«

»

WHttDCnU? – The Flash: Move Forward

WHTTDCU-Titles-035

Hello all, and welcome back to Whatever Happened to the DC New Universe? Launch week rolls on as we release the second review!

This time, we take a look at the hero who’s actions created the New 52, and explore what is probably the biggest reboot of a hero in this new world. That’s right, we’re talking about The fastest man alive, the Flash himself, and who better to review him than our own resident Speedster, Trailblazer! Along for the ride is the Vigil, and if anyone can unravel the mystery of where exactly Flash’s costume comes from, it’s these two. But with a new face, a new universe and a new story, does Flash hit the ground running, or trip over the starting line? Find out, as the Ultima Society reviews Flash: Move Forward!

– Prof. Badger

WHTTDCNU-synopsis
trailblazer-rForensic police officer Barry Allen takes coworker Patty out on a date to a local tech symposium. While there they meet with Dr Darwin Elias and talk about his prototypes for green energy public transit. Soon the symposium is stormed by ninja soldier dudes. Barry quickly costumes up as the crimson clad speedster known as the Flash and disarms most of them, following them out onto the roof as they try to flee by armoured chopper. He recovers the device they attempted to steal. But it seems Flash may have killed one in the action. When the coroners unmask the dead soldier, he turns out to be Manuel Lago, an old friend of Barry’s from police training days whom went missing years ago. It’s revealed that the Flash wasn’t responsible for Manuel’s death though, something local reporter Iris West has been chasing up interviews for on the topic of the Flash’s apparent danger to the public for excessive force, but it’s too strange how Lago died; he just sort of stopped. Barry starts doing his own investigation into Manuel Lago’s death, wondering why he was with that group, and what they wanted the device for. Iris nags him, not knowing Barry is the Flash but wanting inside police perspective. Suddenly Manuel lets himself in! Someone is after Manuel and they run. Barry slips away and changes to Flash, only to find Manuel in the custody of… two dozen other Manuel Lagos?

Flash disarms a bunch of the Manuels, calling themselves Mob Rule, but before he can rescue THE Manuel, they say they have Iris as a hostage elsewhere, and Flash concedes to trade Manuel for Iris. Later, Doc Elias wants to see just how fast Flash goes and Barry breaks all of his equipment in process. The results show his mental state isn’t moving as fast as it could when he accesses the Speed Force. While talking with Patty Barry accidentally switches this on. He thinks faster again as he talks to Iris, and with his new trick acknowledged he runs off to research Manuel’s last known movements, recalling a call for help when last they spoke. Elsewhere, the other Manuels are “expiring”, and they want this fixed, having retrieved Manuel, the key to their survival as the source of their very existence, and captured a scientist to force into doing all the experiments they want. Dr Captive flips on a machine, sending out a pulse that kills the power in the Twin cities of Central and Keystone, but sadly doesn’t result in what Mob Rule wanted. Goodbye Professor Slave-Hostage.

In the chaos of the cities wide blackouts The Flash has put a plane safely on the ground while almost killing himself, short handed police struggle to control the rioting streets, hospitals PANIC and super villain inmates of Iron Heights Prison help themselves to some freedom. Captain Cold, whom Iris had been meeting with to interview about the Flash’s apparently history of brutality, refuses to give the exclusive. While everyone is busy putting the gem cities in order, Dr Elias takes a ride out into the desert with a steam powered car, having made a discover just before the EMP dumped him everyone around him in the dark ages. He meets with some folks in the badlands, asking to test their tank which reads with the same energy signature as the sky pulse. The badlanders just trade Elias to Mob Rule though. A full night’s work behind them, Barry rejoins the rest of his police unit as they pair up to tackle more of the same. He and Patty do their own investigation, Patty having found a link between a buried cloning project and various disappearing scientists. Working their way to the lab of the last scientist on the list, they find the place inhabited with Mob Rule, and Manuel who’s missing his hands. They’re discovered by the Mob, and Barry puts himself between Mob Rule and Patty and Manuel to let them escape, preparing his mind to outmove everyone… before being killed by a shot to the head.

We flashback to Manuel’s father’s funeral, where a bitter and grieving Manuel reveals to Barry that he just made it into the CIA and will now have the means to track down his father’s killers. Back in the present, Mob Rule ride windsail vehicles through the badlands, relating the tale of their births to the doctor. They are enlisting Elias’s help because their DNA causes them to drop dead after a few months of life. They are each independent, regenerated full bodied clones of Manuel Lago, CIA trained genetically modified unkillable spooky badass whom regrew his lost digits and limbs. He went rogue from his duties while searching for Basilisk, the hijackers responsible for his father’s death, but got captured by them, and weeks of torture later resulted in something in his body clicking into gear. His dozens of cut off hands suddenly regrew as clones that finished the job of destroying Basilisk. When they started dying suddenly, it was agreed by the group that Manuel’s genetics could be researched to fix this problem, but Manuel ran away. Mob Rule felt betrayed, and sought to take Manuel’s help by force, as well as several scientists. Dr Elias has an experimental power source for green energy, and agrees to help them fix their high mortality. They need Manuel as a DNA template though, and luckily for them he’s on his way back after getting a verbal backhand by Patty, ashamed to have left Barry to die, and Mob Rule soon catch him and deliver another moral beatdown.

Barry wakes up where he was shot, having only lived because his body’s reflexes vibrated the bullet through him, only taking some bloody and skin. Berating himself for the mistake of being cocky with his think-fast ability Barry realized it almost got him killed, and goes back to using instincts alone. He puts Iron Heights prison back in order before running off to Dr Elias’s symposium green energy prototype lab, where Manuel has finally agreed to let Mob Rule work for a cure. Elias switches on his genetic recoder and his generator, and a familiar lightshow begins. As the Flash arrives, Manuel, Elias and Mob Rule all tell him to back off, Mob Rule just want to live and the process it working. But the containment seal is broken. Mob Rule will live but Manuel and everyone else will die. Flash creates a vortex to put the blast into the upper atmosphere, killing all the Manuel clones in the room. Finally hit with the enormity of the loss of his “brothers” Manuel lashes out at Flash and Elias, before running away to start a new army of Mob Rule. Elias shows the Flash some resu;ts of his research, and claims that the Speed Force is causing the EMP blasts, pulling things out of time like the badlanders’ tank, and could end the world. The Speed Force must be destroyed!

Some time later and the city is still struggling to get powers grids up and running, Captain Cold has come out to debut his new freeze powers, no longer needing freeze ray guns that the Flash is used to. Cold is currently looking for a fight with the Flash for constantly messing up his life, and most recently, endangering his ill sister’s life with the blackouts because she’s too delicate to move to a location with power for life saving brain surgery. Barry, whom has been working with Elias on his speed powers and taking time off work to be a boyfriend to Patty, now has little gizmos in his special earpieces to allow the Flash to see his Speed Force energy levels. This is so he can avoid going to fast and causing more rifts in time. The fight with Cold isn’t going well however, as the Captain has frozen a section of the city river and taking a cruise liner hostage where Barry and Patty were conveniently having lunch with Iris at the time of the attack. Eventually Cold breaks the boat in half, and to save everyone on the ship peices, The Flash has to go faster. Disables Cold. Gotta go fast. Chooses between Iris and Patty. Go faster. Rescues Patty. GO FASTER. And opens up a wormhole. Flash loses the half of the boat with Iris and five other passengers on it through the hole and rounds on Cold for aggressive questioning, only for Cold to blame him for the EMP.

Flash meets with Elias who’s prepared a special treadmill chamber for him to run on, it’ll syphon out the harmful parts of the speedforce and also charge power cells from the motion of Flash’s speed. The power cells will be distributed throughout the city including to the hospital treating Lisa Snart, Cold’s sister. Flash ignores Elias’s advise to stop running when the cells are full, intentionally opening a new wormhole and running into it, thinking that somewhere inside he’ll find Iris and the other ship hostages. On the other side, Flash finds a floating sea of dead islands and scenes from his life playing out over the “sky.” He’s attacked by a man called Turbine, a WWII pilot whom has been trapped here after being swept up by one of Flash’s wormholes. He’s been there for countless years, time doesn’t make sense, and he’s become quite familiar with Barry Allen and his adventures. Wanting out from years of maddening imprisonment, Turbine uses his acquired Speed Force motion powers to “coerce” Flash to help him get out. Turns out Flash isn’t the problem to the time rifts and wormholes, in fact he has to KEEP running to syphon off dangerous levels of Speed Force. It’s Turbine who’s been reaching out to the portals causing the massive rifts, desperate to go home. Only wanting to go back to 1944, Flash unfortunately has to bring him to the present to avoid time paradoxes. Flash is forced to leave, and in turn, leave Iris and the other lost people somewhere in the Speed Force.

WHTTDCNU-art

vigil-lThis book has solidified Francis Manapul as one of my favorite artists. Of all time. While I’ve reviewed books with good art before, like the Swamp Thing series, the Flash’s art is my favorite of all. I love practically everything about it. Brian Buccellato’s coloring, the textures, the shading, the character designs. I love that it looks hand drawn instead of being done digitally like most art is these days. I love that it really sells the Flash’s super speed and what it is like to run at super speed. I love… I love the art.

Let’s talk about something small that the art really sells: The title pages. I love how the art integrates the titles with the actual story. One of the best examples of this is in issue 6. The art shows two large columns of ice and in the ice are the words “DC Comics Proudly Presents: The Flash”. I love that.

I also have to say that I love how… warm this art feels. Whenever I see Manapul’s art, I feel like I want to be in that world that the Flash inhabits. It feels incredibly inviting. It’s part of a world where heroes exist and I feel like I would be safe in that world, even though a lot of bad things can happen there.

All in all, I don’t have much to say about Manapul’s art, but that’s because it is so damned good. It hits all the right notes that artwork should hit and it is just so damn warm and inviting. It’s probably the best art I’ve seen in all of the DC titles I’ve read.

trailblazer-r I can’t help but agree on nearly all points Vigil makes here, and rather, it’s hard to expand on it.

I was excited a long time before this series debuted for the NEW 52 that so long as the art wasn’t eye searing, I was probably going to be fine. One thing I’ve always believed though is that to really sell the look of a Flash book you not only need to draw decently, but with CHARACTER, and the cover when I first saw it had me worried. Not because there is anything wrong with it, oh no, it’s an exciting front facing Flash zooming towards us, sparks flying every which way. But this is where I have been burnt before; beautiful covers with ass ugly art on the inside.

Never have I been so happy and relieved to find the pages not only swimming in gorgeous hand coloured and hand inked work, but that the work of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato is clearly a work of love and passion. You can tell when an artist has phoned it in, and you can tell when an artist is enjoying telling the story visually just as much as they are just accompanying the words in the script. Therein lies the benefit of a story written BY artists. With both Manapul and Buccellato writing the story, they already had an advantage on how the story would play out visually, and working together could tweak the story or the art wherever and whenever needed and make creative leaps from scene to scene. And it results in a true treat for us that these guys specialized in hand colouring. For a hero like the Flash, you can do the character no greater favor than drawing him full of motion and subtleties that show his glee, his confidence and his crushing misery while allowing for panels that allow him and others to be flung around by his famous Speed Force. The details matter, but swashing those details with the charm of layers of Copic marker ink or water colours softens it, yet gives it flow. Coupled with genuinely feeling supporting characters and a rich world that has an actual sense of enormity in its environments versus its inhabitants, and The Flash vol 1 is a spectacular book to behold.

WHTTDCNU-writing
vigil-lMany people consider the best Flash writer to be Mark Waid. I respectfully disagree. Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul are the best writer/artist team and the best Flash writers in DC’s writing history. They just get the Flash and with Cart Blanche to write what they want with the Flash’s world, they utilize it to the fullest extent. I will go over Barry Allen’s character later in the characterization, but for now, I will say that he works for the story that the two of them want to tell.

As for the writing itself, it is good. The pacing is good. The dialogue is compelling. The writing and the stakes presented are compelling and we actually want to know how things are going to turn out. I want to know the true story behind Mob Rule. I want to know whether or not the city will be ok after the EMP goes off. I want to know if Flash will be able to stop Cold while trying to save two ship-fulls of civilians. These two have engrossed me into the Flash’s world and I love it.

Another thing that really puts this book above so many others I’ve read is that Buccellato and Manapul actually seem to know what they want to write. They really seem to have it all planned out and know where this series is going to go. Nothing feels like they are winging it. It feels like… yeah, we know what we are doing. And we have big plans.

Another thing I like about the writing is the serial nature of the comic. Everything feels connected. Almost nothing is standalone. Here is an example. After the end of the first arc with the defeat of Mob Rule, the ending foreshadows the return of Captain Cold and that he has a brand new ability. This leads into the next arc with satisfying payoff.

All in all, Buccellato and Manapul are my favorite Flash writers. They know what they are doing with the Flash series and they have it all planned out. And of course this planning would pay off in the reforming of the Rogues and it would signal the coming of villains like Gorilla Grodd and the new Reverse Flash. It would create a new world for the Flash. One that would greatly benefit him.

trailblazer-rSometimes we just want to jump into a story and not have to spend a saga learning about the character and what he can do. There’s no room here for origin stories, and it’s nice that the writing team of Manapul and Buccellato know better than to try and over romanticize one for us. Instead we get to stagger straight into a plot for the Flash to unravel, and treated as the intelligent readers we are to follow the clues Barry relays to us about who he is and how he’s a pretty fast dude. The storytelling style is uniquely captivating and to write a story for a fast character you need to provide him with an adversary that can out place him, and the plot of an eternally multiplying one man army is certainly a new spin on things. As is common for many hero stories though, this is less a story about the hero, and rather it’s the villain’s story, and how does the hero respond to that. With Barry’s past friendship with Manuel we have his personal stake in it to rescue his friend but as a protector he has to put the greater populace first, which puts Barry in a very uncomfortable position of having to choose whom lives and whom dies. If I had any problems with the plot of the Mob Rule story, it was that Barry’s sudden focus switch between just moving fast and thinking fast seemed altogether a weak attempt to get some of the story about him, but ultimately is a completely separate issue from the Mob Rule problem. It’s an interesting development of the character, but I feel it could have been saved for another time so that Barry could have spent more plot time being invested in Manuel’s dilemma.

What I found surprising is the sheer number of different elements and ribbons that tie into this plotline, between the time portal, the funnelling of Barry’s Speed Force to the affects it has on the cities and thereby affecting both Mob Rule and Captain Cold and sadly that brings me to the near deal breaker for me with Cold’s story. I could deal with a revenge plot, we’ve been here before and it seems a common theme that our chilly characters always have someone in need of serious medical assistence. Hmmm. But anyway, we have motivation for Cold to go nuclear winter on the Flash after the black out of the cities, and much like the first story’s subtle ways of teaching us Barry’s backstory we get an idea just how far Cold has come, how he has changed and where he and the Flash stand (or run). What I didn’t like was he seemed like a icy stepping stone just for Barry to go warping somewhere else and get all upset and powerless. Again, the concept in general wasn’t bad, the time travel and other spaces seems cool but I feel the writers were trying to do too much with too many threads so soon. I know this is the Flash, but guys, slow down a bit. It’s weird to say that for an 8 issue trade back that it feels like too much got crammed into the space.

WHTTDCNU-characterisation
vigil-lOk, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Wally West is no longer the Flash. Ok. Yes, I know Wally has an immense cult following from the JL cartoon series and the Mark Waid and Geoff Johns series. However, while I have always liked Wally, I’ve never been a mega-huge Wally fanboy. I’ve always been more of a fan of the mask than I have the man. While Barry is not exactly a deep character, he does work as the everyman that I’ve always thought the Flash was. The Flash is the hero that runs alongside the everyday human being while others fly up high. And that’s why I actually like Barry Allen a bit more than I do Wally. He’s an everyman that people can identify with. I know people like to say that “he’s boring” and all that, but I like him enough as a protagonist. He’s a good and moral man that cares about his city and the people in it. That’s good enough for me when looking for a good hero to read about.

