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Sunday Slugfest: Flash #1

Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2010
By: Thom Young

Geoff Johns
Francis Manapul
DC Comics
After being resurrected in Final Crisis and "reborn" in Flash: Rebirth, Barry Allen once again takes the lead in his own series as The Flash. In this issue, he settles in at his old job and discovers a futuristic mystery from the 25th century.

Danny Djeljosevic:
Robert Tacopina:
Chris Kiser:
Thom Young:




Danny Djeljosevic:

If you asked me a week ago, I’d have predicted that The Flash #1 was going to be another installment in a long line of continuity fanwank that is only penetrable by people who have enough free time to care about what brand of underwear Barry Allen wore in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8. Also, there’d be way too many speedsters.

I’m rarely so pleased to be wrong.

This new Flash series resembles The Flash that Geoff Johns wrote before he became “Geoff Johns”--those halcyon days of ten years ago when he was just “the guy that does The Flash and JSA.”

The current book, especially with Johns at the helm, could have easily been about five characters with the same name, but the writer shows remarkable restraint in giving us the basic elements that made his original run something that was not to be missed: the Flash, his girlfriend, his Rogues, and the cops.

Moreover, Johns scripts one of the better first issues I’ve read in a while. Granted, it’s all set-up--we meet our hero on page four, we get some superheroics, we’re introduced to the dramatis personae (girlfriends, Rogues, cops), and then we get a surprising twist that makes us want to read issue #2. It’s nowhere near a complete story, but somehow it’s an easy pill to swallow.

Clearly, Johns is shooting for an accessible superhero comic, which in mainstream superhero comics sounds like the biggest pipe dream that was ever pipe dreamt. Maybe that’s why this issue didn’t put me off. Of course, I already knew who the Flash is, but the book welcomes the reader into the world of Central City and it doesn’t act like The Flash is an exclusive club where you have to know 55 years of stories to enjoy. It may as well be All-Star Flash #1 (in the good way).

Part of the success we can credit to Francis Manapul, who employs a style that he has referred to as “Americana.” Manapul’s figures are remarkably nontraditional for a superhero comic: every character is drawn differently! It’s expressive! People are distinguishable! I like looking at it! I pray mainstream comics continue to hire more artists with distinctive styles and less artists who are still aping Image Comics circa 1993.

Most importantly, Manapul can depict motion, which is a prerequisite for a comic about a guy who runs all the time, but you’d be surprised at how ineffective some artists can be at depicting motion--reducing The Flash to a stupid pose frozen in time and surrounded by electrical arcs.

Coupled with Brian Bruccellato’s borderline-painterly color work, the art takes on a quaint, handmade feel--the “Americana” as Manapul calls it. This book is the indie comics version of The Flash, the underrated indie superhero comic book that just keeps quietly coming out and the fanboys wonder, why bother when you can read a Geoff Johns DC comic? Except it’s actually a Geoff Johns DC comic.

I didn’t expect to say this, but The Flash #1 is a solid, entertaining, and (by god) accessible superhero comic in a world where a superhero comic is rarely all three things. I can’t wait for #2. I pray my praise isn’t for naught in 30 days.




Robert Tacopina:

Geoff Johns is the man with the golden touch over at DC Comics. Seemingly every title he writes is a bona fide success, and he garners critical acclaim in all corners of comicdom. After bringing Green Lantern to a level of greatness that the character hadn’t previously attained, Johns has set his sights on a return to a much more familiar character, The Flash.

Johns’s previous tenure on the Scarlet Speedster were some of the more memorable Flash stories of all time. With his knack for strong characterization, and his deep knowledge and passion for the DC Universe, Johns’s new era of The Flash has finally been unleashed, but is it worth the price of admission?

The first thing that is noticeable is a kinetic sense of speed through the entirety of this first issue--be it from the Central City denizens or the Flash himself. Everything here runs as if it were jacked up to the extreme.

The story follows suit as we immediately see the Flash chase down a speeding car that contains the Trickster. The thug in the passenger seat fires a pistol at Flash who effortlessly plucks the bullet out of the air. After failing to yield, Trickster takes a dastardly detour that requires a saving from the Flash who not only gets the two baddies out of the car but also manages to save a construction crew who were in harm's way.

As Barry Allen, we get a glimpse of the Flash’s alter-ego in the forensics department at the police precinct. It is here that we see his first case develop as Mirror Master has apparently been murdered. While investigating, Barry realizes that this Mirror Master is not either of the two Mirror Masters that he is familiar with.

As this mystery unfolds, a call comes across the radio and Flash runs off to investigate where he runs into some time travelers from the 25th century.

In many ways, it seems like Johns hasn’t missed a beat in writing The Flash. Even though it’s now Barry Allen donning the boots instead of Wally West, the end result is the same. While I am not a particular fan of stories that deal with time travel, I admit that my curiosity has the better of me here. Despite the tired time traveling plot device, Johns could not have picked a more suitable way to begin this series.

