Thursday, May 03, 2012

Pre-New 52 review: The Flash Vol. 1: The Dastardly Death of The Rogues

It may just be a coincidence that Geoff Johns seems to do his best writing when working with artist Francis Manapul, perhaps Manapul is simply the artist he chooses to work with when doing his lighter, brighter, less decadent and deconstructionist superhero work, but the fact remains: The Flash: The Dastardly Death of The Rogues is among Johns’ better comics in a good long while, on par with his brief run with Manapul on the Superboy character.

The bulk of this collection contains the title story, which began in the post-Flash: Rebirth Flash #1 from 2010.

With the various plot and continuity gymnastics done in Rebirth, and thus already well out of the way, Johns and Manapul are free to focus on the title character as a traditional superhero, and put him in the middle of a traditional superhero narrative, one distinguished by it’s old-fashioned, Silver Age-infused plot and Manapul’s beautiful, suggestive artwork, which is full of pretty and clever ways of depicting The Flash’s universally-undestood superpower. Speed is cool, and super-speed is super-cool.

Johns introduces us to Barry Allen, medical examiner for the Central City Police Department, and his significant other, reporter Iris Allen. We meet the police procedural supporting cast at Barry’s work, and Johns spends time establishing the unique character and “feel” of Central City, something he’s done with the settings of each series he’s written.

While Allen is considered a dated and old-fashioned character—because he is—Johns has him texting Iris constantly throughout the story, and it works surprisingly well. Of course The Flash texts, while running or fighting, because he’s so fast he can easily take the time fire off a message.

The plot is a typically Flash one, in fact, it's more typically Flash than it is Geoff Johns, which is kind of striking when one considers how long Johns wrote The (Wally West) Flash, with a few sub-plots involving building up the character’s new status quo and cast occurring around its edges.

A body is found dressed like Mirror Master, but it’s not the Mirror Master Barry Allen knows. Badge-holding time-cops with the costumes and powers of various Flash rogues appear and explain that it was actually Mirror Monarch, a good guy from their era, and that The Flash is the murderer, so they’ve come to arrest him before he can commit the crime.

This, of course, leads to a lot of running around and fighting, as Flash tries to solve two murders to keep two innocent men from being punished for crimes they didn’t commit: One is the case he’s working on in his day job, and the other, of course, is the one he's being preemptively arrested for. Meanwhile, the present era’s rogues show up to let the futuristic good guy “rogues” know how they feel about copycats, and to use a seret weapon developed by the original Mirror Master in the off-chance that original Flash Barry Allen should ever return form the dead: A giant mirror reading “In Case The Flash Returns Break Glass.”

It all ties together neatly, and the only real rough edges to the story are those involving Captain Boomerang, as there’s a Brightest Day tie-in that seems to come completely out of nowhere. If one encountered it in the comic book as it was originally, serially published, it likely would have made sense, as it tied into the then-current Brightest Day biweekly series, and similar, seemingly random events were occurring throughout the DC Universe line of books at the time, but, at this point, it just seems weird and out of place, akin to Captain Boomerang’s suddenly developing a new and awfully convenient superpower (Which he also does in the course of this volume).

As an extremely high-quality DC book from 2010-2011, its another strong example of the DC Universe and line of books not being broken, but heading for a fix anyway.

In addition to the title story, this volume contains Flash #7, which featured a story a spotlighting Captain Boomerang, his origin, history and the story from the previous six issues as he experienced it, featuring artwork by Scott Kolins, and Flash Secret Files & Origins 2010 #1, also drawn by Kolins, featuring an overly precious recounting of Barry’s childhood, a later trauma and his current angsting about it, relieved by an appearance by the extended Flash Family (introduced in Rebirth and discarded in the New 52 reboot), with a somewhat clever last-panel reveal.

Despite the relatively high quality of this series, it would only last five more issues, at which point the entire DC Universe/line of books would be rebooted during. Johns left the character at that point, in order to write Justice League and Aquaman, while Manapul remained as artist and writer, colorist Brian Buccellato joining him as co-writer.

I haven't read any issues of the new series yet, but from what I've heard, it's been very good, and among the better of the new New 52 books. Having not read it yet, I can't say how much the set-up has changed—the fact that Johns put so much work into setting up a book for what seemed like a long haul only to have the work discarded a year later seems to speak to how sudden the decision to reboot was—but, at the very least, Iris and Barry's marriage was editorially annulled, Jim Lee added a chin strap to The Flash's costume and characters like Jay Garrick and Wally West no longer exist.


KentL said...

Totally agree. This and the Superboy work were his best stuff in a while. I picked up both through my local library and was pleasantly surprised. I'm not crazy about the idea of Barry being back. Even less interested in the character now that his history has been jettisoned. That said, I did read through the first issue of the New 52 series and enjoyed it. Not enough to jump on the bandwagon, but enough that I may look for it if my library gets the collection in.

Kevin Tam said...

Caleb I'm so glad you picked this up! I bought the hardcover a while ago on the strength of Manapul and Buccellato's work on nu52 Flash, and I really enjoyed this series. The new creative team have built a romance between Barry and Patty Spivot, a co-worker, although Barry and Iris have a past together, and the artwork continues to innovate. Issue 8 came out last week, and it (re)introduced the Speed Force. You should consider picking it up tomorrow at FCBD!