- The Flash: Rebirth #1 of 5, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Sciver (DC)
- Justice Society of America #25, by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
- Avengers/Invaders #9 of 12, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger, Steve Sadowski & Patrick Berkenkotter (Marvel)
- War of Kings #2 of 6, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
- Irredeemable #1, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom!)
- The Boys #29, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
- Star Trek: Crew #2 of 6, by John Byrne (IDW)
I remarked a while back that Green Lantern was looking like Geoff Johns’ best work in comics, going back to his bringing Hal Jordan back from the dead (or the undead) in a clever and satisfying way. Now he’s trying to do the same by picking up the thread of Barry Allen – the Silver Age Flash – coming back from the dead in Final Crisis. This is a much tougher challenge, partly because Flash’s death was a heroic send-off for a character who at the time had seen his series cancelled for cause, while Green Lantern was brought down largely by editorial fiat. But also because Johns doesn’t get to construct the reason for Flash coming back, like he did for Green Lantern, and that makes The Flash: Rebirth a tough sell.
The story is okay: People other than Flash are emerging from the Speed Force, even as Flash takes in the changes in the world while he’s been gone, and watching others celebrate his return. There are some nice touches (Flash approves of how everyone’s multitasking all the time, as if they’re finally catching up to how he lives his whole life), but they’re overshadowed by what a dour sourpuss Barry is through the whole issue, focused on needing to get things done (“I can’t be late.” “Late for what?” “For whatever the rest of the world needs me for.”), without explanation for what that might be.
There’s a suggestion that Barry feels guilty over his mother’s death, that he somehow wasn’t fast enough to be there for her (especially since his father was accused of the crime), which indicates that Johns is going to be retroactively filling in details of Barry’s pre-Flash life. But the tone of the character feels completely at odds with who he was before his death, and given the commonality of heroes coming back from the dead in the DC universe, his mere return doesn’t suffice as an explanation.
As for the GL relaunch, the artist is Ethan Van Sciver. Van Sciver is a very detail- and rendering-oriented artist, but not the most dynamic of layout guys. Overall I like his art, but I find him a somewhat odd choice for a character as dynamic as the Flash. He evokes a feeling of speed and dynamism through “after-image” effects, copious lightning bolts, and dramatic poses. It’s not bad art by any means, but I don’t think he’s nearly as good a match for Flash as he was for GL.
There’s some interesting stuff here – mostly what’s going on with the Speed Force – but mostly the issue feels like a misfire, not really capturing what it was that made the character interesting. Certainly Barry Allen was rarely a deep character and there’s going to be some updating to give him more nuance for a modern audience, but I don’t think Johns really captured the core of the character here and that makes me wonder why he’s bothering.
Of course, I wondered why DC bothered to bring him back in the first place. But as part of the whole Final Crisis mess, at this point I assume there wasn’t really any sort of planning or intent involved.
Ironically, the other comic I’m reviewing this week is written by the guy who’s probably most associated with the post-Barry Allen Flash franchise: Mark Waid.
So first, a digression: Grant Morrison pens the afterward to Ireedeemable #1, in which he professes surprise that Waid’s reputation is one that seems inextricably linked to nostalgia for the Silver Age and an encyclopedic knowledge of comics history. I profess such surprise myself, since that’s never been my image of Waid as a writer. (A better match for such a profile would be Geoff Johns, actually.) While Waid clearly knows his stuff where comics history and trivia is concerned (he’s noted for being unstumpable in trivia panels at comics conventions), Waid’s actual writing career has been marked by a strong focus on the current characters, and making them into first-rate heroes and villains in their own rights. This is especially evident in the keynote story of his career, “The Return of Barry Allen”, which was all about Wally West living in the shadow of his late mentor, but emerging from that shadow to become his own man.
A better summary of Waid’s career might be that he considers at length what the nature of superheroics means to the heroes themselves, and how they are defined or changed by the experience. In this way he’s not so different from Kurt Busiek – which puts him in outstanding company, I’d say.
Irredeemable seems like a natural step after his series Empire: In Empire, a villain managed to defeat all the heroes and now rules the world. In Irredeemable, the Plutonian – a Superman stand-in – suddenly turns villainous and starts killing off his former allies. Besides being dark stories, what really ties these two series together is that they’re both character dramas, with suspense both in the front-and-center storyline, and in the revelation of how things got to this point. Irredeemable suggests that it’s the little derisive comments and gradual feeling of not being appreciated that pushed the Plutonian over the line, but I expect there’s more to it than that. And what makes it really creepy is that his one-time friends and allies don’t really know anything about him (“Is he even from Earth?” “We don’t know.”).
So at worst I expect this will be a rousing chase in which the remaining heroes try to stay alive, even as they find out who the Plutonian really is and why he went bad. To some extent the artistic success of the series will depend on that revelation being sufficiently novel, although it could certainly succeed by having a strong enough character grounding rather than clever mystery reveals. I’m a little optimistic about it than is Don MacPherson, but his review is worth a read, too.
Artist Peter Krause has that solid, muscle-bound style a la Dan Jurgens, but he manages to pull off the dark scenes as well as the bright ones. He’s a solid artist, although he skimps on the backgrounds a little too much for my tastes.
Bottom line: Irredeemable feels of-a-piece with Waid’s previous work, it’s just on the darker side rather than the lighter side, and it’s an enjoyable thriller and I’m looking forward to see what happens next.
And honestly, if anyone really sees Waid as little more than the preserver of the shiny heroes of the Silver Age, then, honestly, they haven’t been reading his works very deeply.