•Justice League #41 ("The Darkseid War" Pt. 1)
•Justice League #42 ("The Darkseid War" Pt. 2)
•Justice League #43 ("The Darkseid War" Pt. 3)
•Justice League #44 ("The Darkseid War" Pt. 4)
•Justice League #45 ("The Darkseid War" Pt. 5)
•Justice League: The Darkseid War: Batman #1
•Justice League: Darkseid War: Superman #1
The next of the character-specific one-shots following the various Justice Leaguers who ascended to New Godhood following the death of Darkseid is devoted The Flash, and brought to you by the creative team of Rob Williams and Jesus Merino.
The Flash Barry Allen was the second of the New New Gods, achieving his New Godhood prior to the Darkseid's actual (and, one assumes, temporary) death; in fact, it was Flash-as-God of Death that killed Darkseid. In Justice League #44, The Anti-Monitor bonded The Flash with The Black Racer in order to control this ultimate weapon, the New Gods' embodiment of death itself, and then, blasted The Flash/Black Racer hybrid right through Darkseid's torso.
This one-shot picks-up in the middle of the events of Justice League #45, where Flash slowly begins to realize what's happened to him and attempts to separate himself from The Black Racer by running away from it really fast. Does it work? Well, no, of course not. These one-shots are all taking place between the end of "Act II" of "The Darkseid War" story arc and the beginning of "Act III." But it does detail what happened to The Flash when he tried to outrun Death Itself.
Another great one from Francis Manapul. His Black Racer/Flash is consistent with the design of the character as rendered by the other artists, but is much more simple, stripped-down and elegant in its rendering. Manapul's not one to waste lines or over-indulge in coloring effects. He retains the look of New New God Flash, but accentuates and emphasizes it as an empty, metallic suit, its jack o'lantern head a blend of vampire and automobile elements. Inside the suit is pure, hot red energy, but it's contained. I thought the lightning bolt-shaped scythe was a bit much, but here it doesn't looks o bad, as its appears to be all light, energy given a particular shape...a frozen lightning bolt with a handle.
The Racer/Flash holds the weapon at the throat of a woman–Iris, it turns out–as if he's unsure if he's going to kill her or not. She seems to sincerely believe he won't, or willing to peacefully accept whichever decision he makes.
And, once again, Manapul makes smart use of Jack Kirby-like, Fourth Wold design elements in the chain of linked spheres, which guide the reader's eye around the page and incorporate Flash's symbol/sigil into that chain. It's kind of a shame the cover is so cluttered, but the image is strong enough that the too-long title and sundry bits of other text and symbols don't sink it.
The first page is a full-page splash, showing Merino's version of The Flash, colored by Guy Major, standing in front of the smoking, too small-looking corpse of Darkseid and, arrayed in the background, the various heroes who were on scene at the time: Wonder Woman (with her missing bracelet back on again), battle-damaged Mister Miracle,
Merino's Flash differs slightly from the one in the cover. The energy inside has more of a yellow hue to it, and leaks out in the form of crackling lightning, even when The Flash is just standing there, looking himself over. Additionally, he has visible, if glowing, eyeballs, with irises and pupils and everything. There's a brief, truncated repeat of some of the dialogue from Justice League #45, and then something new, a bubble-less, wiggling white dialogue balloon with gray font within it, saying, "Oh my sweet, darling Barry."
It's the ghost of a woman only The Black Flasher can see, addressing him. It's enough to separate Flash and The Racer (who retains the Flash mash-up design) for "a thousandth of a milisecond," and in that time, Flash narrates that he does what he does best: "I run for my life."
The pair race for about two pages, with The Black Racer trying to explain to The Flash that no one can outrun death, even though everyone thinks they can, and that death is a natural part of the order of the universe and so on.
Apparently the two are fast enough to generate speed-lines and lightning bolts when they run, but not faster than the speed of sound.
The Racer says something pretty weird to Flash at one point...
