Monday, January 21, 2013

The Flash #4

"Mob Rule"


Story by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Art by Francis Manapul
Colors Brian Buccellato
Letters Carlos M. Mangual
Assistant Editor Darren Shan
Editor Brian Cunningham

For some reason, we got a new letterer for this issue. I don't know what happened to Sal Cipriano, but Mangual filled in with no issues whatsoever. I really did try to see a difference in their lettering, but I couldn't really see anything, which I guess is a good thing. As long as it doesn't stand out for being awful, then it's served its purpose. And I think that's the most you'll ever hear about lettering from me.

This is another classic Manapul cover. I love the white background and the nonconventional treatment of the Flash letters. There's also a lot going on here, but it doesn't feel crowded. The black-and-white is good, too, but I think I prefer the colored version this time because the different colors help distinguish the different story lines. All in all, though, it's definitely one of my favorites.

The variant cover is by Eric Basalda with Nei Ruffino. While it is well-done, it feels rather '90s to me. The Flash is way to muscular for my liking. I've always felt that Flash should have a slim runner's build instead of a beefy weightlifter's. I mean, he's not Superman, you know? Also, the Flash kinda looks evil here. Maybe that's because his eyes don't have any pupils. It's just not my style.

The story begins with a flashback of the funeral of Manuel's father. While Barry was down by Manuel's mom's side, Manuel stayed back and watched the service from a distance. Afterward, Barry found Manuel and learned that he blames his mom for his dad's death. Manuel feels that if his mom didn't ask for a divorce, then his dad never would've gotten on that plane that was hijacked. Although Barry tried to reason with Manuel, his mind was set. He told Barry he's joined the C.I.A. and he's going to kill everyone responsible for his dad's death.

In the present, Mob Rule is taking Dr. Elias out of the Badlands on dune buggies equipped with large sails. They tell Elias they need him and his genome re-coder to fix their DNA so they don't drop dead after a few months of living. Elias says he has an experimental energy source, but hasn't tested it yet. He asks Mob Rule where they came from and they tell him everything.

Manuel Lago was a highly-trained covert U.S. operative who was given the power to regenerate, which basically turned him into James Bond meets Batman. (The clone's words, not mine!) Although Manuel was very good at his job, he only used his missions to gather intel, and once he uncovered the names of his father's killers, Manuel went rogue.

The group that killed Manuel's dad was called Basilisk, which editor Brian Cunningham pointed out in a note, is from Suicide Squad #4. That issue doesn't have the Flash in it, but I picked it up anyway, to see what I could learn. In Suicide Squad, a team of Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Harley Quinn and three others I didn't know (Diablo, Yo-Yo and King Shark), fight a troop of Basilisk soldiers, but most of them killed themselves with cyanide capsules or explosives. According to Deadshot, Basilisk was founded by someone named Coil shortly after Superman appeared. The terrorist group believes a war is coming between normal people and super-powered people. So it seems like Manuel's dad was an innocent casualty in this war.

Continuing with the origin of Mob Rule, the clones tell Elias that Manuel began to track down and kill members of Basilisk one by one, until they eventually captured him. They tortured him by cutting off his fingers and hands, but they quickly realized he could regenerate, so they kept cutting and cutting, tossing all his removed body parts in a big room. This went on for several weeks, and just when Manuel had given up and wanted to die, clones started to regenerate out of the pile of discarded limbs. The clones share the same memories as Manuel and a psychic link to each other, but they have their own thoughts and personalities. They also can regenerate like Manuel, but are unable to create new life like him.

The clones then defeated the Basilisk troops and took their suits and gear, then rescued Manuel. Manuel became their leader and as Mob Rule, they continued their war against Basilisk. But then the clones started to die in the order they were "born" without warning. They knew the key to their survival had to be in Manuel somehow, but instead of helping them, Manuel ran away, leaving the clones to die.

Dr. Elias agrees to help Mob Rule, but says that he'll need Manuel to provide a DNA template to draw from. Mob Rule says they're already working on bringing in Manuel.

Manuel, meanwhile, is with Patty Spivot on the Gem Cities Bridge, which police have blocked off for fear of it being unstable after the Flash vibrated a plane through it. Manuel's hands grow back and he suggests that he and Patty leave before the crowd becomes violent. But Patty says she'll stay and help the police because she's not a coward, and she chews Manuel out for abandoning Barry. Manuel says that Mob Rule would never hurt Barry, knowing how much he means to him, but Patty points out that Manuel doesn't really care about Barry. Since he was willing to leave him, why would Mob Rule care about him?

In Iron Heights Prison, Captain Cold has locked Iris West in his cell by freezing the door. She's pretty bummed that her Flash-brutality story has fallen apart, but then she takes off the door of an air conditioning vent and uses it to start hacking away at the ice.

Back on the streets, Patty's words have gotten to Manuel, who is riding a horse back to save Barry, but he's stopped by Mob Rule on bicycles. They tell him Barry is dead, which puts Manuel into a rage. He starts to fight the clones, but they outnumber him and subdue him.

While Manuel's lying on the ground, he remembers visiting Barry at the crime lab when it was a mess after the lightning/chemical accident that turned Barry into the Flash. Barry was surprised to see Manuel, who he thought was dead. Manuel noticed Barry's Flash ring, but didn't know what it was. Barry said Manuel's mom would be happy to see him, but Manuel said it's better for her to think he's still dead. Barry asked, "Better for her? Or you?" While they were talking, a couple of clones waited outside for them, debating whether Barry was their friend or just Manuel's.

