When DC Comics announced the creative teams for its New 52 titles in mid-2011, one of the most seemingly unconventional choices was superstar artist Francis Manapul sharing writing duties with long-time colorist Brian Buccellato on “The Flash.” Manapul, who had been drawing the adventures of Barry Allen since 2010 with Geoff Johns scripting, was also named as the artist on the new series, with Bucccelato providing colors.
Originally, the writing team thought they were taking over from Johns, beginning with “The Flash” #13, but DC Comics co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee had a different plan — a much larger one — and handed Manapul and Buccellato the reins to a new series, with a new first issue debuting as part of an historical company-wide reboot.
And Manapul and Buccellato have yet to disappoint. “The Flash” has consistently placed in the Top 30 of the monthly sales charts since its launch, and the title has enjoyed acclaim from critics and readers alike.
With Barry Allen’s revamped origin set to be told in “The Flash” #0 later this month, CBR News checked in with Manapul and Buccellato to look back on the first 12 issues of the series (plus an Annual) and explore what the early success of the series means to the creators, why they made some of their game-changing choices and how redefining Glider as leader of the Rogues was the highlight of the first year.
CBR News: While you both enjoyed previous success in your comics careers, when you were announced as the artist and co-writers of “The Flash,” you weren’t the star-studded creative team some readers were expecting. But you have risen to the challenge and have successfully navigated “The Flash” — both critically and commercially — through the first year of the New 52. To what do you attribute your success and how have you handled the workload?
Francis Manapul: It’s been creatively fulfilling, but it’s been physically taxing. The only parts [of this book] that I haven’t been a part of are printing it, stapling it and running it to the stores. I have never had this much involvement in a book before, and it does take its toll physically. It’s one of those things, funnily enough, where we channelled it into the story. The responsibility that we have to do a book of this magnitude is very, very difficult, where we have to keep the quality high at the same time as we stick to the schedule. It’s probably been one of the toughest years of my life, professionally speaking.
I wasn’t expecting it to be this difficult and this intense. I’ve been pretty much living, breathing and eating “The Flash,” and it’s defined my life over the last year. It’s been challenging, but we just hope that the story that we leave behind can be considered a pretty epic run.
Brian Buccellato: It would be physically impossible for Francis to do 12 issues in a year because it does not take four weeks to do a book. That’s the reason we scheduled Marcus [To] to do two issues, because it’s physically impossible to do 12 issues in a year without dying.
FM: I’m looking forward to an actual break real soon, but I don’t think it’s going to happen till well past the “Gorilla Warfare” storyline.
And it sounds as though you’re pleased with the critical and commercial success of “The Flash.”
FM: It’s been really rewarding. Brian and I put ourselves on the line physically and emotionally to get this book done every month. I have more white hair now than I did when I started this project. To say that we’ve put everything we have into this book is a huge understatement.
Let’s be honest — The Flash isn’t Superman or Batman or even close to that stratosphere in terms of iconography, but he’s also isn’t niche because everybody that reads comics knows who The Flash is. I think it’s one of those things where, when the right creative team comes along, a character can either flounder or flourish. This is a perfect case of coming in off the heels of what Geoff [Johns] had done with “The Flash.” We just tried to maintain the level of success that we had previously achieved on the book.
Again, what’s interesting about our book, in my opinion anyway, is that it does stand out from the rest of the books that are on the shelves. There is a lot about it that is reminiscent of the classic superhero books, but I believe the way we tell a story is also very progressive, as well.
How did you balance staying true to the Barry Allen that had only just returned to the DCU in 2009 after a 23-year absence and completely reimagining the him for the launch of the New 52?
BB: I don’t think we needed to update him. If you understand the character and know the history of what Barry has been through, and know the great moments of his existence, just by doing that, you know where he is coming from. You know his point of view. Then, you just apply a modern sensibility to the point of view of a character that already has a way of thinking. We didn’t reinvent the wheel with Barry; we just brought him into 2011. Stories are more sophisticated than when he was created. Audiences are more sophisticated. Readers expect more because they’ve seen a lot more. We take that all into consideration when we decide how Barry is going to act and react.
What was very important for Francis and me was to show that Barry knows it’s cool to be The Flash and understands that he has this responsibility to use his powers for good. He knows he’s in a unique position. He’s not taking it for granted.
Readers have accused Barry of being stuffy and vanilla, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think he has a strong moral center and we pay tribute to that when we write him. He’s just younger and cooler, as well.
FM: The interesting thing about Barry Allen is that I take a lot of my cues from the old “Showcase” books. What we both really like about Barry is that he has such a sense of pureness about him, especially as compared to the rest of today’s market. Everybody else is so edgy. We just felt there was a need for a very pure — I don’t want to say naive kind of hero, but he is one of those classic characters that you loved as a kid. He’s purely good. We wanted a character where people would say, “I want to be like that.” Something a little more classic from back in the simpler days.
It looks as though Geoff [Johns] is going to replace Hal Jordan, at least temporarily, as the Green Lantern for Earth with Simon Baz. Did you consider featuring an all-new character as The Flash in your series as opposed to Barry?
