The first Final Crisis tie-in, Requiem, was a very nice surprise, but can DC keep up the standard? The second, Rogue's Revenge - a three-parter rather than the one-off devoted to the Martian Manhunter's life, death and legacy - sees the return of acclaimed Flash creative team Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins, so it's off to a good start.
First off, though, the cover. I picked up the Captain Cold cover, and the single image by Kolins could look fantastic, icily dramatic against the black background. Unhappily, Chip Kidd's trade dress works against it, with the massive word CRISIS plonked over the aforementioned Len Snart. I'm not blaming Kidd, it's not up to him to say how his design is used, but someone in DC's production department should have caught this. For example, why not have both words down the left-hand side of the cover, tying in with the main series, but appropriate for this book? DC, if you're reading this, feel free to use that notion for any reprint!
Inside, there's little to dislike and much to praise. The good stuff includes economic introductions to the main Rogues, ensuring that you don't have to be a Flash expert to enjoy this; the return to Central City of the Pied Piper after the horrors of Countdown; the revelation of Trickster's Last Will and Testament; a great close and more. Particularly appreciated is the return of Central City cops Chyre, Murillo and profiler (and Mrs Professor Zoom) Ashley Zolomon - they were important supporting characters to Wally back in the day, and it's great to see them here. It's especially good that they're looking into the murder of Bart Allen, it's nice to see someone cares.
The Rogues were their old selves in this issue, troubled souls, yes, and willing to slay in self-defence, but not the gleeful killers they seemed in Bart's short run as the Flash. Johns and Kolins don't try to make them likeable, but they keep them human, allowing us to enjoy them as protaganists. It's not an easy trick - there was no way, for example, I'd buy a book starring Black Adam, due to his monstrous acts and poor attempts at justification in 52.
The Rogues, though, know they're pretty crap; some of them have genius minds, but they've let themselves become losers. The fun of the game, of matching wits with Flashes, has gone, and as this book begins they're back from the prison planet seen in Salvation Run and ready to retire. They have just one loose end to tie up - Inertia, the psychotic teen speedster who put them on the road to killing Bart Allen.
Here's a quibble. Inertia appears in this issue, and he's still in the Flash Museum; but in last month's Flash, 242, when the place was burning down, Wally removed him. Unless the museum is rebuilt and Inertia returned, or this story ends with him back in the museum, we're left with yet another of the continuity cock-ups which have bedevilled DC books over the last few years. It's not the worst ever, and won't matter a hoot in future years, but when a comic is contradicting stuff from a month ago, that's not great.
I was going to complain about the ongoing bloodthirstiness of today's DCU, given some nasty deaths at the museum. Thinking on, though, it seems this isn't 'Superboy rips Pantha's head off/Black Adam tears Terra Man in two' so much as 'Inertia really is a few notches above the Rogues in terms of nastiness'. Inertia has sullied the good/bad name of Central City's criminals and the old guard will make him pay.
The Final Crisis aspect of this book comes with the lightning storms that may or may not be linked to the return of Barry Allen, and the inclusion of Libra, here preaching rubbish from DC's woeful Crime Bible maguffin. And along with hints of Barry, we have a scene with his widow, Iris, perhaps sensing Barry's return.
This scene is the one clunky moment from Kolins - staring out at the storm, she looks like a big-headed kid. The rest of the book, though, is stunning. Kolins owns Central City in a way no Flash artist has since Silver Age great Carmine Infantino. His characters look lived in and his storytelling is superb, driving the stories as much as Johns' words. Kolins is aided by the colours of Dave McCaig, who adds depth and texture to the pages - this is the first time I've been stunned by the beauty of Iris Allen's roof.
So yes, while a different animal, Rogue's Revenge is as worthwhile a Final Crisis tie-in as Requiem was. In providing an intriguing storyline re-establishing Flash's greatest foes and reintroducing us to a blue collar Central City rather than the generic place Wally is currently living in, Johns, Kolins and co have given us the best Flash story in years - and Flash isn't even in it.