The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #1-2
Title: In a Bottle
Writers: Danny Bilson and Paul Demeo
Artist: Ken Lashley
By Michael David Sims
31 July 2006 — Some might suggest that it's unfair to review half a story. And that's true. After all, had I only read issues 148 and 149 of Robin, there's no doubt in my mind that the final score would have been around an eight. As it stands, however, I also read 150 and 151; those two books were so horrendous that they drastically sliced into my initial score. So the opposite could be true with The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive: while I've been turned off by the first two issues, the conclusion could turn everything around. But frankly, I'm not sticking around to find out.
To start, the story has yet to be established. We know Bart Allen (Impulse, the second Kid Flash) has aged roughly four years since Infinite Crisis, the aging Jay Garrick is acting as The Flash, Wally West (Flash III) is missing, Bart is working for an automotive company, a strike of the same company is ongoing, someone is blowing things up (including the aforementioned automotive plant), S.T.A.R. Labs wants to repair the Speed Force and examine the supposedly powerless Bart (who wants no part of their tests) and a bomb nearly killed Bart's roommate / coworker / best friend.
While those elements could gel to form a plot, the glue is missing. Instead of coming together in a smooth, logical fashion, what we have is a disjointed subplot stew.
The lack of a cohesive story is made worse by the forced dialog and one-dimensional characters. Griffin (the roommate) is a walking hard-on / glory hound. Valerie Perez is the "I don't take 'no' for an answer" lab rat. Bart, the reluctant hero. These three are the primary focus, yet lack the depth to be cared about. And Bart just isn't acting like Bart.
As Impulse he knew no fear. Having been raised in a virtual reality, nothing, not even mortal danger, was real (or permanent) to him. Even when he did learn the fragileness of life, fun and friends and heroics were still the order of the day. As the second Kid Flash, Bart finally accepted his place in the Flash family. The direct descendant of Barry Allen, Bart was fated to wear the red and yellow symbol of his lineage. But first he had to grow into it, first he had to wear the yellow and red Kid Flash costume. He had to earn his colors.
Like Wally West before him, Bart is being forced prematurely into the role after a crisis. Unlike Wally, who accepted the part and chose to honor the memory of his mentor, Bart has shucked it all. Since the combined speed of the various members of the Flash family (temporarily) halted Superboy-Prime's rampage, Bart has been fearful of the Speed Force. Where this fear stems from is an unknown.
While trapped in the Speed Force and during the past year, something must have transpired to instill fear into the heart of the boy-turned-man. Yet this has gone unexplained.
Yes — Bart has stated that he doesn't want to attempt to tap the Speed Force for fear of it tearing him apart, but where's this coming from? Yes — he's stated that the Speed Force has taken everyone he's ever loved, but what he's failed to realize is that they freely gave themselves to it in order to restore order to a crumbling world. It didn't snatch Wally out of the clear, blue sky; he ran headlong into it to stop a madman. So the question remains: what birthed Bart's fear?
This is one of the reasons you don't review a story before reading it to completion. To my defense, I might note that this shouldn't be a mystery. The identity and plan of the bomber, those are mysteries. Griffin's post-bombing powers: mystery. Will Bart accept his fate? That too is a mystery. On the other hand, keeping the reason behind Bart's fear a secret, well, that just makes him look like a coward. And who wants to read about a cowardly superhero (retired or not)?
Once more, it doesn't jive with his personality. Even after Deathstroke shot Impulse in the kneecap, the young hero resolved to improve himself (mentally and physically) and aided in taking his attacker down... all within 12 hours of being shot (he's a fast healer).
If Bart can live through that, if he can quickly overcome a crippling injury and self-doubt, this Speed Force thing is nothing... and seems to illustrate the writing team's ignorance of Bart Allen's character and resolve.
Then there's the art: it lacks the emotion the story is attempting to convey. It's downright static. For a book about a speedster, this is unacceptable. Some artists — through skillfully rendered speedlines and running poses — can truly capture the speed at which the title character moves. Others, like Lashley here, rely on the modern trend of surrounding Flash with lightning bolts. When used in conjunction with speedlines, the bolts work wonderfully. They show the crackling friction which surrounds Flash's body. Used alone, it appears his powers are electrical in nature.
Crisp, clean artwork is what this title needs. What it has is a confusing, emotionless clutter of lines.
Couple the writing and artwork, and you have the reason I'm reviewing this now: this is a warning. It's not worth your time. Or money. Or continued support. And this is a damn shame.
As a generational (RE: legacy) character, Flash needs fresh blood every few decades. And the young, fun-loving, ultra-smart Bart Allen was the perfect character to capture younger readers whose DC knowledge stops at Batman and Superman. (Or saw the cheery Wally West on JLU.) Thanks to this story, Bart has been aged, turned into a coward and sapped of his charm. For longtime fans of the character, he's unrecognizable. For new readers, he's undesirable.