Saturday, February 28, 2009

Does the DC Universe really need Barry Allen

DC is launching a new limited series titled Flash: Rebirth to herald the return of Barry Allen as an active player in the DC Universe. Barry Allen actually returned to the land of living last year in the second issue of the Final Crisis limited series. Flash: Rebirth is intended to re-establish Barry as the primary Flash.
My question in regards to all of this is - Why?
Does the DC Universe really need Barry Allen? Wally West has certainly proven to be a more than capable Flash since he took over the mantle upon Barry’s death in the Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series. Perhaps the better question is does DC Comics really need Barry Allen as the primary Flash? I don’t see why that would be the case.
Some might want to liken Barry’s return to that of Hal Jordan. The situations are quite different however. Barry sacrificed himself to thwart the plans of the Anti-Monitor. Hal Jordan sacrificed himself to reignite the sun in the pages of The Final Night story. While Hal’s sacrifice was considered a heroic act, it was really an act of redemption to make up for his activities following the destruction of Coast City where he went off the deep end, destroyed the Green Lantern Corps, and re-christened himself as the super-villain Parallax. Barry died a hero. Hal died a broken ‘hero’.
The biggest difference is the amount of time that passed between the characters returning to their former posts. This is really the major point of my contention with Barry’s return. Barry Allen died in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was published in 1985. He has appeared in a few comics here and there over the succeeding years (typically in stories that are either flashbacks or where he is a version of Barry Allen from the past who is using the speed force to move through time to tackle whatever happened to be the challenge of the day), but has otherwise been out of the picture until his return in the pages of Final Crisis in late 2008. That is a period of twenty-three years that Barry Allen has not been the active Flash in the DC Universe.
Hal Jordan died in the pages of The Final Night, which was published in 1996. However, he stopped being the active Green Lantern two years prior to that (1994) in the story-arc Emerald Twilight (issues 48-50 of the third volume of the Green Lantern series – Kyle Raynor became the new Green Lantern beginning in issue 51). Jordan returned to active status in the DC Universe when he became the new host for the Spectre in the Day of Judgment limited series, published in 1999. And Hal retook the mantle of Green Lantern in the Green Lantern: Rebirth limited series, published in 2004. So depending on how you want to look at things, Hal was only ‘gone’ from the DC Universe between 1996 and 1999, a period of three years. He was not the active Green Lantern between 1994 and 2004, a period of ten years.
Three years (or ten years) versus twenty-three years. That is a significant difference. Hal was never really gone long enough to be missed as a key player. He might have been out of the Green Lantern role for ten years, but his presence was still very much felt in the DC Universe. Barry, on the other hand, has been gone the full twenty-three years. He has not been an active player in the DC Universe at all during that span.
Let’s talk a little bit about time. Generational time to be more to the point. There isn’t a particular consensus on how long a generation actually is. Wikipedia has a decent article on the length of a generation. Based on the amount of time between the creation of the first offspring between a mother and a daughter, a familial generation could be anywhere between two and three decades on average. More interesting is the idea of a cultural generation, which has an even shorter term (between ten and fifteen years).
What is the significance of generations in this discussion? Three years between active appearances for Hal Jordan means no skipped generations. Even ten years between his active status as Green Lantern doesn’t skip a generation (though if you’re using cultural generations, it is right on the cusp of skipping one). Barry Allen’s twenty-three years does constitute at least one skipped generation. And if you’re using the ten year basis of a cultural generation, then it would be two skipped generations. Let’s use some real numbers here though. I was sixteen years old in 1985 (the year Barry Allen was killed off) and had been a regular monthly comic reader since the age of twelve (I had read comics for many years prior to that, but only the sporadic issue here and there that my parents allowed me to pick up on occasion --- at age twelve I discovered a used bookstore where the proprietor also sold comics and thus my monthly habit was born). I was thirty-nine years old at the time Barry Allen returned to active status. Consider for a moment a young reader just starting out on comics at about the age of twelve in 1986. His Flash would have been Wally West. And that would really be the only (primary) Flash he would read between 1986 and 2008. In 2008, that comic reader would be thirty-five years old. So essentially, if we assume the average comic reader became a regular (monthly) reader around the age of twelve (as was my case), that means those (average) readers under the age of thirty-five would have little-to-no familiarity and certainly no connection to Barry Allen. To flip that, it means DC’s primary audience for a Flash series starring Barry Allen is thirty-six and older. Does that really seem like the best demographic to be aiming for? Is that where DC sees a majority of their current sales on titles these days? Is the largest percentage of DC readers in the thirty-six and up demographic? If that is the case, then I suppose there can be a case made for making Barry Allen the primary Flash in the DC Universe. If the largest percentage of their readers are under thirty, then this plan really makes no sense.
Let that sink in for a moment. Comic readers in their late teens, twenties, and early thirties have zero connection with Barry Allen. A good number of them may not even know who Barry Allen is. If they are Flash fans, the greater likelihood is they are fans of Wally West (even looking at other media -- which actually expands the scope of the audience, you’re no longer dealing strictly with just comic fans -- the Flash they know from the Justice League animated series is Wally West). They don’t really have any particular interest in Barry Allen. I wouldn’t imagine they have any particular desire to have Barry Allen as their Flash. So who is this Flash series really for? Why does the DC Universe need Barry Allen back as the active Flash? And why does DC Comics need him?
My contention is they don’t (at least not as the primary Flash). I think DC is rather misguided in bringing Barry back in this particular manner. I don’t believe it is going to be the kick-start to the franchise they may be thinking it will be. The mini-series might sell well enough but it won’t carry over to a monthly title when they re-launch it (I don’t think the actual sell-through of the limited-series will be as impressive as the order numbers that will be announced – in fact, there will likely be a significant decline in orders between the first few issues and the final one because retailers will know what the actual audience size is by that point).

1 comment:

J.R. LeMar said...

Spaces. Inbetween paragraphs. Would make this easy to read.