‘Flash’ #1 Hits The Ground Running [Review]
Of all the titles in the DC Reboot, the one that I've been the most curious about is Flash. It almost goes without saying that Francis Manapul is an incredible visual storyteller and I've definitely enjoyed his art from the past, but the transition to writing and drawing a book can be a tricky one. Since his new role on the book was announced, I've been wondering whether he could pull it off.
With this week's release of Flash #1, we finally have the answer. Manapul doesn't just make the transition, he does it by putting out one of the best titles in DC's relaunch.Despite my recent difficulties with the franchise, I love the Flash. For me, it's the DC Universe book, and as I've said before, Mark Waid's legendary run on the title was what drew me back in and made me love that entire universe of characters. Even beyond just the affection that I have, it's one of those concepts that lends itself better to comic book storytelling than virtually any other medium. The way that comics work, with panels representing these moments that are simultaneously frozen in time and filled with action and movement gives them the ability to represent super-speed in a way that doesn't work anywhere else. The best issues of Flash are the ones that show you things you can only see because you're reading a comic, and a lot of the reason I love the medium so much comes from getting that experience from this title.
In short, it's a book that I want to like, but also one that I hold to a pretty high standard. And if this issue's any indication -- and with all the hype surrounding the "New 52" and DC's attempt to showcase the best they've got with these #1 issues, they're definitely hoping it is -- it's a standard that Manapul meets.
It's not much of a surprise that he does a good job here -- it is, after all, his second shot at doing a comic called Flash#1 -- and it's even less surprising that the biggest strength of the comic comes from the visuals.
Right from the start, Manapul and colorist/co-writer Brian Buccellato pull off some amazing pages that introduce readers to the Flash and his powers. The double-page splash alone isn't just gorgeous, it's an incredible bit of storytelling. The panels that are converging on the flash of the bad guys doing their thing, the letters of his name forming smaller panels that show him using his powers to take out the bad guys, even the old-school Marvel style summary of who he is and what he does -- it's a beautiful introduction, and best of all, it's fast. They hit you with the necessary information as quick as possible to get you on board with this adventure, which is exactly what this book ought to be doing.
It doesn't stop there, either, and Manapul's pages just keep getting better. A few pages later, he hits us with this:
That kind of layout is exactly the sort of thing I love about artists like Frank Quitely and Paul Grist, and it works amazingly well here. Not just because of Manapul and Buccellato, either, though leaving the parts of that grid that aren't directly affected by the action to draw the eye to that fantastic Tetris block of action is great. Sal Cipriano's lettering, isolating the sound effect of the glass shattering to keep it confined to that single moment, perfectly accenting the way time flows on the page. It's a very, very simple action -- "The Flash and a bad guy fall off a building and he uses his powers to save them both" -- but done in such a way that makes it exciting and fresh. I love this page.
And speaking of sound effects, there are other pages where Manapul throws in another of my favorite tricks, too: integrating the sound effects into what's actually happening on the page:
Plus, Manapul's one of the few people to give his lead character a reason for having all those seams that I hate so much all over his costume. The way he draws the suit forming around him to join at those seams, which then crackle with lightning as he runs, makes them make sense and uses them to provide a visual flair. I might not be completely sold on the more intricate suit, but Manapul and Buccellato make it work in a way that I really like.
But again, all of that dynamic storytelling is to be expected from an artist like Manapul. A comic can definitely be pretty to look at while still being an absolute chore to read, so the real question has always been how he and Buccellato fare as writers, and they've done a pretty solid job.
They've taken advantage of the relaunch to give us a nice clean slate to work with, which is nice for a couple of reasons. For one, those new readers that DC's chasing down can step right on knowing the bare minimum they need to know -- dude runs fast -- and get swept up in the story and its great visuals. For another, all those old readers -- like me -- who have an acute attachment to Wally West and a resentment for Old Man Barry for dragging himself out of the grave and back into the spotlight now have a far easier way of divorcing this new version from their feelings about the old DC Universe.
As silly as it might sound, if this is a Barry Allen that never had a sidekick and who never died in Crisis on Infinite Earths, then he's not bound by having his defining moment happen 25 years ago, and he only has to deal with replacing a version of himself that I didn't like anyway.
As to the story itself, despite the fact that they choose to open it with a page and a half talking about
Toronto Central City's traffic problem, Manapul and Buccelleto manage to make it pretty compelling, and very entertianing. They pack a ton of information into their pages, establishing Barry Allen, his job, his supporting cast -- including a new love interest and an Iris West who seems a lot more like the aggressive Lois Lane of Superman: The Animated Series. And with all that, there's still room to introduce an interesting sci-fi mystery plot that -- surprise surprise -- lends itself to some great visuals.
It bulids to a pretty groanworthy super-serious pun about running...
...but in a book this fun, I can easily forgive a bit of heavy-handed literalism that, to be honest, works pretty well with the last-page reveal.
It's got a fun story, great visuals, and an intersting mystery. It's a great comic, and it's definitely done its job in hooking me for the next issue. If nothing else...
...I've got to see if the Flash can solve the mystery of just what the heck is going on with that dude's tie.