In June, DC Comics kicked off the start of its Rebirth initiative. After a wave of criticism surrounding the way they have treated their characters’ rich histories since 2011’s New 52 relaunch, DC has decided to rebrand. They hope that by restoring their characters’ pasts, they will restore readers’ faith in them as well. Do they succeed? That’s what the Comics Beat managing editor Alex Lu and entertainment editor Kyle Pinion are here to discuss. Book by book. Panel by panel.
Editor’s Note (AL): Earlier in the day, Kyle and I took a look at Young Animal’s newest title, Doom Patrol #2. You can check out our review of the book right now!
Note: the reviews below contain **spoilers**. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Writer: Josh Williamson
Artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Colorist: Ivan Plascencia
Letterer: Steve Wands
Kyle Pinion: I’ve been a bit hot and cold with this Flash run, I think it started off with a bang, introducing readers to the big hook that marked the first arc, this idea that the speed force would inhabit a number of different speedsters, was a really great entree’ into the world that Williamson and Di Giandomenico were building. From there, things have kind been executed in fits and starts, with turns into the creation of the speed force storm, the training of these new speedsters, Barry’s love life, Wally’s developing powers, and the revelation that August (Barry’s heretofore unseen best friend who is now one of the most important characters in his life) is actually the villainous Godspeed. There are other little subplots here and there, but those make up the most impactful bits and some have been honestly a good deal more effective than others – with the thread relating to Barry’s paramour and Wally being probably the biggest drain on the overall arc.
Yet, there’s been a ton of great buzz about this book from many a critic on twitter, based on my limited purview anyway. I wanted to give this title another spin with fresher eyes to see if I can get on board with what many others are seeing.
So, it’s with some happy news that I can report that Williamson closes out “Lightning Strikes Twice” on a fairly strong note, finally bringing to fruition the building subplot that’s been at the backbone of Wally’s story while also closing out the Godspeed storyline with just enough uncertainty that the hanging plot thread of who is actually pulling the strings at Black Hole can keep a reader plugged in. Certainly it worked for me, and I’m a pretty big Doubting Thomas towards this series. Williamson’s approach to structure was likely the bit that hung with me the most, as the actual climactic battle between Godspeed, Flash and Kid Flash occurs and is over with by the middle of the issue. That then gives him a good deal of breathing room to lay out the pieces of what the next arc will circulate around. It’s also hard to not get a little enticed by teases of the two Wallys crossing paths. My hope is that now that younger Wally is in costume, we can move into a more assured version of the character, much like we saw in Teen Titans: Rebirth. I still think his interactions with Iris remain the title’s most ill-fitting point, but there’s something pretty stirring about having Flash and Kid Flash side by side fighting crime. It’s like a long-missing balance has finally been restored.
Additionally, I think where Williamson leaves August is in a pretty neat place. I tend to scoff a bit at the overabundance of speedster villains sometimes, but I think August, as retcon-y as he is, has a nicely established motivation and a recurring arch-foe for Barry. On that same note, I was very appreciative of the fact that we never saw Thawne, despite the looming threat that Godspeed would eliminate him. That sort of withholding is nice and unexpected, as inevitably, Williamson will probably bring him out (though I hope he never does, I’d love to remain on my toes).
Perhaps what this really boils down to, is Di Giandomenico has been firmly back on the book these past couple of issues and I think there’s a wide gulf between Carmine’s work and any other artist that’s provided art for this title. It’s not that their work is sub-par, but more than Di Giandomenico is such a perfect fit for the sort of motion-oriented title The Flash really should be, with these very lanky sort of frames and lunging poses. I’m a huge fan. Anyhow, Alex, what’s your take on this return trip to Central City? Still feeling iffy?
Alex: Honestly, on paper, I don’t think there’s much wrong with Williamson’s and Di Giandomenico’s run on The Flash. The creative team used old and new concepts wisely. Introducing a huge group of speedsters for The Flash and his friends to train allowed us to see Barry Allen in a new light. August was initially established as an interesting character with a complex moral compass. Meena was a cool love interest and a nice little bit of representation in a property that’s even more lily-white than most other DC superhero worlds. The problem with this title has always been the execution– the fits and starts you mention, the occasionally blunt and expository dialogue, and ultimately the poor pacing. If we’re going to look at this arc as a whole, I’d consider it more of a failure than a success. However, I’d say that as an individual issue that uses the plot points of the past seven books to reach a conclusion, The Flash #8 is a solid comic book.
