Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ethan Van Sciver
Collects: Flash Rebirth #1-6, extras
Going into this story, I wasn't much of a Flash fan. I knew nothing of Barry Allen, little of Wally West outside of the JLU cartoon - though I did love the cartoons version of him - and only ever knew Bart Allen as Kid Flash. I'm probably about as new to reading Flash comics as it gets; I don't really have the history that many do with the character and preferences, so I don't have a horse in the race when it comes to the stupid "WALLY IS THE BEST/NO BARRY IS" arguments. I looked into this story mostly because of Geoff Johns, of whom I'm a fan, rather than because of any real affection for the Flash.
So that's where I was at coming into this story. If anything, I guess I'm probably the sort of fan they were hoping to get with this project to start with. Now, as far as the content itself goes, I have to give credit; after this story, I'm genuinely interested in the Flash and by the end I'm interested in where things may be going. But this story is not without it's problems.
Unlike it's Green Lantern counterpart, Flash: Rebirth starts with the titular hero already back from the dead. He came back in Final Crisis, but you don't really need to have read that story, as you get the important bits. But while Barry is alive again, he doesn't seem all too pleased about it. To him, something feels wrong, but he can't pin down what. Meanwhile, the whole of the superhero community is celebrating his return. But the celebrations won't last long; something is seriously wrong with Barry and by the end of it all, new facts about the Speed Force will be revealed and his greatest foe will have returned.
First off, I'd like to mention that I enjoyed the story playing with the idea of how your life is often romanticized after your death. This is largely a fact of life; someone may hate your guts when you're alive, but drop into a six foot hole and they'll have nothing but the best to say about you. But with Barry it's taken to the extreme; he's not just romanticized, the time dead has seen his legend turn into one of sainthood and martyrdom. He doesn't quite get it; it feels like an honest reaction and I could imagine it happening if the impossible happened and someone returned from the dead in real life.
Anyways, if there's one thing I noticed with this story, it's that it laid a lot of groundwork for what I assume are future stories. The Speed Force in particular finally sees some kind of explanation in that there's a positive and a negative, Barry is re-centered as even more central to the Flash name - kind of like how when Hal came back he was summarily toted as the greatest Green Lantern - the Flash Family is both rebuilt and expanded and a couple characters have both their codenames and costumes repositioned to get things in place for the future. There's a fair bit of ground covered.
On the same token, this story is probably a bit too concerned with laying that groundwork at the expense of the title character. Whereas there's a fair bit of exciting things teased, I didn't feel like I truly "got to know" Barry Allen. Sure, I liked him well enough and had an inkling or two by the end of the story - and I felt like there were a fair amount of places to go with him - but this was Barry Allens return story. This is my first exposure to the character and I didn't feel like the story truly presented who he was to me. Sure, it presented facts and backstory of his life before his death, but his personality did not really shine through. He's emotionally distant for most of the story - which is not how he is, according to his closest friends, but we don't get much indication here - so by the time the story actually wants to get around to showing us who he's supposed to be, it's already way too late in the story to do anything significant. I got a great primer on the Flash legacy, the changes and some track laying for the future, but I didn't walk away feeling like I'd truly met Barry Allen and it's probably this stories greatest flaw.
On the other hand, the story sets up the new Flash series rather well and left me ready to see more. I'm interested in the Flash for the first time, so I suppose that the story did it's job to some extent. Still, I don't think it's quite the slam dunk everyone probably expected. I just hope the ongoing takes time to delve into the character a bit more.
As far as the art goes, I like it a fair amount. It's no secret that Ethan Van Sciver is the reason this series saw atrocious delays. But DC soldiered on and I'm glad they did. I think part of why this story worked despite it's flaws is that it's a visually consistent book. Van Sciver seems to have drawing motion down pretty well and the work is solid throughout. If there had been a jarring artist change midway through the book, there would have been a very real risk of the book falling apart. Few things can truly compound a stories problems quite like jarring art shifts, so kudos to DC for not bowing to the pressure and howling from fans incensed by the delay. It will likely serve this collection better in the long term.
This is also a very colorful book, which is another plus for me; there's a lot of color here, there and everywhere during fights and as a result it feels more visually engaging as a result. I can see this being a fun element moving forward with Flash stories; I like it when stories are colorful, especially because it feels very "comics" to me. That's a good thing, by the way.
The Score: 7.5 out of 10
On the whole, I felt this story did it's job. I'm interested in seeing what comes next and I'll be checking out the new Flash series in trade. Still, I think it dropped the ball in regards to Barry Allen himself and it hurt everything overall, at least enough to keep Rebirth from being truly "great". Still, it seems like a pretty good launching pad for what's to come and I don't feel like I wasn't given the tools I needed as a new reader, which is key in a jumping on point. On the whole, I feel it's worth a read; but it may end up being more important for what it sets up for the future than for the "Rebirth" of the hero in particular, which is indeed somewhat unfortunate.