Friday, December 7, 2012

Flash #0

This was the first Flash story I ever read, and in my opinion, it is a perfect jumping-on point for anyone, regardless of their previous Flash knowledge. I knew very little about the character coming in, and not only did this explain everything quite well, but it encouraged me to buy and read everything else with the Flash in it. This story takes place five years before The Flash #1 (which was technically his first appearance), so that's why I've started here.


Story by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul
Colors Brian Buccellato & Ian Herring
Letters Wes Abbott
Associate Editor Chris Conroy
Editor Matt Idelson

The cover is the standard cover DC used for all its #0 issues, which is a black-and-white inside page from the comic being ripped open by the main character, who's in color. I really liked that DC was able to get that same concept applied so consistently to all its titles for this month. However, I'm not a huge fan of this Flash cover. The main artists of the book, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato did the cover, and the Flash looks good enough, I guess, but I think he seems a bit bored. I know they were trying to make him look focused and resolute, but it kind of comes off a little sad and disinterested to me. There is also a black-and-white version of this cover, which for some reason shows up sideways on my iPad, a trend DC has been doing a lot lately. I don't know how the physical comics look with these black-and-white covers, but I'm not happy to have it sideways on my iPad. Here's what it looks like:

I'm not quite sure why they thought it would be better to do it that way. Anyway, without further ado, I'll jump right in to the summary of the story, then I'll say what I thought was good and bad and give it a score.

Our story starts in Central City five years ago. We see a depressed Barry Allen working alone one night in the police crime lab at the top of a building. Barry is remembering an earlier conversation he had with his dad, who is in prison. Every year on the anniversary of his mom's death, Barry visits his dad and goes over his mom's case file again, trying to prove his father's innocence. But Barry's dad, Henry, tells him to stop letting the past hold him back. An upset Barry throws some lab equipment out the window and into the rain. He remembers his dad saying, "You've wasted enough time ... on a guilty man. I killed your mother." As Barry remembers that last sentence, a bolt of lightning comes in through the hole in the window, striking Barry and pushing him back into a table of chemicals. Barry thinks he's going to die, but even as the lightning strikes and the chemicals burn his skin, it's his father's words that deliver the deathblow. Barry then sees his life slip by like a flash. He sees the tombstone of his mom, Nora Allen. He's a little kid being comforted by a police officer at a crime scene. He sees his parents arguing. His mom is helping him put on a bow tie. Even though the police had told Barry his dad killed his mom, and Barry had seen how angry he was, he still refused to believe it. How could he, or anyone, do that to his mom?

We then see Barry unconscious in a hospital bed, wrapped in bandages. One of his co-workers and friends, Forrest is there wishing him to get better. A lady named Miss Lago comes and gives Forrest some food. Barry remembers his mom helping him with his bow tie and wishing him luck on his spelling bee, which she can't attend. Barry's dad comes to take him, but first he has to talk to Nora. He throws a file at her and says, "You let a stranger come to our home and serve me this?!" Nora says it's not because of him but because of us. Henry then says, "You think I'm just gonna let you go?"

Back to the hospital, Barry is visited by Darryl Frye, who says he needs to tell his family that he got promoted to captain. He then sits close to Barry and says, "I can't go through this again ... I miss her so much ... I need you to wake up, Barry." Barry remembers the day after the spelling bee, but before he can tell his mom about it, his parents send him out to the bookstore so they can talk.

At the hospital, Barry starts to wake up, but his mind is racing so fast he can't make sense of it. He feels like electricity is surging through him that needs to be set free. He remembers the scene of his mother's murder, and he starts to get up and run. At his house, the little kid Barry is asking police officer Darryl Frye to let him in to see his mom. He didn't get to show her his spelling bee trophy. Darryl tells Barry the police need to gather evidence, which will tell them who was responsible. Barry's dad is handcuffed and put into a police car and he tells Barry that he didn't do it. Darryl tries to comfort Barry, but he runs past him and see his dead mom, lying in her blood. Darryl tells Barry he knew his mom, and she wouldn't want him to be alone right now. The adult Barry running out of the hospital, remembers that he spent his entire life trying to prove his dad's innocence because he couldn't lose both his parents. He dedicated his career and life to the search for the truth, but if it was all a lie, why did Henry and Darryl let him go on for so long? As he contemplates these things, he finally stops running, only to realize that he's in the Virunga Mountains of East Africa, wearing nothing but his hospital gown.

Three weeks later, Barry is with Darryl on a park bench, talking about his miraculous recovery and his father's confession. Barry thanks Darryl for being every bit of a father to him as Henry was, maybe even more. Darryl thanks Barry for his positive influence, which he attributes to being able to make captain. Darryl likes being captain, but he misses the police badge and uniform, which he saw as a symbol that stands for good, something the world needs more of. While running around, Barry found Darryl's first police badge, which he put in a frame and gave to Darryl.

Inspired by Darryl's words about making a symbol for good, Barry decides to make a superhero costume, but he shreds normal tights when he runs to fast. So he makes himself some armor and finds that metal reacts strangely around him, almost like a force is building around his speed, creating a thermal expansion. He then makes a suit out of tiny pieces of metal that can be condensed into a ring on his finger.

