Comic Book Review: The Flash: Rebirth #4

The Revolution has been less and less impressed with Flash: Rebirth with each issue. Johns has gone nowhere with this story. The pacing has been poor as the story is clearly being written for trade format rather than a monthly format. The plotting has been less than average as Johns has unnecessarily stretched the story out thereby giving the reader too much fluff and not enough actual plot progression with each issue. Hopefully, Johns can get this story on track and deliver a tight read with Flash: Rebirth #4 that actually moves the story along in an interesting and purposeful manner. Lets hit this review.

Creative Team

Writer: Geoff Johns
Artist: Ethan Van Sciver

Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 9 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 8.5 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with Reverse-Flash (Eobard Thawne) holding Barry Allen captive in the crimson lightning. Barry thinks how Reverse-Flash is his Joker. Barry then gives a brief history about his rivalry with Reverse-Flash. Barry continues how he ended up snapping Reverse-Flash’s neck. Barry notes that Reverse-Flash is now back and is clearly different.

Reverse-Flash rants about how he will have his resurrection at some point in the future thanks to some good friend of Barry’s. Reverse-Flash beats the hell out of Max Mercury. Reverse-Flash comments how for every positive there must be a negative.

Reverse-Flash says that the sea of crimson lightning that they are in is the Negative Speed Force. That Reverse-Flash generates the Negative Speed Force. Reverse-Flash is its engine. Reverse-Flash says that his Negative Speed Force is poisoning Barry’s Flash Family via Barry.

Reverse-Flash says that when he came back to life he was so angry when he learned that Barry had sacrificed himself to save the world. Reverse-Flash says that Barry became more than he ever was when he was alive. Thawne says that Barry was a boring lab rat who was romanticized into the most selfless hero of his time.

Reverse-Flash then yells at Barry that class is in session. Reverse-Flash explains how after Barry died and got lost in the Speed Force that Barry did manage to emerge from the Speed Force to save Bart Allen when Bart was fighting Superboy-Prime. (During the events of Infinite Crisis.) When Barry did that he left open a door in the Speed Force.

After that, Reverse-Flash sent Barry a “pulse” into the Speed Force to try and wake up the rest of Barry’s self-awareness before it faded away again. Thawne then managed to draw Barry back out of the Speed Force under the guise of Barry being needed to fight a “great evil.” (That would be Darkseid during Final Crisis.) Reverse-Flash then transformed himself in a new kind of speedster.

Reverse-Flash then ran hard enough to generate enough negative energy in order to infect Barry with it. This turned Barry into a weapon to be used against his own Flash Family.

Reverse-Flash says that Barry was supposed to kill his Flash Family with his touch. That Barry was supposed to live the rest of his life in guilt. That Barry was supposed to go down in history as a monster and not a martyr. That Barry was not supposed to burn off the Negative Speed Force and arrive here.

Reverse-Flash then says that if you want something you have to do it yourself. Reverse-Flash then disappears.

We cut to Fallville, Iowa where the JLA members are wondering where Barry went. Wally refuses to lose Barry again. Wally says that he is going to go after Barry and will bring him back alive. Wally says that he can survive going into the Speed Force. That he has done it before. That as long as Wally has Linda he will have an anchor to pull him back from the Speed Force. Wally then blasts off running.

We cut to Wally’s house where Linda, Jai and Iris are hanging out. Iris wants to go help Wally find Barry. Jai teases Iris that all she can do is walk through stuff and that he is sure Bart thinks that her power is stupid. Iris gets upset and runs out of the room.

We see Iris running downstairs. Suddenly, Reverse-Flash appears in front of her. Iris bounces off of Reverse-Flash. Reverse-Flash states that Iris has finally found something that she cannot run through. Reverse-Flash asks if Iris’ mother is home.

We slip back into the Speed Force where Wally is racing his way toward Barry. We hop over to Mercury Max telling Barry that Max cannot escape the Speed Force. That all the speedsters had an anchor. Barry had Iris. Jay had Joan. Wally had Linda. Johnny Quick could not escape the Speed Force after he lost Liberty Belle. (The original version.) And Max has no one.

We zip over to the JSA Brownstone where Liberty Belle (The new version) is saying the speed formula over and over but is unable to finish it and access her speed powers.

We cut back to the Speed Force where Max tells Barry that he is like Thawne. That Barry is not like the rest of the speedsters. Max says that it all began with Barry. That Barry didn’t tap into the Speed Force when he gained his powers. That Barry created the Speed Force.

Max continues that when Barry runs he creates the kinetic wall between the present and the time barrier. It is an electrical energy that exists in every dimension, every universe and every era. That it touches all parts of reality and contains the knowledge of every time and space. Max says that “The Speed Force is the all-encompassing Flash Fact.”