It never hurts when you have an artist like Francis Manapul who can take the most hectic-fueled scenes and somehow make them even more intense. Manapul uses as a style that features clean, detailed lines and that plays well into the theme of the book. His style here reminds me of the work of John Romita Jr. His rendition of the Rogues is exemplary, and you can be fairly positive you will be seeing much more of them in the future.

Overall, this issue was an impressive opening to the new series. It is way past time to bring Flash and Green Lantern into the same category as Batman and Superman, and if anyone can do so it is this particular writer.

There is no doubt that Geoff Johns has a long-term plan for this book, and you can be equally sure that the ride to where this series ends up is going to be a breakneck, adrenaline-pounding thrill ride that has you by the seat of your pants!




Chris Kiser:

Barry Allen burst onto the comics scene as the Silver Age Flash in 1956, laying hold of that name until his death thirty years later in Crisis on Infinite Earths. From 1986 to 2009, former sidekick Wally West stepped into the role, serving as the DC Universe’s preeminent Flash until Barry returned from the great beyond.

When you crunch the numbers, it may come as a bit of a surprise to see that Barry’s original tenure as Flash really didn’t last much longer than Wally’s. In terms of total time spent in the costume, there’s really no reason for Barry to be considered DC’s “real Flash” to any degree greater than Wally’s claim to that title.

The scales actually tip in Wally’s favor when you consider that, for the bulk of today’s readers, Wally has actually appeared as Flash in more comics published during their lifetime. All the prceding is to say that the wisdom of writer Geoff Johns in giving Barry top billing in the latest Flash series is not self evident. Despite being the first to don the trademark scarlet suit, Barry will still have to work in order to earn his keep in this new book.

In The Flash #1, does Johns make a convincing case for putting Barry back in the spotlight at Wally’s expense? Can this re-launched title offer anything new that the popular Wally-centric volume couldn’t?

At least for the short term, the answer is “yes.”

Even with the similarities between the two Flashes (their loving devotion to a journalist wife, the familiar rivalries with the Rogues), the presence of Barry puts a unique stamp on the book.

Whereas Wally typically embraced the life of speed that his powers afforded him, Barry’s patience and intense focus stand in contrast to the hurried, busy world around him. In a world largely preferring prolificacy to proficiency, this Flash (despite his ability to do things faster than anyone) would prefer they be done right.

In this issue, Iris Allen chugging caffeine to power through her overscheduled day is juxtaposed with Barry’s Flash taking the time to introduce himself to ordinary bystanders. And when the Central City Police Department orders that cases be solved expediently or not at all, it is Barry who would prefer to see justice served regardless of its timetable.

Francis Manapul is invaluable in providing the visual component to the prevailing sense of hustle and bustle called for by Johns’ script. The many small details packed into his backgrounds depict the air of commotion better than any words about the rapidity of modern society ever could.

Still, if I embrace this new era of the Flash with reservation, it is because the life expectancy for this particular take on the character seems a bit short. So much of Barry’s characterization is predicated on the notion that the world has accelerated in pace in the time span since he died. Twenty issues down the line, I’m not sure the man-out-of-place approach will still hold water.

Unlike the overeager citizens of Central City, however, I am willing to wait for the resolution to that problem when the time is right. In the here and now, The Flash is quite the enjoyable read with Barry Allen at the helm.




Thom Young:
When I was a kid, I only collected books that featured Batman--Detective Comics, Batman (obviously), The Brave and the Bold, and Justice League of America. However, whenever I ventured outside the world of Batman it was The Flash that I was drawn to.

I only had a few Flash comics as a kid, but I loved them all, and I used to pretend that I was Barry Allen and that I was a blur of motion whenever I ran around the house or in my backyard. As I entered my teens, I started collecting Flash comics, too, though they weren’t necessarily as good as the few Carmine Infantino comics that I had in my childhood. I kept right on buying comics starring The Flash until DC killed him off in Crisis on Infinite Earths.

While I regretted DC's decision to kill Barry Allen, I didn’t mind Wally West taking over the title. After all, that’s what the job of being Kid Flash was all about--eventually taking over as The Flash when the time came (just as the job of Robin means eventually becoming Batman at some point).

The best thing I can say about this new series that brings back Barry Allen as The Flash is that I didn’t hate it. There isn’t a lot here that excites me, but there also isn’t a lot here that bothers me. It’s an adequately written and drawn comic starring Barry Allen as The Flash, and it entertained me while I was reading it (and that’s what stories are meant to do first--entertain us).

