“The Flash,” written, drawn and colored by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, has had the task of establishing Barry Allen in the New 52 DC Universe, reintroducing supporting cast members like Iris West while creating brand-new characters such as Mob Rule.
But with their next arc, Manapul and Buccellato begin the reintroduction Flash’s most famous and colorful antagonists: the Rogues.
Led by Captain Cold, the Rogues have always been a super villain group apart from the rest of the DCU, functioning under their own code and strict sense of ethics while still plaguing the Flash.
With the Rogues showing up en masse in issues #11 and #12 and continuing their story in “The Flash Annual,” Manapul and Buccellato spoke with CBR about this new version of the classic band of villains, the hatred between Heat Wave and Captain Cold and their view on Wally West in the New 52.
CBR News: The first five issues of your run were really centered on Mob Rule, and while it touched on the Speed Force, it was generally a self-contained story. Going forward, is that sort of storytelling what you want to do for the rest of the series — shorter arcs with a lot threads like the Speed Force bridging the storylines?
Francis Manapul: Everything has been a build-up to where we are. Every single beat and every single thread, even from the Mob Rule story arc, is still very much affecting things in the issues we’re putting out today — especially the ramifications of the EMP and with characters like Elias and the journey that they’re going through. I think there’s a theme that the book is really about overwhelming the Flash. In the first arc, we created this villain who could really be in multiple places at once, so in that sense, the Flash is overwhelmed physically and also overwhelmed emotionally because of the fact that he’s [fighting] an old friend, a guy that he grew up with. It’s kind of an overwhelming time for Barry Allen, having discovered that the weight of the world is on his shoulders. On top of that, the Rogues are slowly starting to get back together; we’re slowly showing what kind of a threat they would be to Barry Allen.
Brian Buccellato: A point of the first five issues — I don’t think there were less threads. I think we established a lot of stuff. I think we might have been too subtle in some cases where there are things and themes are playing out in the first arc. The story was simpler because it was one villain, but there were a lot of threads, emotionally. We introduced a lot of concepts, we introduced the Speed Mind, things like that. With the Rogues, it’s a little easier to present things in a more obvious, forward way.
Manapul: Absolutely. The first arc we really felt it was really rich in subtext, whereas with the current Rogues [story], we’re taking more of a direct approach. I’ll admit it — we read how people react to the issues, and we noticed there was a lot of stuff in the first arc that kind of flew over a lot of people’s heads. So with the Rogues, we’re taking a direct approach on how we’re handling them emotionally and how they reflect Barry Allen. And also, having done a five-issue arc, we thought it was necessary for us to create tighter, shorter stories, to help move things along! [Laughs]
We’ve seen the redesigned Captain Cold, and last time we spoke, you explained how you took inspiration for his new outfit from Inuit face masks and your own wardrobes. Were there other real life or historical clothes you guys looked to for redesigning the rest of the Rogues?
Manapul: Well, the rest of the wardrobe comes straight out of Brian’s closet. [Laughs]
Captain Cold was really the one that took the most back and forth in terms of where we wanted him to be. The rest of the Rogues were really quite easy. A lot of it stemmed from trying to keep things from the past but also making the way that they look part of the story. They look like they do for certain reasons. Of course, with characters like Heat Wave, he looks drastically different. A lot of those changes to their physical attributes stem from the story, so as we get further along, that they look is going to make a lot more sense.
Will Turbine and Grodd and messing with the Speed Force continue to play a part in the story, or is that an arc that will be resolved before you move onto Heat Wave and the Rogues?
Buccellato: A little of both. By the end of issue nine, which is the Grodd issue, you’ll have a handle on the Speed Force and what it means to Barry, the context, and then we’ll be focusing on the Rogues all the way through the Annual. Issue #9 is done, and that’s like the second half of learning about Barry Allen and the Speed Force. Every issue after #9 is Rogue-centric, the story focuses on individual Rogues, but it takes everyone else’s stories forward, so you learn a little more about Hartley, more about David, more about what Patty’s going through, what Iris is going through.
Manapul: We’re trying to make a really rich world. We’re really focusing on having the story progress in as natural a way as possible. We don’t want to wrap things up for the sake of wrapping things up; we want to move the story along on it’s own pace. All these stories, really, are going to converge at the end of the year in a big way, especially with characters like the Rogues and Grodd.
Speaking of Grodd, while he’s always been a bad guy, just from the little we’ve seen of Gorilla City it looks like his whole society is pretty awful. How is your Grodd and Gorilla City different than what’s come before?
