Friday, April 17, 2009

The Flash: Rebirth #1

It's time for a regime change within the Flash mythos. Or rather, a regime reversion. Wally West, the on-again, off-again bearer of the crimson and gold, is out. Barry Allen, the silver age Flash who threw his life away to save reality during Crisis on Infinite Earths, is back in. For all intents and purposes, DC seems to have chosen the right men for the job. The mini-series teams one-time Flash scribe Geoff Johns with his Green Lantern: Rebirth collaborator, artist Ethan Van Scriver, in an attempt to revive and revitalize Barry Allen in the same way they did Hal Jordon years ago.

Despite the speedy nature of its namesake, this series really doesn't get off to much of a fast start. In his return to Central City after three years, Geoff Johns allows himself (and his story) to linger a bit too long in the nostalgia of this moment. It's nice to look back, to share a few stories with the heroes that ran alongside Barry back in the day, but at some point you'll start to wonder when the parade's going to end. It's two pages of talk about the old days, one page of requisite observations about how the world has changed since he's been gone. Johns doesn't make these scenes a burden or anything – in fact, I feel like I know more about Barry as a personality now than I ever did before – they're just so numerous, so universally slow in pace, that I found my appetite for drama overcoming my interest in supplemental characterization. It's all well written, but it doesn't feel like a genuine event. There's too much complacency and not enough crisis, for lack of a better word.

Van Scriver's artwork is quite the paradox. To say his work is obsessively meticulous simply wouldn't suffice – the man deals in detail like the devil does sin. He simply wallows in it, fills every last corner of every last panel with a precise rendering of something, no matter how inconsequential. In that regard, he's really something to behold: his cityscapes are marvelous, and the cluttered forensics office that houses the issue's opening scenes gives him every opportunity to totally cut loose and have some fun.

But that level of specialization carries a price tag, and in this case it's beautiful, abundant linework at the cost of heart-tugging emotion. Ethan spends so much time and effort ensuring every last detail in the environment is just right that he often overlooks the facial expressions and body language of the characters that reside alongside them. In this regard, he has a lot in common with Midnight Nation and Supreme Power's Gary Frank. Both bring a style and sensibility to the page that I can't help but admire, but at the same time there's just something missing from their cast. It's like they don't have the capacity to emote as loudly, or maybe as flamboyantly, as I've come to expect from this medium. This is especially pronounced when Van Scriver turns his focus exclusively to the more garishly outfitted heroes and villains. I can accept a somewhat sterile, robotic physical presence from the city's pedestrians, but when an entire roomful of rogues also suffers from the same malady, the jig is up.

As a character study, this is a triumph. And maybe that's all Johns and Van Scriver intended it to be: a love letter to fans of the old Flash and a reminder of why he's so adored for the newer audience. Despite a few intriguing hints of what's to come, scattered around the last pages of this chapter, there isn't much else to the issue than that. Borrow it and drink in the characterization, but don't step in expecting an event. Not just yet, anyway.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 7.5

No comments: