Gorilla Grodd, one of DC Comics’ most infamous evil-ape antagonists, invades Central City in “The Flash” #13 — and the combined might of Barry Allen and the Rogues might be the only thing that can stop him.
Written, drawn and colored by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, the two “Flash” architects introduced Grodd and Gorilla City early in issue #9, giving Grodd and his people a new origin and new connection to the Speed Force before bringing him back for the “Gorilla Warfare” arc beginning in October.
A solidly Silver Age villain, Grodd was created by writer John Broome and artist Carmine Infantino as an ordinary gorilla accidentally imbued with super-intelligence. A pernicious primate from the start, nearly every incarnation of Grodd over the past fifty-three years has portrayed the greedy gorilla as a power-hungry egomaniac, willing to do whatever it takes to secure Gorilla City, the Flash and even the planet Earth under his opposable thumb.
With “Gorilla Warfare” fast approaching, Manapul and Buccellato spoke with CBR about their ape-invasion storyline as well as their #0 origin issue, explaining Grodd’s motivations, Barry’s New 52 past and the highs and lows of drawing fighting gorillas!
CBR News: Francis, Brian — heading into September you guys have “The Flash” #0 and then the “Gorilla Warfare” arc, which sounds like it’s going to be a lot of gorillas fighting and a lot of Grodd!
Brian Buccellato: Yes! Lot’s of fighting!
I’ve got to imagine as artists there’s something rewarding in drawing pages and pages of gorillas rampaging everywhere.
Buccellato: That’s mostly on Francis, that’s a lot of work drawing gorillas! But you like drawing them, don’t you Francis?
Francis Manapul: It’s one of those things where I like drawing them on the covers, but then as we were doing the story I was like, “God — that’s a lot of gorillas!” [Laughter] This is probably the most epic thing that we’ve written; it’s probably really close to a big-budget action move as we’re going to get with the current story happening.
Buccellato: It’s a blockbuster!
Manapul: Absolutely, there’s so many things we reveal during this story it’s a really pivotal turning point in the title.
Back at the beginning of your run when you dropped Flash into Gorilla City, did you already have plans in the work for this blockbuster?
Buccellato: Yeah, that was pretty early on. We both have a huge fondness for “Planet Of The Apes” — how many comic book characters have their own version of “Planet Of The Apes” built into their rogues’ gallery? It was sort of a no-brainer.
Manapul: Also with Gorilla Grodd and his society and the entire Gorilla City with their connection to the Speed Force they’re actually the closest thing to being, in theory, Flash, and being able to relate how so much of their history is tied together — for us, aside from the desire to work with gorillas, it just made so much sense to have everything to culminate in this storyline.
In terms of “Gorilla City,” what’s the impetus for Grodd and the gorillas to invade? Is Grodd still trying to eat Flash’s brain?
Buccellato: He wants the Flash. Central City is where the Speed Force is strongest because of the Flash, and that’s what he wants. He wants that connection to the Speed Force but he knows he needs Flash to get it, so he’ll take the whole city down to get it.
Manapul: In the previous issue Grodd was in, we revealed that Grodd thought he was going to be the one, he was going to be more or less the Flash. He thought that he was going to be the one to usher in the next evolution with the gorillas, because right now they’re devolving. They’ve been devolving over the years — we revealed the very first being alive that was struck with lightning and evolved to where they are now were the gorillas. That’s where the Speed line came from and that’s where a lot of things derived from the Speed Force. I think Gorilla Grodd thought that it was his time to usher in the next evolution, but the next evolution was man and that’s why it hit Barry Allen. Gorilla Grodd can’t accept that.
Buccellato: Right, he went from being the chosen one to being sort of cast aside and his people are losing their touch with the Speed Force. That’s a really important factor.
Manapul: Absolutely, and I think what really drives him aside from his greed and pride, it’s also about his existence. At the end of the day he wants Gorilla City to thrive and at this current point their society is on the down slope. They’re ready to essentially not exist anymore.
Buccellato: He can’t accept that. He doesn’t want that to happen.
He’s a more sympathetic Grodd in that aspect.
Buccellato: That’s important for any character we write. We want to give them some kind of point of view you can understand. You may not agree with it, but at least you can understand where he’s coming from. We don’t want hollow villains hatching schemes just for the sake of being bad guys. We try to dig a little deeper and hopefully people will respond to the choices that we make.
Manapul: Yeah, in a sense I feel really bad for Grodd because what he’s shooting for and everything that he wants personally, the only possible outcome that could come from it is for himself. Ultimately it’s going to be such a disastrous thing for the entire planet if he gets that. It’s pretty tragic.
Aesthetically and visually, what’s the inspiration for Gorilla City and gorillas?
Manapul: The inspiration for it was actually the Mayans. We hint previously in the cave paintings that the Mayans were also hit by the lightning but the gorillas lasted a lot longer than they did. There are some parallel to that culture with Gorilla City. The idea is that here we are with a society that’s reached its apex, it’s peaked and now they’re on the downturn.
Is Barry’s “death” something that’s going to play a larger role in the “Gorilla Warfare” arc, and in his return to Central City?
Buccellato: It’s definitely part of the story.
Manapul: At the end of the day the theme of the next coming up arc is coming home. Barry Allen has to go home, the Flash has to go home and we tie up a lot of these loose ends with everybody’s emotional arc and we bring in Turbine and the Rogues and a lot of loose things really culminate in this upcoming storyline. Barry Allen is going to be forced to be Barry Allen again.
Buccellato: Even Grodd’s planning to build a home for himself, so it’s all about trying to create a home for yourself and a place and returning home in a lot of ways. So we’re going to tap a lot of the storyline threads in the next five issues.
Will “Gorilla Warfare” tie up everything you’ve done over the past year and see it as a point to go in new directions with new villains in the book?
Buccellato: One hundred percent, actually. We’re not clearing the deck, but we have a lot of stuff we’ve established over the past year we want to pay off and we want to take the time to follow through on. So we’re doing two things, we’re attempting to deal with all the stuff we’ve set up and pay it off while setting in motion what’s going to happen beyond the “Gorilla Warfare” arc.
Backtracking to “The Flash” #0, the solicits say it’s essentially an origin issue for Barry. Does that issue touch on any of the threads going on in the greater book?
Manapul: It’s an origin story for Barry Allen but there’s a lot of stuff that’s really set up in it that will also be revealed in the “Gorilla Warfare” storyline. There are aspects to Barry’s past and upbringing that will really I think shock people. There are a lot of big changes that we’ve made, and also there’re characters in that story that are going to come back.
Buccellato: It’s foreshadowing, I’d say.
Manapul: Absolutely. A lot of the stuff we’ve been doing, regardless of whether it’s a one-and-done story, a lot of it has a continuing thread. I think with issue #0 we’re using the past to project the story into the future, well past the “Gorilla War” storyline.
Buccellato: It does stand alone as a single issue; if somebody wanted to jump on and try out “Flash” it absolutely is an origin issue.
Since readers are going to see the origin of Barry Allen, does that mean they’ll also see his relationship with his mother?
Buccellato: We’re trying to answer that without giving away the goods! You’re going to see where Barry came from and how he got to where he is, so there’s a lot of relationships there that may surprise some people.
Manapul: We’re dealing with a lot of stuff that happens after his mom dies; we deal a lot with what happens after he gets struck by lightning. There are some serious gaps that are missing from the original origin. All we know is he got struck by lightning and next thing we know he was the Flash, but what made him become that? What inspired him to become the Flash?
Buccellato: Who is he?
Manapul: Exactly, not only what was the factor, but there had to be somebody that inspired him, and we’re going to show that.
