Man years ago, there was a little boy named Barry Allen, who took solace from an unfair and sometimes cruel world by reading his mother's old comic books.
That young man grew up to be a premier police forensic scientist, helping solve crimes by day and spending all his other waking hours desperately trying to piece together the mystery of his mother's death.
He's despondent about the state of the world and his life, and burning the candle at both ends isn't helping. When one night...
And so, Barry Allen became the Flash, the FASTEST MAN ALIVE! But he didn't start off knowing all the ropes. This is the story of how that rookie hero became one of the greatest heroes in the multiverse!
Barry Allen missed out on the “Year One” wave of the ’90s, being that he was, y’know, heroically deceased at the time. What’s interesting is that the origin modern fans know – with the Reverse Flash going back in time and murdering his mother, and his dad taking the fall for it – didn’t exist prior to Geoff Johns’ and Ethan van Sciver’s 2009 Flash: Rebirth miniseries. And thanks to the hit CW show, that seems to be the new de facto Barry Allen origin (it’s also referenced in Justice League, but the less that’s said about that movie iteration of the Flash, the better). It might therefore surprise modern readers to learn that prior to Barry’s demise in Crisis on Infinite Earths, his parents were alive and well, thank you very much!
But modern readers want a little more, a little bit more depth of motivation than “Well, I got these powers, gotta go fight crime now!” Which is of course historically where Marvel came in and changed the game in the ’60s, but DC being DC, stubbornly refused to learn from its competitor’s success and continued publishing relatively whitebread good-guy-punches-bad-guy superheroics all the way up until COIE, which forced their universe into a far more Marvelized iteration for better or worse. But Barry, of course, had gone to his heroic end by that time and passed the torch onto protege Wally West, whose entire heroic persona became living up to the legacy of his mentor. Powerful stuff, but by its very nature, it meant that Barry was now defined by his death. His origins were ultimately superfluous beyond the basic how he got his powers component.
So it fell upon Johns to bring that anachronism into the present, and for what it’s worth, there’s been a lot of mileage gotten out of it not just in comics but as I stated above, in other media as well. And now writer Josh Williamson is picking up where Johns left off, expanding on the basic conceits laid out a decade ago and peeking in on just what it was like for Barry in the time after he was fatefully struck by lightning/doused in lab chemicals.
We see Barry as something of a sad-sack when we first catch up with him as an adult. His work doesn’t inspire much faith in humanity, and his personal investigations into clearing his father of his mom’s murder are going nowhere. He’s burning the candle at both ends, with very little to show for it. When he’s struck by that fateful lightning, everything changes: He’s inspired to puzzle out the mystery of not only what’s happened to him but the science behind how his new powers work, and once he gets the hang of them, he’s found a new reason to live. The thrill, the sheer joy of being the fastest man alive, overwhelms him, and he’s grinning like a dying man who’s been told he has a new lease on life. It’s an awesome, life-affirming moment, and exactly what this story should be about.
But then, Josh Williamson completely screws it up. (Maybe.)
Yes, Barry Allen ran into the future. In the first issue of his Year One story.
And met his future self.
The Flash and time travel are old friends, so it isn’t surprising that it’s being touched on at some point in the tale. I get that. But… he literally just got his powers. Williamson is metaphorically having the Flash run before he’s even learned to walk, which is both nonsensical and puts the carriage so far before the horse that it’s in a whole other state. Barry hasn’t earned his time-travel moment yet. He hasn’t even earned his ability to vibrate through solid objects (although that’s rushed here too). So that one pure, exhilarating moment when Barry lets go of all his inhibitions and just gives in to the total joy inherent to his powers is essentially a footnote in a rushed and wedged-in time-travel plot that really has no place being in this story at all. At least not at this point – I don’t want to damn the next five issues based on three pages of this one. Though I presume that since the future appears to be under the control of the Turtle, Williamson is going to shoehorn his pet New Forces into the story, as well, in an attempt to legitimize his arc as part of the larger Flash cannon. That’s pure speculation on my part at this point, but I’d say given Williamson’s recent track record, it’s probably not far from the mark.
This isn’t to say this is an all-bad issue, it just takes a bad turn at the end. The sequences with Barry learning his new powers, and trying to quantify them scientifically are great, and right in line with how Barry would approach the unknowns they present. Artist Howard Porter – generally at his strongest in recent years when drawing the Fastest Man Alive – is back to his full capacity this issue after a more cartoony approach during Aquaman/JLA’s “Drowned Earth.” And Williamson has a history of producing his best – well, most consistent – work on this title when paired with Porter, so despite the rush to get to the big stuff, there’s hopefully still a chance he will pull back and refocus on the basics, which is what a good Year One story does best.
So, current Flash creative team, I say to you something I wouldn’t normally associate with a Flash story: Slow. Down.
Eager and exuberant in its initial showcase of the Flash's newfound abilities, this issue starts very strong but then stumbles with a bizarre and unearned turn toward the end. It's not a total wash, but seems poised to neglect the "stripping down to basics" ethos that has made past Year One stories for other characters so great.
The Flash #70: In the Beginning, There Was Convolution
- Writing - 7/107/10
- Storyline - 5/105/10
- Art - 8.5/108.5/10
- Color - 8/108/10
- Cover Art - 9/109/10
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