One of the most familiar villain teams in the DCU before the New 52 relaunch was the Flash's band of enemies, known as the "Rogues."
The team was so popular, that there were stand-alone events and multiple storylines dedicated to their adventures, as they followed their gritty leader Captain Cold and schemed against the scarlet speedster.
Now the New 52 is revamping all those rogues in The Flash, the ongoing monthly series from artist/writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato. Not only will most of them look different, but some will have new nationalities and origins thanks to the clean slate provided by the New 52.
After a two-issue story that introduced Captain Cold earlier this year, Manapul and Buccellato will be telling one-issue origin stories for the Rogues for the next four issues of The Flash, then will pull them all together in September's Flash Annual. Included are new versions of Heat Wave, Weather Wizard, Golden Glider, Gorilla Grodd and a new Pied Piper.
And the writers have revealed to Newsarama that it's all leading to a Flash event later this year.
Of course, the tweaks to the Rogues' origins aren't the only recent change to The Flash universe. Since the series launched, Barry Allen's world has been altered in multiple ways, including last month's revamp in The Flash #8 of the Speed Force that powers the hero.
The creative team has also introduced a new approach to the comic's creation. Because Manapul does the pencils, inks and watercolors, while Buccellato does the coloring, their co-writing has become an integrated process where art and "script" blend, forcing the audience to read the art instead of just relying on captions to describe the action. "We're able to really utilize every aspect of the art to tell the story," Manapul told Newsarama of the process.
Readers have responded to all the change by making The Flash a consistent Top 20 title for DC. Newsarama checked in with the duo to find out more about all these changes, what the Speed Force represents and what's coming up next.
Newsarama: This issue felt like a turning point for the Flash, as he found out that he must continue to run to save the world. There's no looking back now. Did it feel that way for you two? That this is a turning point not only for Barry, but for the series?
Francis Manapul: Yeah, absolutely. It's a huge revelation to find out that the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Up to this point, the only thing he knew was that he had superpowers and he wanted to use them for good. But now he realizes that he's got superpowers, but it doesn't matter if he's using them for good or not. All that matters is that he keeps running. Otherwise, the world becomes unstable because of the nature of the speed force.
Brian Buccellato: It's basically, "I have to run or bad things will happen." That's a burden. "Superhero and heroism aside, I have to run."
Nrama: And yet it's interesting that the world thinks he's dead right now. It's almost like the death of his potential to be a normal human guy. Now he has to be this superpowered being.
Buccellato: Right. There's a reason for that funeral being in this issue.
Manapul: Absolutely. And the most heroic thing he just did, nobody knows he did it, giving power back to a city is no small feat.
Nrama: What was behind the choice to make the speed force appear the way it does and function the way it does?
Buccellato: First of all, we wanted it to be something coherent and something that you can actually visualize and get a grasp on. So for us, a lot of it was practical. I think in the past it had been just, like, some blurry lines and speed force lines. And that's really nebulous and sort of confusing. So when we decided that the speed force was literally going to be the forward motion of time and space, then we needed a visual representation. And that's what we tried to come up with.
Manapul: The mechanics of how it works, even though this is new, it's actually a combination of the ways it's been explained in the past. It's been explained as outside time. And now, it's what's running time forward. And it's been mentioned that Barry Allen was the engine. And now, this shows Barry Allen to be the runner. So he's still the chosen one. So we took a lot of the elements of the past.
In terms of the visualization of it, a lot of it really reflects exactly what the speed force is about. It shows the past, present and future. The one thing that we didn't get into there is the future, because Turbine and anybody else in there aren't fast enough to see beyond that. But when Barry Allen is in there, he can see the rocks forming and urging him to move forward, because he's the only one who can see beyond what's in the past and what's in the present.
The rock formations in the speed force almost serve as a filter. The way we explain the speed force, and that it's what's moving time forward. But in the same way the body has an immune system, the speed force needs an immune system to prevent itself from mixing stuff in from the past, present and future. So the rocks serve as a filter. That's why those guys are stuck there. So it became more of a design following the functionality of it.
Obviously, the inspiration for it was kind of an M.C. Escher illustration, where it's very, very trippy. You don't know which way is up or down. And gravity doesn't really exist in that area.
Nrama: Yeah, you don't know which way's up.
Buccellato: There is no up.
Manapul: When you're in the speed force, to see a time stream of the entire world would probably destroy a person's mind. So when you're in the speed force, it's actually a very, very personal thing. So what you're seeing is your personal timestream. And people close to you, and what you know. It's not going to show you things that aren't related to who you are.
Buccellato: Turbine even says that. He says in issue #8 that you see what you want to see. It shows you what you want to see. That's why all those representations that Francis drew were about Barry. It's not that the time stream is only Barry. It's just, that's what he sees.
Nrama: Turbine almost felt like a tour guide for the speed force. He's also creating a problem, so he represents a threat. But he was also the person introducing the speed force as it exists now in the New 52.
Nrama: At the end of the issue, we caught a glimpse of his world. Barry's the only one who went there, right? I saw some people online who thought Turbine accompanied him, but it didn't look that way to me. But where did Turbine go?
Manapul: Turbine went somewhere else. But you'll see more about it in the next issue.
