Flash Rebirth – The 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Geoff Johns (Part 1)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Truth be told, this challenge is leaving me exhausted. I have 22 more graphic novels to read before the end of this challenge after we’re done with this week’s writer. My girlfriend also hasn’t left me yet as a result of this challenge…which is nice. We’re almost in the home stretch and I couldn’t be happier!
Geoff Johns began interning under the famous director Richard Donner (known for films such as Superman, The Goonies, and Lethal Weapon) in the 90’s. Johns quickly became a production assistant under Donner, being mentored by the legendary director. While working on one of Donner’s films, Johns was introduced to DC Comics Group Editor Eddie Berganza, whom invited Johns to tour the DC offices, reigniting an old love he had for comics from his youth. This would open the door for Johns to meet comic talent like David Goyer and James Robinson who were working on the JSA title at that time. Eddie encouraged Geoff Johns to pitch some ideas and would eventually go on to co-write JSA with James Robinson shortly before becoming the primary writer on The Flash. After a healthy run on The Flash, Johns would leave the character only to return many years later in an attempt to resurrect the long dead Barry Allen, one of the most popular characters to don The Flash costume.
Years ago, Barry Allen, otherwise known as The Flash, sacrificed his life to save the entire Multiverse from collapsing during an event referred to as a “Crisis”. Following yet another Crisis in the DC Universe, Barry Allen has miraculously returned to the land of the living. Unsettled by how much the world has changed around him, Barry struggles to adjust to his recent return to life. Now the world has multiple speedsters, ranging from his successor, Wally West, to his grandson, Bart Allen (a.k.a. Kid Flash), or even other people who aren’t related to him like Jessie Quick. As Barry begins to become more acclimatized to his life, he begins to feel an impending and awful disturbance. The Speed Force, the essence of all speedsters’ powers, appears to be disrupted, causing anyone who has come in contact with the Speed Force to age into dust if they then come into contact with Barry. Desperate for answers, Barry begins to search within the Speed Force for any truth he can uncover about his return to life, which in turn unearths some startling truths surrounding the one case he never gained closure on; his mother’s death.
Geoff Johns does his best to reintegrate Barry Allen back into the DC Universe with The Flash: Rebirth. Say anything you want about Geoff Johns as a creator (I personally adore much of the work he’s done over his career so I typically have nothing but nice things to say about him anyways) but there’s one thing you can’t deny; he’s one of the most passionate writers in comics today. Every bit of work he does do, he pours his heart and soul into it, fully investing himself in the characters he creates or writes about. This was apparent when Johns rebooted the Green Lantern franchise back in the early 2000’s with Green Lantern: Rebirth and that’s exactly what he tries to do here with The Flash: Rebirth as well. With that said, when you compare both of those Rebirth stories, The Flash comes out as a far inferior product. It’s an instance where it’s almost better to read The Flash: Rebirth without having read any of Geoff Johns’ other work first because it just doesn’t strike you in the way that Green Lantern: Rebirth does.
All of this is not to say that The Flash: Rebirth isn’t an enjoyable story, it’s a great launching pad for readers who are looking to understand the character of Barry Allen and it achieves what it sets out to do; bring Barry Allen back to life in the DC Universe. Let’s take a few paragraphs to rip into the story before I get to what’s enjoyable about it. One of the biggest hurdles it faces is the fact that the story feels like it picks up in media res in some sense. For a story titled “Rebirth” you’re lead to believe that you’ll see the resurrection of the character of Barry Allen, which isn’t true because he is actually resurrected in the DC Comics event that precedes this storyline, “Final Crisis”. Barry Allen returns in that storyline and then Rebirth is about Allen trying to pick up the pieces of his life after having been away for so many years. Everything around him has changed, people have aged, married, passed away, and all of this unsettles Barry. Honestly, a more appropriate name for this series would be a title along the lines of “The Flash: Picking Up The Pieces” or any other form of title that implies The Flash has returned and is trying to put his life back together. Immediately, the title is disingenuous in a sense as the rebirth of Barry Allen has occurred long before this story even gets the chance to hit the ground running.