Max says that if Barry does not stop Thawne then Thawne will keep running and his Negative Speed Force will grow and eat away at Barry’s Speed Force. Max says that Barry needs to create more fuel. Max tells Barry to run.

We shift back to Wally still streaking through the Negative Speed Force.  We cut to Linda telling Jai to come with her so he can apologize to Iris. They come across Reverse-Flash holding Iris. Jai attacks Reverse-Flash. Reverse-Flash then grabs Jai.

Thawne holds the two children and says that he can feel the Speed Force inside of the children. That the Speed Force inside the two children is tangled in knots. That their bodies have not managed to mainline it yet. Reverse-Flash says that he will untangle the knot and then strangle them with the rope. Reverse-Flash crackles with lightning that flows through the two kids.

Linda uses her ring to contact Jay and tell him that Thawne is in her house and that he has the kids. Suddenly, we see Jay and Bart at Linda’s house. Jay and Bart attack Thawne. Reverse-Flash, Jay and Bart then begin racing around the world while battling each other. Thawne takes down Bart. Jay starts punching away at Reverse-Flash.

We cut back to Wally racing through the Negative Speed Force toward Barry as Barry is trying to use his speed to escape the Negative Speed Force. Barry thinks that if he is the engine of the Speed Force and if the lighting comes from him then he needs to turn this engine over and get it cranking.

We hop back to Jay and Reverse-Flash battling. Thawne takes away the aura that protects Jay from the friction of moving at super speed. Reverse-Flash then holds Jay and starts running fast. Jay begins to catch on fire. Bart quickly puts out the flames and saves Jay. Bart then begins punching Reverse-Flash.

We zip back to Barry finally cranking up his powers. Barry tells Max that he has broken through, but that Thawne must be running. That the Negative Speed Force is still growing. Barry says that he cannot get out of here.

Wally then appears in front of Barry. Barry tells Max to take his hand. That they are leaving. Max takes Barry’s hand. Barry then holds out his hand toward Wally. Wally takes Barry’s hand. Barry tells Wally that Thawne is back.

We cut to Reverse-Flash beating up Bart. Reverse-Flash says that Bart’s mother may have been a Thawne, but that Bart’s father was an Allen. Reverse-Flash says that Bart’s blood is polluted. Reverse-Flash says that Bart’s very presence disgusts him. Reverse-Flash knock out Bart and is about to kill him with his lighting rod wand.

Suddenly, a massive bolt of lightning hits Reverse-Flash. We see Max Mercury appearing from the lightning bolt. We cut to Liberty Belle saying that she has suddenly remembered her father’s speed formula. We see lightning bolts hit Jay, Wally and Bart. They are all fully powered once again.

We see Barry Allen glowing with the Speed Force and racing toward Reverse-Flash. We see Jay, Wally, Bart and Max behind Barry. Barry says “I’m back, Thawne. But this time it’s on my terms.” End of issue.

Commentary

The Good: Finally! Johns delivered in Flash: Rebirth #4 what I have been waiting for from this title since the first issue. It is unfortunate that it took all the way to issue #4 to actually deliver some plot progression and excitement in this story. In reality, the first three issues of this title could have easily been condensed into two issues. At any rate, it appears that Johns is going to be able to salvage this title with a strong finish.

Johns whips up plenty of nice dialogue. That is no surprise. The previous issues of Flash: Rebirth may have had many defects, but the dialogue has not been one of them. The character work also continues to be excellent. There are very few writers who can rival Johns’ feel for the various characters of the Flash Family. It is obvious that Johns genuinely loves each of the different members of the Flash Family. It is this attachment for the Flash Family that Johns has that makes the characters in Flash: Rebirth so three-dimensional.

Flash: Rebirth #4 was a well-paced read. Johns gives the reader a good mix of action scenes and dialogue heavy scenes. Johns is also able to create plenty of tension in the reader as Thawne makes his attack on Wally’s family and Barry struggles to break through the Negative Speed Force. This has the reader on the edge of their seat during this issue. This is a nice example of how tension can boost the reader’s interest in a story. This enabled Johns to only employ only an economy of action in this story to keep it moving at a lively pace.

Flash: Rebirth #4 was soundly plotted. Johns finally got this story moving with a point and purpose. This is the first issue of this title where Johns has actually made an honest effort to perform plenty of plot progression. Johns finally introduced the main villain, explained how Barry returned from the dead, explained Barry’s role within the Speed Force and the Flash Family, presented the reader with the main conflict that Barry must overcome and also gave us some action on top of it all. Johns certainly packed plenty of information into Flash: Rebirth #4.

