Remember when M. Night Shyamalan used to matter? When “Unbreakable” was released and viewers (particularly the superhero-comic-inclined in the audience) hailed its tense unfolding and powerful, “realistic,” evocation of superhumanity, while others railed against its arch formalism, cardboard characters, and methodical pacing?
When I read “Flash: Rebirth” #5, I couldn’t help but be reminded of “Unbreakable.” And I don’t mean that as an insult.
But I do mean that this issue has some of the same assets, and some of the same deficiencies, as that Shyamalan movie, even if the delivery method is significantly different. Even if Ethan Van Sciver is not half the visual storyteller that cinematographer Eduardo Serra is.
And here’s one of the strange things about issue #5 — and it’s true for the entire series thus far: this is a slowly-paced story, even though it’s full of nothing but speedsters. What slows it down isn’t a lack of plot, and it’s not a lack of literal character movement (no, in this issue it’s pretty much all running, all the time), it’s that the characters speak with such stilted formality, such old-fashioned movie hero and villain dialogue, that the story slows to a crawl as they lecture one another.
So while “Unbreakable” is a movie with very little talking, and “Flash: Rebirth” #5 has, comparatively, a lot, both techniques work to slow down their respective stories. Such is the difference between cinema and comics.
Yet there’s more than just a technical comparison to be made with the Shyamalan film and this comic. The hero/villain relationship — the whole concept of the superhero and his exact opposite — is defined in that movie and completely exemplified in this issue by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver. Flash and Reverse-Flash are everything that Sam Jackson’s Mr. Glass wants from a hero/villain pairing. It’s almost a parody of the dialectic, but it’s not ineffective. It works in issue #5 because of the extreme of the opposition. And we learn that, like Mr. Glass, Professor Zoom has been working behind the scenes in ways that we might never have imagined.
Johns and Van Sciver are working with primal, archetypal situations here (and there’s a new Impulse thrown in for good measure), so while some of it may seem cliched it’s still satisfying. And maybe this is what Barry Allen needs for his rebirth into the DCU. Stripped down to his core, just him vs. his nemesis. With a gang of speedsters by his side.