Bare with me for just another paragraph of sinking into what’s wrong The Flash: Rebirth as it’s impossible to not draw parallels between The Flash: Rebirth and Green Lantern: Rebirth. Green Lantern: Rebirth is a better story, there isn’t a more concise way to put it, it just is. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it as it’ll make you feel a genuine sense of care towards the resurrected Hal Jordan. That story delivers everything that The Flash: Rebirth lacks, as it gets across the personalities of the multiple Green Lanterns who play a factor on the narrative as well as showing you how Hal Jordan returns to the land of the living as the Green Lantern. Alternatively, The Flash: Rebirth struggles because of the massive amount of speedsters it crams into the story. If you’ve read Geoff Johns’ previous work on The Flash from years gone by, with Wally West under centre, than a good amount of these characters will be familiar. But if this is your first experience with The Flash or his supporting cast, you’ll just feel overloaded by the amount of different speedsters you have to juggle. Off the top of my head I can think of at least eight speedsters who are referenced, highlighted, or impact the story in some form and that’s just counting the good guys. Where Green Lantern: Rebirth succeeds in highlighting what makes every Green Lantern in charge of protecting Sector 2814 unique, The Flash: Rebirth largely relies on visual cues to show you the difference between Wally West and Barry Allen but even then, there’s so much red or yellow on the page at any given time that it’s easy for you to have to stop to gather yourself, slowing you down in a story that should be a high-speed thrill.
For the sake of not making this post seem like it should be titled “Why you should read Green Lantern: Rebirth instead of The Flash: Rebirth”, let’s hit the positives of this story, of which there are plenty. The most important part of Johns’ story is that it encompasses everything you need to know about Barry Allen. In a lot of ways, that is truly where the title “Rebirth” comes from, as it resurrects the ideals of Barry’s life while giving you a great retrospective that easily tells you what makes Barry tick. Johns gives you an intimate look into the life of Barry Allen, ranging from his surprise romance with his wife Iris Allen-West, to the mystery of his mother’s death that has plagued him for years. Barry Allen is a man who is always on the go, making the fastest man alive the man who is almost always late as well. It’s a fascinating examination of how that, even with an ability like super speed, a person can still be remarkably human by doing simple things like always being late. A lot of these moments where Johns cuts back in time to show us Barry’s life before he died are the best moments of the entire mini-series, as it highlights what Geoff Johns is best at; reminding us that superheroes can be humans too, with powerful and emotional histories.
Geoff Johns heavily uses the “Speed Force” in The Flash: Rebirth, the strangely scientific/mystical explanation for as to where the speedsters get their powers from. In a way, it all ties together how Barry Allen comes back to life, as well explaining a few other questions that plagued DC fans surrounding other comic book events. The Speed Force is a key element in the world of The Flash and Johns shows it to readers in a way that is interesting and engrossing instead of being potentially daunting, which would be incredibly easy to think consider the high sci-fi element of this odd force. It all weaves back within itself as Johns uses it to also cast the villain for the story, a member of The Flash’s rogues gallery that anyone would be familiar with, even if you know next to nothing about The Flash. Johns gives the villain ammunition in the way of the Speed Force and uses it to really push the boundaries on the latter half of the story, making the last few issues a consistent series of climaxes that will leave the reader feeling rewarded.
Collects: The Flash: Rebirth #1-6
Best Character: Barry Allen
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “As long as I remember Iris, I’ll be alright” – Barry Allen
Best Scene/Moment: The Flash vs. Superman race – Issue 3
Best Issue: Issue 6. Issue 6 is easily the strongest batch of issues as it wraps up everything perfectly. You get revelations, a showdown that was decades in the making, plenty of big changes in the lives of all the characters and a classic scene that concludes the series on a note that couldn’t be more perfect. The dialogue hits the right way, the action is engaging, and all your character moments are memorable. This one is an issue that takes off running and doesn’t stop, even when the story ends.
Why You Should Read It: You should read The Flash: Rebirth not because it’s a game-changing story but because it highlights Geoff Johns as a writer who is beyond capable of casting superheroes in a human light. He just has this knack for stripping away all the needless elements and getting to the core of the characters, which is exactly what he does with Barry Allen in this story. He shows us what drives this man to be the hero he is, the demons that have plagued him, but also shows us the beautiful sides to his life that keep him a fun and playful character. Geoff Johns may craft a bit of an uneven story here but he does strike the chord that shows us he knows how to write superheroes in a way that makes them relatable, making that reason enough to pick up this story.