BB: Not at all. Right from the jump, it was going to be Barry. It was always going to be Barry.
While we’ve seen a tombstone bearing his name, I’m sure Hal Jordan isn’t actually dead — but you’ve killed Barry Allen. Why was it important to your story to have Barry “die?”
BB: It was just a story choice. We don’t think of it as we’re killing off Barry Allen or doing some kind of stunt or anything like that. It was a decision we needed to make to best handle the situation he was in. Barry makes choices, there are consequences. We just play those out.
Again, this wasn’t a stunt move. It’s just where the story took us.
FM: I don’t think anybody thinks we’re falsely killing the character off. It was just something we’ve seen from the very beginning that this Barry Allen is still learning. And at this moment in time, he thought this was the best choice he could make. Sometimes, people make the wrong choices, but at a specific moment in time, they believe it to be the best choice. This is just one of these scenarios that, for Barry Allen, he thought this was the best choice. In terms of him being a better hero, he felt he needed to commit to being The Flash more often than not.
Sometimes when you commit too much to work, you realize you can’t just have your work define you. You still have to have a personal life to balance you out. We are putting Barry through a very specific journey. We are developing his character and we’re allowing readers to know more about who he is by exploring the choices that he makes.
I’m not sure this is an ability you dug up from one of those old back issues of “Showcase,” but I love the sci-fi concept that Barry can move so fast that he can actually preview possible outcomes of his choices and decisions. Is that something you conceived?
FM: I’m not sure if it’s been seen before, but it seemed to be the most obvious thing. I don’t remember coming across it when I was reading some of the older books but for me, it just felt obvious. As much as I would like to think we made it up, I’m sure somebody did it along the line.
When we added that ability to his repertoire, people thought we were making him too powerful. But in effect, we were actually giving him a bigger weakness. It comes with an inability to really process that much information. A normal human brain can only process so much before it freezes up. With Flash, we’re exaggerating that with all the possibilities and options that he has, there’s only so much you can do physically. And when you’re overwhelmed mentally, you’re bound to freeze.
Essentially, what we were trying to answer was, “How do you stop the fastest man alive?” By getting him to not move. That was a by-product of the question that we asked ourselves.
BB: In “The Flash” #3, he doesn’t freeze up because he doesn’t know what to do, he freezes up because his mind is moving so fast, he thinks he’s reacted already. The problem with using the speed-mind is that he is untrained, and maybe he’ll never be able to master this skill. If he lets it go for too long, he loses a sense of what’s real and what’s in his mind. But it is a great power.
FM: We encounter these phenomena all the time on a normal basis. Sometimes I get a lot of email and I read through it and in my brain, I have already sent the reply and I’m on to the next email but actually, I never replied. That’s what we were trying to do with “The Flash.” With all those different options and projections of the future he can think about in his brain, sometimes the connection between the brain and the physical body is so close that your brain isn’t sure if you did or didn’t do something. That was the case with that scene. He thought he had stopped them and won. He didn’t know he was still standing there.
BB: Often, what we believe is stronger than reality.
The big story recently from DC Comics is the budding romance between Superman and Wonder Woman. The New 52 has effectively erased the Clark Kent/Superman/Lois Lane love triangle and replaced it with the ultimate power couple. But you guys got there first, having already given Barry a new love interest instead of Iris West, at least at the outset of your run. Was that important to the brand of storytelling you wanted to do?
BB: We didn’t know that Superman and Lois weren’t going to be together when we decided not to have Iris and Barry together.
FM: It felt like we were are all working separately, in a vacuum. We didn’t know that Lois Lane and Superman weren’t going to be together. We didn’t know their status. Our choice to not have Barry be with Iris was to clearly identify that this was a new beginning. Right off the bat — on the very, very first page of “The Flash” — we establish that this isn’t the old DCU. He’s not with Iris. He’s on a date with Pat. This is very clearly a new world.
Aside from it being a statement of that, it allows us to explore a lot more different relationship situations for Barry.
BB: People like to think that they’ve seen free agent Barry, but they haven’t.
FM: He was always married.
BB: And when he wasn’t married, he was courting Iris. It’s not like people have seen young, single Barry. It’s not like we’re trying to make him something he’s not; we just wanted to open up opportunities to show sides to Barry that you hadn’t seen before.
You’ve had a lot of storylines and plot threads that have sped along and ultimately tied together in “The Flash” #12. From Patty Spivot’s trouble with Marco and Claudio and the Rogues’ clash with Captain Cold to the rise of Glider and the apparent death of Dr. Elias. Have you enjoyed developing this complex universe and storyline?
FM: That’s the luxury of being allowed to plan ahead. A lot of people thought these were all random events happening, but really, if they trusted where we were going, they would have realized this was all culminating into a single event. Every single aspect of the story, whether or not it’s focusing on Barry Allen, is either an indirect correlation to what is happening or reflective of what Barry Allen is emotionally going through.
