For Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, The Flash represents unchained freedom and speed. Sounds pretty good considering they’re each pulling double duty as the writers and artists responsible for unleashing the Fastest Man Alive in “The Flash,” the new DC Comics ongoing series which debuts this week as part of the New 52 relaunch.
Manapul, an industry superstar thanks in part to his recent collaborations with Geoff Johns on “The Flash” and “Adventure Comics,” is drawing the title as well as co-writing with Buccellato, perhaps best known as the colorist on the Johns/Manapul “Flash” run as well as genre hits including “Witchblade” and “The Exterminators.”
In the New 52, Barry Allen is younger, altruistic and single, which is exactly the formula necessary to bring in young readers say Manapul and Buccellato. Another important part of the equation is paying respect to Barry’s historic past while not bogging the speedster down in 55 years of minutia.
After months upon months of preparation, scripting and design, Manapul and Buccellato can’t wait for fans to read their take on the original Silver Age superhero, which both promise will be a classic yet forward thinking take on a classic character.
CBR News: From the preview pages we’ve seen, your take on Flash has a very classic superhero feel to it. No blood-stained happy faces here, eh?
Brian Buccellato: I think there was a time when it was new and interesting and cool to delve into that type of story, but it’s old now. It’s refreshing to go the other way and be optimistic and hopeful and heroic.
Francis Manapul: It’s all cyclical really. Over the past few years, the books that have really resonated with a lot of people — books like “Wanted” or “Kick Ass” — have been dark and have had an edge to it. And I think right now, what a lot of people want to see is something that’s more optimistic, something that’s classically heroic. That’s certainly the way I feel.
Barry Allen is a really great representation of what it means to be a hero — a classic hero — the type of hero that exists in a story that is more about escapism than reflecting on what’s going on in terms of societal problems. That said, there’s no reason why you can’t approach that kind of subject matter but at the same time have the character look at it from a very innocent perspective. Something that fills you with hope and projects optimism. That’s what makes Barry Allen really work.
Do you draw Barry Allen with hope and optimism?
Manapul: I think I have been drawing that way since — well, since the big turning point for me, which was “Adventure Comics.” That book really encompassed everything I wanted to say about comic books. In a sense, that book really allowed me to be the artist that I wanted to be. In the past, it was more me adjusting to the project to make it fit. But “Adventure Comics” was a book that was very much suited me in terms of what I wanted to be as an artist, as a person, and as a writer. I think continuing on with “The Flash” is an evolution of where we were when we started with “Adventure Comics.”
In the New 52, we’ve seen characters introduced a number of different ways. Jeff Lemire interviewed Buddy Baker in “Animal Man” and Grant Morrison’s introduction of Superman in “Action Comics” occurs in the Man of Steel’s past. How do we meet Barry Allen in “The Flash” #1?
Buccellato: Obviously, he’s been The Flash because the Universe takes place five years after [the new Geoff Johns and Jim Lee] “Justice League.” We basically set it up as a day in the life of Barry. It’s not exactly an origin, but you’re quickly introduced to who he is, who the players are in his life. It’s almost like a pilot episode, but it’s not an origin story.
Manapul: We wrote the story fully respecting the fact that the book already has a fanbase that wants to read it. I don’t know if they would want to see an origin story again, so we kind of just dropped right into it. I think we did a pretty good job of making it accessible to new readers and making it really easy to understand. But at the same time, the way our story moves forward, that’s exactly what it is. The story moves forward.
There’s a lot of perception of people thinking that we’re just going to be telling the same stories again, and we’re going to be going back to the beginning, but we’re not. The approach we’re taking is: “Where is the world now after ‘Flashpoint?'” And we’re just going to drop you right into it, the day after.
Buccellato: And like Francis said, it’s completely accessible.
Manapul: Exactly. There is nothing in heavy continuity about “Flashpoint” at all. I guess in my head, we’ve just tried to tell a story that’s very clean and free of other baggage, but at the same time, it’s about moving the story forward.
Buccellato: We’re looking at it like this: “Flashpoint” and everything, it all happened. A lot of things from Barry’s past and previous continuities, they happened. But we’re not really going to focus on it, in the interest of moving forward and because we’re writing for as wide a number of people as possible. The more you reference the past, you tie yourself to people that already know the past.
Manapul: I think it reads very cleanly. As a previous fan, there is nothing in the story that discounts the past from having happened but at the same time, it’s not hindered by it for new readers. You don’t have to go back at look at a certain number of “The Flash” [comics] to understand what happened [and] what’s going on. The only things you need to know are that he’s red and he runs fast. And that’s it.
The Flash is right there with Batman and Spider-Man for having an exceptionally eclectic rogues’ gallery. I want to touch on the Rogues in just a second, but first tell us about this new villain, Mob Rule?
Buccellato: Mob Rule is a person from Barry’s past. I guess I could say from his late childhood/early adulthood. So he has emotional ties to Barry, and although technically he’s a villain, Francis and I are way more intrigued by antagonists that aren’t evil. And don’t have the twirling-the-moustache kind of agenda. There is some complexity there, and there’s some ambiguity with questions like, “Is he a straight villain?” I don’t know how much more I can say without spoiling it.
Manapul: Looking at the whole thing, he’s really a traditional villain and yet he’s challenging what your concept of what a traditional villain is. Because while a lot of villains have motivations of revenge and world conquering and stuff like that, our villain’s simple concept — if you boil it down to the very essence of motivation — is to live. And we all want to live. We want to survive. What would you be willing to do in order to do that? And I think that’s where it starts off.
Through this villain, we’re also able to address a lot of those years that people wondered about. When Barry’s mom died, what did he do? Where did he go? Who did he turn to? So there are certain aspects of this that are addressed in that issue. At the same, we’re able to develop a really compelling villain, a really compelling backstory and more than anything, we really didn’t even approach it in terms of creating a bad guy. We wanted to create a story. We wanted to create a friend. We wanted to create conflict. And out of that raised the villain.
Buccellato: All the best villains have a want and a need and a motivation that you can understand. Villains are hollow when they just want to do something bad for the sake of badness. Moving forward, every villain, every antagonist The Flash meets, is going to have a reason that you understand and that you can, at least, look at it and say, “Yeah. I get where he’s coming from. Maybe I wouldn’t have killed that old lady or blown up that building to do it, but at least I understand why he did it.”
Manapul: Absolutely. I think the way we designed a lot of the villains is that they are reflective of the journey that Barry takes in becoming a hero. They’re reflective of him and he’s reflective of them, and that’s what makes it really work.
Sounds like we’re going to get a lot of new villains, which is great. What about the Rogues and their frosty leader, Captain Cold? Are we going to see them?
Buccellato: Absolutely. That’s the second arc. And before, actually.
Manapul: Yeah, you will see a few cameos in the first arc, but we’re kind of setting up a new world. Because we’re setting it up for new readers, we’re really working very hard to make sure we’re laying down the groundwork in terms of what the rules are of this new world; what the rules are for Central City, what the rules are for Keystone City. We’re really taking a hard look at this world and expanding it. The way that we are going to be approaching the Rogues — and again, the past still happened, everything that’s important to what made them who they are, still happened. So we’re dropping you guys right into the middle of the story, a few years ahead of what got them there.
Right now, we start off with them having been disbanded. There’s a complete reason for it, it wasn’t just that we wanted to introduce them individually, and that’s going to be a story point. The way we’re going to be introducing them is by giving them a little bit of time to shine before we bring them all back together. But who knows, maybe they will and maybe they won’t. The way the story is going, and the way the characters are developing, we’re letting them evolve naturally.
Buccellato: They may come willingly. They may come kicking and screaming. Or they may not come at all.
Manapul: Exactly. The lengths that we’ve put them through, if it was in real world and you did certain things like that to your friends, how willing would you be to put the band back together? And those are the kinds of challenges that they’ll be going through.
Who is Manuel Lago? And will he be a permanent fixture in the supporting cast?
Buccellato: We definitely have plans for him.
Manapul: Yes, we have plans to bring him back after the first arc. But obviously, right now, his story thickens in this arc. [Laughs] But there are big plans for him. Where the story is building up… he’ll be back. 100 percent, he’ll be back. Everything in that first issue will have a resounding effect on the first year and the second year.