The Racer helps Flash up and takes him to Central City, to keep harping on the point that death is a necessary part of life, and that Flash can't thwart it. To do this, The Racer run at a crowded street and raises his lightning scythe to start reaping people at super-speed, but Flash runs straight at the Racer and punches his head to pieces...only to find that all of the people are dead anyway.
Flash finally reaches the final stage of the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief, as he realizes that everyone he's ever fought to save will die eventually anyway. He sheds a single, manly tear, as superheroes always do when they cry.
The first panel is a close-up on The Racer's face, and we see he too is crying a single tear. we also get to see his skin, which is cracked like old parchment around his eyes. I prefer Manapul's depiction, but whatever. The Racer once again repeats his pitch, and once again emphasizes that if The Flash refuses to take his place as the new New God of Death, by taking one life, as "this has to happen for the universe to continue, or it will break and all life will end."
Barry appears in Iris West's very nice apartment, where she is standing in front of a gigantic window, looking out at what must be a hell of a pricey view while rain splatters against the window.
It's at this point that I realized that the woman on the cover is actually Iris (I haven't read an issue of The Flash in nigh forever now).
Barry, in his red and yellow Flash costume, stands in the shadows behind her, saying "I thought of you, Iris."
The Flash tries to explain to Iris what has happened, and she seems to take it in stride–apparently they've had lots of similar conversations in the past few years–and he slowly transforms into The Black Racer, his scythe appearing amid an aura of Kirby dots, his eyes shooting lightning, and then, finally, his voice and form changing. He raises his scythe to kill her and...
Throws it aside shouting "NO!" in an extra big font.
The Racer appears to scold him: "After all I've explained to you...you would see the whole of existence fall to pieces rather than take one life?"
Flash says "YES" while gritting his death and clenching his fist.
Come one Flash, it doesn't have to your best girl, you know. He just said one life. Can't you just off The Joker...?
The Racer moves into some more hardcore sales tactics now, noting that he must have a tether.
The Racer summons the image of first The Reverse Flash, and then Gorilla Grodd as possible tethers to his power. It works, and Flash decides he will take one life after all: That of The Racer.
Barry picks up the Racer's scythe, chases him down and kills him...off-panel, which is an unusual amount of restraint for a 21st century DC comic when it comes to the depiction of violence.
Barry's pretty pleased with himself for about a page and a half, until his ghost mom shows up again and points up, and Barry beholds a giant Grim Reaper images, chopping planets in half and killing his League colleagues. He realizes that by killing The Racer, he released death without a tether for the very first time and now death is free to destroy everything–which is what The Racer had been droning on and on about for like 15 pages or so. Barry Allen may be a scientist, but I guess that doesn't make him smart.
The ending here is a little vague, but Flash takes the hand of his gohst mom, and shrinks into a little boy, while narrating that he has to become The Black Racer, but, in order to do that, one life has to end.
"And, finally, I realize that for me," he narrates, "That one life ended a long time ago."
I'm not sure if he's meant to be talking about his own life or his mom's life, but seeing as she's already dead, I assume he must take his own life somewhere between the top half of page 19 and the bottom, which is a big huge panel of Wonder Woman saying "What happens when a god dies?"
Her answer appears in a Wonder Woman-themed narration box on page 20, a splash "New Gods are born!"
The Black Flasher appears back at the scene of Darkseid's death, where he was at the beginning, and declares that he is the new god of Death: "I am The Black Racer! Now and forever!"
Given his speed and the fact that some of this happened in his head, it's not at all unreasonable to suggest that this entire comic took place between scenes of Justice League #45. The script is maybe a little longer than it needed to be, but Williams did a pretty great job of showing how a hero like Allen could learn to embrace being the god of death...basically by being told and told over and over and ultimately shown that it's the lesser of two evils.
The have-to-kill-someone-first plot point doesn't seem to have been important over all–it wasn't mentioned in Justice League at all–but it was enough of an idea that it allowed Williams to build an entire story around it, and one that could do show why The Flash would make a dubious moral choice and give him plenty of opportunities to run around really fast, which is, of course, kind of his thing.