This issue is largely concerned with events immediately after last issue’s big revelation. In fact in terms of time covered, you can easily imgine this whole issue takes place in probably less than half an hour. It rattles along at a fair old pace.
Barry has been revealed as the new Black Flash, and the JLA have been called in, quick time. Jay’s already on the scene with Wally and explains they’re going to try and separate Barry from the Speedforce. This way, he’ll no longer have his speed, but he’ll be alive and normal once again.
It quickly gets out of control though, Barry’s still not convinced he should be back, and breaks free. Superman tries to catch him, but Barry easily out runs him (in a scene very reminisent of Impulse’s first appearance in Smallville). Barry attempts to return to the speedforce, hoping to use Iris as an anchor so he’ll be able to escape again, cleared of the Black Flash possession. However as he enters the speedforce, he is stripped of his memories until Max Mercury and Johnny Quick appear to help him, and the villain of the piece stands revealed as Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash.
As I mentioned above, the pace is quicked into high gear in this issue. Despite a short flashback, this issue ditches the solemn introspection of the first two, and gets on with the reveals.
The main one, isn’t really a surprise. And in some ways I’m glad Professor Zoom’s been revealed here rather than dragged out much longer. It definitely feels a bit too much like a repeat of the Sinestro reveal in Green Lantern Rebirth though, and I think that’s a bit of a shame. Thawne’s return had been widely predicted from the moment the words “Johns”, “Van Sciver”, “Flash” and “Rebirth” were said together, and after Hunter Zolomon was depowered in Rogue’s Revenge it was taken as a lock. I certainly understand the desire to bring him back alongside Barry, but given the obvious Green Lantern Rebirth parallels, I can’t help but wonder if it might’ve been better left until the new Flash ongoing, allowing for more of a surprise villain in this series. Saying that, we still don’t know how he returned to life, and the series is only halfway through, so there’s scope for a big twist or surprise mastermind yet.
Its a bit of a shame for Johnny Quick to appear just to get immediately dusted by Barry. Max looks to be in trouble as well, but unlike Johnny we don’t actually see him die (if that’s even the right word, since they’re essentially speedforce ghosts anyway). The heavy name-dropping of Max throughout this series does make me wonder if there’s not a bigger plan for this character. In this issue, Jay specifically mentions how Max was the speedforce guru, so it leaves me wondering if Max isn’t yet to provide the solution to Barry’s Black Flash problems.
And regarding Barry as the Black Flash, I was very glad to see Ethan Van Sciver didn’t pull his punches here and just draw Barry in a black and red costume. There’s various panels throughout where we see Barry taking on a more monstrous form as he fights against his transformation, and I found them very effective. With regards the art, I’ve still got the slight peeve that Kid Flash’s boots are wrong, but Ethan has said that’s deliberate, so there’s not much to be said about it. Other than that silly fanboy complaint, Ethan is continuing to do his usual great job on the art 🙂
So overall? I’m glad to see things pick up pace over the slow first two issues, and I’m definitely feeling a bit more into the storyline this issue than last. The only way I’d say this series is failing is that its still not selling me on having Barry back as a character. When Hal’s spirit was led back to Earth by Ganthet, and he stood up from his coffin in his new outfit to take on Sinestro, it was a real punch-the-air moment. I’ve yet to actually have anything in this series to convince me to care that Barry’s back and will be taking over from Wally. Now that Professor Zoom has been revealed as the true threat, I’m really looking for Barry to kick things into gear, stop moping, and show us how he, and he alone is the man for the job (and yes, I’m aware I said something very similar last month). I’ve got confidence that Geoff Johns will pull this out of the bag with the last three issues. This issue very much strikes me as a turning point for the series, with the introspection covering Barry’s history well during the first two issues, and here almost non-existant, it occurs to me that this could well be structured as a series of two halves, with the first half interested in establishing the character of Barry, and the second dealing with the actual threat. It’ll be interesting to see if I’m right.
Buying the Final Crisis Hardcover (which I’m very much looking forward to reading) has made me wonder something about this series as well. Especially with its slower first two issues. I’ll be very interested to see how this series plays out when read back-to-back in one sitting. I suspect it’ll flow a lot better, and my complaints about pacing etc will vanish.