As for the supporting cast, they are a mixed bag. I like most of Barry’s coworkers at the Central City PD. They serve well as supporting cast members and while they are not exactly developed, they are good enough, especially Captain Singh, who would later be revealed to be gay and in a secret relationship with the on and off Rogue Hartley Rathaway a.k.a. The Pied Piper.

As for Patty, Barry’s girlfriend…. Ok, I am a fan of Barry’s relationship with Iris more than I am this one. I know that this is a reboot and they have Cart Blanche to do what they want with it, but Patty is just… so… boring. I don’t know what it is, but I just don’t care about her. And the comic is telling me that I should. You know how people say that DC was saying that Hal Jordan and Barry Allen were the greatest of all time and that we should care about them? Well, this is the writers with Patty. And it’s not working.

Now, let’s talk about the other lady in Barry’s life, Iris West. …Why can’t she be in a relationship with Barry? She’s fun, compelling, and she is a damn good reporter and I actually care about her. I get that they don’t have to put them together right away, but LORDY do I wish she was with Barry now. She’s a good opposite for Barry to work off of.

Now let’s talk about the villains. Manuel Lago a.k.a. Mob Rule is a pretty interesting villain as far as his powers go. The fact that he can regenerate from a drop of blood or lost limbs is interesting as far as powers go. As for the rest of his character? I dunno, he wasn’t compelling to me. He basically spends most of the first arc running away from his duplicates and then by the end he cares enough about them and their imminent deaths to turn against the Flash. He just wasn’t really that interesting character wise, even with his history with Barry.

Now let’s talk about the other villain: Captain Cold. You know, a while back when I found out he had powers, I was kinda pissed. I felt that having powers took away from the everyman status the Rogues had as blue collar criminals that had special gadgets that put them on equal footing with the superheroes. When I actually read the Flash instead of reading about it on the internet like everyone else was doing because Wally wasn’t the Flash, my opinion changed. The powers that the Rogues had were actually harming them as well as aiding them. And Captain Cold was no exception. His hair has been turned white and he cannot touch anything liquid without it freezing up. I like that. He’s basically been fused with his Cold Gun.

As for his character, unlike Mob Rule, I actually am compelled by him as a villain. And this isn’t his first encounter with the Flash. We get a sense of the history between these two. This isn’t Batman and the Joker where their relationship is lethal and slightly homoerotic. This is a healthy respect between two longstanding foes that know each other (except for Flash’s identity) and have fought many times. There is history. There is a relationship between hero and rogue. And I like it.

trailblazer-rI like speedster characters *coughTrailBlazdercough* and there are a number of ways to write them, the most common of which is to make them seem wreckless or impatient, and sometimes even childish. I suppose these are traits that can be associated with being quick and rushing around, and hot headedness wouldn’t be out of place either. What I love about the Flash though, covering Barry, Wally West and Bart Allen, is that these are very thoughtful, sensitive heroes, whom have an extraordinary gift that they cannot allow themselves to squander. In the NEW 52 Barry Allen is nearly every bit his previous universe’s self; kind and intelligent, and even a little meek with his friends, with a strong moral code and an even stronger sense of guilt, and Manapul and Bucellato have made few changes to Barry’s format, one that I love is an explanation to those funny little wings on his ears. Even if you have never read a Flash book before, this presentation immediately conveys his dutiful and caring personality, although I admit he seems to be over thinking things a little more these days. With a brand new universe I can’t complain too much though if Barry is a touch more hesitant, he’s still extremely emotionally driven despite his apparently dialled back capabilities. The fastest man alive is allowed to have limitations.

Those whom are limited were various supporting characters whom if nothing else did flesh out the world rather well, and to start with, Manuel Lago was a confusing individual to me. In concept, his origin and his clones are unique. But he’s described to us as once being impulsive and stubborn in his training days with Barry at the police academy, before shifting into bitter toward his mother over his father’s death, and then becoming an top level one man army whom took weeks of torture without divulging a single military secret, only to ask for death, lead a surprise army of himself and then randomly RUN AWAY from himself and his responsibilities… am I the only one sensing a lot of personality scatter here? I’m unsure if this is intentional but by the time Manuel Lago spawns the legion that is Mob Rule it seems like he’s run out of personality for himself and his cowardice to appears to be literally all that’s left of himself once his clones start inheriting his past traits, making Manuel himself extremely morally unbalanced. And here we can treat the Mob Rule either as extensions of Manuel or as a character unit in their own right, as they seems to have an instant, unwavering loyalty to each other and to an extent to Lago, with all of his best abilities despite that unfortunately short lifespan, and are still individuals whom argue and make choices. Wouldn’t you freak out a bit if you just “woke up” in a room full of dozens of yous? I would. And I’d still find it disgusting that I came from someone as spineless as whom Manuel ended up being before the twisted end.

I’m going to wrap Penny or Patty or whatever up in the same bow as the rest of the Central City police department as she’s very much as part of that family wherein that they are well established only a few pages in as a tight nit team of cops that when the chips aren’t down behave more like a classroom of siblings, and Penny only bears a minimal amount of development outside of them. She’s really just sort of there, and it’s a wonder if Barry actually likes her or if he feels coerced into pursuing a relationship with her. As a love interest she’s clearly placed just to break reader expectations of Barry automatically being with Iris West, whom if I’m totally honest, annoyed the blue heck out of me. Iris is another female reporter character, and this isn’t new for the NEW 52, but what really irked me is how she’s written to really have it out for the Flash while constantly pushing and prodding Barry to the point of willingly invading his personal space for her gain. This isn’t Iris West, this is Lois Lane territory to the letter, it’s extremely unattractive and makes her seem like a selfish jerk. The time is well and truly due to have female reporter characters that don’t fall into this obnoxious category. Dr Elias is barely worth mentioning, he was smart and pleasant. Yep.

And finally I’ll touch on Cold just long enough to say that I love his new design, something that acknowledges where the character came from while giving the character growth, especially in the form of his new chill powers without the use of freeze tech. He’s upped his game while picking up new shortcomings, and I just wish he hadn’t been regulated to sad and vengeful when we have the likes of Turbine pushed into our faces. Turbine had potential, and a future team up with Weather Wizard would be sweet, but he’s yet another sympathetic villain whom seems only to be bad or selfish because of crappy circumstance. He’s a level down on Cold’s evil scale, but definitely off the chart in madness, making him actually really intimidating.

WHTTDCNU-conclusion
vigil-lThe Flash is probably one of the best single hero series out there along with Green Lantern and Scott Snyder’s Batman.

It is great.

The art is fantastic, the writing is good, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a fresh start with the Flash.

Now if you are a Wally West fan, you are not going to want to read it. Wally isn’t here and that’s probably not gonna change.

Still, if you are willing to look past that, I think you are gonna like this book.

trailblazer-rIt may seem like I’m not that satisfied with the book, and for the short list of grievances I’ve chalked up, I’m more than happy with The Flash vol. 1. Ultimately this was a book that I was so excited for as a long standing fan of the Flash, and being able to follow Barry Allen, who set the universe reboot into motion with the Flashpoint event is a company decision I’m very pleased with. Admittedly I was also playing “Where’s Wally West?” in the DCU reboot but I never wanted him INSTEAD OF Barry, and I’m still happy to be reading about possibly one of the greatest and bravest heroes in the entirety of the DCU.

This well written story sets the tone for Barry’s future endeavours as a hero, how he does the job outside of the Justice League and reveals the kind of hero he’s been during his short career. The presentation is stunning with beautiful art, between the dynamic panelling structure and the energetic and emotion exuding characters. Speedsters done right is harder than it sounds, and I think this is one of the best examples of that, and I highly recommend this series to new and veteran readers.

  • randomfan

    Well this has just made me look forward to reading this run even more, I’ll be picking it up from the comixology sale over the weekend.

  • Did you end up picking up the Flash New 52 run?

  • randomfan

    I did, but I have so many comics to read it’ll take me a while to get around to them.

  • All good! Let us know what you think when you get there 😉