Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bart Allen Becomes The Flash After The Infinite Crisis In The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle!

The Good: Decent character story
The Bad: Incomplete story, Inconsistent artwork, Pretty lame villain arc
The Basics: When Bart Allen stops resisting the pull of the Speed Force, he must take up the mantle of the Flash in order to stop his demented friend, The Griffin in The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle.

Two years ago, I read Infinite Crisis (reviewed here!) as part of my Wonder Woman Year. At the time, I didn’t much care about the Flash and the speedsters, so when I picked up The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle and found how much of that story relied upon events in Infinite Crisis, I felt a little cheated. Having since read stories of the return of Wally West and the conclusion to Bart Allen’s tenure as The Flash, it was enjoyable to read his start in The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle. But the first note about The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle has to be that this book is greatly enhanced by having read Infinite Crisis proximate to reading this book.

The other note right away is that it is surprising that DC Comics did not release an omnibus edition of Bart Allen’s tenure as the Flash. In addition to leaving a number of obvious dangling plotlines in The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle that weaken this book’s ability to stand on its own, having the full story in one place makes a great deal of sense. As it is, The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle is the “one year later” story for The Flash and it is a decent one at that.

Jay Garrick has taken up the role protecting Keystone City as the Flash in the wake of Bart Allen’s return from and subsequent inability to tap into the Speed Force. Working as a scab on the automotive assembly line with his friend and roommate Griffin, Bart Allen is doing his best to live a normal life, despite being harassed by scientists at S.T.A.R. Labs who are desperate to discover what has happened to the mythical Speed Force. But when a bomber attacks Keystone Motors, Bart narrowly escapes and Griffin is rescued by Jay Garrick only after Griffin is bathed in chemicals and energy.

Griffin heals ridiculously fast and in doing so decides that he will be the next big hero for Keystone City. Determined to replace the Flash, Griffin stages a public thwarting of the bomber and is rewarded with money and attention. This leads Griffin to eagerly embrace the superhero role, getting women and attention that is soon not enough for him. Craving more, he begins to orchestrate crimes to thwart in order to get the accolades he desires. But his powers come with a price and he begins to rapidly age, which leads him to turn his attention to Jay Garrick. Convinced that Garrick can allow him to keep his powers and slow his aging, Griffin captures Jay to extract his powers.

While the Griffin goes mad, Bart Allen wrestles with memory loss surrounding what happened during Infinite Crisis, when he aged four years in a matter of moments. He finds an ally in Valerie Perez, who works at S.T.A.R. Labs and is tormented by a mysterious individual who keeps calling her. The last chapter of The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle is diluted with setting up the entire next volume, Full Throttle (reviewed here!). So, Griffin is almost an afterthought by the end of the book and Valerie is set up as a damsel in distress as multiple adversaries converge upon her.

I’m a big fan of the Wally West version of The Flash. So, while there is a lot to enjoy in The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle, it is hard not to see some significant similarities between Bart Allen’s rise to the Flash and Wally West’s. Most notably, the relationship between Bart and Valerie feels like a cheap retread of the relationship between Wally West and Linda Park. Even knowing where the relationship goes, seeing how it begins felt way too familiar.

In a similar fashion, Griffin is an obvious villain, much more than the bomber who starts off as the adversary for The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle. The bomber does not have the flair of a Flash villain and lacking the charisma, intrigue or even a simple gimmick of a Rogue, the focus on Griffin seems much more natural than truly audacious. The fundamental problems with Griffin as the villain, though, are that his powers are not clearly defined at all and his rise to villainy is tied with his transformation. In other words, he seems like a ticking self-destruct mechanism, so even as he goes mad and wants more and more attention, his body is degrading and the reader can pretty much figure that by the time he reaches his evil peak, his body will fall apart. Perhaps that is why the Griffin storyline ends in an anticlimax that is already preoccupied with the next pair of adversaries for Bart Allen.

Much of the artwork in The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle is good, at the very least. Oddly, the book starts off with very detailed and well-executed panels before it falls apart on page 51 with ridiculously simplified panels. The transition is abrupt, like going from a live-action to an animated version of the story and that change in both the pencils and coloring is an unfortunate aberration that rips the reader out of the story.

Even so, The Flash: Lightning In A Bottle is an auspicious start to the Bart Allen focused stories and it is an enjoyable read, if not even close to a flawless volume.

For other graphic novels that pick up after year gap following Infinite Crisis, please check out my reviews of:
Justice League Of America: The Tornado’s Path
Who Is Wonder Woman?
Green Lantern – Wanted: Hal Jordan
Birds Of Prey: Perfect Pitch


For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

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