Buccellato: There’s another character introduced in the first issue that will also have a long lasting imprint on The Flash and what The Flash does and what decisions he makes, and the resulting consequences.
Manapul: The lead time has allowed us to really work this story. We literally haven’t wasted a page. Everything is meaningful and I think what’s going to be great about this is, knock on wood, everything goes really well and everyone is really happy with what we’re doing and a lot of the concepts that you’re seeing in the first issue, you’re going to see come to fruition later on. Some of them come to fruition as soon as the second issue. Some come to fruition in the second year.
Buccellato: Not so much fruition as it is culmination. I think culmination is a better word because the whole thing is a process. And as far as the other new character, his name is Dr. Elias but I don’t want to give away any more than that.
How much interplay will there between Flash and the other Justice Leaguers?
Manapul: Right now, we’ve been fortunate enough to tell the story that we want to tell. And if they [other members of the Justice League] fit for a story, that’s great but we’re not going to force it and they haven’t told us otherwise. I think that’s what made the story so great. We’re not building towards some big event that will bring all of these characters together. We’re building towards our own event, our own future and our own story.
The luxury of building this more expansive world around The Flash is being able to talk to other writers and seeing how he can fit in. I’ve talked to Jeff Lemire and Tony Daniel and I think there is some exciting stuff up ahead. Over the next few months, I’m going to speak to some other writers as well to see what we can cook up, but right now it’s more fun to see other writers do what they do with their own characters. I am certainly enjoying Jeff writing “Animal Man” and I would hate to impose The Flash on him. The same thing goes for other writers.
Buccellato: I think if it works for a specific story. If there is a reason to do it, we’ll do it. And I know Flash is appearing in another book at some point.
Manapul: It’s already been solicited. He’s appearing in “Captain Atom.” J.T. [Krul] sent us the script just as a head’s up and it was a great script. I didn’t know what happened in the first two issues but the way I read it, it was like, “Wow. This is great.” It had a beginning, middle and end and I understood it perfectly. I didn’t realize it was the third part of this arc that they were doing. I can only imagine that it would have had even more depth had I read the first two parts.
There are certain characters in the DC Universe that would benefit us in terms of where we are going story-wise, but that’s just it. If it benefits our story and moves it forward, that’s what our criteria will be in terms of bringing characters in rather than forcing and shoehorning them in there.
Buccellato: And there’s definitely been nothing from on high saying we want you to put Kid Flash in a book or anyone else. So yes, you probably will see some appearances at some point, but for right now we’re just focusing on what we need to do to finish our arc with Barry.
Manapul: I don’t know what it’s like for other creators in the New 52 but Brian and I have been really fortunate to be able to just tell the stories that we want to tell without being told what to do. We pitch our stories and they either say “yes” or “no” and we move forward.
Buccellato: We’ve received creative guidance to enhance and complete our vision not to detract or derail us from what our goals are.
Manapul: A lot of people think that sometimes there are certain editorial mandates and of course there are. There are certain things that we can and can’t do. There are still ground rules. But at the same time, they’re not telling us what stories to tell.
Buccellato: With regards to Iris, that was our decision. There was no DC-wide mandate to abolish all marriages. We felt creatively that was the place we wanted to start Barry because he’s younger. And because we felt there are more places for him to go that are interesting for a new reader, for a younger reader. We made the choice. If the fans don’t like it and there is going to be a backlash, we deserve it because we made it. It wasn’t big, bad DC bigwigs.
People online think there is a bias against marriage. We literally did not know Lois and Clark weren’t going to be married. We made our choice.
Manapul: Like Brian said, it wasn’t a mandate. It worked for the story we wanted to tell. What worked best? Barry married or Barry not married? We went through the paces and thought about it really hard and for a younger Flash, it just felt right.
No offense to marriage, and I’ll probably get bashed for saying this, but I feel that as a reader coming in to “The Flash,” he’s supposed to represent speed. And he represents freedom. Not to say that marriage means no freedom [Laughs] but I think there is a certain subtext of that for younger readers. I think that’s what they would feel. And we want them to feel that The Flash is unchained.
“The Flash” #1, co-written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato and featuring art and cover by Manapul and Buccellato, speeds into comic book stores and comiXology on September 28.