Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ethan Van Sciver
Colors: Brian Miller and Alex Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics
Nostalgia is the sentimental yearning for an earlier, happier era. The majority of superhero books published by DC (or Marvel) are more or less nostalgic, in that they constantly look backward to a mythical period when superhero comics were better. But the word “nostalgia” is insufficient to describe Flash Rebirth. A better description would be nostromanic, because it’s love of the past could be classified as a psychological disorder.
Flash Rebirth loves everything about DC Comics. It love the Justice League, especially Hal Jordan, the bad-ass space-cop who doesn’t care about the rules. Even the titular star of this book, Barry Allen, becomes as giddy as a school girl when Hal uses manly words like “perp.”
Flash Rebirth loves the Titans. It loves them so much that that it devotes several pages to two different Titan teams. The first is the Teen Titans, featuring a teenage Robin, Wonder Girl and Kid Flash. The second team is the Twenty-Somethings Who Never Moved Past Their Glory Years in High School Titans, featuring Nightwing (formerly Robin), Donna Troy (formerly Wonder Girl), and the second character in this book who calls himself the Flash, Wally West (formerly Kid Flash). Wally was quietly demoted, and is no longer the star of the Flash franchise. Yet he still gets to keep the Flash codename, which is nice.
Flash Rebirth loves the Justice Society of America. Some of the kids may not realize (and probably don’t care) that there was a superhero team all the way back in the 40’s. Today, the Justice Society is like the Justice League if you got rid of all the recognizable characters and replaced them with their grandparents. There’s old timey Flash, Jay Garrick, and old timey Green Lantern, and a few other remarkably buff retirees. And they let their grand-kids play too, because there’s also Liberty Belle, who’s related to members of the original Justice Society in ways that I don’t care to learn.
(For the sake of clarity, there are now three different men who call themselves the Flash, plus a Kid Flash. Apparently, brand dilution is no longer a matter of concern but a sign of success).
The girls don’t get to call themselves “Flash” anything
As the title suggests, most of the love is reserved for the Flash franchise. Flash Rebirth loves every bit of minutiae from the last 50+ years of Flash comics. Every sidekick, every rogue, every supporting character gets a cameo at some point. And every (pseudo) famous story gets a shout-out. Remember that time Superman and Flash raced for charity? Or how ’bout that time Flash was tried for murder? Or that big story where he died and the universe got rebooted? In case you forgot any of these tales, there’s a scene set in the Flash Museum, which has dozens of exhibits dedicated to the crime-fighter’s history. It’s rather fitting then that the comic often reads like the placard on a museum exhibit, overflowing with trivial details.
But Flash Rebirth doles out the love in unequal doses, and the biggest amount goes to the Flash stories from the late 1950’s and early 60’s. Fans know this was the beginning of the Silver Age of superheroes, and the first Silver Age hero was none other than Barry Allen, arguably the most famous character to call himself the Flash. As I made clear above, the comic doesn’t hate anything that came earlier or later. Jay Garrick and Wally West are still alive and well, and they play significant roles in the story. But they are forced to kowtow before the greatness of Barry, thereby acknowledging that the Silver Age, rather than the Golden Age or the modern era, was when the superhero genre reached perfection.
To their credit, Johns and Van Sciver are not content to simply wallow in past glories. Like any obsessive, they need to convince others that their obsession is superior. Barry Allen must be more than just another B-list hero. He needs to be the embodiment of the Silver Age, and the character manages to to be just that, despite the fact that he has the personality of soap. Through a repetitive narrative and heavy-handed use of motifs, Johns and Van Sciver make their case, and then they make it again, and one more time for good measure, like they’re freshmen writing their first essay. Thesis Statement – Barry Allen is the paradigm of superheroes and the spirit of the Silver Age for two reasons: (1) he created the Speed Force and (2) he wears bow ties.
In a convoluted plot that I’m sure retroactively alters a half-dozen stories, Flash Rebirth reveals that Barry generates the Speed Force, a mystical energy field from which all other speedsters draw power. It’s like that other Force, but limited to … well, speed. In addition to being a better hero, Barry is also the Alpha and Omega for all other super-fast characters, even those who have no connection to the Flash. Thus, Barry’s greatness is not merely a matter of opinion, it’s a universal law.
The bow ties may sound inconsequential in comparison to cosmic speed, but they’re every bit as important in explaining why Geoff Johns and Van Sciver love the Flash. Setting aside tuxedos, nobody but conservative pundits and ironic hipsters wear bow ties anymore. But Barry Allen, neither pundit nor hipster, has to wear bow ties because he wore bow ties in the 60’s, and the unassailable assumption is that superheroes in the 60’s were better than superheroes today. The bow tie shows up repeatedly, and it becomes a symbol for Barry’s old-fashioned integrity, his difficulty interacting with the normals, and his eternal love for his wife. The bow tie represents the essential elements of the Silver Age Superhero: virtue, alienation, and iconic love interests. Barry doesn’t merely wear the bow tie. He is the bow tie, and the bow tie is everything great about superheroes.
I can’t offer a conventional review of Flash Rebirth. About halfway into the book, it was no longer possible to criticize its aesthetic merits, or lack thereof. Decades of history, intricate character genealogies, hundreds of lines of exposition … I was completely overwhelmed. And the aesthetic qualities aren’t important anyway. Are Van Sciver’s action scenes lackluster? Sure, but the violence (usually quite graphic in a Geoff Johns comic) feels rather besides the point. Does the plot make sense? Nope, but the narrative is also besides the point. All that matters is that Barry Allen is back and he’s bigger than Jesus.
People who deeply, passionately love Barry Allen got exactly the comic they wanted. Any “civilians” curious about the Flash would be better served reading the Wikipedia entry. Same effect, saves time.