As a child, I was never a fan of The Flash. I had nothing against the character but the concept of a guy whose only power is to run really quickly hadn’t ever interested me in the same way as seemingly more multi-layered characters like Batman and Swamp Thing. Fortunately, DC Comics’ relaunch of 52 of it’s biggest titles in August of 2011 gave me the opportunity to experience some of the heroes and heroines I’d never previously read. Francis Manapul (Witchblade, Necromancer) and Brian Buccellato’s (Witchblade, Heroes) The Flash is one of the first books I picked up as part of The New 52 and, despite my initial scepticism, I’ve loved every issue so far. Thankfully, that hasn’t changed one bit with issue #8.
The thing that will instantly stand out to someone picking up this book is the artwork and presentation. Manapul and Buccellato utilise water colours and soft inking techniques that are usually associated with paintings, not the heavy outlines and hyper-bright colours that are so regularly used in superhero books. Even something as potentially silly and cartoony as Barry Allen’s costume itself looks cool and interesting. The water colours are particularly apparent in the backgrounds and always give wonderful contrast to the characters. Another unique artistic touch that has been consistent through the issues so far is the brilliant page layouts. A large image accompanied by interwoven panels tells a story in a way that a standard 5 panel page never could, the impact of almost every single page is incredible.
The main complaint I’ve had about this series so far has been the, sometimes bordering on patronising, captions used to explain things to the reader. Previously, bizarre things such as the definition of an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse, just in case you didn’t know) and hints for future issues (“This is explained in issue #6!”) have been included. I’m a big fan of leaving some mystery and letting the consumer work out what’s going on for themselves. This lack of subtlety would ruin things like the current Batman series (it would be the equivalent of Scott Snyder saying “Look, an owl! You’ll be seeing more of them later…” every few pages) and it really detracted from the otherwise phenomenal presentation. This feature has been dialled down with every issue and finally seems to be completely removed.
Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato’s partnership seems to be quite different to many writer/artist pairings in the industry today with both men contributing to the story and art (Manapul handles pencils and inks, Buccellato handles colours). The chemistry between the two is clear, every word of dialogue and monologue is well placed and thought out. The duo’s success is particularly evident in the way that the art and writing perfectly compliment each other, it’s easily as good any other book on the shelf. Another great point about this series is the development of the star of the show, Barry Allen. He is learning how to use his formidable powers, how to innovate new abilities and, possibly most importantly, deal with the consequences of his actions. Genuine character development can be a rare thing for well established superheroes so seeing The Flash actually learn things that carry with him in to future issues is a delight. The major development in The Flash #8, however, is the origins and background of the source of his powers, known as The Speed Force. The Speed Force is extremely powerful (it literally made the universe this story is set in) and is, at least to our knowledge, neither a force for good nor evil. Exploration of such a thing could easily turn in to a “bitten off more than you can chew” situation but, in this case, it adds intriguing insight and twists in to it’s influence on the history of Earth itself.
Unfortunately, the villain of the piece is somewhat forgettable. A man named Hynes, now calling himself Turbine and dressing like a superhero for some reason, helps brings real reasons for some of the bizarre events from earlier issues but fails to hit the emotional notes he seems to be aiming for. We will almost certainly see him again and I’m sure he has the potential to become much more than we saw in this issue.
The last few pages, building up the return of The Flash’s most iconic Rogue, are a fantastic cliffhanger ending that will leave any reader wanting next month to get here as soon as possible.
The very minor flaws, namely Turbine, do nothing to detract from the overall incredible quality of The Flash #8. Put simply, The Flash is one of the most interesting and unique superhero series’ around today and should be picked up by anyone and everyone.
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