Johns’ biggest talent as a writer is his world building ability. There are few writers who can rival Johns’ ability to fashion a coherent, logical and detailed vision for re-inventing a franchise. Johns finally tackles the job of fully explaining how Barry returned from the dead and what his role is within the Speed Force and how Barry relates to all the other speedsters. And Johns does a magnificent job pulling all of this off in a plausible and pleasing fashion.

I liked Johns’ explanation of how Barry returned. Johns was able to nicely fold the events of Flash: Rebirth into Infinite Crisis and Final Crisis. The explanation that Barry’s return during Infinite Crisis was enough for Thawne to try and reach into the Speed Force and pluck out Barry’s consciousness before he was re-absorbed into the Speed Force worked for me.

This was a plausible enough explanation within the context of comic book science and logic for me to buy into how Barry was able to return from the “dead.” It also created a nice progression as the reader can see how the events of Flash: Rebirth were set in motion back during the events of Infinite Crisis. This explanation also helps to create another bond between the two Crisis events.

Of course, the big reveal in Flash: Rebirth #4 was the fact that Barry did not discover the Speed Force when he gained his powers. That, in reality, Barry created the Speed Force. That Barry is the embodiment of the Speed Force. Barry is the engine that creates and powers the Speed Force, and by extension, powers all of the other speedsters in the DCU.

This makes sense, as historically, Jay Garrick was never able to run as fast as he could after Barry Allen gained his powers. This move by Johns clearly makes Barry the central Flash, which is where I believe Barry belongs.

Johns does a fine job explaining and defining the Speed Force for readers who are unsure of the concept of the Speed Force. We learn that when Barry runs he creates the Speed Force. Also, that the Speed Force is the kinetic wall between the present and the time barrier. It is an electrical energy that exists in every dimension, every universe and every era. That it touches all parts of reality and contains the knowledge of every time and space.

This has been the most concise and clear description of the Speed Force that I have read. Of course, my favorite part of when Johns has Max explaining the Speed Force was when Max calls the Speed Force the “all-encompassing Flash Fact.” Yeah, that line was a little cheesy, but it worked and it put a big smile on my face.

I also liked how Johns finally explained why Wally’s children are not speedsters like their father, great uncle and cousin. Thawne states that the Speed Force is like a tangled knot inside of the two kids. That the children’s’ bodies have not been able to properly mainline the Speed Force yet.

I have to wonder if by the end of Flash: Rebirth if we are going to have two more speedsters in the DCU in Jai and Iris. Personally, I hope not. We already have too many speedsters and I like that Wally’s kids have powers different from him.

Johns makes great use of Reverse-Flash in this issue. Johns wisely gives the reader just enough back-story on Thawne in the very beginning of this issue. What was so impressive was how Johns was able to explain Reverse-Flash’s relationship with Barry in such a concise manner and also within the natural flow of the story. Comparing Flash’s rogues with Batman’s rogues was an excellent method in which to explain Reverse-Flash’s role in Barry’s career.

The problem Johns was facing with Flash: Rebirth was that Barry’s arch-nemesis, Reverse-Flash, simply is not well known by the vast majority of modern day readers. Thawne was killed by Barry back in Flash #325 in 1983. That was almost thirty years ago.

I know that Thawne did appear in Flash #74-79 back in 1993. And Thawne appeared in a two or three other issues during the 1990’s. That is it. The challenge Johns faced was getting the modern reader to understand what an arch nemesis Thawne is for Barry.

Well, who is one arch nemesis that every comic book reader knows? Even comic book readers who only read Marvel comics? The Joker. Johns saying that Reverse-Flash is to the Flash what the Joker is to Batman immediately and effectively got across to the reader the intensity and scale of the feud that has existed between Barry and Thawne.

I have always liked Thawne. Reverse-Flash is a classic villain and one of my favorite Flash villains of all time. I was fantastic seeing Barry and Thawne knock heads once again. I certainly am looking forward to the big showdown between these two rivals in the next issue.

I also enjoyed how Johns took head on some of the criticisms that have been leveled at Barry’s character. Critics of Barry have complained that he is a boring character and that only in death did he ever attain more credibility and respect from comic book readers. Johns has Reverse-Flash rant about how dull of a person Barry was. Reverse-Flash chafes under the fact that Barry became the very definition of a “hero” after Barry “died” during Crisis on Infinite Earths. Johns has Reverse-Flash point out how dull Barry Allen was and how Barry was romanticized into the most selfless hero of his time.

This was a brilliant move by Johns. By having the main villain in this story espouse the criticisms of Barry Allen’s character, Johns is able to place them into the story in order to address them. Since the villain is voicing these criticisms the reader is automatically predisposed to disagree with these statements.