The scenes with Director Singh and Pied Piper had a lot of people saying, “Well, what’s that for?” We were symbolically showing what Flash is going through internally. He’s ignoring who he is by not coming home and being Barry Allen. That’s what Director Singh is doing. He’s not admitting who he is. It’s a lot more interesting to have what Barry Allen is going through being reflected in the characters around him. It’s just one of those things where the readers have to read into it. We chose to go in an indirect way to show you who Barry Allen is by exploring the people around him.
BB: When you plan a story and story arc, you always know where it’s going to end up first. Then you say, “How do I get him there?” You have to know the result. It’s not random and it’s not just a bunch of threads. Those are the ways we were going to get to the Annual and get to the conclusion of those particular stories. And some of those storylines actually carry on into the next arc. Honestly, I think we could have used another issue or two to tell even more and to flesh it out further.
FM: Brian and I have a very clear vision of where this will all end and where Barry Allen will be emotionally. We have this plan and we want to say that by the time we finish with “The Flash,” this is where Barry is as a person. And now we’re working our way backwards from there.
Obviously, we have a few high points or pinpoints on a map. One of those was when he rushed into the Speedforce. From there, we worked out backwards. And going forward from the Annual, we worked our way backwards. The same thing goes for “The Flash” #17. We need to know where we’re going before we start the journey. That’s why we’re able to plant seeds, which may seem like inconsequential parts of the story, but really, they’ll culminate in a bigger part or aspect of what we’re trying to say.
I love what you’re doing with Barry but I’m equally enjoying how you’ve reinvented Captain Cold. He’s not going to cut it as a Rogue leader any more, and while he’s always been a relatable character, I actually find myself rooting for him this go-round. Now that Glider has supplanted him as the most rogue-ish Snart, will Cold continue to play a large role in the story moving forward?
FM: The Rogues play an important role in “Gorilla War.” It’s a very, very big story for us. It’s our epic blockbuster. Everything throughout Year One has really been building up to this moment. I feel like we’ve been able to establish the character fairly well and now we can get on to the really, really fun stuff.
And to answer your question, they do play, especially Captain Cold, a very important role in the upcoming story arc, which pits them against The Flash and the gorillas.
Can you talk a little about the decision to reintroduce Lisa Snart, A.K.A. Glider, as the new leader of the Rogues as opposed to going the more traditional route of having her older brother Len, A.K.A. Captain Cold, as the driving force of the supervillain team?
FM: Originally, the character was kind of ridiculous. [Laughs] So we thought, let’s take a literal interpretation of what a Glider is, and it worked so perfectly in terms of the story, especially with the revelation in the Annual of how they all got their powers. It gave the Rogues, who are this very dysfunctional family, even more dysfunction. They want to work together, but they hate each other. They love each other but they still want to kill each other. The relationship is so intense and the more complicated it is, the better. Somehow, they all still manage to work together, and that’s something we’re going to see in “Gorilla War.”
With Lisa Snart, what’s more perfect than a little sibling rivalry for the leadership of the Rogues? It’s a very simple storytelling device, but the drama you can extract from that alone is massive.
BB: As far as her power set, we also wanted to challenge Barry in different ways. She has powers that make it very difficult for The Flash to mess with her. She can be intangible. She can be anywhere because she’s a projection. No prison can hold her, and The Flash can’t grab her. We thought she represented something that the Rogues didn’t have in their power set. They have a lot of blunt force weapons — lightning and ice — but we felt they needed another side.
FM: Aside from Grodd, Glider is my favorite villain that we’ve introduced or re-introduced to the New 52. What’s so awesome about her is that she hates her brother because of what’s happened, and on top of that, the man that she loves is trapped in the Mirror World. And she, herself, is trapped in a coma. The only way she walks around is through this projection, this astral projection that she creates. Like Brian said, she’s more or less intangible. Maybe she can hold something for a few seconds, but for the most part, she can’t touch and she can’t be touched. That’s why she’s so mad: She and this man she loves can never be together. And as much as you love your brother, when you are in a situation like that, of course you want to kill him. That’s what makes her such a compelling character for us to write.
So it’s safe to say “Gorilla War” won’t feature a Snart family reunion.
BB: Sometimes adversity brings families together and sometimes it tears them apart, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
We’re starting to hear about some creative shifts on the different New 52 titles. Do you have long-term plans to stay with “The Flash?”
BB: We’re on the book for the foreseeable future. There are no plans to jump off.
FM: We said two years, and we’re going to try and stick to that. It may be a little longer, and it may be a little bit shorter.
BB: Talk to us after “The Flash” #00 [double zero] comes out. [Laughs]
Speaking of which, can you give us a tease of what we’ll see in Barry’s origin story in “The Flash” #0?
BB: It’s the origin you remember, but there’s an awful lot in Barry’s past that was never revealed, so Francis and I went out of our way to illuminate parts of his origin that were not previously published. There are some interesting twists and turns.
My one spoiler is that Barry will be hit by lighting on the second page.
FM: How could you spoil that? You’re terrible.
“The Flash” #0, co-written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato and featuring art by Manapul, goes on sale in stores and digitally on September 26.