A motorcyclist in a black leather Flash jacket speeds through the streets of Central City looking for Barry Allen. Meanwhile, Barry is avoiding a family picnic because his mother and father won’t be there due to Professor Zoom altering history. Instead, Barry is called to a possible crime scene to see if the Elongated Kid was murdered or died of Gingold-related causes.
It had to happen eventually. After a great opening story arc and a couple of really good villain-centric standalone issues that establish the current status quo of the character, we’re finally seeing the world of The Flash open up a little, which means appearances from the rest of the Flash family--namely Young Flash, Old Flash, Kid Flash, and Young Flash’s kids (who are also Flashes). Thankfully, Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul show them in street clothes, not costumes, and refer to them simply as Barry Allen’s “family.”
Having a gaggle of similarly themed speedster superheroes would not only confuse casual readers, but it would also cheapen the title character--and, considering the big reveal of the final page, having a bunch of other Flashes running around would lessen the surprise of the cliffhanger.
This world-opening also means an impending crossover, as the “Road to Flashpoint” banner on the cover suggests. Cool concept or not, a Flash-centric crossover is first and foremost a marketing strategy for DC, and the company surely wants to raise the profile of the next character that will become a major Hollywood blockbuster. It worked for Green Lantern.
That said, this latest issue isn’t Flashpoint yet--it's the prelude to Flashpoint--so Johns is free to tell (at least in this first chapter) a story with emotional beats involving an intriguing mystery involving a dead old man who turns out to be a rapidly aged kid superhero, and the recently resurrected Barry Allen’s estrangement from his own super-family (resurrection blues being a concept that few superhero books actually cover).
Thus far, Johns’s Flash stories have been more subdued than his batshit insane Green Lantern stuff as of late. This more subdued approach is perfect for a Flash starring Barry Allen--a superhero crime mystery comic in which cosmic time fuckery and megalomaniacal gorillas occasionally get in the way. Plus, the Flash is the guy whose powers involve putting foot to ground. Green Lantern flies around space and takes orders from blue midgets. Those are going to be fundamentally different comics, and Johns is aware of it.
Francis Manapul continues to draw the series, which is great to look at, especially because Manapul’s art is akin to the anime-inspired style of Joe Madureira--enjoyably cartoony and just unconventional enough to be exciting and surprising to see in a high-profile mainstream superhero book. Then come the warm, autumn painterly effects of colorist Brian Buccellato to make this even more unlike DC’s other comics. I would have expected DC to assign The Flash to some hack artist who grew up looking at nothing but the work of Jim Lee and who attempted to poorly emulate that style. Instead, we have a real artist, with a clear, consistent and individual style.
Johns takes a lot of shit these days, but the guy knows how to give each of his books a markedly different feel--which is especially true of The Flash, one of the books where Johns originally made a name for himself. There’s a comfort and a familiarity to the story that shows the writer’s handle on the world of the series and the characters in it. So far, The Flash is what I want a Flash book to be. Hopefully it doesn’t get muddled by the Flashpoint crossover.
Go ahead and smack me for getting all punny on you, but the latest Flash series sure has gotten off to an ironically slow start. It has been a couple of years since DC ignored the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” rule and pushed Wally West out of the franchise’s starring role--and it’s hard to say that we’ve yet experienced anything resembling a payoff.
The first arc featuring Barry Allen’s return to the red tights was inoffensive enough, but it was also a little too long and derivative to really light a spark. One issue in, the next major storyline appears to have much of the same feel. Once again, Johns reminds us of the friction between Barry and his fellow Central City police officers, and (once again) he sets up the Flash for a run-in with a mysterious time traveler.
Judging from what it says on this issue’s cover, that latter aspect seems intended to generate buzz for the upcoming Flashpoint crossover , but it is far less effective in achieving that goal than was this past week’s barrage of DC press releases.
Thankfully, this issue does spend some time stepping outside of that familiar box--and in those moments it is a little better. The focus on Barry investigating unusual crimes in his civilian role distinguishes him from the other Flashes, and the paranormal murder mystery he encounters this month is somewhat interesting.
At first, the featured case seems like it might have been lifted entirely from Fringe or The X-Files, though it ends up having a distinctly DC Comics flavor to it. Johns has the bright idea to cast the victim as some sort of Ralph Dinby tribute hero--a clever inclusion of the publisher’s penchant for legacy characters.
Francis Manapul remains an asset to this series, though I would never have pegged his and Buccellatto’s chalky, Americana style as a good fit for the kinetic action called for by such a series as this one. Somehow, though, it works--keeping the action in this issue looking extremely fast. (It’s a double-edged sword, perhaps, as the story contents of this issue ultimately feel fairly short.)