There were a few minor things that bothered me, but nothing so major as to make me pan the book. For one thing, the first page opens with something that seems to just be regular first person narrative--as in I expected Barry Allen to be telling us this information (perhaps in a journal he is keeping since coming back to life):
New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Central City is the city always on the run--
Okay, it’s a nice line of exposition that sets up a characteristic of the city in which the story is set. I could see Barry writing it down in his journal. However, I then turned the page and discovered that it wasn’t Barry who was saying (writing) this expository information; it was his wife Iris, and she wasn’t writing it down (as in a story she’s writing). No, she’s saying it out loud to the woman working behind the counter at a coffee shop:
--which means I have to be too. There are crimes to cover! People to save! Stories to break! So another large latte, Agnes, but make it a triple shot of espresso!
I dare you to go into your local Starbucks and actually start talking like that as you order your Caffé Latte Venti:
New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Washington DC is the city always on the move, which means I have to be too. There are classes to teach! Papers to grade! Reviews of comic books to write! So another Caffé Latte Venti, but make it a triple shot of espresso!
I’d be afraid of what they might actually try to slip into my coffee. However, it would be pretty funny if Geoff Johns started using this as a character trait for Iris--having her provide exposition about her life whenever she talks to someone. Perhaps she could be in a department store looking for some new clothes and she suddenly tells the sales clerk:
My life is a whirlwind of activity and I must always look my best. There are press conferences to cover, dinner meetings to keep, interviews to conduct, and I have to look sharp and professional at all times, so I’ll take that fashionable ensemble that the manikin is wearing, please.
At least the dialog isn’t as bad as when Johns had Hal Jordan say in Action Comics #837:
As for you fellas--don't let the chiseled good looks, the washboard abs and the power ring fool you. It's the little lady to my left who's the real threat--a mad dog in Danskins. I've enjoyed watching her bust the jaws of guys like you before--and I think it's only fair to warn you before she starts in on you!
Hey, perhaps Iris could go into an aerobics store and say, “It’s important that I keep in shape because I live such a busy life, so I need to be a mad dog in Danskins who is ready to face the challenges of my career.”

Aside from Iris’s odd way of speaking to the clerk at the coffee shop, I enjoyed this issue. There were two other minor things, though. First, Barry can run and move at the speed of light, so exactly how fast was The Trickster going in that 1978 AMC Gremlin that he was driving on pages three through six? That’s some suped-up subcompact! The Trickster must be a hell of a mechanic!

Second, how long was Barry gone exactly?

The cover story for the time he was dead is that he was in the witness relocation program and had been moved to another city and given a new identity. For whatever reason, he no longer has to be in this “witness relocation program,” and so can go back to his former life as a forensic scientist working for the Central City Police Department--but how long was he gone?

In real time, he was gone for almost 25 years--from the time of his death in Crisis on Infinite Earths until his resurrection in Final Crisis. However, in comic book time, I would say he only could have been gone for about eight years--dying in his late 20s and coming back in his mid 30s (with Iris no longer looking like the 60-year-old grandmother she was depicted as being in the Impulse series that ran from 1995 to 2002).

Okay, so let’s say Barry was gone for eight years, but Captain Frye tells Barry on page 12 of this issue, “Central City’s population tripled while you were gone.”

What?

DC seems to be considering Central City and its sister city across the river, Keystone City, as essentially being Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas, respectively.

(It used to be that Keystone City was the Earth-2 equivalent of Philadelphia--since Pennsylvania is “the Keystone State” after all--and Central City was the Earth-1 equivalent of Columbus, Ohio--as depicted in Flash #228 from 1974 in a story written by Cary Bates and edited by Julius Schwartz, "The Day I Saved the Life of the Flash.")

Anyway, if Central City is the current DC equivalent of Kansas City, Missouri then you should know that Kansas City, MO currently has a population of about 450,000 in the city limits (or a population of about 1,000,000 in the four counties that make up the Kansas City, Missouri metropolitan area). A third of that would be 150,000 (or about 330,000 for the four counties) and the population wasn’t that low unless you go back 110 years to the 1900 census.

So, was Barry gone for eight years, 25 years, or 110 years?

Additionally, Captain Frye tells Barry that the crime rate has quadrupled while he was gone (not the number of crimes has quadrupled, but the rate of the crimes has quadrupled). That number is equally as unbelievable as the population having tripled since crime rate statistics are based on the number of crimes for every 100,000 people.

For instance, let’s say Central City had a population of 400,000 when Barry died in CoIE and that the population has now tripled to 1,200,000 (difficult to believe, but we’ll go with it). If there were 100 murders per year in Central City eight years ago when Barry disappeared, then it means the city had a murder rate back then of 25 murders for every 100,000 people.

Now, if the crime rate has quadrupled since then, it means that Central City could now have a murder rate of 100 murders for every 100,000 people. Additionally, though, the city's population has tripled, so it would now mean that the number of murders is 1,200 per year.

It’s a good thing Barry can work at the speed of light. He probably has about 8,000 unsolved murders in his cold case files that have accumulated during the last eight years.

He better get busy!



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