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Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge (Review/Retrospective)

This January, I’m going to take a look at some of DC’s biggest “events.” I’ll be starting with the most recent one, Flashpoint, but – in the spirit of the character – we’re going to have a marathon run through Flash stories before we get there. Check back daily this week for more Flash-ified goodness…

Rumours on the street are that Jesse James bought it. I thought you might be dead, too. Tar pit said Zoom buried you under the Flash Museum. Computron swore you were banished to some kinda war planet. And Double Down bet me a grand the Titans had you locked up in their tower.

But you’re here. You escaped!

– The Trickster just about sums up everything that happened since Geoff Johns left

It was a touch period for the Flash after Geoff Johns finished his rather tremendous run on the character. Although Mark Waid’s first run with Wally West was a celebrated comic book run, his brief tenure on the title following Johns’ departure was not nearly as well received. Wally West was shipped off to an alternate dimension, and then brought back. The teenage Bart Allen was turned into the Flash, and then unceremoniously killed. The Rogues were sent to another planet, and the supporting cast suffered the indignity of Countdown to Final Crisis. All of this happened in a few years, and transformed DC’s Flash comic books from some of the best on the market to something of a joke.

However, Geoff Johns’ Final Crisis tie-in miniseries seems intended to assure the faithful that everything is going to be okay. Even Captain Cold dismisses everything that’s happened as “one %%@#$@-up year.”Let’s just put it behind us.

Cold warriors...

It seems that Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis was intended to bring new energy and life to the Flash mythos. It famously returned Barry Allen to life, over two decades since his “death” at the climax of the huge comic book event Crisis on Infinite Earths. Since that death, there was a new Flash, in his former sidekick Wally West. West had the pleasure of featuring in two of the best-loved runs in modern comic books, when handled by Mark Waid and Geoff Johns.

However, with Barry Allen resurrected, it seemed that DC were re-aligning their Flash franchise. It was hard for comic book fans not to think of Green Lantern, which underwent a similar shift under writer Geoff Johns. Like Flash, Green Lantern resurrected the Silver Age version of the character. Hal Jordan, resurrected from the dead, became a key part of the DC Universe, serving as the cornerstone of several big comic book events like Sinestro Corps War and Blackest Night. It’s easy to assume that editorial intends for Barry Allen to follow a similar trajectory, with his Flash: Rebirth miniseries remind us of Green Lantern: Rebirth, and Flashpoint serving as a Flash-centric event in the same way Blackest Night was a Green Lantern-centric event.

Zooming in on the Rogues...

Ironically, it took a while for DC to get the franchise where it wanted. It was quite some time before Johns was writing a monthly Flash title and even Flash: Rebirth existed in some sort of publisher’s limbo, with extended delays between shipping. So, for the longest time, the franchise just sort of sat there. This is where miniseries like Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge and Blackest Night: Flash come into play, serving as sort of notices of where the universe is at the present moment. Reminding readers that the Flash and his supporting characters were still present in the DC Universe, even if they weren’t publishing on a monthly basis.

What’s fascinating is that both Blackest Night: Flash and Final Crisis: Rogues’ Revenge seem to focus more on the colourful cast of villains in the Flash mythos than they do on the character of the Flash himself. In fairness, during his initial run, Johns wrote Wally West quite well, but he was most effective in defining and outlining the character traits of the villains who compliment the Scarlet Speedster. It’s telling that the collection is accompanied by two issues from Johns’ run, each one profiling a particular Flash villain. His work on them was that good, and that concise.

Dead in a Flash...

Indeed, there’s even a section of this miniseries where Johns actually seems to wonder aloud how the writers of the characters between his work could possibly have gotten it so wrong. He has the police officers reviewing the case files actually remark on how out of character some of their actions actually were. “But the Rogues never trusted speedsters before, have they, Chyre?” Morillo wonders as he looks at the documentation on the death of Bart Allen. “So why would they follow Inertia?” Chyre offers a rather simplistic explanation which betrays a rather simplistic understanding of the characters in question, “Because they’re bad guys, Morillo. Bad guys do that kind of stuff.” That’s a rather lame justification, and it seems Johns is openly critiquing some of the work on the Rogues since his departure.

In many ways, like the other tie-in miniseries to Final Crisis, Rogues’ Revenge has fairly minimal crossover with the main event. It just seems to exist more as kind of a “limbo” book for a franchise waiting to find its feet. Legion of Three Worlds was essentially an attempt to clarify and tidy the complex Legion of Superheroes continuity for a new series, and Revelations seemed to exist to tidy up Rucka’s loose ends from Gotham Central, 52 and The Question (while alluding to Batwoman). There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just the way things are. I quite like that aspect – there’s no sense of dependency between the event itself and the spin-offs. You can read one without the other, easily enough.