Manapul: A lot of it really came from us wanting to define who Gorilla Grodd is. We wanted to fully realize what his society is like and the kind of environment he grows up in. How Gorilla City came about and how Gorilla Grodd came about are very much tied into the Speed Force, as tied into the Speed Force as Barry Allen.
Buccellato: That’s the biggest difference. We’ve tied Gorilla City’s origin, in a lot of ways, to the Flash’s so there’s a connection outside of, “They were a bad guy and good guy from years past.” There’s a reason why these talking Gorilla have something to do with Flash.
Manapul: And their savage nature is part of the story. It wasn’t like, “Let’s make these guys super-badass!” They are a fully-formed society, much like a lot of the civilizations that have come in the past that have reached the peak of their science and wealth and religion. They’re sort of at the apex, where things are about to change. The appearance of Flash in their City is signaling this huge shift in where their society is going to be going.
While there are stalwarts like Captain Cold, the Rogues have always had a rotating cast. Are we going to see glimpses of every single character to have been a Rogue in these next issues and the Annual?
Buccellato: Not right away.
Manapul: What you see on the cover of the Annual, that’s the lineup. There are people who might appear here and there in the background, but there’s a reason those guys are on the cover and there’s a reason why certain people are standing on one side versus the other.
Buccellato: It’s a big spoiler!
Manapul: It is! It’s a spoiler on how Heat Wave looks, it’s a spoiler on alliances, it’s a spoiler on who the Rogues lineup is.
Buccellato: We did have the Trickster in issue #2 and #3, and we have seen Hartley, so we’ve some of the other Rogues. Where we can and where it fits, we’ll have Rogues. It’s not that we’re cherry picking — when the story fits, we’ll bring out a Rogue that makes sense to use.
Manapul: And you’re absolutely going to see those guys again. The guys on the cover are the guys with the most at stake and who have formed back together.
Buccellato: Together-ish! [Laughs]
Looking at that Rogue dynamics, Heat Wave and Captain Cold have never had the best relationship —
Buccellato: They flat out hate each other!
Is that still the status quo between them?
Manapul: Absolutely. I think issue #11 has one of my favorite scenes of interactions between the Flash and Captain Cold — spoilers! — and Heat Wave. It’s a lot of fun! The issue is going to feel a little like a modern Western. The joke is Barry Allen walks into a bar — and Captain Cold and Heat Wave also walk into a bar. There’s going to be some great interaction between Barry Allen and Leonard Snart, and it’ll be really interesting to see Heat Wave interact with Captain Cold. With regard to the singular event that Lisa Snart mentioned, no one has been more negatively affected by it than Heat Wave. That’s where his emotion lies and why he very much would like to get rid of Captain Cold.
I know from when we spoke at NYCC, Francis, that you wanted to introduce Wally West to the New 52. While that is ultimately not happening, what was the appeal for you of bringing Wally into Barry’s story? Did Wally represent something dynamically different than Barry that you wanted to play with?
Manapul: The thing is, it’s coming from a pure fan perspective. I grew up with Wally West, but it’s one those things that, within the context of the story and the world we’re building, he doesn’t really fit. Really, just focusing on Barry Allen has allowed us to do a more streamlined story and give a very good character study on Barry. Especially since, when you think about it, a lot of people of this generation don’t know Barry Allen that well. I sort of feel it really ties everything together. Here are Brian and I on this journey, writing our first ongoing comic book, and we’re reintroducing Barry Allen and his journey in terms of self-discovery — and it’s the same things the readers are going through. They’re on a journey of discovering who Barry Allen is. Introducing Wally West might murky up the water. It’s not our decision, but I think it’s better that we just focus on Barry Allen. At the end of the day, our mission statement is to make Barry Allen as cool as possible. So we’re putting all our effort into doing that.
We’ve seen Captain Boomerang in “Suicide Squad” — will he be joining the Rogues? And, as you two seem to have a very specific idea for what the Speed Force is and how everyone’s connected to it, have you talked to Scott Lobdell about Kid Flash?
Buccellato: We talked about talking about it! We haven’t gotten into specifics. We’ve said, “Hey, at some point after we’re finished with this big storyline we’ve got going, we’re going to sit down with Scott and come up with some answers or maybe have them cross paths and learn about the two of them.” We’ve got a pretty long arc we’re in the middle of, so it’s in the works. We have plans to have plans!
