The Flash: Rebirth #1 invites us to consider the definition of a plot device. It’s easy to denounce such-and-such aspect of a book as a “mere plot device” or “only there for the convenience of the storyteller,” as if any part of a competently written story were not in service of the plot, and were not created by the author for practical reasons. We believe, both intuitively and formally, that plot devices are different from setting or character or theme, but trying to draw clear boundaries them usually leads to an appreciation of the lawyer’s maxim about hard cases making bad law.
Wally West is, within the constraints of literary analysis, a hard case. The red-haired, good-natured speedster has been a favorite character of DC readers practically since his first appearance in 1959’s The Flash #110. His return in DC Universe Rebirth #1 last month accounts for much of that issue’s popularity. But is he really a character once again? At the moment, he is more of a talking vessel, a machine of exposition. To be sure, that is a normal and legitimate function of any character, no matter how beloved or important. Nevertheless, so far that is nearly all we have seen from our old friend during the admittedly brief time since his reappearance.
Then again, such an instrument of narrative is precisely what this particular book requires. Joshua Williamson has structured this issue as a true introduction, a quick review of the high points of recent Flash family history and the main themes of the Rebirth project. Despite the fact that nearly everything in the book is well-known to readers of The Flash, or to those who read last month’s DC Universe Rebirth #1 (including even the affecting reunion between Wally and Barry), new customers can easily use this as their entry point to both the Flash mythos and the current crisis in the DC universe. For more seasoned readers, this book provides a brisk and entertaining stroll between DC Universe Rebirth #1 and Titans Rebirth #1, incidentally reinforcing the impression that The Flash and Titans, together with the Superman family books, will be the theater for the main Rebirth storyline and the mystery of what, exactly, stole time from the DCU.
Carmine Di Giandomenico provides art that fits perfectly with the goals of The Flash Rebirth #1. He uses an arrangement of panels emphasizing layered horizontal images, providing a sense of cascade and rapid forward movement that propels the reader through the issue. Occasional splash pages and six panel grids interrupt the flow like periods in a sentence, inviting the reader to pause and absorb concentrated packages of information. His clear, delicate lines have the brittle effect of a faded memory. Ivan Plascencia reinforces this with colors that are more subdued than we normally expect from a Flash story, but that balance well with Di Giandomenico’s fragile shapes and somewhat stylized characterizations.
This book is a skillful exercise in creating a utility volume that briskly presents a great deal of information while moving the reader along in accordance with an overriding timetable. The artwork and colors, resembling the appearance of a dream or memory, presents this torrent from overwhelming the reader by establishing a slight emotional distance. The only weakness is that it is unclear how well this establishes THE FLASH in its new iteration. But this was about continuing REBIRTH and providing new readers with an open door. If there is justice in art, or comics, many readers will happily accept the invitation.