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.
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