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    Review: The Flash #1

    By | September 30th, 2011
    Posted in Reviews | % Comments

    Written and Illustrated by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato

    The Fastest Man Alive returns to his own monthly series from the writer/artist team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato! The Flash knows he can’t be everywhere at once, but what happens when he faces an all-new villain who really can! As if that’s not bad enough, this villain is a close friend!

    After years of focusing on mad science, super-power stunts, world-building, legacy-building, continuity-copping, and Rogues Rogues Rogues Rogues Rogues, The Flash finally makes steps back toward its center — but the character at the center may not be who people want. So is it still worth it? After the jump, I’ll tell you, whether you want me to or not.

    First, let’s talk about The Barry Problem. You know what I mean — maybe you fell in love with reading Flash comics in the 90s, when Mark Waid and Brian Augustyn were wedding heart and soul to convoluted continuity… with Wally. Or maybe you fell in love watching Justice Leauge Unlimited… with Wally. Or maybe you came in during Geoff Johns’s first big run on the material… with you-know-who. And now you have Barry.

    This wouldn’t be a problem if Barry Allen inspired creators to push themselves as far out onto a limb as Wally West did. Like most of DC’s Silver Age heroes, what we base our modern Barry on is an inherited clutch of phrases and adjectives, and… well. Hal Jordan gets “hotshot,” “test pilot,” “overconfident,” that sort of stuff, like he’s the James T. Kirk of outer space or something. When people think back the clock on Barry Allen, we get returns such as “science facts” and “a haircut you can set your watch to.” Barry is yet another in DC’s long line of Dads, and the young might be forgiven for finding the concept of Dad Adventures less than gripping. The proof has to come in the stories, and Flashpoint probably did more harm than good, casting Barry less as Fast Dad and more as irresponsible Time Meddler. (“Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons” is less forgivable when it irrevocably thrusts into the universe’s unwilling mouth.)

    Luckily, we have a clean slate in Flash #1, minus the inevitable way it will be compared to 60 years of published Flash history (or, more accurately, just the last 20). Unluckily, because of the second half of the previous sentence, we also have a comic book with a heavy burden on its 20 pages. Second chances aren’t rare in comics — look at Nova the Human Rocket, about to get something like his fortieth over at Marvel — but this is a high-profile book in a high-profile relaunch, starring the character around whom the excuse for the relaunch was developed. Et cetera. If we’re to like Barry Allen — no, more than like, if we’re to accept Barry Allen, this book has to make its hail mary pass right into our hands.

    What we get isn’t bad, but it isn’t a miracle, either. One of the things that I have to keep track of when I write these things is tempering my enthusiasm for change — that is, when a comic has been bad, and then publishes an issue that’s good, I have to bite back the temptation to go “this is great!!!” just because it’s not bad. Indeed, that temptation crossed my mind with Flash #1. I quit reading the book when it became more or less unreadable (forgive me, hardcore fans of The Top, all two of you) around Identity Crisis, and then proceeded to quit reading several more times since, sometimes after only a couple pages. The recent history of The Flash is a series of 90-degree turns, usually into brick walls, so it’s especially refreshing to see a book that’s so straightforward.

    Writers/artists Francis Manapul and Brian Buccelato are clearly having a lot of fun, and the book that they’ve made is fun to read — this is Flash‘s greatest strength. If they get a chance to really keep running with this, then it might even be a killer book one day. As it is, it’s a charming but slight read. What we know: Barry Allen, the Flash, is a police forensic scientist with two women in his life (a reporter ex and a co-worker current), a superheroic career screwing with everything, and a mystery on his hands. All of this is sound — especially the last part. After years of Flash being synonymous with “vague B.S. about time travel, the Rogues, legacy heroes, or any combination of the above,” it’s nice to see a story that plays to the strengths of both the Flash and Barry; after all, he’s as much detective as technician.

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    Where the book stumbles is in getting us into Barry’s head. There’s a noble effort, but it just doesn’t come across. Instead of a vivid portrait of the Fastest Thoughts Alive, highlighting his unique perspective on the world and his various emotional connections and burdens, we mostly get an IV drip of exposition and vague platitudes. (Kudos to the writers for avoiding narration in dialogue-heavy scenes and trying to get the characters across through their speech, though. That said, a caption or two saying “This is Iris, my blah blah” really wouldn’t have hurt, considering.)

    Visually, this book is exactly what the Flash needs. Layouts are both thoughtful and playful — brightly-colored and always moving, but without such frenzy that key details are lost. Manapul and Buccelato have been working together for close to a decade now, and that relationship gives their artistic collaboration an easy rapport. The whole thing looks effortless, which is one of the hardest possible things to pull off. If I’m not making it clear enough: this book have pretty pictures, make eyeballs happy.

    Like I said, Flash #1 isn’t perfect. It’s not a misstep, though — which is as crucial as anything else in setting all the dominoes back up. It’s just not breaking into a run yet. Stick with it, give it time, let these guys stretch their legs, and I think we could have something really interesting here. If nothing else, it’s probably the best possible first baby step toward taking care of the whole “Barry Problem” mindset once and for all.

    Final Verdict: 7.5 – Up and jogging

    Patrick Tobin

    Patrick Tobin (American) is likely shaming his journalism professors from the University of Glasgow by writing about comic books. Luckily, he's also written about film for The Drouth and The Directory of World Cinema: Great Britain. He can be reached via e-mail right here.