Barry visits his dad in prison again to tell him that for too long he needed him to be innocent, but now he's going to look forward. While they talk, police guards escort Daniel West to his cell, who was caught by the Flash two days ago while robbing a bank. Daniel starts to fight off the guards, but Barry gets up and stops him. Remembering two days ago, the Flash chased down Daniel's getaway car and ran up on the side of a semi to jump through the car and kick out two of the robbers. One of the robbers was unable to hit the Flash with a machine gun and he called him a "red blur," but the Flash says, "More like a flash. Took me forever to come up with that name!" Back at the prison, Henry tries to escape during the commotion, but Barry also stops him, saying, "When you get out of here, it will be as a free man ... after I prove your innocence." Barry tells Henry what Darryl always says: People lie, but the evidence doesn't.

Barry then visits his mom's grave and leaves some flowers and his spelling bee trophy. He tells her he doesn't need his dad to be innocent anymore, he just wants him to be. He also realizes that everything that happened to him helped him become who he is today — the fastest man alive, the Flash.

I call this last page the title page, which has become one of my favorite features of Francis Manapul's work. On every title page, he puts the words "DC Comics proudly presents The Flash," but he usually works those words in organically with the art, and it's become kind of fun for me to try to find all the words. Here, DC Comics proudly is on buildings, presents is on a bus, and The Flash is in his shadow. It's just a really fun way to take advantage of the comic book medium. Sometimes, I feel that comic book writers and artists are limited by the medium, and they end up doing little more than storyboards for a movie. But Francis Manapul seems liberated by this art form and enjoys utilizing a lot of fun little tricks that can only exist in comics. So anyway, here's my scoring:

The Good:

The art. Continuing from what I just said, this is one of the most unique, visually appealing and interesting comic books I've ever seen — and I've seen a lot of good ones by Jim Lee, Tim Sale, Alex Ross, Rags Morales, David Aja and more, but this is one of my favorites. Not only is the art fun and great, but I love the coloring. It almost has painted-like quality to it that kind of makes it more subdued, in a way. I think too many comics throw out a lot of bold, flashy colors, screaming, "Look at me! Pick me up!" But not The Flash. The art and story are married perfectly to each other, and neither element is trying to outdo the other. I also really enjoyed how the flashbacks were in a kind of black-and-white style, which made it real easy to follow the story that really did have a ton of flashbacks.

Barry Allen. Not only was this an origin story of how Barry Allen became the Flash, but it's an origin story of how Barry Allen became Barry Allen. In some ways, Barry's backstory is more tragic than Bruce Wayne's. I mean, how messed up is it for a kid to come home and find his dad has killed his mom? But unlike Batman, Barry remained positive and optimistic, which makes him so endearing to me. He's not motivated by grief or vengeance, although he has every right to be. Instead, he's motivated by a desire to find the truth and help people, whether he's in his costume or not. One good example of this was with how nice he was to Daniel West, who tried to escape from jail. Barry is just so kind and good, he's a very easy hero to cheer for and relate to.

The Flash's powers and suit. I always knew he kept his costume in a ring, but I never understood how or why, until now. I like that it's a bunch of shards of metal that pop out of the ring and wrap themselves around him to become armor. A bit fantastical, yes, but it is something that I think makes sense in this story where a man can run at the speed of light. I also liked how they described the source of his speed as electricity building up inside of him that needed to be released. They didn't just say he was struck by lightning and doused by chemicals, but they didn't really need to add too many details, either. They found the perfect balance of giving enough information without bogging down the story.

The story. This is simply a well-written and expertly put-together story. The flashbacks matched up with the current narrative in a wonderful way that I've only seen done better in Watchmen. This story also has a lot of fascinating plot lines for us to consider. Did Henry really kill Nora? If not, who did and why is Henry now saying he did after originally claiming he didn't? Is Darryl Barry's real father? They both have blond hair and Darryl sure acted like he loved Nora. And who is Daniel West? I know Wally West was Barry Allen's replacement in the pre-52 universe, so how is Daniel going to fit in the story?

The emotion. This was a really sad, touching tale. We got to go on the emotional journey with Barry from losing his one of hope of keeping his world together — his dad's innocence — to slightly changing his view on things and figuring out how to move forward. It was also really touching to see how sweet Barry's mom was. You just want to cry with little Barry when he realizes he never got to tell his mom about the spelling bee that she helped him prepare for so much. It really is a tragic story, but it never got too dark or graphic. It's filled with hope, but also never becomes too cheesy. Again, a perfect balance was found by Manapul and Buccellato.

The Bad:

I really don't have anything to complain about. This comic gave me everything I wanted. Great art with a great character-driven story filled with surprises, mystery, understandable sic-fi elements and good emotion. Yes, there was really only one page where the Flash was actually fighting somebody, but that was fine because everything else was so engaging. My only quibble with this book is the cover, but it's not nearly bad enough to negatively impact the score of this book.

Final score: 10 out of 10.

Next time: Shortly after Barry Allen becomes the Flash, he meets up with the Justice League!

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