Tipping the scales...

So the series essentially deals with the Rogues turning down the invitation from Libra to join his evil army of supervillains planning to help Darkseid conquer the world. So Libra does pop up, and he does spur the plot on a little. However, the series is much more interested in repositioning the Rogues for the upcoming Flash series. Johns has the characters return to Central City, and confront their role in the death of Bart Allen. Indeed, they leave a note at the end of the miniseries – “Tell the Flash we’re even.” The implication seems to be that all the crazy stuff that happened to them in the past few years is resolved.

Of course, you shouldn’t interpret from the above that Johns is simply trying to reset the old status quo. There’s an element of that, but, at the same time, the book affords Johns the opportunity to tie up some loose ends of his own from his earlier run. The series gives us the final fate of the Weather Wizard’s child, and allows for a reunion between Captain Cold and the father who beat him. It also serves as something of a “jumping on” point to the characters, introducing them and helping the reader get to know them.

Ice to see you...

The Rogues are easily one of the most fascinating collection of supervillains in modern comic books. They aren’t just a team-up, or anything like that, they’re a bunch of people who hang out and work together. Captain Cold serves as something of a surrogate father figure to the group (ironic, given his own daddy issues), helping to hold them together and keep them focused. The fact is that, as a group of random supervillains (they don’t even have a theme), they work better together than they ever could apart. “Together, we’re the Rogues,” Cold narrates. “Apart… I wouldn’t know that.” They’d just be a bunch of sideshow freaks in silly outfits with stupid gimmicks, indistinct from any other supervillain ever.

The miniseries is narrated by Captain Cold, and we see that it’s Cold who keeps this rag-tag bunch of villains together. He regulates and manages them, keeps them functioning. “Keep that libido in check,” he commands Heatwave, the team’s pyromaniac, and he listens. Aware of the Mirror Master’s cocaine habit, he’s worried about the villain’s addiction (and associations) affecting his ability to work. “How many times do I have to tell you to stay away from trash like Doctor Light?” he asks his teammate. “You better not be dealing again.” He’s even sensitive to Weather Wizard’s issues over the murder of his brother, seeming downright soft when he makes it clear they won’t return to the scene of the crime without his colleague’s consent. “Your call, Mardon.”

Going Rogue...

He runs a tight ship, and the reader actually kind sympathises with him because he rejects notions of cookie-cutter villiany. He has rules. “And remember the rules,” he advises Heatwave as they head into a confrontation. “Leave ’em breathin’.” He wears a silly eskimo outfit, but he doesn’t seem pathologically insane. He wants no part of Libra’s attempt to take over the world – and is far-sighted enough to see it backfiring horribly (which it does). “Have fun with the heat comin’ your way for takin’ out the Martian,” he taunts, referencing Libra’s biggest success. He appreciates the trouble that killing Bart Allen will cause, and actually plans to retire. That’s something just a little bit out of the norm for costumed supervillains, who generally seem quite unstable. I suppose you’re have to be to wear something like that.

At the same time, Johns establishes that these characters aren’t going anywhere. There’s some irony that the Rogues are the constants in the life of the Flash. Barry Allen and Wally West each wore the cowl, and there were two distinct Reverse Flash supervillains to face each, but the Rogues remained constant. They were always there. They fought Barry Allen and Wally West, and – it seems – they will weather the transition back. John has them take care of a bunch of imitators as a way of demonstrating just how tough these old dogs can be.

Mirror, Mirror...

It’s great to see Kolins back on the Flash (as he would be again for Blackest Night: Flash). For me, Kolins is the best collaborator that Johns has had on Flash, and that includes Manupal. His cartoony artwork is wonderfully detailed, and suits the character and his world down to the ground. If Manupal can’t consistently make deadlines, I’d have no problem accepting a regular Johns/Kolins collaboration again. Also included are two one-shots, profiling Captain Cold and Zoom. It’s nice to include these, but there are no covers or chapter breaks or anything like that. They just seem to randomly begin and end after the main story. It might also have been nice to include some material from Iron Heights, which I think included some brief bios for other Rogues as well. But these are small complaints.

It’s a good story, and a nice way of making it clear that the Rogues will be an important part of the upcoming Flash series. In fact, it’s just nice to see Johns writing the characters again, and he even manages to basically take care of their dirty laundry in an entertaining (and accessible) manner. It isn’t essential reading, but “essential” isn’t and shouldn’t be important. It’s a good Flash story from Geoff Johns. That should be enough.

If this of interest, you might like to take a look at our reviews of Geoff Johns’ earlier Flash run:

It might also be worth taking a look at Geoff Johns’ work on the title and characters since that initial run:

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