One year in, and "The New 52" has now shifted to "The 52." How's it been? Steve Morris investigates in a series we're calling "One Year Later."
DC superheroes are an odd bunch of gods and science accidents, with every member of the Justice League having an element of invincibility to them. Superman and Wonder Woman obviously, but it's also hard to find a villain who'd be capable of matching up with Aquaman, Batman or Green Lantern. And up until the New 52, Flash had always been the character I understood least. Barry Allen runs very very fast. So, when in battle, how is there any threat which can match him, unless he only fights other people who can run very very fast? Yet… if the only people he fights are very very fast… what's the point in him being very very fast?
He's never seemed like a particularly readable character to me. Yet now here we are, celebrating how his book is undeniably the single best superhero comic in the entirety of the New 52. It's likeable, filled with charm and memorable characters. The action is exciting, the villains cool and the storytelling and art make for a perfect distillation of everything a comic should be. He's still very very fast, but there's also a lot more to him, and his speed isn't an unstoppable force which makes him feel overpowered in his own world.
The creative team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato are one of the finest in comics right now, just purely on an artistic level. Manapul's layouts and pencils are stunning, delivering exciting, dynamic pages whilst still leaving room for the writing to hook readers in. Whilst Batwoman looks great, you could hardly call it guilty of having too many word balloons. Manapul's art is every inch as carefully designed as J.H. Williams III, but he also ensures that there's space in the pages for a story to exist. Buccellato's coloring is brilliant. Clean and crisp, each panel is bright but naturalistic, refusing to blind readers with an over-the-top world for Flash to live in. It looks like it was colored with pencils, and the control of the lines allows Buccellato to emphasize direction and pace in the way readers follow the panels.
In the New 52, Barry Allen is the Flash, living in Central City. He's a young man working as a scientist, with a small group of friends who all tie him to different parts of the city. And over the course of the past few months, his familiar gallery of Rogues have been attacking him, his friends, and his city, creating an interconnected world not dissimilar to Spider-Man's New York. There's a real sense of delight when each villain makes their return, with Manapul and Buccellato tweaking the origin stories along the way to interconnect everything and create a sense of contemporary depth in the ongoing narrative.
The Speed Force, which powers Flash, has also been fiddled with a little, to ensure that the character doesn't become too overwhelming. Barry is portrayed as, prominently, a nice guy, and within the DC universe at the moment this makes him somewhat unique. In many respects, The Flash has taken over the role which Superman normally inhabits — the caring, friendly superhero who respects other people and fights for peace, not for glory. This characterization has made him incredibly all-ages in nature — he makes for a great role model for younger readers, never going dark and edgy. This is the book, perhaps above any others, which showcases what a superhero series should be in the modern ages.
And that's not to say the book feels too traditionalistic or straight-laced. The story is unpredictable, smart, and offers a look at a diverse and progressive society. There's no fuss made over featuring black or gay characters, and Central City itself comes off as a location worth protecting. The writers never make things too easy for Flash, testing him on every level they can, and always ending with a new cliffhanger. It'll be most interesting once the current Rogues storyline — currently featuring an uneasy alliance between Flash and his enemies as they face Gorilla Grodd — completes and we see a possible shift towards new villains. If the writers can keep things as fast-paced and fun as they have for these first 12 issues, we could be looking at one of the best Flash runs ever.
There are still many characters yet to appear in this new Central City, as well. Wally West is prominently AWOL, but there are also villains like Professor Zoom, Captain Boomerang are more still waiting to appear in this book. And it's a guarantee at this point that when/if they do show up, they'll be imbued with heart and personality. The Flash isn't a book for cynical nastiness and bloodshed. It's a superhero story, and the most charming example of the genre in years.
For more not-so-new-52 coverage, check out Steve's other One Year Later essays:
- One Year Later: Animal Man/Swamp Thing
- One Year Later: Demon Knights
- One Year Later: Suicide Squad
- One Year Later: Catwoman
- One Year Later: Batwing
- One Year Later: Aquaman
- One Year Later: Wonder Woman
- One Year Later: Birds of Prey
- One Year Later: Justice League Dark
- One Year Later: The Flash
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favorite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. He's on Team X-Men, you guys.