced from their storylines in Countdown and then the story arc of The Flash where Bart Allen died where other writers put their spin on these characters and ultimately failed. It wasn't until Final Crisis: Rogue's Revenge that I realized how good the Rogues could be written and how bad they'd been depicted.
Johns laid the groundwork for The Flash: Rebirth with Final Crisis: Rogue's Revenge, as the Rogues move further into darkness as they continue to break their once self-imposed rule of "no killing". When news hit the Rogues of Barry Allen's return, Captain Cold decided that the retirement of the Rogues would have be put on hold, as that now that Barry was back, it's "game on" again. I found the distinction Johns made between the Rogues and how they view Wally vs. Barry. The idea that the game changes with Barry is one that raises the stakes. Personally I can't wait to see how Johns introduces and develops the relationship between the Rogues and Barry. The question is how does Johns deal with what has happened with the Rogues in the time between when he left writing The Flash and The Flash: Rebirth. Does he ignore what was done or try to retcon or explain it, but within the context of his story?
6. Central City or Keystone City?
For years during the Silver Age, Barry Allen, as The Flash, called Central City home. Jay Garrick protected Keystone City and as the DC Universe has moved on, we now have Central City and Keystone City as "twin cities." Wally West has called Keystone City home, building his relationship with the local police and the now famous prison called Iron Heights. So now that Barry is back, where does he call home? Does he move back to Central City or settle in Keystone City, home of The Flash Museum?
Sure they're right next to each other and this could be seen as a nitpick, but like Batman and Superman, the city The Flash is from has always been a driving force in the story. The old Barry Allen Silver Age stories depicted Central City as much of a city as a character as Gotham City or Metropolis. As I read and became a fan of Wally West as The Flash, I also grew to learn about, appreciate, and love Keystone City. Where The Flash calls home is as an important detail as who is behind the mask and one that should be used to drive the story.
And so that wraps up the 6 pressing questions on my mind on the eve of The Flash: Rebirth #1 being released. When Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver did Green Lantern: Rebirth, it was a bit of a sneak attack. We didn't know what to expect and were all collectively shocked and surprised about how tight and well done it was. Now with The Flash: Rebirth, there are expectations. Those of us who love this character and believe in Geoff Johns as the creative force at DC Comics are putting our trust and hope in his hands, praying this brings back the greatness that can be found in the character of The Flash. These questions I posed aren't a voice of wavering faith in Johns, rather just a way to organize and express the excitement I have for this title. Well, that's not entirely true. There's a little bit of schadenfreude in it as I'm curious to see how he untangles the mess that DC Comics has made of The Flash. But mostly I'm just excited to have good Flash stories again.
On a related note, If you enjoy the Flash as much as I do or you'd like to learn more about the legacy of Barry Allen, then you go right now to listen to one of the finest podcasts around, Tom Vs. The Flash (iTunes link) Tom Katers (also of Around Comics) is going through the entire run of the Silver Age Flash comics, issue by issue, and I swear it's one of the funniest podcasts I've ever heard. Any fan of The Flash has to be listening to it, anyone who wants to know more about Barry Allen has to be listening to it, and even if you're not a fan of The Flash it will make you laugh numerous times as you get 15 minute observations on Silver Age comics by Tom Katers.
It really is a good time to be a fan of The Flash. Let's just hope I feel this way after The Flash: Rebirth is over….