When you do one of these things once a week, the obsession is always to try to avoid repeating yourself.
But it happens. Things do come up more than once, sometimes you get new information, and occasionally you even have a change of heart about something.
All of which brings me to the Flash.
A couple of years ago, I did a column speculating about the return of Barry Allen as the Flash. Well, Barry’s been back for a while now, and though I was mildly interested in what DC’s plans were, Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver’s Flash: Rebirth struck me as being every bit as pedantic and humorless as their previous Green Lantern outing. So I shrugged and filed the whole thing under “not for me,” and moved on.
However, someone pressed the new hardcover collection of the relaunched Flash ongoing series on me, The Dastardly Death of the Rogues, and despite a grimace over the cover’s Brightest Day tie-in trade dress, I gave it a look.
I kind of loved it.
All the stiff, obsessive, continuity-heavy stuff that has weighed down the other Johns DC efforts of late seems to be largely gone from this. Yeah, I guess there’s some sort of nod to Brightest Day in there somewhere but it slipped right by me, because this was just a straight-up good time, as far as I’m concerned, and no Wikipedia was necessary. Johns and Manapul are channeling the old Fox-Infantino Silver Age Flash in the best way — not by aping that tradition, but by re-presenting it with modern comics vocabulary. It was smart, it was fun, it was self-contained and new-reader-friendly — no, really, I mean it. Yeah, in a Geoff Johns big-ticket DC comic.
Shocked me too. But there it is.
Let’s put it this way — I pick up a Flash comic, I expect to see certain things. I want to see the Flash doing super-speed stunts involving things other than just running real fast. I want to see a costumed villain with a clever gimmick. I want to see both Real Science and Comic Book Science. I want to see the Flash win by being smarter than the bad guys think he is.
And I want, above all, for the feel of the book to be one of light entertainment. The stakes should be high, sure, but with a light tone — like, alien-invasion high, as opposed to murder-a-busload-of-schoolkids high, if you get my meaning. Verisimilitude, not “realism.”
To my mind, those are the baseline things you really should have in there to make it a classic Flash story. And Geoff Johns hit all those notes and he made it look effortless and organic. The tics that have become such sport for bloggers everywhere were nowhere in evidence. In particular, there was none of this business of stopping the story for the awkward exposition-montage page, or the raise-the-stakes-by-killing-and-maiming-someone thing that seems to be de rigueur at DC the last few years. What you get in this new Flash book is the Geoff Johns I remember from stories like “Stealing Thunder” and Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E. — and yeah, I’d call that a good thing.
And additionally, the art fit the book in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time.
For a character like the Flash, I think the artist should be someone with a light, airy style, someone whose work feels loose and kinetic. Ethan Van Sciver is a fine and talented artist, but he’s so completely not the guy for the Flash. Van Sciver’s linework is so tight and highly-rendered it looks like he’s doing an engraving.
On the other hand, Francis Manapul may well be my ideal Flash artist… even more so than 1960s Carmine infantino, and Infantino created the look I’m describing, he’s the one that set the tone in the first place. Nevertheless, I think Manapul does it better. He gets it all completely right. Not just the Flash moments but the Barry-and-Iris stuff, the villain stuff — it all just jumps off the page. I adored it.
As for Barry himself, in the column of a couple of years back I speculated that there was a rich vein of material there to be tapped by portraying Barry’s basic Midwest decency as something seen as stodgy by other characters, but not as something just to be played for laughs– Barry’s not Clark Kent. I thought then and think now that there’s a lot of mileage to be had by letting Barry’s positive outlook be tested by modern cynicism but not destroyed by it. My idea was to play it out with today’s Justice League, pitting Barry against the younger folks on the team — instead, Geoff Johns plays it out in the Central City Police Department, pitting Barry against a new generation of CSIs. The idea still works though, and it’s as much fun as I’d hoped.
So anyway, there you have it. If you like old-school superheroics done with modern style and flair then The Dastardly Death of the Rogues is for you. It’s a fun book. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that there’s already rumblings that suggest to me that this won’t last. I know that DC and Marvel are largely only publishing event-driven comics any more, but I really did hope that this new Flash thing might make it at least a year or two of just doing the rockin’ good time stories before getting all puffed up with some sort of self-important thing like the upcoming “Flashpoint.”
Which, in fairness, could be great, sure. But I’m already seeing a banner that says “Road to Flashpoint” on the monthly book and my gut tells me that if there’s a “Road To….” involved, then probably Mr. Johns is letting his bad habits run away with him again.
I hope not. I’m sentimental about the Flash. I want to like his book. I wish them well.
I just hope they remember that every time someone gets in their head that it’s time to “raise the stakes” or “make people take the Flash seriously,” it never ends well.
Save that crap for somebody like the Punisher or Daredevil. The Flash in general, and Barry in particular, have had way too much of it.
See you next week.
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