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The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1

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The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1

Credits

  • Words: Danny Bilson & Paul DeMeo
  • Art: Ken Lashley
  • Inks: KWL Studio, Norm Rapmund, Marlo Alouiza, Jay Leisten
  • Colors: Carrie Strachan
  • Story Title: Lightning In A Bottle, Part One: Flashback
  • Publisher: DC Comics
  • Price: $2.99
  • Release Date: Jun 21, 2006

The Flash is back, and the torch has been passed. But to whom?

It’s one year after the Crisis, and Jay Garrick is on his own in more ways than one. He’s the only Flash in town and there’s no Speed Force to help him. Where has it gone? Can it be revived? These are questions posed by scientists at S.T.A.R. Labs, though a young intern named Valerie Perez is more interested in Bart Allen the person. Suddenly a man, aged 4 years in the blink of an eye, the transition to adulthood is just as arduous as that of hanging up the mask and becoming a normal citizen. The Speed Force gave him many things, but also took much away. Does Bart have any hope of regaining what’s he’s lost? And in running away from his former role, will he also find himself running towards something greater?

I was never a big Flash fan, but I could’ve been, having been energized since Infinite Crisis #6 by a single question: not "Who will be the next Flash?" but rather, how hard will The Flash #1 push the reset button? What was I expecting? Too much, perhaps. A bizarrely compelling idea, for one thing, something so off the radar that it shakes the franchise up for at least a while before settling into its own sense of status quo. Barring that, I was expecting something simpler, yet deeper—a Flash whose character core and situation would be as much of a challenge to the writer as making super speed and all it entails interesting on a monthly basis. In short, I expected The Great Big Wow.

Instead, I got The Great Big Huh?

Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo, because they were at the helm of The Flash’s short-lived live-action TV show, would seem well-suited to distilling for someone like me what The Scarlet Speedster (whoever wears the ring) is about. There’s no better opportunity than a relaunch #1 to do that. Instead, we get heavy doses of legacy (at best) and rehash (at worse), emphasizing The Flash as a family franchise but doing little to re-establish why the character matters in the first place.

And in terms of technique, Bilson and De Meo are fair to middling comics writers. While their script isn’t boring—they have a good sense of pacing and use hard scene cuts pretty well—on the whole it’s unfocused, never really getting to the essence of any one scene while stringing us along towards the big reveal in a way that feels forced. Furthermore, the first person narration is choppy, the dialogue is clunky, and the only character with any real voice is Bart’s roommate Griffin, with everyone else sounding the same. Lastly, the theme that develops throughout, epitomized by two different characters asking Bart "what are you running from?", has the grace and subtlety of a sledgehammer.

And then there is Bart Allen himself, the changes he’s gone through intimately connected to the big reveal at the end of the issue. Purely on the basis of this first chapter, he’s incredibly unappealing now, all of the character’s charm replaced by a whiny angst as if he’s owed the chance to be normal despite the fact that he was there when his friend Conner Kent sacrificed himself and showed all the metahumans of his generation what a real hero is.

Ken Lashley obviously has talent, as a number of panels suggest. The cover is stunning, as are a number of interior images. The three Flashes shot, for instance, as well as Bart in the final scene, and the austere but comely Valerie Perez. But there are also a number of frames that are so-so for this sort of high-impact art style. Too often to overlook, Lashley’s pencils in The Flash #1 look stiff, rushed, or off-kilter, and generally in need of more work. And then there are the sequences that just don’t work well at all—specifically the scenes depicting a terrorist at work—where the panels are busy, crowded, and difficult to follow. With such schizophrenic output, the art doesn’t gel well enough to integrate all the panels into a cohesive visual narrative. (Dis)credit the writers for some of this, because they’re calling the shots and may not yet have a refined sense of how to sequence panels to best tell a story. Then heap some of that blame on the team of inkers and colorist Carrie Strachan, because there is a harsh glossiness to the images on the whole and the action sequences in particular are murky and muddy. But the bulk of the blame here has to fall to Lashley, as his talent for slick, set-piece sorts of shots don’t compensate for his weakness as a visual storyteller. He may need as much time to find his rhythm on The Flash as the writers do.

The Flash #1 is not a good start for a title that needed to hit the ground running. The creative team is just not up to the challenge, and I’m not at all sure that new readers will give it the chance to get up to speed.

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