Friday, December 27, 2013

The Flash #25

"Starting Line"

Story by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato
Pencils by Chris Sprouse and Francis Manapul
Inks by Karl Story, Keith Champagne and Francis Manapul
Colors by Brian Buccellato
Letters by Carlos M. Mangual
Senior Editor Brian Cunningham
Associate Editor Harvey Richards
Editor Wil Moss
Batman created by Bob Kane

This is the last Flash cover by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato. It is really good, if not their best work. Barry looks pretty heroic, and this cover tells us exactly what we're getting inside. This is a Batman Zero Year tie-in with a pre-Flash Barry Allen. Gotham City looks good, as does the lightning bolt across a red sky. And I like that the Zero Year banner isn't too invasive. But I'm not a fan of making the Flash title transparent. It just feels weird.

Our story begins six years ago, when the Riddler apparently caused a massive blackout in Gotham right before a superstorm hit the city. To deal with this massive disaster, a call went out across the nation, seeking aid from other law enforcement departments. Barry Allen, recently graduated from the Central City Police Academy, answered the call, and headed out to Gotham to spend a week with local police. He was teamed up with Harvey Bullock and Spencer Thompson, and the three of them soon found themselves chasing down a drug addict hopped up on something called Icarus. Barry feels his partners lack a sense of urgency, so he tries to take matters into his own hands, but his rashness almost gets his shot with his own Taser. Thompson and Bullock save Barry, but the addict suddenly bursts into flames. The man dies, but the fire is extinguished by Iris West, who is interning at the Gotham Gazette and currently investigating this Icarus drug at a medical clinic full of addicts of the stuff.

The cops take the addict's corpse to the morgue, and Bullock sends Thompson home since he's been working three days straight. Bullock and Barry then head back to the medical clinic Iris was at. As soon as they arrive, the building explodes, giving them time to only save a handful of people. Thompson returns to investigate the explosion, and he and Bullock both believe it was caused by an Icarus addict spontaneously combusting. But Barry and Iris think someone else started the fire, so they stay behind.

Barry and Iris set up a makeshift lab at the Gotham Gazette and drink some beer while examining the Icarus drug. Since the drug ignites so easily at room temperature, Barry figures it had to have been made at a cold location. And since Iris was able to keep her beer cold with a block of ice from a "fish guy," the two decide to go check him out.

It turns out the fish guy agreed to smuggle in the Icarus drug in exchange for a few generators to keep his fish fresh. But as Barry and Iris arrive, the fish guy is caught in an argument about the amount of drugs being stored in his warehouse. He's then shot by Spencer Thompson, who quickly finds Barry and Iris and holds them at gunpoint, while Bullock starts to fight his way in through the back. Barry tries to save Iris, but he's beaten down by Thompson, who force-feeds Barry some Icarus. The drug causes Barry to hallucinate that he's a superhero, but he quickly catches fire. Iris is able to extinguish him, and Bullock shoots Thompson before he can kill anyone else.

After Barry is recovered and Thompson has his funeral, Barry asks Bullock why he said Thompson was killed in the line of duty. Bullock explains that Thompson wasn't the manufacturer or the supplier of the drug; he just stumbled upon it one day, and in his desperation to help his sick daughter, he made a mistake. Saying he died a hero will at least give his family some life insurance money.

And before Barry heads back to Central City, he meets with Iris and tells her that she's worth taking a beating for. The two kiss for the very first time, and Barry races off to catch his train.

The Good:

Heroic Barry. I've always liked the idea that Barry Allen was a heroic individual long before he got struck by lightning. And this issue gave us the chance to see that. He's willing to recklessly put his life in danger, and he's unwilling to let any mystery slip by him unsolved. When he later acquired super speed, he didn't suddenly decide to start helping people, but rather use that new power to improve and increase what he was already trying to do on a day-to-day basis. It would be interesting to have a new reader start with this issue and see what they think.

Iris West. She has really become one of my favorite characters, even though Barry seems content to be with Patty Spivot at the moment. But Iris is heroic, courageous and pretty, and a more than worthy enough candidate to date Barry again should anything ever happen to his relationship with Patty. But what I really liked about this issue was that we got to see the beginning of the Barry/Iris romance. Before this, we've only had a few hints and glimpses of their past relationship — and then it was usually just to show us how it failed. But here, we're able to see two young people falling in love while working together — even if it's probably not the best idea to drink beer while examining very dangerous drugs.

