The Flash by Geoff Johns Omnibus Volume 1 (2019)
Reprints The Flash #164-191, The Flash: Our Worlds at War, The Flash: Iron Heights, The Flash Secret Files & Origins #3, DC First: Flash and Superman
Written by Geoff Johns
Art by Angel Unzueta, Scott Kolins, and Ethan van Sciver
Sometimes you need to be reminded of how damn good an old album, film, or comic book is by returning to them for a re-read. That’s how I felt cracking open this massive tome, taking me back to my college days and reading these issues in fragments thanks to my roommate Keith who was always filling the room with fantastic comics of the day. Where Mark Waid established Wally West as a unique, fully fleshed-out character, Geoff Johns builds the world out around Wally to make a place that feels alive.
The opening arc “Wonderland” finds Wally West immediately tossed into a parallel reality where Keystone City is overrun with corrupted cops and super-powered villains with no one knowing who The Flash is. This storyline forces Wally to team-up with his enemies Mirror Master & Captain Cold, which is the first of Johns’ spotlighting of the Rogues’ Gallery. This transitions into a reveal of a new villain, Brother Grimm, who retroactively has a history with Wally from his days as Kid Flash. I’m not a massive fan of the art style of Angel Unzueta, he’s not terrible, but his work reminds me a lot of the Waid-era stories where I felt the art was trying to be a little too much like Image at the time.
Things pick up in the next section, where Wally returns to his reality, and we get Scott Kolins onboard for the art. I love Kolins’ work with its intricate lines and sense of motion. It’s detailed yet cartoony & expressive. Kolins is my personal favorite Flash artist of all-time. Johns kicks things off by bringing back Wally’s ex-girlfriend Frances Kane aka Magenta. Waid briefly did the same thing, and I wish someone would figure out a new angle for Magenta. She’s been rebooted since the New 52 but still portrayed as a mentally ill woman. I just think it’s cliche and a little misogynistic to keep hammering on this same trait repeatedly.
Johns quickly seeds several subplots. He introduces Keystone Motors, a car factory that, in turn, allows him to reboot the city as a facsimile of Detroit. Hartley Rathaway, aka Pied Piper, a reformed villain turned ally of the Flash slips back into his life of crime by killing his own parents. Keith Kenyon, aka Green Lantern’s villain Goldface, is shown to have left his life of crime and is now the union boss for the automotive workers. The main arc is the introduction of Cicada, and his cult focused on finding people saved by The Flash and killing them with ornamental lightning bolt daggers.
All the while, Johns incorporates the Rogues far more than Waid ever did, which I think is the greatest strength of this run. Johns brings back familiar characters like Weather Wizard but isn’t afraid to introduce new, more contemporary villains like Tarpit, Girder, and Murmur. These new enemies have a darker, more violent flare to them than the classic villains. But the two mesh together very well. The writer goes on to bring in Iron Heights, Keystone’s answer to Arkham Asylum. This prison sadistically tortures its inmates in secret, forcing them to wear their costumes almost as a form of mockery.
The over-arching epic storyline this is all leading to is the formation of a Rogues’ alliance by new baddie Blacksmith. Keystone and its sister metropolis Central City both come under attack. Even the Rogues are caught with their pants down when the Golden Age villain The Thinker resurfaces as a purely digital being, coopting Central’s citizens’ consciousness to act as processors for information. Johns has a great sense of ratcheting up the stakes and ends up making The Flash into DC’s Spider-Man equivalent. Wally is an everyman type who has regular personal issues to deal with yet has a growing, robust, and colorful Rogues’ Gallery he must contend with.
I walked away from this collection chomping at the bit for the next volume, due out next year. Geoff Johns does what he does best here, and that is building a world using preexisting elements to give a sense of history. I love when Jesse Quick shows up as Johns leans into her role as a CEO, which keeps her preoccupied. It’s interesting to see the beginning of his writing of that character as she would come to play a significant role in his Justice Society run but with a whole new identity. Johns does an excellent job letting Wally & Linda be a married couple when only a few years later Marvel would torpedo the similar Peter Parker/Mary Jane relationship. Reading The Flash, you see how a superhero character can be domestic and still a part of exciting, fun stories.