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Friday, April 10, 2009 

Flash's Rebirth cannot escape darkness

The Speed Force blog reviews the Rebirth miniseries, and I feel some disgust coming on at the news of what may or may not be a new backstory for Barry:
Near the end of the issue, Barry flashes back to a childhood memory in which he comes home and finds the police at his house, his mother dead, and his father being led away in handcuffs, ending with him running after the police car and being unable to catch it.

It seems that Geoff Johns is trying to give Barry Allen a traumatic backstory to set up his career in law enforcement, and his obsession with running. I really don’t like this for a number of reasons.

First, one thing that makes Barry unusual among today’s heroes is that he doesn’t — or, rather, didn’t — owe his super-heroics to any sort of trauma. He became a super-hero because, when he gained powers, he just felt like the right thing to do was to help people.

Second, it’s way too similar to the backstory established for Hunter Zolomon, a.k.a. Zoom, whose career in law enforcement was spurred by a desire to find out why his father killed his mother.

Third, it’s a huge change to Barry’s character. This is actually more of a change than the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths retconning of Wally’s childhood from Norman Rockwell perfection to dysfunctional and emotionally abusive. It’s more of a change than introducing a separated-at-birth evil twin. It’s like changing Superman so that Ma and Pa Kent died when he was a child, or changing Batman so that his parents weren’t killed in that alley. (And then there’s the fact that Barry’s parents appeared alive throughout the Silver and Bronze ages, including in stories that Geoff Johns himself referenced recently.)

I did a whirlwind tour of message boards this afternoon, and someone suggested that it might be a false memory picked up from other speedsters, in which case the similarity to Zoom’s origin makes more sense. We’ll see.
Whether or not this is a false memory, I think it's very unwelcome regardless of the outcome. And I won't be surprised if it does serve as a warning of what could come in the next relaunch: darkness in some form or other that doesn't suit the tone. It's indicative of a problem that Johns has of beating the readers over the head with unpleasant elements that don't usually fit the tone of the book he's writing, something he particularly resorted to in the showdown with Zoom 2 at the end of his run 4 years ago.

This also brings up a problem I have with Mark Waid's run on the Flash from more than a decade ago: the Cobalt injection. The story setup there was pretty grisly and uncalled for, and the worst part is that it may still be considered canon. And while Johns could be held accountable for shoving overly violent elements down the throats of the audience, some may have to consider that Waid may have ruined the Flash long before Johns did.

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