Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Flash Annual #1

"United They Fall"

Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato – Story
Chris Conroy – Associate Editor
Matt Idelson – Editor

This Annual issue came out one week after issue #12, and just a couple of weeks before issue #0, essentially making it impossible for Manapul and Buccellato to do their usual work on this issue. Every other Annual had this problem, too, and some of them were forced to tell out-of-continuity stories with the regular creators completely uninvolved. Luckily, Manapul and Buccellato decided to continue the story from issue #12 and took advantage of the increased page count by telling some backstory they would normally not be able to fit in. To meet this challenge, they divided this story into five chapters with a unique art team for each chapter. Also, they were still able to write the story and provide the cover, which is iconic and would be one of the best covers of this series if it weren't for one flaw: Turbine. At no point in this issue does he join with the Rogues in the fight against Flash and Captain Cold. Turbine could have been left off and I would have been completely fine with it.

"Chapter 1: The Flats"

Francis Manapul – Breakdowns
Marcus To – Pencils and Inks
Ian Herring – Colors
Carlos M. Mangual – Letters

Two hours ago (or right before issue #12 began), the Flash took a quick detour to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. He remembers first visiting the place with his father when he was 7. His dad desperately wanted to see a world record, but all young Barry cared about was spending time with his dad. Today, Barry likes to visit the Flats as the Flash to help him clear his mind.

The salt is pretty slick, so racers (or super-speed runners) have to stay focused. But the long flat stretch helps you reach your potential. The only problem is the speed becomes addictive, and when you're moving as fast as the Flash is, the world becomes a blur. As he runs, he has an epiphany: everything changes. Records are broken, children grow up, even the great Bonneville Lake dried up thousands of years ago. So how can anyone expect people to stay the same? Flash realizes that he didn't see Elias' betrayal coming because he was caught up in the speed. Now, he needs to go talk to his former friend.

"Chapter 2: The Opportunity"

Francis Manapul – Breakdowns
Scott Kolins – Pencils and Inks
Mike Atiyeh – Colors
Dezi Sienty – Letters

A year and a half ago, Captain Cold, Heatwave, Weather Wizard and Trickster rob a bank. This is before they received their power upgrades, so they're still using specialized weapons and suits, which are more than enough to easily take down the police. Cold explains that although the Rogues are bad guys, they do keep to a code of conduct. Rule One: No killing. Rule Two: No drugs. Rule Three: It's all about the score. Keeping these rules gives them a sense of honor.

Before the Rogues can get away with their loot, the Flash shows up and easily defeats them. However, he turns his back on them to secure the money, enabling the Mirror Master to pull the Rogues into the Mirror World through their getaway truck with several large sheets of glass. Flash makes a mental note to tie up the bad guys before grabbing the money next time.

Back at the Rogues' hideout, Leonard Snart is furious at having lost to the Flash again. Sam, the Mirror Master, places the blame on the Trickster, who was supposed to stay in the truck and be the lookout. Axel pushes the blame to Lisa, who is Cold's sister and Sam's girlfriend. This is the last straw for Cold and he kicks everybody out.

Later, Cold gets drunk and robs a pawn shop. He wanders around, muttering about how he isn't fit to lead the Rogues if he can't beat the Flash. He's then approached by Dr. Darwin Elias, who offers him help in his war against the superhero. Cold asks if he has an old score to settle, but Elias says, "Not at all ... I just want to see what happens."

"Chapter 3: The Price"

Francis Manapul – Breakdowns
Diogenes Neves – Pencils
Oclair Albert – Inks
Ian Herring – Colors
Pat Brosseau – Letters

Two hours ago, Lisa Snart is lying in a hospital bed, while her Glider forms digs through a massive heap of wreckage. Her thoughts are directed toward Leonard, whom she thinks should be asking himself whether it was worth it after everything they lost. She thinks he's selfish, he never cared about the others, and he may have been trying to end Lisa's relationship with Sam.

A year and a half ago, Cold brought the Rogues (minus Trickster) to Elias' genome recoder. He tells them to put their weapons in the machine so it'll give them super powers to battle the Flash with. The others are hesitant, especially Lisa, who starts to walk away. The Rogues do agree, however, and the machine starts to work. But something quickly goes wrong. The machine explodes and Lisa is caught in the blast.

Sam disappears, Mick catches on fires, Marco is put into a daze, Leonard freezes up and Lisa's Glider form leaves her body, leading her to believe she's died. Cold sees Lisa's lifeless body and thinks the same thing. In his rage, he freezes everything around him.

Back to today, Glider reflects on the price the Rogues paid to acquire powers. She has been reduced to an astral projection that can only touch things for a few seconds at a time, while her real body will never walk again. Heatwave was burned beyond recognition and Weather Wizard's emotions are now dictated by the weather. Glider finally finds the object she was searching for: her old mirror from that fateful day, where she can see her boyfriend, forever trapped in the Mirror World.

"Chapter 4: The Secret"

Francis Manapul – Breakdowns
Marcio Takara – Pencils and Inks
Ian Herring – Colors
Pat Brosseau – Letters

In Central City Hospital five minutes ago, Patty Spivot is brought in to analyze the blood of a mysterious man whose mind is completely blank. But those of us who read Flash #8 recognize him as Turbine. As Patty prepares to draw his blood, Turbine says he thinks he already knows who she is. They're then interrupted by a special new bulletin on the TV reporting on the chaos caused by the Rogues and the alleged stabbing of Elias by the Flash.

At the Flash's name, Turbine begins to stutter and says, "He said he'd help me get home ..." Patty starts to leave to help out downtown, but Turbine grabs her arms and says he now remembers who she is and he can tell her where Barry Allen is.

"Chapter 5: The Showdown"

Francis Manapul – Breakdowns
Wes Craig – Pencils and Inks
Hi-Fi – Colors
Wes Abbott – Letters

Now. Director David Singh is racing to save his injured boyfriend, Hartley Rathaway aka the Pied Piper, who was taken down by a Weather Wizard lightning bolt. Elias is dying in the Flash's arms after Glider phased a shard of a mirror into his chest. And Captain Cold is walking down a staircase of ice toward the Flash after he prevented the Rogues from escaping into the Mirror World.

David finds Hartley, who is alive, but badly injured. The police start to surround the Flash, but Cold blocks them off with a wall of ice. He then freezes Elias and tells Flash they can save him later after they defeat the Rogues. Flash agrees to team up and they begin to fight.

Glider wraps the two of them up in her ribbons and Cold tries to put some distance between himself and Flash, knowing his powers slow him down. Glider is able to direct the Flash into a store window, which transports him to the Mirror World. Heatwave and Weather Wizard follow him to join in the fight with Mirror Master. Flash says three on one isn't fair ... for them, so Mirror Master makes a bunch of clones of the three Rogues.

On the outside, Glider is left to fight Captain Cold. She calls him a traitor for teaming up with the Flash, but he reminds her that the Rogues were never about killing or revenge. She counters by saying he is no longer a Rogue. In the Mirror World, Flash takes a bit of a beating, but is able to shatter all the mirror clones. Mirror Master then covers the Flash with a bunch of mirrors, but he's able to break free. Noticing Mirror Master still uses a mirror gun, Flash grabs it from him and uses it to push Heatwave and Weather Wizard back out to the real world.

As soon as Flash frees himself, he's knocked out by a chunk of ice from Cold. The Rogues are perplexed by this double-cross, but Cold explains he owed the Flash for saving Lisa's life during the blackout, but he was only using him to help take down the Rogues. Now that he has their attention, he suggests they add a fourth rule: The Rogues are family. He makes the case for himself to resume control of the team, but before they can answer, the city is littered with large, metal pods falling from the sky. The yellow pods open up to reveal King Grodd himself and his gorilla army. Grodd then declares war on the Flash and Central City.

The Good:

The story. I really liked how Manapul and Buccellato handled this issue. Each chapter focused on a different character provided some great background information that probably wouldn't have been touched on otherwise. I also liked how they weren't compelled to make the chapters equal in length. Some were short, some were long, but they all worked and were great in their own rights. And what really made this issue great was that it explained so much of what happened during the past couple of issues. Dr. Elias was behind it all! Everything makes sense now! But the story is still moving forward in exciting, intriguing directions!

Great characterization. I find myself calling the Rogues by their real names more and more now, and that's because this issue made them feel like real people. I really started to feel for these people. Yes, they are criminals, and yes, they partially brought their pains on themselves, but still. Those poor Rogues. We also got to see a bit more into the mind of Elias, but we're still wondering a bit — is he really just an impassive experimenter or does he actually have an anti-Flash agenda? Manapul and Buccellato are able to accomplish a lot of good in very little space, best exemplified by the Singh-Pied Piper scene. It was only a couple of panels, but was one of the most emotional parts of the issue.

Exciting cliffhanger. As I approached the end of this issue, I began to think, "Wait, they spent all this time to bring together all the bad guys, and that's it?!" But before I could get upset, one other villain I forgot about showed up in a triumphant, magnificent way. Now that's what I'm talking about! Let's get ALL the villains together! (Well, I guess we are missing Mob Rule, but honestly, he doesn't fit in this kind of story. Sorry, Manuel, you just keep hacking off your fingers and fighting Basilisk or whatever.)

The Salt Flats. I'm from Utah, and I have been to the Salt Flats many times, so I was really happy to see something near and dear to me portrayed in a comic book. In fact, seeing the Salt Flats in the preview for this issue helped push me to pick up this series (I didn't officially start reading until issue #0). So anyway, for those who are not familiar with the most desolate place on Earth, let me explain to you the wonder of the Salt Flats:

You have seen it in such movies as Independence Day and Pirates of Caribbean 3, as well as hundreds of car commercials. As the name implies, the Salt Flats are salty and flat — so flat, in fact, that you can see the curvature of the Earth from certain points. The ground is solid salt that was residue from the ancient Lake Bonneville and is replenished every winter when the Great Salt Lake floods it. The salt itself is cool, but it reflect all the heat and light from the sun, making it a very bright place. (I don't know how young Barry was able to tolerate the races without sunglasses. It kills my eyes just thinking about it.) The reflective nature of the salt also prevents any clouds from forming above it and don't forget that the salt prevents anything from growing out there, so there is absolutely no shade available unless you bring it with you. Marcus To's drawings were very accurate, except for the lack of sunglasses. Every summer, the Salt Flats hosts Speed Week, which draws racers from all over the world to compete for land speed records. I'm kind of sad that To only drew a couple of motorcycles, because Speed Week draws out a lot of amazing cars — some are powered by jet engines and can go 600 miles per hour. I also had to laugh when I saw they put three black people in the crowd, which is probably two or three too many black people. I don't mean to sound racist, but for whatever reason, Speed Week does not attract a lot of black people. Well, that was probably more than you ever wanted to know, but now you know! Back to my review.

The Bad:

The only negative aspect of this book is the very nature of the Annual format. I understand DC's need to fill those extra weeks every few months, and their desire to do something special, but I hate that this gimmicky stunt all too often comes at the expense of quality of the product. Yes, I do buy The Flash to see what Barry Allen is doing every month, but a huge reason I buy The Flash is to see what Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato are going to give me every month. Now, DC is going to essentially take those two away and charge me more money for inferior art. And they wonder why they can't hold on to their readers. I thought this creative team did a great job working around these obstacles. The guest artists varied in levels of ability — the biggest surprise for me was Diogenes Neves — but ironically, the most uninspiring artist, Wes Craig, drew the most important pages. These fill-in guys got the job done, but ultimately, I wanted to see Manapul and Buccellato draw and color this issue. Also, why couldn't this have been called issue #13 with a simple Special or Bonus label on the front?

Final score: 8 out of 10

To be continued in Flash #13: Siege on Central City!

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