Review: The Flash – Rebirth #5 (of 6)

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Or – “The Cavalcade of Resurrections Continues!  Next Up: Scalphunter!”

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I’m not one of those people who rail at the disintegration of our society or the loss of the niceties of modern communications, or even the guy who insists on explaining why he doesn’t own a television because it rots our creative souls.  But I am disappointed that this series (whose very premise raises much skepticism for me) has managed to damage my not-so-sensitive sensibilites yet again. DC editorial has announced that Flash: Rebirth (like it’s creative twin ‘Captain America: Rebirth’) will be adding an issue to it’s run in midstream because the creators wanted more room to tell the story.  It just underlines for me the fact that this series hasn’t really seemed completely thought-out beyond the “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” factor.  Barry’s back from the great hoary neitherworld, and so is his grandson, his grandson’s mentor, his arch-enemy, his wife, and pretty much everybody save Johnny Quick and Barry’s mommy.  Will this be the issue that convinces me of Mr. Allen’s anointed role as “The One, True Flash?”

The Flash: Rebirth #5 (of 6)

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Written by Geoff Johns
Art and covers by Ethan Van Sciver

Previously, on Flash – Rebirth: The return of Barry Allen has so far led to nothing but questions.  How did he pull it off?  What does this mean for Wally West?  Why did Savitar die upon touching Barry?  Did anybody really believe he was in witness protection all those years?  What IS the Black Flash?  What does a negative Speed Force do, and how can Eobard Thawne have used it to return from the dead?  How many characters can we resurrect before somebody asks the inevitable question about death in comics and whether it means anything?  And how DID Barry’s mother die when all those old Flash comics repeatedly showed both his parents alive and well?  The answers have not, so far, been forthcoming…  Luckily for us, this issue is NOT, as solicited, the last book in the limited series, since Geoff Johns and company have added an additional volume to Rebirth to make sure that we have just as much runnin’ around at high speed as we can stomach before they launch “Blackest Night: Flash” next month.  The overarching question about ALL of this, though, has always been “What makes Barry Allen tick, and why should I be excited that he’s back?”

We open with a momentary flashback (you should excuse the expression) to Barry as a child with his beloved mom, jumping forward to his time with the Central City PD, years spent poring over files and case-logs to try and solve the murder of his mother.  (Good thing Bruce Wayne is deceased, or else we might be looking at a C&D letter for infringement of gimmick…)  Smash cut to the present day as Flash I, Flash II, Flash III (aka Kid Flash I), Flash IV (aka Kid Flash II), and Max Mercury face down with the madman known as Professor Zoom, the man who brought Barry back from beyond.  The Flash family makes with the super-speed fighty-fighty, as Barry thinks about how nice it is to have his friends beside him.  “I never needed to be the fastest,” thinks Barry.  “I just didn’t want to be the only one.”  Jay Garrick makes the first successful shot against P.Z., using his steel helmet as a gong to knock Zoom down with sonic vibrations.  While the battle goes on in the streets, Wally West’s children (Jai and Iris) continue to suffer from their speed-force induced seizures, until Iris realizes the truth:  Their nature as twins has caused them to share the same channel to the Speed Force, and because of that, neither of them has a clear channel for their powers.  She tells her brother that she doesn’t want to hurt him anymore, and takes his hand, apparently giving up her powers to save his.  While Zoom rages in the streets, Jesse “Liberty Belle” Quick arrives at the West home, telling Iris that she’s the next generation, that she is now an official member of the Flash legacy…

More fighting ensues, and Jesse and Iris join the fray, and all seven of the speedsters knock down the much-faster Zoom before regrouping and taking off together at near light-speed.  The plan is to lure Zoom back into the Speed Force and trap him, and Wally teaches his friends how to use the Speed Force to repair their uniforms, leading to new costumes for Iris, for Jesse, and a new Justice-League-Unlimited-inspired outfit for Wally himself.  Thankfully, Jay sticks with his old-school dungarees and a hubcap for a hat. Can’t mess with the classics.  Iris declares herself to be the new Impulse, much to Wally and Bart’s surprise, and Zoom laughs that none of them, not even Savitar, truly realized the power of the Speed Force.  “It’s knowledge, and evolution,” he rants, “and every scientist’s holy grail…  YOUTH.”  Zoom points out Jay’s youthfulness, Iris and Bart’s age-swapping history, and ominously reminds Barry that his wife Iris (for whom Wally named his daughter) hasn’t aged a day, either.  Barry and Zoom rocket away from the others at speeds that even Flashes have trouble reaching, and Professor Zoom reveals that he is responsible for every horrible moment of Barry’s life, from his mom’s murder to the time he fell down the stairs in sixth grade.  (Because pushing a kid down a flight of stairs equals great villainy, dammit.)  Zoom breaks the time barrier, and laughs an evil laugh, reveling in Barry’s disbelief that Zoom somehow changed the timestream.  “You LIVED a life where you watched your parents grow old together,” says Professor Zoom, “but that’s gone now.”  He then breaks the time barrier again, ready to kill Iris before she ever meets Barry, to finally deliver the ultimate suffering to his nemesis.

Okay…  That answers that question, and does it in a way that I liked.  Barry’s strange disassociation since his return has come not from a desire to darken and “Batmanify” the Flash, but because the villain of the piece orchestrated it all.  Zoom killing Barry’s mother and altering time (as well as claiming responsibility for having brought Barry back in the first place) makes that piece of the narrative work, and explains why we saw his mom and dad together up until the original Crisis killed Barry.  Of course, the thought that a nearly immortal villain, with phenomenal cosmic speedy powers, would take the time to beat up a sixth-grader (EEEVIL!) is kind of ludicrous, and I was struck at how rushed the middle bits of the issue were.  “I’m not dead!”  “Me, neither!”  “I’m not sick anymore, now I’m Impulse!”  “And now we have new clothes!!!”  The crowded pacing makes me think that giving another issue to let this story’s climax breathe a little isn’t a bad thing at all.  Of course, some little part of me wants to know if the creators really broke this all down, issue by issue, before soliciting a story that needed six part as five, or if the urge to get cracking on the return of Barry Allen led them to go off half-cocked.  The visuals this issue were pretty stunning, from the close-up of Barry’s face that made me want to like him, to the evil look in Thawne’s eye as he revealed his matricidal truths, Ethan Van Sciver delivered some wonderful visuals.  (I am trying to dial down the part of my mind that revels in eye-candy, but the sight of Jesse Quick in a deep-necked uniform top and trunks without leggings was quite attractive as well.)  Many of my reservations about this series are being answered, and I appreciate that the creators have put some thought into bringing back Barry, but the fact that most of this issue featured a battle involving SEVEN superheroes with exactly the same powers serves to reiterate my worry that bringing Barry back is nothing more than a big nostalgia boost.  Allen’s return feels like more backward-looking dogma by an industry that desperately needs to find a future.  Even so, The Flash: Rebirth #5 still earns 3.5 out of 5 stars overall, by getting past the dark-and-gritty and remembering that some of the best Flash comics are about fun, about dynamism, about family and about a guy who runs fast and does neat stuff…

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