Comics readers should be used to entire spans of their favorite series being employed as long term plot build-up, but it honestly feels like that’s all The Flash has been so far. Johns may indeed make it worth our while in the end, but sooner or later some of us are going to tire out from chasing his dangling carrot.
I know absolutely nothing about DC’s upcoming Flashpoint mega-event other than it’s to be written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Andy Kubert. I know that there have been a lot of Flashpoint press releases and other promotional material going around the Internet, but I haven’t been bothering with any of it. I used to keep up on all of the upcoming releases, but I now work 60 hours a week and spend my “free time” reading and reviewing comics (and editing reviews) rather than reading about what comic books are going to come out several months from now.
Thus, I could be completely off target in my assumptions about this “Road to Flashpoint” chapter in The Flash #9. However, based on what I believe is happening in it, I am very pleased with this latest issue since it seems to start to address a problem that I have had with Geoff Johns’s plot of having the Reverse Flash, Professor Zoom, altering Barry Allen’s history.
Two years ago, when Flash: Rebirth #1 came out, I was taken aback by the rewriting of Barry Allen’s history as Johns revealed that Barry’s father, Henry Allen, was arrested for killing his wife, Nora Allen, when Barry was a child. I recalled from childhood that Henry and Nora Allen appeared in several issues of Barry Allen's original series in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, so the news of Henry killing Nora during Barry’s childhood initially struck me as an example of Johns ignoring established continuity in order to give Barry a tragic past akin to Bruce Wayne’s.
Of course, my assumption was incorrect.
Nora wasn’t killed by Henry Allen, but by Professor Zoom after he traveled back in time to alter Barry’s life story. While this time-altering plot point explained away the problem I had with the rewriting of Barry’s history, it created a new problem in that both timelines should now exist as parallel universes--akin to the alteration of Capt. Kirk’s history in J.J. Abrams’s 2009 Star Trek film.
Just as Abrams broke from the continuity of the original series by setting the new Star Trek franchise in a parallel universe that was created by the anachronistic death of Jim Kirk’s father, Professor Zoom’s altering of Barry’s past should have also created a parallel universe. There should now be a DC universe in which Barry had a happy childhood and his parents lived together long into their old age, and there should be this new J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek universe in which Professor Zoom killed Nora Allen and framed Henry Allen.
With this latest issue, it appears that Johns may be addressing that parallel universe concept; it looks like this issue ends with a scene akin to a character played by a young William Shatner telling a character played by Chris Pine, “I’m here to save history from the single greatest time anomaly to ever threaten reality.”*
At least I hope I am correct in my assumption about what is happening on that last page of The Flash #9. However, even if I’m not, this issue’s story intrigues me, and I will probably give Flashpoint a try whenever it comes out--despite my attitude toward company-wide mega-event crossovers.
I heard that it will cost fans about $150 to buy all of the various Flashpoint books--and I don’t believe that figure included the “Road to Flashpoint” issues leading up to the event. Unfortunately, I don’t have $150 to spend on mega-event crossovers, so I hope the main Flashpoint series is self-contained and doesn’t require readers to know what’s happening in all of the various tie-in series. Regardless, though, at least this first installment of “The Road to Flashpoint” has piqued my interest.
Finally, I am happy to see Francis Manapul return as the illustrator of this series after the last couple of months off. His current style, which he has called “Americana,” is well suited for The Flash. With his Midwest roots and his 1950s crew cut, Barry Allen is as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet (or Ford)--to paraphrase what I wrote a year and a half ago when I reviewed the first Superboy story by Johns and Manapul in Adventure Comics.
As with that Superboy series in Adventure, the feeling of Americana in Manapul’s work is largely due to the colors by Brian Buccellatto, who has worked with Manapul on both series. I assume Manapul has been directing Buccellatto’s palette to some degree--a palette that is reminiscent of the colors and tones displayed in many of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings (and you can’t get more “Americana” than that in painting unless you bring Norman Rockwell into the discussion).
Overall, this issue is exceptional on all levels; it’s even free from the odd dialog choices that Johns often makes in his stories. What’s more, this issue has some character who called himself Elongated Kid (he’s dead in this story) wearing Ralph Dibney’s original Elongated Man costume from the early 1960s. I always loved that old Carmine Infantino-designed costume; it would be great if a character who isn’t dead could wear it.
*How I would love to see that scene in the next Star Trek film--not because I hated the last Star Trek film, which I did, but because I love parallel universe stories in which characters meet their alternate selves.
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