Harvey Bullock. Detective Bullock is one of my all-time favorite Batman characters. I absolutely loved him in Batman: The Animated Series, and I was sorely disappointed when he didn't show up in any of the Christopher Nolan films. I think he is an essential element of Gotham City and a perfect foil between Batman and Commissioner Gordon. He's too by-the-books to approve of any vigilante activity, but he's rough enough to bend the rules when the situation requires. He may appear to be a slob, but he's actually a great cop, and in my mind, there is no such thing as too many Bullock stories. Hopefully his inclusion here means Manapul and Buccellato will be using him a lot in their run on Detective Comics.

The Bad:

No Flash. It feels just wrong to have a Flash comic without the Flash in it at all. Yes, I know this was a flashback, and I already said I liked to see Barry act heroically out of costume. But it almost feels like a sin to publish a story titled The Flash and not have the red and gold costume show up anywhere. The problem with this is that the lack of the Flash (and any other superheroes) makes this feel like it's not a Flash story. It's just a regular crime adventure story. It would work perfectly on the Arrow TV show, or even in the pages of Detective Comics. But most Flash fans turn to this comic to see super heroic things happen. We like to see people run at the speed of light, time travel, control weather and more. And when you remove all that, the story feels hollow inside. Almost like a rip off. It would have helped a bit to frame the story as a flashback within the current day just so we could have at least one panel of the present-day Flash remembering this past adventure. That would have helped, but I don't think it would have completely saved this issue.

Zero Year tie-in. I'm not opposed to the idea of involving the Flash in other major crossovers — in fact, I usually support continuity-building stories. But I feel that this particular issue fell short of the usual goals of a crossover. I heard in an interview with Francis Manapul that he and Brian Buccellato always wanted to leave The Flash after issue #24. DC was more than willing to accommodate them, and even offered them the chance to move on to any other title they wanted to. So naturally they chose Detective Comics, and I don't blame them for that. I probably would've done the same thing. So anyway, a few weeks after making this decision, DC told Manapul and Buccellato about their plans to incorporate more characters into Scott Snyder's Zero Year story, and they convinced/required them to write one more Flash issue tying in to this event. So Manapul and Buccellato came back for an encore of sorts, while also returning to the beginning of their character and getting a chance to practice drawing Gotham City. All that is good and well, but it doesn't help the fact that this story had virtually nothing to do with the actual Zero Year storyline. This was a completely stand-alone tale that could have happened at any time and any place. The only thing that sort of made this a Batman story was Harvey Bullock. But Batman didn't show up beyond a brief glimpse of what could have been the edge of his cape and a vague reference from Bullock to some vigilante. So the Batman fans who picked up this issue just because they saw the Zero Year logo on the cover had to have been pretty disappointed to find a complete lack of the Dark Knight here. And Flash fans had to have been disappointed to not only  find a complete lack of the Scarlet Speedster, but to also find a story that had nothing to do with the Reverse-Flash storyline or even Forever Evil. Ultimately, I think this issue failed to convince Batman fans to read more Flash stories and Flash fans to read more Batman stories. And that's a lot of disappointment for a story that cost a dollar extra.

And thus ends the Francis Manapul run on The Flash. He worked on the character for about three years, dating back to before the New 52. He provided some really amazing, memorable stuff that gave me a greater appreciation for comics and inspired me to start this blog. Brian Buccellato will stay on The Flash for a couple more titles, so I'll keep this blog going at least through that run. Sadly this issue wasn't as good as many of the other Flash issues were, but one slight dud does nothing to diminish the magnificence of the other stories.

Final score: 6 out of 10

Next time: Continuing the Zero Year trend, Barry Allen makes a passive appearance in Batman #25.


  1. Hey, Dallin! As a fan of your blog, I would love if you continue to write Flash reviews despite M&B's absence. Plus, it would be great if you wrote a review on Grant Gustin's performance as Barry Allen in the Arrow TV show.

    1. Thank you! So far I don't have any plans to cancel this blog any time soon. Sadly, I'm going to have to pass on reviewing the Arrow episodes. I drew a firm line in the sand for myself here: only review Flash appearances in the New 52. Otherwise, I'd end up doing Injustice, Scribblenauts, DC vs. He-Man, and everything else that came up, and I'd be a bit overwhelmed. But I did find a podcast that focuses on the Flash's TV appearances: