Friday, September 27, 2013

The Flash Annual #2

"The Quick and the Green"

Brian Buccellato Writer
Sami Basri Pencils and Inks
Stellar Labs Colors
Taylor Esposito Letterer
Harvey Richards Associate Editor
Wil Moss Editor
Brian Cunningham Senior Editor

Sadly, Francis Manapul did not work on this issue, but he did do the cover with Buccellato, and it is very nice. While it does not portray an actual scene from the issue, it comes pretty darn close, giving the reader a really good sense of what will happen inside. The best part of the cover is the subtle use of the color green in the seams of Flash's suit and the letters in the Flash title. Altogether, it is a dynamic, effective comic book cover.

Generally speaking, I am against DC's policy with the annual issues. I don't like the extra price, I don't like the different numbering, I don't like not having my favorite creators, and I especially don't like it when it interrupts an ongoing story line. Flash Annual #1 fit right in with the battle with the Rogues and the gorilla invasion, but this issue was randomly plopped in the middle of the Reverse-Flash arc. I don't think it makes any sense for Flash to stop chasing the Speed Force Killer to go hang out with Hal Jordan, so I'm going to say this story happened before he learned of Albert's untimely death.

We open in the Green Parrot Lounge in Coast City, where Barry Allen is catching up with his old friend Hal Jordan, who is enjoying a rare night off after becoming the leader of the Green Lantern Corps. However, Hal is not enjoying the jazz concert Barry brought him to, and begins to wish they could get into a little a trouble. His wish is immediately granted, as the two friends are suddenly teleported to Agon, aka Arena World.

The alien leader here, Verus, explains that she sent her scouts to collect the heroes so they could fulfill their end of a deal that was made a few years ago. Barry knows nothing of this deal, but he does recall the circumstances that brought it about, or, as Hal calls it, their "first date."

We then go back in time to when Barry was a still a relatively new police scientist and an even newer superhero. He was working on a case of children disappearing from group homes all across the country, and when the kidnappers returned to previously hit locations, Barry was able to establish a pattern and determine the next target — the Coast City Children's Home.

Barry visited the home as himself, but soon was caught in a giant clamp by Green Lantern, who believed Barry was the kidnapper. Barry vibrated out of the clamp and told him that he's a police scientist. Green Lantern was surprised that Barry was able to escape his construct, but Barry was even more surprised to see Green Lantern levitate, and he mistakenly called him Superman. Green Lantern is still suspicious about a Central City police scientist showing up in Coast City, and the two begin to argue a bit before a bright light flashes in the house. Green Lantern flies inside, and Barry follows right behind him as the Flash.

Flash discovers that all the children in the room are gone, and the teleporting portal that took them is still open. He enters the portal and discovers Green Lantern beating up a couple of aliens. Flash is so surprised to be on another planet that he accidentally reveals his identity. He helps Green Lantern take down the aliens, and he figures out how to teleport this group of kids back home, while Green Lantern takes off to find the rest.

A few minutes later, Flash regroups with Green Lantern, who has discovered some kind of military barracks for children. Flash grows upset with Green Lantern for repeatedly calling him Barry, so he reveals himself as Hal Jordan, which only makes Flash angrier. Once again, their argument is interrupted; this time by a child's scream. Flash races ahead to find a giant alien brutally training the children for combat. Flash starts to fight the alien, but begins to lose when his super speed starts to diminish. Green Lantern arrives just in time to save him, and together they subdue the alien. Flash does a quick head count and realizes that three kids are still missing. One of them points the heroes in the right direction, so Green Lantern again takes off to find them, while Flash teleports the kids home.

We then cut to Verus arguing with her rival Priscus about the fighting potential of humans. Priscus thinks they're too weak to pose a challenge to his house, but Verus believes if she abducts enough humans, one or two of them will rise to the occasion. Green Lantern then finds three large aliens fighting each other and he starts to beat them up, demanding where the missing kids are. But then his ring reveals that the kids are inside the monsters, and Green Lantern has a hard time defending himself against them as his ring begins to lose its power.

Flash shows up in the nick of time, and is able to vibrate one of the kids out of the monster. Verus, who has been watching the whole time, becomes impressed and releases the children. Flash wants to confront her, but Green Lantern sends him home with the kids, while he speaks with Verus.

We jump back to now, where Barry has figured out that Hal made a deal with Verus for the two of them to take the kids' place in the Arena World competition. The two heroes suit up and bicker and argue all the way down to the arena floor.

None of the aliens are a match for Green Lantern and Flash, but Flash gradually loses his powers since he is so far away from the Speed Force. Eventually, our two heroes are the only ones left standing, but Arena World custom demands there only be one left to face the champion. So Priscus ensnares Green Lantern in some kind of electric net, leaving the exhausted Flash to face the champion, Marius, alone.

Flash does not fare very well in the fight, so Hal gives him his Green Lantern ring. Using his speed mind, Flash quickly learns how to use the ring and sees several possible outcomes for the fight. One of them kills Hal, and one of them kills him. In one scenario, Flash tries to fly the two of them away, but they're shot down. Ultimately, Flash has the ring detect Marius' weakness — which happens to be his crotch. Flash creates a big laser gun, sneaks under the giant alien, and puts all his energy into one blast that knocks the beast out.

A little later, the Green Lantern Corps shows up and arrests everybody. Hal admits that he had been keeping track of the aliens, but he needed to catch breaking an intergalactic law before bringing them in, and their little "cockfight" was just what he needed. So the two friends make their way home on a green motorcycle, apologizing to each other and realizing that they both push each other to be their better selves.


Nicole Dubec Writer
Cully Hamner Artist
Matthew Wilson Colorist
Carlos M. Mangual Letterer
Harvey Richards Associate Editor
Wil Moss Editor
Brian Cunningham Senior Editor

Our backup story begins two years ago with the Flash helping a bunch of people with seemingly mundane tasks. He gives a homeless man a can to recycle. He helps an old woman catch a bus. He saves a boy and his dog that ran into traffic. He helps a man retrieve a stuck bag of chips from a vending machine, the man was so startled by the Flash that he bumped into a woman behind him, causing her to drop a big stack of papers. Flash helps her pick up all the papers, while the man offers to buy her a cup of coffee.

Realizing he's late to James Forrest's birthday party, Flash quickly buys a bottle of wine and rushes it to the police station. Unfortunately, he accidentally vibrated the bottle at super speed, causing the wine to spoil. But Barry doesn't stick around at the party for long, as an apartment fire calls the attention of the Flash.

A man outside the building, Dalton White, asks Flash to save his wife and daughter, which he does. However, the wife, Lily, had already succumbed to smoke inhalation before Flash could save her.

In the present day, Barry is enjoying breakfast with Patty Spivot in their apartment, when Iris West appears on the TV with breaking news. Dalton is threatening to destroy his apartment building unless he meets the Flash in person. So Flash heads inside the building, while police search the outside with bomb-sniffing dogs.

Flash quickly finds and defuses the bomb, then meets with Dalton on the roof. Dalton blames the Flash for the death of his wife, even though it was his cigarette that caused the fire. Flash apologizes and tells Dalton that causing other people pain won't heal his grief. Dalton refuses to listen and presses what appears to be the trigger to the bomb, but he actually injected himself with cyanide.

Flash rushes the dying man down to the paramedics, and one of them happens to be Dalton's daughter, Gloria. She gives him sodium nitrate, and Flash uses his powers to speed up the chemical reaction to save him. Gloria rebukes her father, and he mentions there being a second bomb. Flash begins to panic, but one of the policemen tells him he already found the bomb thanks to his trusty dog, Honey.

It turns out that Honey was one of the puppies from the dog the Flash saved two years ago. We also learn that the homeless man did recycle those cans and eventually got a good job. The couple from the vending machine got married, and the woman from the bus stop was able to watch her son perform in a concert. And Gloria, who became an EMT after her mother's death, visited her father in prison.

The Good:

Light, fun story. As sad as I was that this didn't tie in to the Reverse-Flash story, I do have to admit that this whole issue was pretty fun. Sometimes it's nice to break up the super serious stuff with something lighthearted. And Brian Buccellato can be a really funny writer when he wants to be. I loved seeing a young Barry completely out of his element and struggle to work with an opposite personality. I also had a fun time on Arena World. I don't know if Sami Basri completely designed the aliens or if Buccellato did, but either way, they were imaginative and neat to look at. I've also become a fan of Basri. His style is very clean and consistent. I don't know what he's up to right now, but I think he deserves to handle one of the many Green Lantern titles out there.

Barry meets Hal. This issue had me begging DC to launch a Flash-Green Lantern series. They make such a great team. Geoff Johns got a lot of laughs out of them in his early Justice League run, and Buccellato just kicked it up to 11. The Flash and Green Lantern have always worked perfectly together, even when their roles are reversed, like with Wally West and John Stewart in the Justice League cartoon. We still haven't heard what Manapul and Buccellato will be doing next March, but at the top of my list is a Flash-Green Lantern series.

Touching backup story. This one really surprised me. It started slowly, and Cully Hamner's art really didn't draw me in, but suddenly everything came together in a beautiful, poignant way. Nicole Dubec has the honor of being the first writer not named Manapul or Buccellato to work on The Flash in the New 52, and she did a great job. This story is a great template for meaningful things Flash can easily do on a TV show or in a movie. And I loved the lesson it taught: a lot of small good acts can lead to great acts. We still don't know who the permanent creative team on The Flash will be, but I strongly nominate Dubec. In fact, forget putting Basri on a Green Lantern title — put him on The Flash with Dubec. That's something I'd read.

The Bad:

The nature of the annual. I've already ranted about this, so I won't say too much here. As much as I enjoyed this issue, I did not enjoy paying $4.99 for it. I think it's time for DC to re-evaluate their annual books policy. Perhaps the change could be something as simple as cutting the page count to get a $3.99 price. Buccellato's story definitely could have been simplified to lose a few pages. Oh well. I guess I have no room to complain after I did buy the issue twice.

Final score: 7 out of 10

Next time: I've changed my mind again. Even though it hasn't ended yet, it seems a lot more logical for the Reverse-Flash story to occur before the Trinity War and Forever Evil stuff. So I will start with Flash #20, and hopefully won't have to wait too long for Flash #24.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A farewell to Manapul and Buccellato

What a run it's been. But all good things must eventually come to an end. And I'd like to use this post — my special 75th — to express my appreciation for Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato.

I was surprised at how sad I was yesterday when I heard the news. It almost felt like a family member had died. This is clearly not a normal reaction — people should not be that invested in comic books. But I've never felt a connection to a comic book as much as I've felt with this Flash in the New 52. Perhaps I should provide some background.

I didn't start reading comics until I was in my 20s. I had always been a fan of superheroes through cartoons and movies, but I never actually read a comic book until I discovered Jim Lee's Hush. That was the hook for me, and I soon began picking up every major DC trade paperback. I eventually got an iPad, and slowly started stumbling around the world of current comic books in the digital platform. The New 52 soon started, which was the perfect chance for me to jump on.

I only had the budget to follow one comic, so I carefully investigated all 52 titles. Flash did immediately catch my eye, but I hesitated. I didn't know anything about the Flash or these creators. So I decided to play it safe and stick with the proven talents on Action Comics. And it was a pretty fun ride ... for about eight issues. Then Grant Morrison really started to bug me. I did complete his entire run on Action, but after issue 12, I was ready for something new.

Again, the DC gods seemed prepared for me. The zero issues came out, and I finally had enough courage to pick up The Flash. And I immediately fell in love. After reading The Flash #0, I quickly bought issues 1 through 12 on my iPad. I came for the art, and I stayed for the story. It was almost like these comics were written just for me — addressing and solving all problems I had with other comics in the past. My long search was over. I had finally found a current comic book series I could relate to. I enjoyed these comics so much, I started buying them twice — in print and digital. And then, of course, I started this blog, dedicated to reviewing every Flash appearance in the New 52.

How can I explain what makes Manapul and Buccellato so good? I guess they just provide everything I want in a comic book. They perfectly balance the serious with the fun; they develop characters well; they write great mystery and action scenes. I love how all the issues connect to each other. Look at my picture at the top again. That's 27 issues you can put together and read as one long story. Yes, there are a couple of self-contained arcs within those issues, but overall, it's one giant narrative. There are things that happen in issue #0 that come back to play a major role in issue #23, and I love that. Manapul and Buccellato reward the longtime reader. And if you're not a longtime reader, like I once was, you can easily get all the back issues on your phone.

And I haven't even mentioned the art yet! You just don't see very many comics out there that are as beautiful and thoughtful as The Flash. Manapul loves to play with creative layout designs, and I really enjoy his game of hiding the words "DC Comics Proudly Presents The Flash." But most importantly, I feel like Manapul has an excellent understanding of the limitations and benefits of the comic book medium. He's not just illustrating a storyboard — he's telling stories through his art in ways that can only be accomplished in a comic. If you just read the captions and word balloons, then you will be missing a big chunk of the story. I love going back to past issues to find clues hidden in the background, and Manapul never disappoints on that front.

And, of course, let's not forget Buccellato's brilliant coloring! He somehow manages to be bold and colorful while not being too bright and brash. There is a beautiful subtlety in his work, and it perfectly compliments Manapul's work. And, as Buccellato has recently demonstrated, he can take over the writing duties himself and the story won't miss a beat. Manapul and Buccellato are the perfect team, and they seem to be genuinely nice guys from the limited interactions I've had with them through Twitter.

Now, I always knew, deep down, that these two guys couldn't and wouldn't keep working on The Flash forever. In this day and age, it's rare for one creative team to last more than 12 issues. It felt like the logical spot for them to get off would be at the end of the Reverse-Flash story line. But then I saw they'd be doing a Zero Year tie-in after that, so I had hope they'd keep going for another year or so. Alas, that was not to be. However, there is something poetic about ending a run with a pre-origin story.

The good news is these two have not left DC in a controversial fight with the editorial board like too many creators have been doing. Manapul and Buccellato will start work on a new character in March 2014, and as Manapul tweeted me, they'll stay on that through 2015. So there's no reason to go into mourning.

But now, what does this mean for me and this blog? I've also always known, deep down, that there would come the day that I wouldn't be able to continue this blog. I'm single with plenty of free time to maintain this site, but that could easily change one day. Therefore, it seems only fitting that I close my complete coverage after the Manapul-Buccellato run ends with issue #25 (25 is my favorite number, coincidentally). Many Flash fans are asking who the next creative team for The Flash will be, but I'm more interested in which title Manapul and Buccellato are going to take over. I hate to admit this on a Flash blog, but I think I'm a bigger fan of Manapul and Buccellato than I am of the Flash.

But nothing is set in stone! I could keep this blog going for years to come. In the meantime, I will end this post by thanking Manapul and Buccellato for everything they've given me so far. I eagerly await their future work, be it on The Flash or anywhere else!

Justice League Dark #21

"Horror City Conclusion: Die Die Die My Darling!"

Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire Writers
Mikel Janin Art
Vicente Cifuentes Finishes, pages 11-20
Jeromy Cox Colors
Rob Leigh Letters
Kate Stewart Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Senior Editor
Swamp Thing created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson

The cover is by Mikel Janin, and it's alright, I guess. Kinda boring for the conclusion of a big story that featured two guest heroes, but whatever. The art is very nice, as is the effect on Deadman's transparency. Since I haven't been reading Justice League Dark, I don't know if I'm supposed to be shocked that these two are (almost) kissing. And what's with the hooded skeletons in the background?

This issue starts with Madame Xanadu seeing a vision of the future twenty years from now. Doctor Destiny has conquered the world and slain all the heroes. Deadman possesses John Constantine so he can hold Xanadu in his embrace for one last time as Destiny causes a massive explosion.

Now, in the House of Mystery in Manhattan, Xanadu, Deadman and Constantine are facing off Doctor Destiny. Xanadu confirms that he is her son, just as Frankenstein rather unexpectedly joins the party. He chases after a demon, which lures him to the den of fire feeders to torture the fire-hating hero.

Outside the House of Mystery, the Flash continues to protect people from Destiny's nightmares. Flash is still having a hard time comprehending this magical-based adventure, but he does admit he's taken a liking to Justice League Dark — except for John Constantine. And to his surprise, Flash actually feels at home on this group mission.

Back in the house, Xanadu and Constantine occupy Destiny, while Deadman rescues Swamp Thing, who creates a bunch of clones of himself to help the heroes. Deadman then somehow possesses the entire house and uses its magic to help subdue Doctor Destiny. With all the nightmares gone, Flash joins the party and quickly rescues Frankenstein.

The entire team then gathers to confront Doctor Destiny, and to everybody's surprise, Madame Xanadu kills her son. She refuses to explain anything or tell anybody who his father was, and she sadly walks away alone, shunning even the company of Deadman.

The Good:

The art, as usual, was very nice — although not on a level where I would recommend this issue just for the art. And it was nice to see the Flash continued to be represented well here, even though his role was greatly diminished. He was basically just brought in to take out the nightmares, but he was courteous enough to stay till the end.

The Bad:

The story. This issue was not as tightly-written as the past two were. We were building up a pretty good adventure here with Flash and Swamp Thing as guest stars, and then all of a sudden, it just ended. Things happened, and the story was over. Why did Frankenstein suddenly stop protecting the civilians and jump into the house to start chasing a demon? And what was going on with Xanadu's vision — 20 years? Isn't that a bit much? Also, what exactly was Doctor Destiny's plan, and who was using him and why? I feel like all these questions would have been answered had this story not been forced to end so quickly for Trinity War.

Final score: 4 out of 10

Next time: My next post will be number 75, and I've been debating whether I should do something special. But then I found out today that Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato will be leaving The Flash, so I decided to do a special goodbye post to them.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Justice League Dark #20

"Horror City Part 2: The Nightmare Gospel"

Ray Fawkes and Jeff Lemire Writers
Mikel Janin Layouts
Vicente Cifuentes Finishes
Jeromy Cox Colors
Rob Leigh Letters
Kate Stewart Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Senior Editor
Swamp Thing created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson

The cover is by Mikel Janin, and while it is drawn well and is quite exciting, it depicts a scene that flat out does not happen in this issue. It would've been cool for the Flash and Swamp Thing to have to team up to take down a possessed Justice League Dark, but nothing of the sort occurs here. As I said previously, the cover to issue #19 would have worked better for this issue — similar to how the cover of Flash #19 should've been with Flash #20 — but DC wanted to have all comics in that month feature the fold-out cover. Delaying it one month for a couple of issues was apparently out of the question.

We start with Doctor Destiny siphoning off power from Swamp Thing in the House of Destiny. He quotes strange scripture and gloats over how he's unleashed a world of nightmares on New York.

Meanwhile, the Flash learns that Frankenstein is actually a good guy, and his real son was killed months ago. This "son" of Frankenstein lunges at the Flash, but he just vibrates through him, and doing so causes the nightmare to disappear. Flash examines the "wife" of Frankenstein, and discovers that she is also a nightmare, simply made of energy — similar to Green Lantern's constructs. Flash causes her to disappear as well, and Frankenstein asks him what he's doing in the sewers of New York.

Flash says he was merely passing through the city when the nightmares showed up, and he was about to call in the Justice League when his signal device picked up Frankenstein's transmission. Frankenstein doesn't believe he has a transmitter, but quickly surmises that Steve Trevor secretly implanted one on him. Frankenstein suggest they find Madame Xanadu first, so Flash finds her in the graveyard, takes out her nightmares, and takes her to the sewer almost before Frankenstein can finish talking.

The three of them then quickly find Deadman and save him from his nightmares, but they have a little more trouble with John Constantine. He's under duress from a few clones of himself made up of his blood, and they quickly cast a spell to freeze the Flash in a block of ice. Eventually, Madame Xanadu reminds Constantine of the incantation to pull the bloody clones back into his own body.

Now that the team's reassembled, everybody starts blaming John Constantine for putting them in this mess — and they're kind of justified. But Flash convinces them all to stick together, so they lay out a plan. First, they need to find the House of Mystery, which Flash accomplishes in just a few seconds. Once they get there, Frankenstein and Flash decide to stay outside to protect civilians from the nightmares, while Constantine, Xanadu and Deadman enter the house, only to be greeted by Doctor Destiny, who refers to Xanadu as his mother.

The Good:

Nice Flash cameo. I've been waiting for a great Flash cameo like this — where he helps save the day and stays true to character. Although I didn't understand why Flash initially vibrated through Frankenstein's son, I was very happy to see that Flash ended up being the key to taking down these nightmares, thereby justifying the guest appearance. And Fawkes and Lemire proved they have a strong understanding of the Flash's character, as they made him the moral voice of the team — the one guy keeping everybody together. (Geoff Johns should be taking notes.) Although it does feel rather random to include Flash in this world of magic, I wouldn't mind seeing him make some more appearances in Justice League Dark because I know I can trust this creative team to handle him properly.

The Bad:

I'm not a fan of magic and nightmares and other abstract stuff like that. (I prefer more down-to-Earth stories about a man who can run at the speed of light.) But I never really felt much of a threat in this issue. Sure, Swamp Thing is being tortured, but I know he can handle it. But are these nightmares actually causing physical harm to people, or are they just illusions in the mind scaring everybody? I guess that's just mainly my problem with Doctor Destiny. Oh no, don't give me a scary nightmare! I'll having trouble sleeping at night!

Final score: 6 out of 10

Next: The forbidden future of Justice League Dark

Monday, September 2, 2013

Justice League Dark #19

"Horror City Part 1: House of Misery"

Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes Writers
Mikel Janin Layouts
Vicente Cifuentes Finishes
Jeromy Cox Colors
Rob Leigh Letters
Kate Stewart Assistant Editor
Brian Cunningham Senior Editor
Swamp Thing created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson

The cover is by Mikel Janin, and it is fortunately the final WTF cover I'll review. Once again, the Flash is featured prominently, although he plays a rather minor role in this issue. Actually, this would have been the perfect cover for Justice League Dark #20, but DC insisted on having all the WTF covers in April, so this is what we got stuck with. Overall, though, I rather enjoy Janin's style, and even though he didn't finish his art on the inside pages, they still looked pretty good.

We start this story with John Constantine at a horse race track. He wins a bet on a long shot, much to his dismay for some reason. When he goes to collect his money, the tiller instead hands him a note, which reads, "The cold flame burns." Constantine is then caught in a massive explosion.

We cut to ARGUS headquarters, where Steve Trevor is offering Deadman a spot on the Justice League of America — if he's willing to spy on the Justice League Dark. But before Deadman can answer, he feels a massive quake in the ethereal plane, and rushes to Greenwich Village, N.Y., to meet up with Madame Xanadu, Frankenstein and Constantine. Constantine tells them that he survived the explosion by putting up a protective spell at the last second, but doing so caused him to lose his psychic connection to the House of Mystery, which has now been stolen.

To help them find the house, Constantine summons Swamp Thing, who reaches out and connects to the enchanted wood. But it turns out to be a trap, and our heroes are scattered, while a legion of nightmares descends on the city. Constantine faces a bloody version of himself, Deadman meets cannibal versions of his old circus gang, and Xanadu is attacked by the skeletons of all her former lovers. Frankenstein ends up in the sewer, and he sees his wife being attacked by his evil son. The four-armed monster then goes after his father, when both of them are hit by some lightning. But the lightning turns out to be the Flash.

We then see that the House of Mystery is on Fifth Avenue, and Swamp Thing is being held captive there by the mastermind of this plot — Doctor Destiny.

The Good:

I think I was in a big rush the first time I read this, because it really confused me, and I was prepared to give this a poor review. But after re-reading this issue, it suddenly made sense, and was pretty fun. I still don't understand why Constantine wanted to lose that bet, but in the whole of the issue, that doesn't really matter. And even though I'm naturally inclined to be resistant to magic-based stories, I really didn't mind what was happening here. It's still not my favorite, but I can appreciate some aspect of it.

The Bad:

Yeah, the Flash is hardly in this issue, but I really liked his entrance. It wasn't just a red blur zooming by, but there was that element of lightning added in. And ultimately, I like the idea of Flash just randomly bumping into Frankenstein. Yeah, they would never meet or team up normally, but if they both live in the same world, odds are they'll run into each other eventually. I just wish Flash wasn't placed in the front and center of the cover. I think this would have been a lot better had the Flash's appearance been a complete surprise. But, putting the Flash on the cover helps sell comics ... which, ironically, is something Jim Lee largely ignored during his run on Justice League.

Final score: 5 out of 10

Next: A Flash in the darkness!