Monday, January 2, 2012

More Melodramatic Than I Would Like, Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen Starts My Flash Year Off!

The Good: Decent introductions for new readers, Decent character study of Wally West, Fairly good artwork, Good “last act.”
The Bad: Melodramatic narration, Not a terribly strong villain for most of the book
The Basics: When Barry Allen returns from the dead, Wally West is displaced in the mediocre Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen, a book that is rocky but ends very well!

Last year was my Daredevil Year, which followed my Wonder Woman Year, a year-long study of a single superhero in which I tried to immerse myself in that hero’s entire library. While I did fairly well with Wonder Woman and even enjoyed returning to works like Eyes Of The Gorgon (reviewed here!), I found Daredevil an unfortunately more repetitive hero to follow and I was not surprised to learn that the last book of his saga I read was, Daredevil: The Official Movie Adaptation (that's here!). But, it is a new year and I have a new pile of graphic novels to immerse myself in and this year, the subject of my study is . . . Flash!

I actually picked Flash as my 2012 Superhero for study because I was deeply intrigued by one of the villains from the Flash that appeared in a Wonder Woman book I read late last year. So, I’ll honestly say that I am very excited about the prospect of reading some stories that have Professor Zoom in them, but because I have a decent pile of Flash books to go through at the moment, I thought it might be cool to start at the beginning of them and work my way up. To that end, the first volume I have for review is Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen. Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen happens many years after Crisis On Infinite Earths (reviewed here!) which saw the disappearance and apparent demise of Barry Allen. I recall being disappointed when reading Crisis On Infinite Earths that there were several references to Barry Allen’s disappearance, without actually presenting the story of him breaking through the barriers of the multiverse.

As a result, I came to Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen remarkably fresh. Outside the lone Wonder Woman story, I had not read any graphic novels that featured the Wally West version of Flash. That changed with Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen, which is arguably more Wally West’s story than the tale of Barry Allen.

Barry Allen has suddenly returned from the apparent death he suffered in the Crisis that destroyed the multiverse. Those closest to him theorize that the energy that was Barry somehow found a way to coalesce and Barry Allen now has returned to the DC Universe. But Allen’s return leaves the current Flash, Wally West, having a crisis of faith. Allen’s speed and strength are superior to his and he sees no reason to keep the mantle of Flash with Allen back in the mix. But before he can officially retire Wally witnesses Allen having a manic episode, one where Allen declares himself the one true Flash to a villain.

When the two Flashes are lured into a trap with a force field, Barry leaves Wally for dead and announces Wally’s death to the world. As Wally works to uncover what exactly happened to Barry Allen to make him turn from hero to villain, Jay Garrick, the Flash of the Justice Society Of America, rallies two other speedsters from the Golden Age to try to take down Barry Allen!

Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen, as it turns out, is a remarkably good place for me to start my Flash year, though I became very interested early on in how the book overlapped other stories I enjoyed, but had missed this part of. Namely, Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen takes place during the time period when Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern is under the unwitting influence of Parallax (at least, if his hair is to be believed!) and that was pretty cool. The guest appearance of Hal Jordan to authenticate Barry Allen is a nice touch and it reads well.

What does not read as well in Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen is the narration provided by writer Mark Waid. Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen starts with an exceptionally “comicy” feel to it, in all of the worst, campy ways. The narration is melodramatic and dull and the book has a lot of recapping of the same events in the disappearance of Barry Allen. Fortunately, the payoff is worth it. After a series of descending events wherein Barry Allen becomes more and more obsessed with his own legacy, the truth is revealed and it makes for an engaging enough story.

What is a real split in Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen is the artwork. Most of the characters are clear and there is a generally decent sense of movement throughout the book, though some panels flow less well than others. While the artists actually get the facial expressions of the characters right, sometimes the general characterizations do not come across as well. So, for example, on a few pages there are two or three characters with brown hair and very white sideburns. Until they begin talking, it is unclear if the character depicted is Jay Garrick, Hal Jordan or someone else entirely!

Because it is a peeve of mine, it is also worth noting that Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen is not the complete story of Barry Allen’s return and maniacal behavior. Alas, Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen has several story gaps, most notably one where Allen and Green Lantern nearly destroy the Flash Museum while fighting one another. While that missing chapter would certainly enhance Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen, it is alluded to and explained well enough to not truly rob the reader of the essentials of the experience.

Ultimately, Flash: The Return Of Barry Allen is a good story if one sticks with it, but objectively is more average than great.

For other DC Universe books that feature the Flash, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
JLA: Secret Origins
Blackest Night: Green Lantern
Wonder Woman: Land Of The Dead


For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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