Drew: Since the reboot, The Flash (the title) has had an interesting relationship with its own history. In returning to Barry before any crises, before any sidekicks, heck, before any marriages, we get a sense that we know his future — even if it isn’t written in stone that this story will play out like the one we know. Writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato have addressed this relationship to history in the very pages of the title in question, rediscovering, challenging, and subverting elements from Barry’s own past. This month, they address the notion of destiny quite directly, offering an ingenious solution that frees them up creatively, while still honoring the memories of long-time readers.
The issue opens with a flashback of young Barry on safari, where he had a frightening run-in with a Gorilla out for blood. Jump to Gorilla City, where Barry has dropped in on Gorilla Grodd eating his own father’s brains. Grodd wants to eat Barry’s brains, too, but his elders protect him, stating that he is a prophesied messenger who will go on to save the world. Barry doesn’t know what to think, as his tumble out of the speed force has left him with amnesia. Grodd takes him prisoner, but the elders plan a mutiny, freeing Barry and explaining their prophecy. Their minds were apparently touched by the speed force generations ago, allowing them to see into the future, and more specifically, that Barry would save the world. Grodd shows up, and is pissed. His gorilla-rage jogs Barry’s memory. Barry parries Grodd’s attacks, but in his rage, Grodd destroys their time-temple. Barry tells the apes of Gorilla City that they are free of Grodd’s rule.
Meanwhile, back in the speed force, Iris and her compatriots fiddle with Barry’s lost earpiece, noting that they’ve been there for what feels like days, but haven’t grown hungry or thirsty. Back in Central City, Hartley Rathaway is trying to convince Director Singh both to allow him to turn vigilante as the Pied Piper and to make their relationship public. Singh says no on both counts, but does allow Patty to leave for Guatemala to pick up a cold case. We also get a brief glimpse of “Marco” Mardon, who is apparently about to become the Weather Wizard. When Barry arrives back in Central City, he’s happy that things seem to be back in order, but is shocked to find Dr. Elias leading an anti-Flash demonstration.
A lot of stuff happens in this issue, but man oh man is it the subtext that’s really interesting here. Barry arrives in Gorilla city with no memory, a Flash untied to his past, but only recognizable because of it — much like this title as of the reboot. Of course, he has a destiny, which was laid out years ago, in an enshrined work of sequential art; a big comic book.
Still this Barry doesn’t know who he is…until he is saved by the memories of his past. What’s happening as he fights Grodd reminds him enough of his own past to jog his memory, reminding him who he is. That this version of Barry is tied to his (and by extension, our) memories is a beautiful sentiment, and one that honors the devotion of long-time fans. It’s also illustrated gorgeously, starting with Barry’s memories, and ending with a clear affirmation of his identity.
This tribute to our collective memory is balanced by a refreshingly direct speech, where Barry himself seems to acknowledge that everyone’s destiny is singular. Manapul and Buccellato couldn’t be more clear: this Barry has his own unique destiny — he’s not on the path to repeat all of the plot-points we already know. That they have to explain this to a mass of resistant apes is only a little dig at their loyal fan-base, and a funny one at that.
The execution of the message is jaw-dropping, but the content of that message is equally inspiring, and I think is the best approach Flash fans could have hoped for. These guys clearly love the Flash, and the moments we love from his history will clearly be in the DNA of their take on him. At the same time, they’re making it crystal clear that this won’t just be a re-telling of the Flash story as we know it, so we should just go ahead and stop worrying about it. This approach has been pretty clear from issue one, but this manifesto is never redundant, and is too well-handled to be anything other than a pleasure.
The Gorilla City story is so fun and dense that the other elements barely register, but Manapul and Buccellato are doing their due diligence advancing and introducing other plot threads. I especially like the scene in the speed force, which appropriately feels apropos of nothing, but still features those great flashback backgrounds, giving us a glimpse into the psyche of all four characters in that scene.
I don’t know what’s going on with Patty, or Dr. Elias, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen with the Pied Piper or the Weather Wizard, so consider the next issue(s) teased. But honestly, this issue was such a towering achievement as a stand-alone, I’m just not ready to think about another issue just yet. It’s not like I really need help getting excited for this title, anyway. GUSH.
Patrick: Gush, indeed. This was a really fantastic issue. It’s really interesting that this one contains about as much expository information as the previous (which we gave half-a-hard-time about it), but this month’s offering goes down SO MUCH EASIER. And not just “goes down” – that sounds like it’s a chore to read this book. It’s not. And while the meta-message you identified certainly does tie everything together in a neat, and absurdly clever, little bow, I think there’s something much simpler at play here: motion. Stuff – as you so elegantly put it – happens in this issue. I mean, a city falls. It crumbles right to the ground.
You touch on so many good moments, and I think you’ve got them all pegged pretty well. But I would like to point out that the cave-drawings of the Flash are a relic of the old Flash stories. Back in the pre-Flashpoint continuity, Gorilla City had a mural that contained the whole web of speedsters, with Barry at the center. This version of the prophecy wall is obviously different than it was back in the day. Now, it seems to depict the forces upon which the Speed Force exerts the most influence, starting with the ancient Mayans, through the Gorillas, touching briefly on Turbine (they call him a sky-rider!), and then finally to Barry: the last hope for the world. So, since you didn’t make any – PREDICTION: Turbine has to play a bigger role in all of this than we’ve seen.
You know those cool images that appear in the background that give us a hyper-abridged back story for the four characters stuck in the Speed Force? (a) Those are awesome. (b) Check it out – Marissa is a model or a designer or something. (c) This is a much more fun, efficient and useful device than Geoff Johns and Jim Lee employed with Justice League just last week. (d) The revealing background details don’t stop there – everywhere you look, there’s more information to take in. Like the prophetic gorillas who have graven predictions all over their walls:
I can’t tell if that’s more of the same stuff from the Speed Force wall or if that swirling lighting is supposed to foretell something different. Or two Gorillas holding one spear? The fuck does that mean? One more visual detail that serves no purpose other than to flesh out the universe:
There’s a billboard in the background that says something about “Central” and “Protect” or “Protection” and has a big fat FLASH logo on it. In that way, the Gorillas and the humans aren’t so different – they both celebrate the Flash, but seem to be at odds with him at the same time.
And there was a LOST reference. A funny one at that! I’m increasingly convinced that Manapul and Buccellato are writing this series for you and me specifically. Hey, if that’s the case, they’re knocking this thing out of the park for 100% of that audience. It amazes me that something as subtle and nuanced as this has an audience outside of just assholes like you and me. I love it and I don’t ever want it to change.
Though, if they do change it, I’ll trust these guys to make me love that too.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?