Spencer: Way back at the beginning of the New 52 initiative, Justice League turned the clock back five years to show us how DC’s most iconic heroes first met. Yet, even at this early stage, two of these heroes had already met and formed one of DC’s most enduring friendships: The Flash and the Green Lantern. Now, nearly two years later, The Flash Annual 2 has arrived to finally show us their momentous first team-up. It may not be a necessary story or even the most original one, but thanks to Barry Allen and Hal Jordan’s infectiously fun relationship, it’s well worth reading.
Years ago, The Flash and Green Lantern first meet when they both investigate a rash of mysterious disappearing children. Turns out the kids have been ‘napped by aliens wishing to use them as gladiators. With The Flash’s connection to the Speed Force cut off and Green Lantern’s ring nearly out of juice, Hal is forced to negotiate with the aliens in order to save the children. Fast forward to the present; Barry and Hal’s night of improvisational jazz is interrupted by those very same aliens, calling Hal on his deal and forcing the two into the arena. They easily beat their competition but refuse to fight each other; the aliens instead trap Hal and leave Barry to battle their champion alone. His speed is fading, but Hal lends Barry his ring, and Barry is able to summon enough willpower to finish the fight with one shot. The Corps show up to arrest the aliens, and Barry and Hal reveal the lessons they’ve learned from each other.
I’ll be honest: I rolled my eyes at this scene a little. It’s kinda sappy, but it’s also announcing the story’s themes with all the subtlety of a brick. That probably wouldn’t bother me if the themes were more complicated, but the idea of two opposites learning about each other by stepping into the other’s shoes is such a well-known trope that it doesn’t need to be spelled out for us; we get it already.
Yet, while both the theme and even the overall gladiator plot are pretty thin devices, ultimately it doesn’t matter. This story is carried by the strength of Barry and Hal’s friendship alone, and their banter and emotional journey together not only make that sappy moment above feel earned, but it renders most of my complaints pretty inconsequential.
I think what makes Barry and Hal’s friendship work so well is the genuine affection between them. In a lot of ways Barry and Hal are complete opposites—Barry is patient and rational and law abiding and “boring” while Hal is impulsive and reckless and loves excitement and getting into trouble—but they still have just enough in common that their differences help bring them together instead of drive them apart. Barry and Hal especially may pick on each other, but it’s all in good fun; they may argue, but they’ll eventually make up with little fanfare; they may be guys, but in the end, after such an emotionally draining situation, they aren’t too proud or embarrassed to bare their real feelings to each other.
Not only is their friendship absolutely charming, but it’s realistic too. As a male near these two’s ages myself (I still can’t get over that) I see similar friendships among my guy friends, and it’s a joy to see that kind of relationship staring back at me in such a positive light.
Seriously, their battle even concludes with Barry shooting their enemy in the balls; if that isn’t how most “Guy’s Nights Out” end, then I must be hanging out in the wrong places.
That sense of humor is also a huge part of what makes both this story and Barry and Hal’s friendship work. Writer Brian Buccellato is firing on all cylinders when it comes to the story’s humor; not only do pretty much all the jokes hit the mark, but they’re all true to Barry and Hal’s personality and help to explore the way the two heroes relate to each other.
Jokes based on secret identities are always the best!
Then there’s the artwork. I don’t know about you guys, but personally, when I pick up an issue of The Flash and don’t see Francis Manapul’s name on the cover, it can be a real bummer. Fortunately, penciller/inker Sami Basri does fine work on this story, so I can’t say the bad vibes lasted very long. Basri may not have Manapul’s prodigious layout skills (it’s not an insult; few do), but his characters are expressive and well proportioned and his fight scenes have an excellent flow.
As enjoyable as Basri’s work is, though, the real MVP on the art team might just be the colorists, Stellar Labs. Their bright colors fit both Basri’s pencils and the more humorous tone of the book, but where their work really stands out is with some of the more special effects. I love the way they render the speed lines that follow The Flash, and I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that they’ve helped create perhaps my favorite interpretation of Green Lantern constructs ever.
The handling of these constructs reminds me of how Jim Lee rendered them back on his Justice League run, except with 1000% more clarity. I can actually make these constructs out, but they’ve still got that otherworldly, ethereal glow that helps make them stand out. Color me impressed.
Much to my surprise, there was also a back-up story tucked away in this annual. I’ll be straight-up with you guys: by the last page, I was starting to tear up. Mik! Did it have a similar effect on you? (Be honest!) And how about the main story? Were you as sold on Hal and Barry’s bromance as I was, or were you expecting something a little more substantial? And what kind of music does Hal listen to?
Mikyzptlk: While I certainly wouldn’t have minded a more substantial story, I’m not disappointed I didn’t get one. Actually, I was pleasantly reminded of the old The Brave and the Bold series, which often featured team-ups with various heroes, Barry and Hal included. The simpler story featured in this annual gave off a kind of silver-age feel, which is definitely welcome in today’s era of “Nolan” this and “New 52” that. The title of this issue even seems to play off of the title of the old team-up anthology series.
Like you said Spencer, there was definitely some sap, but it was totally a fun look back at the history of these two characters. As for what kind of music Hal prefers? I’m going to have to go with Classic Rock on this one. I just can’t think of anything else Hal would want to listen to as he road-trips throughout the cosmos.
Since you’ve already covered the main story though, let’s move on to the back-up that had you choked up. I can’t say that it had the same effect on me, though I did enjoy the “day in the life” story presented. Nicole Dubuc, who is apparently the first woman to write The Flash, presents us with another relatively simple but satisfying tale of our titular hero. The theme of story is established early on revealing, “The smallest things can have a huge effect. Problem is, you never know what those things will be.”
The story, initially set two years in the past, gives us a dose of life as the Flash. As he runs throughout the city, we see Flash do all kinds of good deeds for the citizens of Central City. It’s fun to see how helpful Flash is, even without the presence of talking gorillas and the like. However, as it is with all heroes, super or otherwise, the Flash can’t save everyone, even with his miraculous speed.
The man shown above has just lost his wife in a fire. As this story picks up years later, this same man threatens his apartment building with a pair of bombs. The Flash ends up saving the day (with the help of a canine companion), but the point is, you can never know all the consequences (good or bad) of what your actions (good or bad) will be. The tragedy of the loss felt by this family led a father down a very dark path, however, it also led his daughter to become a hero in her own right as an EMT.
Just like any of us, The Flash can’t truly know the consequences of his actions, but he’s going to live his life trying to “nudge the world in the right direction.” Ya know, at the end of the day, that’s not a bad philosophy to take away from ol fleet feet.
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?