Review: THE FLASH 2021 ANNUAL #1
[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Writer: Jeremy Adams
Colours: Hi-Fi, Michael Atiyeh
Letters: Steve Wands
Reviewed By: Derek McNeil
The Flash 2021 Annual #1: The lightning-fast and action-packed “Surge” story line races to its conclusion as Wally West returns to the present day with a new perspective on the past and a reinvigorated desire to take back the mantle of the Flash. With one last hurdle to leap, Wally puts the past behind him, but he’ll need to propel himself further and faster than ever before to do it.
To properly appreciate why The Flash 2021 Annual #1 is not only a great story, but is an important milestone in Flash history, we’re going to have to discuss another story: Tom King’s Heroes In Crisis. I have very mixed feelings about that series. It’s a powerful and moving story. I would go so far as to call it a masterpiece – except for what it did to some of DC’s most beloved characters like Roy Harper and Wally West – especially Wally.
DC had been treating Wally poorly since his reintroduction sparked the dawn of the Rebirth era. His wife didn’t remember him, his children apparently had never existed. But Heroes In Crisis made Wally the unintentional killer of several traumatized heroes, including one of his dearest friends. DC had put Wally forward as the symbol of hope in the Rebirth era, then turned around and shat all over that hope.
However, DC had another change of mind and tried to rehabilitate the character. Flash Forward started the process by restoring his family and giving him a new mission to fix the DCU. Dark Nights: Death Metal saw Wally reconciled with his friends and family. But the events of Heroes In Crisis still weighed heavily on his soul. And it still remained an injustice to the character that needed addressing.
Enter Jeremy Adams as the new writer on The Flash. Under Adams, The Flash was set to have Wally West return as the star of the title. Adams realized that if Wally was going to be able to return to his former greatness, that he and Wally would have to deal with Wally’s role in those events and the fallout. And Adams made the wise decision to tackle that head on. His first story has taken Wally on a trip through the timestream, and eventually back to that fateful day.
The first and greatest thing is that the true nature of that incident. During the current storyline, Wally has been dealing with mystery surges in the Speed Force. Upon his arrival at Sanctuary, Wally is faced with the realization that the deaths in Heroes In Crisis were in fact caused by one of these surges. Wally has to take a moment to himself to process this. His mixed feelings of grief and relief radiates from the page as he feels this enormous weight being lifted from his shoulders.
This also resolves a plot hole in Heroes In Crisis that has bothered me since I first read it. That story purported that the Speed Force surge was caused by Wally having momentarily lost control over his Speed Force powers. But that’s never been how the Speed Force works. No speedster has ever had to keep the Speed Force in check, lest it lash out explosively. Adams has given a reason for the Speed Force to have done so in this case, and disabused Wally of the notion that he somehow caused it to happen.
Wally also discovers that one of the surge’s victims is not frozen. Roy Harper is outside of the Speed Force bubble, allowing the two friends to have a bittersweet reunion. Their interaction raises the possibility in the readers’ minds that perhaps Roy can be saved this time. It’s a tragic realization for the characters when this turns out to not be the case. This tragedy may be somewhat undercut for readers who may be aware of Roy’s resurrection in Infinite Crisis. However, the impact on the other characters is undiminished.
In The Flash 2021 Annual #1, it becomes clear why Adams has had Green Arrow hanging around with Barry and Mister Terrific in the present as they assist Wally. In the moments before Roy’s death, Roy is able to give a final message to his mentor. Roy states his love for Ollie and implores him, “So no blaming anyone okay? If I didn’t do what I could to save the day…what kind of sidekick would I be? I’ve only wanted to make you proud…”. With this, he absolves Wally and Ollie for any blame for his death. And then he bursts, the Speed Force bubble himself, deliberately choosing to face his fate to spare Wally from having to do so. This last message allows Oliver to let go of his anger at Wally and forgive him.
And Roy’s final utterance “Love you, Lian” tugs at the heartstrings. Roy refers to his daughter Lian, who was killed in Cry For Justice. This was another event series that treated Roy just as poorly as Heroes In Crisis had treated Wally. Hopefully, Joshua Williamson’s Infinite Crisis will make things right for Roy like Adams has done for Wally.
I also loved the story’s beginning scene with Wally delivers a confession to the fourth wall. This is in imitation of the confession scenes peppered through Heroes In Crisis. In my opinion, those scenes were some of the best parts of that King’s story. And it seems only fitting to echo this narrative device in this extension to King’s story.
When Wally returns to the present, Barry presents him with a ring that contains what looks to be Wally’s new costume. In my opinion, Wally’s costume has never looked better. It seems to be mostly a throwback to the classic Silver Age Flash costume. The extra detail lines added to Barry’s costume in the New 52 are gone, giving it a cleaner look. And the shiny metallic sheen is gone as well. That looked okay, but I prefer the classic red spandex to the chrome-plated version. But there are some nods to Wally’s pre-Flashpoint costume, like the white eye-slits in his mask. And the costume is just the beginning of the great art delivered by Fernando Pasarin and Brandon Peterson.
None. Zilch. Zero. Nada. The Flash 2021 Annual #1 is pure perfection from cover to cover.
Jeremy Adams has done something remarkable here. He has undone the injustice that Heroes In Crisis had done to Wally West. And he’s done it without just retconning King’s story out of continuity. He has not only redeemed Wally West, but he’s redeemed a problematic story. I fully intend to give Heroes In Crisis a re-read with this in mind, freed from the idea that it’s ruined the character. I am only able to give a maximum score of 5, but if I could, I would give The Flash 2021 Annual #1 at least an 8 out of 5 if I could.