In the series you’ve been playing around with the law of congestion. Because it’s the origin, are you doing different things with the visuals and story in the #0 issue and then in the main series?
Buccellato: You know what, he gets hit by lightning on page two, so we’re trying to move around time in ways that are definitely creative.
Manapul: It’s not a surprise he gets hit by lightning! [Laughs]
Buccellato: So we get it out of the way right away.
Manapul: We’re going to see peeks of the Speed Mind. He only started applying it now, but there was something innately there when he was first struck by lightning and forgot about it and just focused on the physical side. The way we decided to lay out the pages is kind of interesting because there’s a lot of stuff on the page that’s going on — but then there are panels that almost reveal what’s going on in the page after. We play a little bit with the timing as you’re reading the issue; it’s not quite as overwhelming as what happened in the first arc to his mind, but it’s happening on a subconscious level. It’s a pretty interesting way to tell a story. We still want to keep it very clean and understandable.
Buccellato: It’s probably my favorite issue so far.
Then that leads into the gorillas.
Buccellato: It’s not just gorillas, the Rogues are going to play a huge part in this war also. Let’s not forget about the Rogues. They have a stake in Central City. They may not agree with the Flash and they may be crooks, but they’re going to have something to say before all is said and done.
With “Flash” #0 and “Gorilla Warfare,” you’ve said that home is a big theme — is that something you’ll continue to play with in these next issues and beyond?
Manapul: We write what we know and what we know and what we felt about the first arc was being overwhelmed; admittedly as self-servingly as it sounds, the Gorilla Grodd story arc has a lot to do with what we’re also going through emotionally in real life. I think a lot of the stuff on there is how we feel. There are definitely a lot of parallels on there in terms of what’s going on — not to sound too pretentious! [Laughs] We’re really proud of the Gorilla Grodd story arc.
Buccellato: Logically, this is just the flow of the story and the stories are organic, they take place over a year. It’s not exactly the story we started telling because that’s not the way things work. The creative process is in flux and this is the end result of that. It’s just a natural place to be.
Manapul: Like Brian said, we’ve grown a lot since we started this project and I think what we’ve been able to do is allow the book to let our influences in our life influence the book. It feels more natural that way and it feels more honest.
Finally, do you guys have a favorite Grodd story, or one that influences your take on the character?
Manapul: I’ll be completely honest, we take a lot more of our cues from the fact that we like “Planet Of The Apes” and we like gorillas. I like to think our portrayal is really fresh; I don’t think the past influences much aside from there’s a Gorilla City.
Buccellato: We don’t want to tell the same stories that have already been told, and that’s sort of our approach throughout. We’re just trying to do our thing and hopefully people respond to it and alike it. As much as those old Grodd stories are cool and he’s savage, and I even like the “Flashpoint” Grodd story, this is going to be our choice.
Manapul: I think they were cool, but it was one of those things where when he showed up, there was something a little bit silly about it. That wasn’t something we wanted. We wanted a character that was really scary and really emotionally and physically a match for the Flash.
Buccellato: And tied to the Flash. Like, why is the fastest man on earth fighting a talking gorilla with psychic powers? I mean, when you think about that it’s like, “Uh, ok?”
Manapul: Or saying that out loud too! [Laughter]
Buccellato: At the risk of insulting long-time Flash fans, that’s kind of how we feel about this. [Laughs]
Manapul: The thing is, when you think of the characters symbolically with what’s happening with Flash and the Rogues, it’s essentially Grodd hitting at the heart of these guys. In the Annual and upcoming story arcs, the Flash is evolving, the Rogues are evolving, the city is evolving, nothing is the same anymore for better or worse.
Buccellato: It’s no coincidence that Elias is at the center of a lot of it. He’s a man of science and evolution and moving scientifically forward. All these things reflect each other, and we’ll see where it takes us.
“The Flash” #0 hits stands September 26; issue #13 and the beginning of “Gorilla Warfare” is out October 24.