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Geoff Johns’ Run on Flash – Blackest Night: Flash (Review/Retrospective)

I have to admit that I quite like DC’s approach to event tie-ins. Whenever a massive series like Infinite Crisis or Final Crisis or Blackest Night emerges, it doesn’t disrupt the on-going narratives being told in the books. Instead, the crossovers are shrewdly isolated to tie-in miniseries, so as to minimise interference. This means that a reader of Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin doesn’t need to concern themselves with the zombie apocalypse in Blackest Night, as Peter Tomasi is handling a separate miniseries. Blackest Night: Flash, however, is something of a different beast, as there was no on-going Flash series at the time, with Blackest Night: Flash serving as a bridge between Flash: Rebirth and Geoff Johns’ on-going Flash series. The fact that the miniseries was written by the main architect of the event also makes the tie-in seem that little bit more essential, putting Blackest Night: Flash in quite a strange place.

Static eyes...

In hindsight, it amazes me how much difficulty DC seemed to have in getting a Geoff Johns’ Flash series to work. It seems like almost as much time was spent leading into the series as on the series itself. This creates a rather strange trail of continuity that began with Johns writing the Final Crisis tie-in Rogues’ Revenge and then to an extended miniseries, and on to this. It’s hard to believe that the company were trying to streamline The Flash and push him to the fore, with everything all tangled up before a single issue of the series had been published.

It seems, in retrospect, that DC comics were trying to push the character of The Flash to the fore, in the same way they had with Green Lantern, a book that had well and truly taken off under the pen of Geoff Johns. If you’re going to try to promote second-tier DC comics superheroes, the Flash seems a fairly safe bet. After all, his powers are simple, and he has name recognition. It might be easy to mock that nineties television show, but it did make some sort of small impression on pop culture.

Showing grave concern...

The pattern seemed consciously designed to emulate Johns’ revitalisation of Green Lantern. The Silver Age iteration of the character, Barry Allen, was resurrected and made the main character – just as had happened with Hal Jordan. Geoff Johns would collaborate with Ethan Van Sciver on a Rebirth miniseries. This would feed into an on-going that would build towards a large event. Green Lantern built towards Blackest Night, and The Flash would build towards Flashpoint. You can see Johns trying to increase the importance of the character even here, as he makes Barry Allen a secondary protagonist during Blackest Night, eschewing the bigger names like Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman for the role. Blackest Night seems like a conscious attempt to raise the character’s profile.

And so, to be frank, it’s clear that Blackest Night: Flash is more closely tied to the events of the main miniseries than most other crossover miniseries. A staple of the Blackest Night tie-ins was that our heroes would show up, fight zombies, and then tie back into the on-going narrative. Here, Johns more consciously anchors this tie-in to the events in the main book, with quite a few sequences in Blackest Night: Flash building off of, and leading into, plot points in the main book. It’s a weird structure, and I’m not sure it works – I like most of my tie-ins independent – but it allows Johns a chance to tackle the symbolic significance of Barry Allen, and his resurrection.

The ties (or chains) that bind...

However, the miniseries is more interesting in how it allows Johns to deal transition between his original celebrated Flash run, featuring Wally West and the Rogues, into his second run, which was more focused on Barry Allen. There’s a sense here than Johns is tidying away some of the clutter, smoothing over the plot threads that never came to fruition after his departure. Rogues’ Revenge allowed the author to reposition the Flash’s recognisable selection of bad guys, after years of poor handling from other writers and editorial. Johns takes advantage of the three-issue miniseries to continue his sterling characterisation of the bad guys, drawing attention to just how many of the Rogues are second-generation characters who inherited (or stole) their gimmicks from deceased predecessors – providing a nice reflection on how Wally West inherited his identity from his uncle.

In particular, Blackest Night: Flash affords Johns the opportunity to tidy up a bit of continuity that has been left dangling since Identity Crisis, with the character of Owen Mercer, the second-generation Captain Boomerang. Introduced with Tar Pit, another villain from Johns’ tenure on the title, Johns seems to concede that the character never quite grew or developed as intended, and never really “earned” his place as a part of the Flash’s selection of bad guys. “Unlike Digger,” Captain Cold observes, “you never settled on a target.” The series resolves Mercer’s story in a rather brutal fashion, paving the way for his father’s resurrection, perhaps reflecting the conservative editorial direction of modern comics – the character failed to gain traction in a couple of years, and so was immediately benched, replaced by his predecessor.

It all comes back...

One can also detect here, as with The Dastardly Death of the Rogues, Johns setting up the ideas and themes that would pay off in Flashpoint. While I won’t suggest that the set-up for that event was especially well-handled, I will concede that there are a lot of interesting clues to be found in Johns’ material, and one can very clearly detect the direction he is heading, through the benefit of hindsight. We get the original Mirror Master referencing “Wonderland” while trying to consume his successor in a mirror world, echoing Johns’ first Flash story which itself was quite similar to his last. Barry Allen is continually surprised at how much the world has changed while he was gone. In particular, he is surprised to see Solovar is dead, and that Gorilla City is in ruins. His narration suggests that he hasn’t quite acclimatised to the new and darker DC universe, and one can sense his unease. Having been isolated for so long, it’s easy to see why he would eventually try to re-write history to save somebody he couldn’t protect. “Help bring all of us back,” Solovar advises him. “Or die trying.”

On the other hand, one can see quite a few ideas or plot devices that are set up and ultimately won’t pay off at all. I think that’s the most frustrating aspect of Johns’ second Flash run, most evident here and in Flash: Rebirth – all those story ideas that were never elaborated upon, or that were never explored. “Why does Gorilla City have an interest in the speed force?”Barry muses at one point, and it’s a question we will likely never get an answer to. I can’t help but feel a little frustrated with all the teasing present here, with Johns seemingly promising a nice well-constructed long-form story that never materialised.

Cold as ice...

Much like Rogues’ Revenge, Johns reteams with artist Scott Kolins, illustrating in that wonderful cartoony style he used back when first working on the title with Johns. To me, Kolins is perhaps the quintessential Flash artist, with an exaggerated cartoony style emphasising lines and movement. He art encourages vibrant and bright colours, perfectly suiting the character and the title. While it doesn’t necessarily work so well with the Black Lantern zombies, I don’t think anybody draws the iconic imagery of a Flash comic book so well – the yellow boots, the blue parka, the sci-fi gadgets and gizmos, the eyes behind the masks or the blue glasses. It’s always a pleasure to have Kolins on the character.

Blackest Night: Flash is a solid interlude, an example of set-up for the series to come. You could argue whether it’s really necessary, save for setting up the return of Captain Boomerang, but it’s always a pleasure to read Johns writing the Rogues, perhaps the best aspect of his work on this title. It’s not essential, but it’s light and fun and breezy. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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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