A New Genesis For DC’s Scarlet Speedster
Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce reviews DC’s Flash: Year One, out now…
Flash: Year One
Writer: Joshua Williamson
Artist: Howard Porter
Letters: Steve Wands
Published by DC
While origin stories and ‘early adventures’ have always been an essential part of comic book lore, it was Frank Miller’s exploration of Batman’s first twelve months as a crimefighter in his seminal 1987 work Batman: Year One that popularised in-depth explorations of the formative years of our favourite superheroes. From the Bat family alone, Robin, Batgirl and Nightwing have been given a ‘Year One’ treatment, alongside the likes of Wonder Woman and Green Arrow. Recently Frank Miller returned to the Year One concept to put a new spin on the origin of Superman. Uncharacteristically, The Flash has been rather late running but – now – the Scarlet Speedster is also getting the opportunity to run through some of the things that made him who he is.
Young Barry Allen grows up obsessed by superheroes and – encouraged by his mother – a strong sense of right and wrong. Growing up to be a thorough and conscientious – though often late – crime scene investigator, Allen stumbles through a complex life. After lightning strikes his lab, Allen becomes imbued with super speed and as he starts to explores the scope of his powers – from fighting criminals to the fact that his shoes run out rather quickly – he begins to like the idea of saving the world. But an accidental jump forward in time brings him into contact with an older version of himself and a future dominated by The Turtle – a being whose life is slowed to a crawl and who wants to take Flash’s speed force by himself. Returning to his present, Allen encounters the young version of The Turtle and soon thinks that the life of a hero will be easy. But he soon learns that time travel is more complicated than he thought and the lives of everyone he cares about are soon in grave danger.
While Flash: Year One could be easily read by people with no knowledge about the character, it’s constant riffs on the history of the character will be appreciated by diehard fans. There’s little tortuous exposition here (Allen’s encounter with the lightning bolt occurs only a scant few pages into the first chapter) and some of the ellipsis of the story (such as the death of his mother and the incarceration of his father) become more clear when you’re familiar with some of the background. There’s also the use of The Turtle – the villain in Barry Allen’s first origin story, Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt from 1956 – and the use of time travel creates a somewhat cyclical story that resonates with events from Robert Loren Fleming and Carmine Infantino’s 1988 retelling of The Flash origin story (also titled Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt).
As with many superhero stories, much of the interest of Flash: Year One comes from a juxtaposition of the ordinary with the spectacular. While Allen gets his head round battling the likes of Captain Cold, he’s also trying to negotiate a new relationship with Iris West and trying to live up to the ideals instilled in him by his mother. The push and pull of these elements often works well within the story, giving you the idea of the development of both a person and a hero.
While the use of The Turtle as the main antagonist may seem a little on the nose – “Oh look, let’s have our fast hero battle a villain who’s really slow” – it just about works as his origin is intriguing and his motivations sympathetic (to a degree at least). Even though we know how it’s going to turn out, there’s some credit here for creating some genuine moments of jeopardy and there are plenty of well put together set pieces throughout.
Porter’s art is heavy and angular, with Allen square jawed and The Turtle an impressive and lumbering bulk. This use of heavy lines and angles adds a certain kinetic energy to everything, a feeling of always moving forward and leading to something. Unsurprisingly it all feels rather apropos when it comes to The Fastest Man Alive.
Coming with the usual additions of variant covers and sketches, Flash: Year One is a large dose of well-done comic book entertainment. Those who are fans of Allen (and indeed many of the other characters who dabble in the Speed Force) will enjoy this updated take while newcomers might find a good starting point for the modern day version of the character.
Flash: Year One is available now published by DC Comics.