Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Carmine Di Giandomenico
Colourist: Ivan Plascenia
Joshua Williamson is a writer who really deserves more work. While I dropped off it, Birthright is very engaging and epic, while still being emotionally grounded and relatable. The short-lived Illuminati series managed to make all of its characters relatable, even if they were all bad guys. And now Williamson has the thankless task of writing a Barry Allen Flash ongoing after the return of Wally West, as well as needing to follow-up on Geoff Johns’ DC Universe: Rebirth #1, since Barry is a key player in the story. And this is Barry Allen we’re talking about, a character who still has no consistent personality traits. So with all this stacked against him, how does Williamson do? Pretty well!
The story of this issue quickly catches up those who haven’t read The Flash: Rebirth (2016 version, which I will now be calling The Flash: Afterbirth) and Venditti’s horrible run about the status quo of the Flash cast: Wally West is off with the Titans looking for Doctor Manhattan clues, while Wally West II and Iris West are Barry’s main supporting cast. It’s, fittingly, done rather quickly and elegantly. Williamson’s characterisation of Wally II, who desperately needs a nickname, is of a fun kid nephew, and he’s infinitely more likeable this way. Though I do question why Wally II doesn’t superspeed away to one of the emergencies that occurs in the issue.
Williamson falters with the introduction of a character called August. August is a cop and a friend of Barry’s whose brother was killed. August’s brother’s killer was never convicted, and conveniently Barry was supposed to help August with this, but was struck by lightning that night. So, once again, we have a counterpart of Barry! Another guy who never got over an incident! Because that wasn’t already done with Hunter Zolomon (non-bastardised comic version) and Daniel West! I’m calling it: this guy is the “Godspeed” villain in solicitations! The character just feels so formulaic that if it weren’t for Williamson’s great way of writing his friendship with Barry Allen, I wouldn’t care at all. You feel a genuine friendship there, and I’m sad Barry doesn’t have more characters like August. Sadly, August really kind of drives the plot, which, like his character, is pretty average and predictable. This is forgivable, what with this being a first issue, but I’m not holding my breath.
Surprisingly, Barry himself gets some more definitive character traits in this issue, as long as with Flash: Afterbirth. Up until this point, Barry Allen has always been kind of a flat character, one whose personality kind of altered depending on what he was currently appearing in. Justice League? Cocky impatient jokester, because Wally West wasn’t around. Barry’s own issues of The Flash? Nothing. Barry was put into interesting situations (mostly), but he didn’t really have a personality to speak of. Ask someone to list a character trait off the top of their head about any other of the Leaguers (and Cyborg), and they could probably do it. But Barry? Nothing. Anyway, Williamson writes Barry as a man who’s constantly anxious to do more, because he should be able to! It’s nothing new, but it works best with Barry because of his backstory of “being too late”, which up until now manifested in a character habit of Barry apparently being late to stuff a lot. Williamson gives Barry more angst, and while I’d usually have mixed feelings about that, anything that makes Barry Allen interesting is a plus.
The art is stellar. Di Giandomenico’s work on All-New X-Factor made it clear that his biggest strength is fast, kinetic drawings that scream energy. On that series, the way he drew Quicksilver — with lightning coming out of him when he ran for no reason — made it clear that he really wanted to draw the Flash. Well, he’s hear now and it’s a delight to behold. His characters are expressive, but understated when they have to be. His standard layouts usually do the job well enough, but when any kind of running happens, you’ll know if only because Di Giandomenico’s layouts become more unusual, and he uses stuff like inset panels to really give a sense of fluidity and speed to his drawings. It’s a treat to see energy crackling as Barry runs, and Di Giandomenico and Plascenia really do nail how to visually depict a speedster. While I love Francis Manapul’s work on The Flash, Di Giandomenico’s more jaggy and frantic style just suits the series better than Manapul’s softer, watercoloured look.
Williamson does an admirable job setting up a world for Barry Allen (Jitters from the TV show also makes an appearance), and really does do a good job establishing Barry’s character and cast. Where he falters is his unoriginal feeling plot and new character. Di Giandomenico carries him through that, however, with his gorgeous art that depicts, to me, the definitive Barry Allen. Hopefully this run doesn’t become another case of me buying a Flash series just for the art, but we’ll have to wait and see.