The Flash 0

Today,  Patrick and Drew are discussing The Flash 0, originally released September 26, 2012. The Flash 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.

Patrick: This issue is essentially the two discrete pieces of Barry Allen origin story that you might already be familiar with. DISCRETE PORTION A: Barry’s mother was murdered when he was a child. His father was arrested for the crime and Barry became a forensic scientist in the hope of catching the real killer and clearing his father’s name. DISCRETE PORTION B: Barry is struck with lightning and doused with chemicals, transforming him into the Fastest Man Alive. Previously, Geoff Johns’ The Flash: Rebirth attempted to dovetail these discrete story points mythologically — and that’s the best tool in his tool box, so I can’t fault him for using it. Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, revisit these moments and connect them emotionally. It is a story at once more sensible, more compact and more powerful.

The night that Barry Allen is struck by lightning is the same night his father confesses: “You’ve wasted enough of your time… on a guilty man. I killed your mother.” The accident in the lab hospitalizes Barry, giving him long quiet days to reflect on the relationship between his parents before his mother died. Barry had been so convinced that his father was incapable of murdering his mother, but upon reflection, their home life wasn’t so great. And it’s the memory of coming home to find his house awash in crime scene tape that snaps Barry back to reality, back to the present. Mind you, his reality is now that he moves so quickly, he accidentally ran across the goddamn ocean.

Seeing that Barry’s a cop and was effectively raised by a cop, he constructs a costume and uses this new-found abilities to fight crime. One such crimebusting session lands a bank robber in jail. Barry visits his father again — this is first time since the accident and Henry’s admission of guilt. Before Barry can make whatever point he planned on making to his father, he assists the prison guards in subduing that same robber he brought in the other day. The commotion almost gives Henry the opportunity to escape, but Barry nixes that too. “When you get out of here,” Barry says “it will be as a free man… after I prove your innocence.”

And this is the emotional niche I alluded to above. Barry lived so much of his life as a consequence of his mother’s murder. The loss of both of his parents was too much to handle and his mind created a need to discover his father’s innocence. There’s a pretty clear analogue to Batman here — depending on where Bats is in his evolution, his devotion to the cape and cowl is obligatory. He simply cannot let his parents down. Which makes the Batman identity something of a burden. That was Barry’s pre-Flash life — a burden. This life ends when Barry’s father claims to have murdered his mother. It’s a crossroads kind of moment, and whether we believe the confession or not, Barry’s relieved of his obligation. Coincidentally, he’s almost killed by a magical lightning bolt that evening. Manapul and Buccellato make this connection explicit.

Less is explicit is that Barry spends the rest of the issue reconstructing his life as he best sees fit. He builds the costume, comes up with a insignia for his chest, even toils over a name (it took him “forever” to come up with Flash). But Barry’s also free to make the choice that he’s going to continue to investigate his mother’s murder. He reiterates the words of his adopted-father to his real father: “People lie… but the evidence… that doesn’t.” Barry still wants to prove his father’s innocence, but it’s no longer an obligation. It’s a wonderful affirmation of the character’s agency to state that he’s not a victim of circumstance, no matter how shitty those circumstances might have been.

I have to admit to being a little bit a baby where this issue is concerned. Manapul’s drawings of Barry trigger an insane amount of empathy from me, so when the man illustrates a child-version of the character in a moment of pure hopelessness, it socks me right in the gut. This is all aided by Buccellato’s  colors, which are working overtime to distinguish various layers of flashback AND inform the tone of a give scene. Their work together is so simple, but it’s comprised of only right choices. Look how effectively this panel uses clear shapes and a limited color palette to show you exactly what’s going on and exactly how these characters feel.

Drew, there should be some sort of running counter for how many times you and I mention LOST in these write-ups. This issue uses the traditional LOST storytelling tactic of weaving a flashback in with a forward moving story. Like the most successful episodes of LOST, emotional explosions from the past and the present are presented simultaneously. Barry wakes up, tears in his eyes and already running, just as his memories dwell on the time, tears in his eyes, he ran on to his mother’s murder scene.

He’s just such a sympathetic character. And it’s wonderful to see him surrounded by normal people who care about him. So much of the series has been about what it means to be the Fastest Man Alive, but this might have been the first issue about what it means to be Barry Allen.

Drew, what’d you think? I know the Annual had you pumped up to read a prequel story — did this measure up to your expectations?
Drew: Full disclosure time: before the relaunch, I had never read a flash comic. No  pre-crisis Barry, post-crisis Wally, hell, no Bart or Jay stories, either. I had some familiarity with the character — mostly through the Justice League animated series — but every Flash comic I’ve read has been crafted by Manapul and Buceellato. I’ve liked it so much, I’ve looked into reading more Flash history, but as I’ve noted before, that shit is crazy. One thing I do know, though, is that the “Henry Allen kills Nora Allen” is a relatively new — and controversial — piece of Barry’s history, so I was particularly curious to see how this creative team navigated those waters. You’re right, Patrick, the origin inherently lends itself to comparisons to Batman — the main reason people weren’t happy with it — but in suggesting that Barry used to be burdened by his obligation, Manapul and Buccellato are making amends for the fans who prefer their Barry to be driven by ideals of justice, not personal tragedy.

In essence, this issue assures us that — at least as long as he’s been the Flash — Barry hasn’t been motivated by the circumstances with his parents. Sure, it drove him to become a forensic scientist, but he was done being burdened by his mother’s death before he was struck by lightening. This allows Manapul and Buccellato to appease both camps: the fans (and possibly DC Editorial) who liked the whole “dad kills mom” thing, and the Flash purists who saw it as an unnecessarily dark addition to Barry’s past.

In focusing on Barry’s relationship to Darryl Frye, Manapul and Buccellato add another layer of subtext — adorably — that Barry had two dads. Of course, Henry and Darryl aren’t simply surrogates for the creative team. I suspect that they may represent the editorial and creative forces, respectively, at play in this title. Where Henry’s very existence forces Barry to deal with horrible memories from his past, Darryl is a much more nurturing figure, making much more profound emotional connections with a person he pointedly isn’t the father of. This leaves Barry in the middle as the audience surrogate — the enthusiastic kid who just wants to read some comics.

I don’t mean to paint DC Editorial as total monsters, and I can’t claim to know whose decision it was to stick with Johns’ version of Barry’s past…but I can suspect where Johns fell on the whole issue. Many of the titles I’m reading afford me the luxury of forgetting that comics are often a very editor-driven medium, but I’ve certainly felt their fingerprints on this title, what with Wally West being disappeared, and the total moratorium on even hinting at his existence. I’m not sure exactly how to read Barry’s decision to continue working to exonerate his father — exactly how knowingly is Barry’s faith misplaced? — but it’s clear that Manapul and Buccellato don’t want to vilify DC Editorial. For better or for worse, they love the old bastards.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter — Manapul and Buccellato could spin gold out of any circumstance. For all the meta-text about possibly being forced into acknowledging DISCRETE PORTION A, they build a strikingly compelling narrative around it. As in Barry’s life, these circumstances aren’t always pleasant, but all contribute to the events that make him the Flash. It’s a smart, mature, and practical way to approach unpopular editorial decisions, packaged in one of the smartest, most gorgeous titles for sale.

So to answer your question, Patrick: yeah, this issue more than met my expectations.

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?

20 comments on “The Flash 0

  1. I agree, the duo of Manapul and Buccellato have made the Flash a book I enjoy every month. Francis’ clean lines and Brian’s watercolor-style colors have made the book a reflection of Barry Allen: Light, fast, open, and innocent. I always think of Barry as one of the best men of the DC universe. He’s devoted to justice without being obsessed, honest, fair, and willing to give you the benefit of the doubt until evidence says otherwise.

    • Yeah, this is a great example of the trifecta of success: great character, great writing, and great art. I have absolute confidence in this team to keep turning out fantastic issues as long as they’re around.

  2. This was just nice. I really don’t want o criticize The Flash for being ‘too fast-paced’ but with the recent villian-per-issue motif and the fact that some isssues have suprisingly little Flash in them it was nice to have a Barry issue – even if it was an origin rehash. The did it well enough that it can stand as the ‘official New 52 Flash origin’ and all of the necessary details are there. I like the Secret Origins approach to a zero issue and I wish more books would have done it and done it well

      • How about that! Thanks for the link…though I’m not sure the presence of Daniel West is any more indicative of Wally’s return than the presence of Iris was in those first few issues. While it’s possible that DC has changed their tune, it’s also possible Manapul and Buccellato are working a very long game hoping that DC eventually gives the go ahead on Wally. I don’t pay close enough attention to numbers to know if there’s a big enough incentive for DC to bring Wally back, but I think that’s the only way I could see them changing their mind so quickly.

        • Well, Iris has historically been Barry’s love interest since way back when so her inclusion is no more suprising than Lois Lane’s presence in Superman, but the DC blog using the phrase “the West family” and hyping future repurcussions may be something a little bit more… Who knows, though. We’ll see eventually 🙂

  3. I loved this issue. I reread it in the airport and had to keep myself from getting emotional because it was such a personal story.

    One of my favorite things about this title is the subtleties. In Barry’s room there is a poster of a speed skater and when he first talks to Cap Freye they are at a jogging park. Every scene relates to speed and it flows perfectly. As far as the West reference, only time will tell.

    • I also like the idea that a speed skater references both Flash and Captain Cold, kind of forecasting the whole future-conflict.

      I don’t get teary at a lot of comic books, but this one totally worked on me. Again, I think it’s because I’m just a sucker for Barry Allen as drawn by Francis Manapul, but this all totally worked on me in the basest level possible.

      • That’s true, especially for those heroes who only have their chin exposed. Imagine Batman with a goatee, heh. Actually, Hal Jordan would look pretty stellar rocking a full beard. Trimmed, but full. He’d be unstoppable then.

        I wonder since Barry, most likely, has a faster metabolic rate could he grow a beard faster? It’s shown in Flashpoint he heals from his lightning bolt strike faster once endowed with the speed force and is even hinted at here since this is the EARLY stages. Sometimes I think to myself that being The Flash would be fantastic, then I wonder about having to eat all the time to maintain stamina and worrying about five o’clock shadow growing in after I shaved two hours beforehand. This is why shutting off the nerd brain while reading comics can be a wonderful thing.

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