Drew: Endings are hard. Part of it is simply that people tend to struggle with goodbyes — we hate to let a good thing go — and part of it is that they’re inherently unnatural. Short of every character dying, there’s always more story that could be told (not to be confused with the story that should be told). Attempting to “end” a run in a serialized setting is doubly tricky, as a creator’s desire to wrap things up neatly is at odds with the fact that the story isn’t actually ending. Technically, Flash 24 isn’t Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato’s final issue on the series (their “last” issue is 25, and Buccellato is actually coming back for three more with Rogues Rebellion artist Patrick Zircher), but it features such a clean, unlabored assertion of their thesis, concluding their run while pointing the way forward for the series, it works beautifully as a farewell.
The issue opens with Daniel West killing his father — in front of his and Iris’ child selves. Each action causes him to hulk-out a little more, as he causes ever more trauma to his past self. Once Iris reveals her disgust with Daniel, Barry is able to convince him to give up his power, and Barry carries them back to the present, erasing the damage Daniel had done to the past. However, Barry very pointedly doesn’t erase the murders Daniel committed in the present, very strongly asserting that you don’t mess with the past — we won’t be getting any Battle of the Atom causation-wankery here. Whatever happened, happened, but more because of Barry’s sense of responsibility than the rules of time travel.
More importantly, Barry asserts that he won’t go back in time to save his mother. Part of this likely ties into Iris’ admonition of David at the end — that our past is what makes us who we are — but there’s also a world of meta-commentary at play here. When we discussed the Zero issue, I asserted that Manapul and Buccellato’s treatment of Barry’s mother’s death (and his father’s possible role in it) walked a fine line, holding on to that particularly controversial piece of Barry’s past, while offering an olive branch to those who didn’t like it. This goes a step further, suggesting that Barry could remove this unpopular addition to his backstory, but having him expressly choosing to keep it. It cements this version of Barry’s past as THE version of Barry’s past, but this issue also points out that the past isn’t everything. David’s preoccupation with “fixing” his past got him nowhere, a lesson that grumbling continuity-philes would do well to remember.
Of course, that message doesn’t just imply to changes in continuity Buccellato and Manapul inherited. The latter half of this issue finds Barry joining Patty at her parent’s anniversary and otherwise recommitting himself to her. Indeed, part of why he’s so afraid of altering the past is that it might take Patty away from him. Any fans clamoring for the speediest return of the pre-reboot status quo would be sentencing Patty and Barry’s relationship to death. That might not mean much in the face of Barry’s much longer-standing relationship with Iris, but it reasserts the decision as character (rather than editorial) based.
Again, though, this issue is more about the future than it is about the past. “Move forward” has been the thesis of Manapul and Buccellato’s run, and they manage to impart it with several meanings here. It allows Barry to defeat Daniel philosophically. It gives Barry new purpose in investigating his mother’s murder. It points fans away from Barry’s history, and out towards his future. And, not to be forgotten, it sends Manapul and Buccellato on to the greener pastures of Detective Comics. That last piece is particularly salient as the issue winds to its close:
It’s a very clear justification for moving on, and while it encourages us to move on with them, Manapul and Buccellato take care to assure us of the enduring quality of the Flash. Like Barry says, “I will always keep running,” with or without his beloved writer/artist team.
This issue concludes the run so well, I’m torn about more issues from this creative team. On the one hand, I’m almost desperate for more Flash from these guys, on the other, I’d hate to mar one of the best exits I’ve ever seen from a creative team. What do you think, Scott: were you as impressed with this ending as I was? Does it make you want more Flash from Manapul and Buccellato, or are you also torn about letting this ending stand untouched?
Scott: This could definitely stand as Manapul and Buccellato’s final chapter of Flash. It’s a near perfect ending, both in terms of reinforcing the major themes of the series, and in the progression of the story they’re telling. It makes for a very clean breaking point. In fact, having them stick around to wade a little ways out into a new storyline seems like it could only muddy up the transition to the next creative team. Why wouldn’t they want to just leave things off here? I’m assuming Manapul and Buccellato intend for this issue to be viewed as their “finale”, while next month’s issue (and any they contribute to thereafter) will be geared more towards setting new ideas in motion for their successors.
More than anything, I will miss the artistic flair this team brings to Flash. This title demands an ambitious art crew, and Manapul and Buccellato have always been up to the challenge, consistently inventing new ways to show just how fast Barry is – like when we see him racing alongside a thin black cloud, only to realize he’s running down an out-of-control jet. They’re inventive when it comes to the little details, too, like when young Iris calls adult Daniel a monster and he catches a glimpse of himself in a piece of broken glass on the floor.
It’s a completely disorienting page at first glance, but the ultimate effect is quite powerful. It’s the moment where Daniel realizes he’s accomplishing the opposite of what he set out to do – that his approach to fixing his life and winning Iris over is totally upside-down. It’s been a joy to see such unique layouts month in and month out, and I’m hoping they bring the same creativity and enthusiasm to their art in Detective Comics.
Drew, I think you touched on a really important aspect of this issue, which is that Barry essentially endorses many of the decisions made by the writers when he elects not to change anything in his past. If Barry went back to save his mother, you’d have to wonder why Manapul and Buccellato had her die in the first place. One of the great things about comics is that they’re passed on from storyteller to storyteller, each getting to expand and edit details to fit the story they want to tell. There’s no definitive version. That’s why Barry’s mother has to stay dead, and it’s also why Manapul and Buccellato have to move on from this title. There’s nothing more they can do with Flash — character-wise and artistically — so it’s time for a new author to add another dimension.
But not just yet.
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?