Manapul: [Laughs] In the first five issues, nobody noticed that the terrorist group Mob Rule is going after is actually the new version of Cobra, and they’re using them quite a bit in “Suicide Squad.” Right now, that’s as deep of a connection of the villains that are contained within “The Flash” outside of it as well.
Buccellato: And Francis didn’t want to have to redesign Boomerang’s costume, so we decided not to deal with Boomerang, because the little boomerangs are a pain to color and draw! [Laughter]
Manapul: In the last book, working with Geoff [Johns], we had already dealt with Captain Boomerang, and the creative team on “Suicide Squad” had something really cool planned for him, so we said go for it! We were more than happy to share a character that’s part of the Flash world.
Buccellato: And Francis doesn’t like drawing guys with scarves! [Laughs]
Manapul: I don’t know if I’ve talked about it, I love wearing scarves! It’s Brian who likes Captain Boomerang the least! [Laughs]
When it comes to reinventing the Rogues, is there a more personal connection with Barry and the Speed Force for all of them in this incarnation?
Manapul: I don’t feel like we’re reinventing them, except for Turbine and Gorilla Grodd. A lot of readers say they want change, but really, they don’t. They want the characters to stay the same, so the way the Rogues have been written in the past is always writing them exactly the same. Emotionally, they didn’t progress, but they changed everything around them so they would have this illusion of change. The opportunity Brian and I have with the New 52 is, “Where did the last story of the Rogues leave off? Lets take that story and move forward emotionally in a way we wouldn’t have been able to pre-52.” The New 52 version of Captain Cold is an emotional evolution of who Leonard Snart was before the New 52, and it’s the same thing with Heat Wave and Mirror Master. Obviously, we’ve re-jigged little bits of their past, but at their core, it’s the came as before.
Buccellato: Even beyond their emotional core, we made a decision that the past happened. I know the universe is only five years old, but we made a decision that the Rogues were the Rogues of the past, and they had the guns and the wands and they weren’t meta[-human]. We feel we have the opportunity to have out cake and eat it too, and we hope people like it. We have never thrown something out and said we’re going to make it new because we want to make it new. We’re trying to be respectful; that’s the reason we were trying to bring Wally in. We’re trying to be respectful to the years of continuity while at the same time bring something new, because who wants to read the same old stories?
Manapul: At the end of the day, we’re writing these characters with the past having happened in our minds. Obviously we try to adhere to that. We also don’t want past continuity to hold us back from telling good stories. It hasn’t been that big of a compromise because again, knowing what the characters were like before has only strengthened who they are and how we’re portraying them now.
Finally, you mentioned that there were some subtle touches in the first five issues that not everyone got. Is there a specific thing you wanted fans to see that slipped under the radar? Something fans should be paying attention to?
Buccellato: Yes. [Laughter] There’s definitely a theme, and it’s continuing even now: the Law of Congestion. It’s something that’s really reflective — if you go back to issue #1, we talk about it, and it wasn’t just some passing conversation. There’s a reason why we chose to have Dr. Elias talk about that specific thing. So if people would go back and look upon that issue and then reflect on the issues that have come out afterwards, they can, hopefully, see that there’s more at play than what’s on the page.
Manapul: I think the stories we’ve been putting out have been a continuous study of that theory. In a way, what we did in issue #2 by visually overwhelming — we weren’t just overwhelming Barry Allen, we were overwhelming the readers. If you’re following the concept of the Law of Congestion, right now, a lot of highways are being built. The Law of Congestion says, in order to fix it, destroy all of them. I’m not going to say what’s going to happen, but the bottom’s going to fall out! [Laughs]
Buccellato: For those who don’t remember, the Law of Congestion basically states that adding more freeways creates traffic, it doesn’t relieve traffic. All it does is make more people go on the road and drive. It’s a fact. It’s why in LA it doesn’t matter how many highways you build, you’re going to have traffic and more traffic. When you allow access for more people to get on the road, they’ll get on the road, and in a way that reflects Flash’s journey. The more he tries to do, the more information he takes in, the tougher it’s going to get, not easier.
Manapul: It’s completely reflective of the creative journey Brian and I are going through. It goes back to one of the early conversations we had with Geoff Johns which is, just write what you know and write what you feel. At that moment in time, we were both feeling extremely excited, but extremely overwhelmed with the opportunity in front of us. We took that feeling and we tried to transfer that over into the emotional journey Barry was going through.
“The Flash” #9 hits stores May 23.