Back to the present, Mob Rule tells Manuel that since they killed Barry, that means he was capable of killing him, too. Like him, they're survivors — willing to do anything it takes, get rid of anybody in their way, just to keep living. They tell Manuel to stop running and accept who they are and who he is. Reluctantly, Manuel agrees.

Meanwhile, Barry wakes up on the floor of the abandoned lab. At first he's confused, thinking that he turned into the Flash and defeated Mob Rule, but then he realizes that didn't happen. He only thought about it. He allowed himself to get caught up in all the different possibilities and just froze. He would've died had it not been for his instincts. Thanks to his super-speed-charged sensory neurons, he was able to dodge just enough so the bullet only grazed the side of his head.

As Barry wanders around the lab, he finds a flashy necktie of Dr. Elias' and sees that Mob Rule has rigged the place to blow up. Barry decides it's time to stop analyzing and go save Elias, Manuel and Patty from Mob Rule. He runs from the explosion and crashes through a window while popping open his ring. He jumps into his suit and hits the ground as the Flash.

The Good:

The art. Any time Manapul and Buccellato handle the art, the issue is worth picking up. They did some fun experimental stuff here, especially during Mob Rule's origin. One two-page spread that was really cool (and slightly creepy) had all the panels in the shape of a hand or a foot. It worked great with the story and is so refreshing after so many comics that stick to squares and rectangles. The final page of the Flash running away from the explosion was also heroically epic.

The story. For an issue that basically didn't have the Flash in it at all, I still found this quite enjoyable. It really started to pull everything together from the first three issues, validating the effort I put in to reading them. It was fun to observe Mob Rule and start to put the pieces together, and then have this payoff that explained everything. Every story requires the necessary sit-down-and-explain-everything scene, which is sometimes really boring. But not here. I also liked the call-back to the bridge. Yes, Flash pushed that plane through it not too long ago, and yes, that was an amazing, incredible thing that would cause people to question the integrity of the bridge. Nice bit of realism.

Sympathy for the villain. The best villains are the ones you can care about and feel bad for, and Mob Rule became one of those villains with this issue. He, or rather they, are not really that bad. All they want to do is live. Yes, they might be a bit extreme sometimes and kill a few people along the way to reach that goal, but the only people they've really fought are Basilisk terrorists. In fact, I kind of found myself rooting for Mob Rule here. Maybe if they stop randomly dying then they'll be good guys. However, the story did push the sympathy angle a little too hard, and almost killed any suspense heading into the next issue. I mean, I'm not worried about Elias or Manuel because they joined Mob Rule willingly. Luckily, the story is interesting enough to not let that bother me.

The expanded universe. For the second-straight issue, Cunningham has referenced a non-Flash issue. This tactic was a success with at least one person (me), who was willing to shell out a couple of bucks for the chance to learn more about a rather minor detail in the story. The Flash #4 says basically nothing about Basilisk, but the story doesn't suffer from it. But when you have that little detail added, it helps reinforce that idea that all these stories take place in the same world and the Flash could just as easily show up on the pages of Suicide Squad as Harley Quinn could make an appearance in The Flash. I really like when DC refers to other issues because it gives me an excuse to read something I normally wouldn't.

The Bad:

Nothing! This was a great issue. Probably the best Flash issue where the Flash does absolutely nothing.  I guess I could use this space to complain about Suicide Squad, though.

Although I was happy to give it a shot, I will not be buying the rest of the Suicide Squad issues. Probably my first complaint is the art. When a comic book has what I consider to be hasty, sloppy, annoying artwork, then it has to have an absolutely compelling story to keep me invested. But this story was not at all compelling. Most of this problem could be caused by me starting with issue #4, but I was completely confused the whole time and didn't see any reason to go back and read earlier issues or to keep going after #4. I also wasn't a big fan of the team they put together. I guess it was good to have three well-known names paired with three relatively unknowns, but I wasn't too happy with how they handled the characters I did know. For starters, Harley Quinn. I don't like to see her on her own, away from the Joker. In my mind, she only becomes Harley Quinn when the Joker is around. When he's not there, she's just a normal person. Next is Amanda Waller. It looks to me like they redesigned her to match her counterpart in that awful Green Lantern movie (which I reviewed on my other blog), by making her skinny instead of fat. The Amanda Waller I know and love is heavy-set and intimidating because of it. She just doesn't seem scary when she's skinny. In any case, why does everybody in comic books have to skinny? In the real world, people are fat, and that's OK. Anyway, my last complaint with Suicide Squad does have a little to do with the Flash — Captain Boomerang. Here, he has the ability to naturally produce boomerangs — a skill he acquired during the Brightest Day event. So that makes Captain Boomerang one of the handful of characters that wasn't affected by Flashpoint and the New 52. Personally, I prefer a Captain Boomerang that has to use real boomerangs. There's something more honorable for me with a guy who develops trick weapons and has to plan ahead and choose which ones to carry on his person. But I guess I wouldn't mind this one with his energy boomerangs if Suicide Squad would stop treating him like a pansy and give him back to the Flash! Hopefully he'll get out of that book and start appearing where he belongs.

So yeah, The Flash #4 is a great book and still fun to read a year later!

Final score: 9

Next: The fate of Mob Rule!

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