Drew: When I interviewed Francis Manapul back in April, he expressed that he reveled at the unique expectations mandated by the New 52. Specifically, he expressed that “the best thing about knowing what people are expecting is when I change something, it seems shocking.” Subverting expectations is such a simple concept — and one so central to genre fiction in general — that you’d think it would start to lose its spark; but then again, with Manapul and Brian Buccellato on writing duties, nothing ever is that simple.
I had so much faith in what I expected of this writing team that when they changed gears, shifting into a series of more self-contained one-offs, I assumed it was at the arm twisting of DC Editorial. That assumption may not be totally off base, but it was naive of me to think that Manapul and Buccellato wouldn’t find some way to spin that directive into a shocking meditation on the very nature of expectations. I was so caught up in the faith of what I thought they wanted to do that I neglected to keep faith in their ability to turn lemons into lemonade. It speaks to their skills that they can pull this off, and to their generosity that even my lack of faith is rewarded.
The issue is broken up into five chapters, which take us back for a bit of Rogues history before catching up with the action at the end of Issue 12. The first chapter finds Barry just before the events of Issue 12, out on the salt flats, thinking about the trips he used to take here with his father. The first glimpse of Barry’s dad since the relaunch would be notable enough, but his presence here seems to serve mostly as a tease for this month’s Zero Issue. Instead, Manapul and Buccellato use the space to explore the regrets of the Fastest Man Alive as he laments never having stopped to smell the roses. Clearly, some of that remorse is tied up with his absent father, but why he’s absent hasn’t been made clear just yet.
Chapter two finds us with the Rogues of one-and-a-half years ago, looking very much like the pre-relaunch non-powered Rogues we’re already duly familiar with. Flash arrives in time to thwart their plans, but fails to keep them from escaping (offering a fun learning moment for a greenhorn Barry). Back at Rogues HQ, Leonard takes his frustrations out on the rest of the group (and a bottle of whiskey), disbanding the group so he can stumble around Central City in a drunken stupor. There, he’s approached by a young(er) Dr. Elias, who offers to give Rogues superpowers just “to see what happens.”
That carries us over to chapter 3, where something goes horribly wrong during Dr. Elias’ procedure. Lisa dies, Mirror Master is trapped in the mirror world, and the others are left with volatile abilities they can’t fully control. Chapter 4 is similarly brief, with Patty Spivot working to help an amnesia-stricken Turbine recover his memories. He starts to remember her from the images he’s spent years seeing in the Speed Force — and tells her he knows where Barry is.
Chapter 5 finds us back where issue 12 left off, with Captain Cold interfering with the Rogue’s best-laid plans. Leonard freezes Dr. Elias, assuring Barry that, “the ice will keep him alive,” before enlisting him to help fight the rest of the Rogues. It looks grim, but Barry is able to turn things around just in time to be double-crossed by Cold, leaving him half frozen. The Snarts are barely able to begin their reunion, however, as pods from Gorilla City begin falling out of the sky, releasing a pissed-off Grodd and a veritable Gorilla army.
Here I thought we were in the middle of this arc’s epic boss fight, only to find out that, no, there’s a much more epic fight on the horizon. If this issue’s cover — featuring Flash and Cold about to go toe to toe with the rest of the Rogues — got you excited, just imagine all of those characters now turning to face Gorilla Grodd and his ape horde. I’ve got to believe that that’s where this is headed. Leonard talks too much about the Rogues code of conduct to leave all of Central City high and dry — not stepping in when their abilities could save lives seems like breaking their “do not kill” rule to me — which promises next issue to be a super hero team-up adventure.
Because that’s what the Rogues are at this point: super heroes. Sure, they haven’t really earned the “hero” part of their name, but as super-powered citizens of Central City, you can bet they won’t stand by to watch it wantonly destroyed. That kind of brings us back to Leonard’s introduction of the Rogues, where he suggests that the reason they steal in the first place is because it’s the only thing they’re good at. Casting the Rogues as kind of pathetic fuck-ups with nowhere else to turn is clever, and suggests that some redemption may still be possible now that they are powered-up. I guess we’ll have to wait until October to find out.
Patrick, what did you think of the effect of having each chapter drawn by a different artist team? It was a fun showcase, at the very least. I haven’t been able to draw much more profound conclusions than that I’m very used to seeing Marcus To’s work here. They all had their moments, though. I didn’t enjoy everything about Scott Kolins’ cartoony style, but any artist who can deliver this image of a drunk Leonard Snart in his full Captain Cold outfit is alright in my book.
It was a surprising issue, and managed to somehow make me excited for both the Zero Issue and #13. At this point, making me excited for The Flash may be shooting fish in a barrel, but where most other titles have treated Zero Month as an intrusion into their stories, it means a great deal that Manapul and Buccellato have taken the care to weave their history into the present. Maybe that’s what those LOST cameos were all about?
Patrick: Oh, whether or not the LOST cameos were an intentional statement of purpose from Manapul and Buccellato is totally up for debate. But what’s seems crystal clear to me is that the narrative of LOST, and themes, concepts and ideas leveraged by its creative team, profoundly affect the way the story of The Flash unfolds. You mention the relevance of the past to the present, but the list of similarities just starts there. Flash has an ever-ballooning cast of characters, each of which could reasonably be expected to carry an entire issue. Flash concerns itself with time travel and scientific experiments, but is slavishly devoted to how this emotionally impacts the people at the heart of this science fiction nonsense. Flash recognizes that a mystery is more interesting when the question is “who?” rather than “what?”
Remember back when there was this mysterious EMP that knocked out the city’s power? Barry ended up being responsible for sending that EMP back in time. “What caused the blackout?” becomes “who caused the blackout?” And the $65,000 question that comic fans have been asking themselves since Cold’s first appeared in the New 52 “what gave the Rogues super powers?” quickly becomes “who gave the Rogues super powers?” I absolutely love that Dr. Elias set them up with this power-up machine because he was curious about what would happen. How do you guys read that? Is he curious about what’s going to happen to their bodies, or is he posing a sociological quandary? Is he – like you and I – interested in seeing the Rogues fight for the good of the city?
It’s also an incredibly dynamic choice to make Captain Cold the sole champion of Elias’ device. It means they can all resent him for the hardships they’ve had to endure (most of all Glider), but it also means that they have Cold’s will and determination to thank for any future successes they have with their powers. And while it seems like he might have won them over by the end of the issue, there are still a bunch of loose ends: Trickster, Turbine and Pied Piper. That is, of course, to say nothing of the Gorilla army at the gates.
Sorry that I blather on. I just find the Rogues endlessly fascinating. Not only do they occupy this strange morality, but they’re also extremely elemental. There’s a simplicity about what they do that’s undeniably appealing. You see this represented a couple times in this book – Cold uses ice, Heatwave uses fire, Weather Wizard uses wind and rain. It’s clean, it’s graphic, it’s clear.
I was playing Lego Batman 2 with a friend today, and he was commenting how weird it is that Superman had so many different powers: cold breath, laser eyes, x-ray vision, strength, speed, flight, etc. And we got to talking about how that’s one of the things that can make a DC superhero hard to nail down: they all have complicated power-sets. Batman has a bunch of gadgets, but he’s also the world’s greatest detective, but he’s also a skilled martial artist, but he’s also one of the richest men in the world. Even someone like Flash (who you think would have the most easily described superpower in the world: he runs fast) is actually a collection of speed-related powers. But not the Rogues. Each one does one thing.
Hey, let’s add another tally to the list of expectations Francis and Manapul subvert. Admittedly, I don’t have too much experience with comic book Annuals. But it seems clear to me that one of the things these extended issues allow the storytellers to do is to develop a more involved story without having to break it up into episodes. But here, within the supersized Annual, we get 5 distinct chapters. It’s interesting to me the way the first and forth chapters strayed from our main focus, but for seemingly opposite reasons. Chapter 1: The Flats, is purely a color-chapter. We get some good insight into Barry’s character but nothing really happens. Chapter 4: The Secret, is pure hype. Turbine indirectly tells Patty that Barry Allen is alive. Oh, and he could also tell her that Barry is the Flash – he has that information too, remember. Again, nothing much happens here. You know what it feels like? It feels like a successful execution of the concept explored in Batwoman’s ‘To Drown the World‘ arc.
And maybe Buccelatto had such a good time working on his Foster Anthology that he wanted to apply the same principals the the Flash Annual. The different takes on the Flash characters (while all still under the guiding influence of Manapul’s layouts) are pretty interesting. Each story seems to be catered to the strengths of that particular artist. Let’s just take a look a the lost little sequence from Chapter 4, and get a look at Patty’s face.
That’s some solid acting right there.
Anyway, I’m totally ready to see all of Central City’s heroes and antiheroes team up to take on the gorillas. I mean, what doesn’t sound awesome about that?
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?