August’s evolution into Godspeed has been one of the plot threads I take issue with most. At the start of this run of The Flash, Williamson allowed August and Barry to spend a lot of time together. We had a real sense of their history and the chemistry between the two. However, after August got his powers, he quickly faded into the background of the story as attention fell to Meena and the other new speedsters the creative team introduced into the world. This was problematic because while it may have made the reveal of Godspeed’s identity more of a shock, it ironically made it less interesting because I no longer cared about August or his motivations. The creative team seems to have fundamentally misunderstood the reason why good characters turning bad is interesting. It’s easy to watch a character get pushed into a metaphorical pit and then show him broken at the bottom. However, it’s the bumps and grasps at footholds during the fall that really make such a denouement captivating to watch. Given the choices made with August, his actions during this finale make sense. I have a certain amount of empathy for him, However. I can’t help but feel like Williamson and Di Giandomenico wasted a ton of potential by shoving him into this villainous role so quickly instead of allowing his moral conflict with Barry to develop more before building to this fevered pitch.
On the other hand, I have much stronger, positive feelings about Wally West than I did before. I think his development during this series has also been somewhat stunted, amounting to little more than brooding arguments with Iris and one good day with Meena that was promptly stolen from him. However, watching him team up with Barry to take Godspeed down was cathartic to watch. He demonstrated true progress on his journey towards becoming a hero as he embraces Iris’ dedication to action and helps Barry against his specific instructions not to. Together, the two Flashes do what neither could do individually, uniting them as teammates and family. The suit he gains at the end of the fight externalizes his new internal sense of self. It’s great stuff– even if a lot of the growth stemmed from a character we barely know.
I think it’s strange that Meena is being used to catalyze the growth of so many different characters such as Wally and Barry given how little time we’ve spent with her. Godspeed taunted Barry about her in a previous issue of the book, telling him that he shouldn’t be so broken up about her demise at his hands because Barry didn’t really know her anyways. To be honest, August wasn’t totally off the mark. We saw Barry and Wally each have one great day with Meena but then she was gone. She was certainly bright, good, and special, but I don’t know if I buy the idea that she could have made such an indelible mark; particularly when it comes to Barry. It’s clear from the cliffhanger of this issue that we aren’t done with her just yet, but it’s another thing that makes this whole arc feel a little more rushed than it should.
Looking forward though, I like that Williamson and Di Giandomenico decide not to dwell too much on the Godspeed plotline. The climactic battle is short but sweet, giving Di Giandomenico time to demonstrate why he’s the best Flash artist in recent years with explosive lighting effects and dynamic perspective choices. By the middle of the issue though, August is safely behind bars. The creative team seeds no less than four potential plot threads for the story moving forward– the idea that Barry is not the best-suited person to control the speed force, the hint that Avery may have kept some of her speed powers, the secret August knows about Black Hole, and of course, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment where Meena shows up. There are a lot of good ideas here– enough that I’m willing to give this book another chance when it kicks off a new arc in issue 9. For now, I’ll chalk my problems with this series up to growing pains and hope we can start fresh in a few weeks!
Final Verdict: Buy
This week, while I can recommend the usual suspects (Deathstroke, Wonder Woman had an especially good fill-in issue that focused on Cheetah and had a very understated ending, and Action Comics, Supergirl and Superwoman are all so much fun. I especially liked the Lois focus in Action, which once again really pulled me back into a feeling of being 10 again, reading Superman comics from the Stars and Stripes at the base my dad was stationed at when we were living in Germany), I wanted to shift directions a bit and talk about DC’s other imprint, which we haven’t touched on at all: The Hanna-Barbera line.
I recall when this was first announced there was a good deal of scoffing from many of the people I associate with in my day to day life, especially at the Scooby Apocalypse cover art that featured Hipster Shaggy and what looked like a gamer version of Velma. This past week, I got a wild hair to read all of those books and get caught up on them, to finally lay down a verdict on whether or not any of them are worth a damn. Forgive me for pulling off the Rebirth topic matter a bit, but here are some short, disorganized thoughts on these series thus far:
- Future Quest: This is the most enjoyable book of the line from a sheer action-based standpoint. In a way, it feels like a logical extension of Parker’s cut WAY too short run on Justice League United (which maybe on balance was the best of the New 52 Justice League comics). I love all the little background details and connecting tissue that he provides between all of Alex Toth’s creations for the studio along with the other unassociated superhero-type figures. Issue 3’s Birdman/Herculoids stories are probably the best of the title so far, and it underlines just why Jeff Parker is such an invaluable purveyor of pure cape storytelling. The book runs into a few art problems with Doc Shaner needing fill-ins that tend to distract a bit (though I’ll never debate anyone giving Steve Rude, one of my favorite artists of all time, this kind of work), but if you can power past that, this is a bit of a gem. But then again, this book has long been a dream of mine, or at least one I had when I was child, watching reruns of Jonny Quest and Space Ghost.
- The Flintstones: Probably the title I was most dubious about, there’s something about the idea of modernizing the themes (if not the actual setting) of Fred Flintstone and family that’s a bit of an instant turn-off when suggested in isolation. But, tack Mark Russell into the writer’s slot, and get Steve Pugh doing some really great work, and you suddenly get this somewhat profound comic that continues to get better with every issue. Russell is a tremendous satirist, and he utilizes the Flintstones source material to talk about whatever social issue he thinks might best apply. The most recent issue took on marriage equality, while previous installments have delved into PTSD in veterans, the struggles of the middle class, consumerism, and even organized religion. It’s never quite so in-depth a look that it verges on laying the message on too thick at any one time, but it’s a very good, and unexpectedly sad comic that feels a bit fearless given its origins and an increasing jaunt in mainstream towards the *safe*. The only times it ever strains itself when it tries to reign in Flintstones lore like why Fred says “Yabba Dabba Do” or the origin of The Great Gazoo. But that’s probably because I’m more interested in the themes of Russell’s scripts and less about the actual subject matter he’s grafting them onto.
- Scooby Apocalypse: A tremendously boring comic. I get the sense that Jim Lee created the general concept, and Giffen and DeMatteis had to somehow force enough pieces together to make it work. You’ve got this futuristic lab where they train dogs to be super smart for some reason, and then at the same time, these nefarious scientists unleash a nanobytes that infect the world populace, etc etc..perhaps if their team-up Justice League 3000/3001 was your cup of tea, then maybe this works better for you. Sadly, I came away thinking this read like The Walking Dead in Scooby Doo clothing but without Charlie Adlard’s stark visual approach to the apocalypse and the richer characterization that Robert Kirkman provides at times (and I don’t even read that book anymore), and an actual sense of danger. The monsters are dull looking, the scripts just drag along without any of the zing that used to mark Giffen and DeMatteis past work, and I just find that I have a hard time caring about anything that’s going to happen. I think it’s my least favorite title in the line, which ironically enough leads to it being the best selling. Funny that.
- Wacky Raceland: This is the one that’s about to end. And I’ll never argue that it’s good. Really it’s a big mess generally, but for whatever reason, it’s the kind of mess I have a harder time turning away from because it’s a glorious disaster on par with a Tommy Wiseau project. While Scooby Apocalypse cures me of any needling insomnia I might be suffering from, Wacky Raceland is stuffed with just enough batshit insanity (ex: former concert pianist Dick Dastardly plays to an audience full of corpses as he cries over his dead family) that I just gotta see what happens next. And I have to admit, I like how the series stuffs in origin stories in varying ways, either through back-ups, or as in Issue 3, with a child’s drawings. There’s just enough variation there that I read it and think, well…I know this is not particularly good, but damn if I can’t give them points for trying. I also like Leonardo Manco’s art, at least when I can tell what’s going on and there aren’t 40 characters on the page. I wouldn’t go out of your way or whatever, but if you like comics that are so unbelievably ridiculous you can’t believe what you’re reading, this is the one.
Anyhow, a not bad start really for the line, Future Quest and The Flintstones are actively good comics, especially for those of us that miss their respective writers’ previous books, and I’m looking for seeing what Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner do with The Jetsons (especially if Conner is on art duties), and of course the Garth Ennis Dastardly and Muttley book sounds like something to really behold. It was a dubious task, but a 50% hit rate is not a bad start.
I was a bad comic book fan this week. I was at New York Comic Con 2016 for so long that I actually didn’t read many of my books! Thus, I’m going to give you a list of what I’m excited to read this week:
- All-Star Batman #3
- Superwoman #3
- Supergirl #2
- New Super-Man #4
- Gotham Academy: Second Semester #2
- Detective Comics #942
- Deathstroke #4
- Wonder Woman #8
I’ve never had this many books from DC Comics on my pull list in a single week before. The ones above are some of my favorite titles hitting shelves right now– and that’s saying a lot for someone who isn’t overly enamored with superhero books generally!