Also, Johns will now be able to properly re-invent Barry’s character into a more interesting character fitting for the modern era of comics versus the Silver Age version of Barry Allen that we got prior to his “death.” Hopefully, Johns will be able to address these criticisms and evolve Barry into a character with a more powerful personality than what Barry had in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Even though Barry is by far and away the star of this issue, Johns still made a concerted effort to give the other Flashes their moment in the spotlight light in this issue. Wally got to take center stage when he fearlessly raced into the Speed Force to go and rescue Barry.

This was a great moment that showed Wally’s fearless and heroic nature. This also showed the strong bond between Barry and Wally, as there was no chance in hell that Wally would ever give up on Barry. Johns has made sure to give Wally plenty of love during Flash: Rebirth in an effort to assuage the Wally fans that are disappointed that Barry has returned as the main Flash.

Max Mercury fans should be ecstatic that Johns has brought him back to life. Personally, I could care less. The only speedster that I wanted to come back to life was Johnny Quick. That certainly did not happen. That is usually how it goes with DC and me. If I like a character then it is almost guaranteed that DC is going to kill that character off and rarely bring them back.

Jay and Bart get their moment to shine as they rescue Wally’s children from Reverse-Flash. Jay then gets his own moment as he battles Reverse-Flash just after Reverse-Flash takes out Bart. Then Bart gets his moment as he saves Jay and then battles Reverse-Flash. The constantly shifting spotlight on the different members of the Flash Family emphasizes the fact that Johns views each member of the Flash Family as an important character.

Johns ends Flash: Rebirth #4 with an excellent ending as we see Barry firing on all cylinders and generating massive quantities of the Speed Force with the other members of the Flash Family flanking him on both sides. I absolutely loved the final line in this issue as Barry states that he is back, but this time it is on his own terms. Perfect.

As a Barry Allen fan, this final page had me jumping up and down and cheering. Barry is officially back and is no longer questioning his resurrection or his purpose in life. It is now time to see Barry Allen flex his muscles and kick some ass. The next issue should be great.

Ethan Van Sciver supplied the reader with gobs of gorgeous artwork. Van Sciver is able to pack so much detail into each panel. I liked the way that Van Sciver did the panel layout for this issue. The different layouts for each page give this issue an appealing look. Van Sciver also knows how to draw speedsters. Van Sciver is able to properly convey the kinetic energy that pours forth from each speedster.

The Bad: I have to admit that I found the entire gold lightning versus the red lighting and the Speed Force versus the Negative Speed Force a bit corny. Especially in light of the various colored Corps that Johns is giving us over on Green Lantern. At a certain point, it seems that Johns is getting too gimmicky in his approach to the two franchises. Having said that, it did not bother me to the point that I did not enjoy the story. But, some readers might roll their eyes at the idea of a Speed Force and a Negative Speed Force.

Overall: Flash: Rebirth #4 was a great read and by far and away the best issue that we have gotten on this title. This story has been stuck in neutral for the first three issues. Finally, Johns kicks this story into high gear and delivers a read that has an abundance of depth and substance and moves at a good pace. There is plenty for the reader to enjoy in Flash: Rebirth #4.

Readers who have stuck with this title despite the slow and unimpressive fist three issues are certainly rewarded with Flash: Rebirth #4. For readers who gave up on Flash: Rebirth or who did not pick up this title at all, I would recommend getting this title when it comes out in trade format. I have a feeling that Johns is going to end this story in excellent fashion

7 Comments

  1. You know what I dug? The subtle cheesy set up where Johns makes you think he's going to kill Linda Park. He gives you all that explanation about how nobody escapes the Speed Force without an anchor, but then Wally CAN escape because of Linda. So when Thawne goes after Linda, you subtly believe that THIS will be the event that strands Wally in the Speed Force, and restores Barry as the only Flash. Instead of going with such a tacky and obvious plot however, Johns instead has Linda saved (which made me cheer) and sets him up to have his ass handed to him. Good stuff.

  2. I guess my problem with this title is that it's basically the same read as Green Lantern Rebirth. I understand the irony in that statement but I'm bored b/c I've already read this story. Pretty ho-hum for me.

  3. "Max Mercury fans should be ecstatic that Johns has brought him back to life. Personally, I could care less."

    So basically you didn't bother reading Impulse. Credibility ruined.

  4. As much as Bart missed Max, I'm a little disappointed Max didn't say Bart was his link back to the world.

    Maybe another speedster wouldn't work?

  5. Jai's right – intangibility is a rubbish power 😀

    Great review, as always.

  6. For some unfathomable reason, having nothing to do with science or logic or any known way humans think, having Barry create the speed force makes more sense to me than having, Barry accidentally tapping into it.

  7. Great review as always Rook. This issue was my favorite for the week and probably the month. Johns have been faltering lately, but this book really reminded me of him just about a year ago.

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