Buccellato: Yeah, they did not end up in the same place.
Nrama: Well, I read the art. You guys have trained me to do that. And Turbine wasn't in that last panel.
Manapul: [Laughs.] Everything is pretty deliberate, yeah. And you really have to read the art to see where the separation happens in the next issue.
Nrama: But you're saying we will see more of Turbine?
Nrama: Is Gorilla Grodd in a different point in time? I know Barry said he wanted to stay in the present, but did they indeed stay in the present?
Buccellato: We're not jumping through time to Gorilla Grodd.
Manapul: In issue #8, Barry says he wants to stay in the present. And that's his intent as he leaves the Speed Force.
Nrama: But there were avenues the Barry could take to travel through time from inside the Speed Force, right? He just doesn't want to do that, even though Turbine wants him to.
Manapul: Yeah. In issue #8, in theory, in the Speed Force, the Flash has control over where he wants to go. That's why Turbine sees Flash as his way out. But Flash refuses to go back into this timestream anywhere else than where he should be, which is the present. And even the Speed Force is urging him to move toward the present, and nowhere else.
Buccellato: We're sort of saying that Flash innately learned his lesson from Flashpoint, like, without saying it. He just knows, somehow, that if you go back in time, you can screw everything up. It's our little way of acknowledging the New 52 and everything that happened.
Manapul: Let's be honest. We both gave a chuckle when he says, "We can't go back in time and mess things up!"
As a new reader, you can take is as the Flash having great conviction, which Barry does. But if you're an old reader, you can say, you know what? Hey, maybe he did learn his lesson. Ultimately, it's up to the reader to decipher that and have it mean what it means to them.
Nrama: And we also met who appears to be Pied Piper in this issue. Is he going to be a recurring character?
Manapul: He's going to be a recurring character. He's going to become part of the supporting cast. One of the things that Brian and I are really working on doing is having Barry's supporting cast reflect the journey that he's experiencing.
The conversation and the conflict that David Singh and Hartley are having are reflective of Barry Allen's journey right now. But to answer your question, yes, Hartley will be coming back as a key character in the supporting cast.
Nrama: And he's in a relationship with Singh, correct? It's subtle, but again, it's implied in the art.
Buccellato: Yes, he's in a relationship with Singh.
Manapul: When we were writing it, we made an effort to not make it seem like a thing to grab headlines, or to sensationalize it. The way we're writing it, it's just a matter of fact: That's who they are, and that's the way it is.
The struggles that they're having in their relationship go far beyond the Pied Piper's past. It's reflective of the challenges that a realistic couple like that would have within the context of the real world. Here's a guy who's the director of the crime lab's unit in Central City. There's definitely a certain apprehension on his part. He feels like, if people knew he was gay, would he lose some of their respect? We'd like to think that wouldn't ever happen, but if we're going to be reflective of the real world, we have to recognize that for the person who's in the middle of that kind of situation, those concerns would be natural. So we wanted to present it in a realistic fashion.
Buccellato: But we also don't want this to be a "thing" that defines that part of the story. We didn't create this character as a "gay" character. That's not what this is about. It's just about a character who has a life, and this is who he is. And that's it.
It's not some kind of stunt.
Nrama: The way it came across was, even though Singh's mouth said "friend," his nervousness told more of a story about his feelings.
Manapul: Absolutely. And again, it's reflective of where Barry Allen is right now. You see, Pied Piper knows who he is. He embraces it. His past, his present and his future. And with Director Singh, he's not sure. He's holding back. He's not sure the world will understand who he really is. And in a sense, it's exactly what Barry Allen is going through with his alter ego. There's apprehension there about whether he can truly be who he really is.
Nrama: We'll find out more in issue #9 about Gorilla Grodd. What can you tell fans about that issue?
Manapul: This is a complete reimagining of Gorilla Grodd and how they came to be. We came up with a pretty intricate society that they have. One of the things you saw established in issue #8 was this fight with his father. And you know, that kind of came out of a simple question we asked, "does Gorilla Grodd have a first name?" [Laughs.] It's not Gorilla!
So we came up with this whole backstory that, in his particular society, you have to earn your name. You're not just given that name. So up to this point, he's the son of Grodd. And when they reach a certain point in age, at adulthood, each ape has to challenge their father for their name and birthright. And if you win, he's not Grodd. And you take over that role.
Buccellato: The downside is that you kill your dad. [Laughs.]
Manapul: Yeah! It's a pretty big downside. But you'll find out that there's an actual reason why they came up with this savage ritual. They didn't always have it. It's something they recently started, and it's for a very, very good reason.
Nrama: Speaking of good reasons, is there a reason that Flash just happened to fall into this "present" location out of the Speed Force? After all, Barry was seeing things connected to him, right?
Buccellato: Right. It's not a coincidence that he ended up in Gorilla City. It's not just some random thing, and it's explained in this issue why he ended up there.
Grodd is connected to Barry and to the Speed Force. Barry learns more about who he is and the context of why he is through Gorilla City and through his interaction with Gorilla Grodd.
You'll learn what Gorilla City is, why it is, and all that stuff.
Manapul: In the same way that issue #8 explained to you what the Speed Force is and what its place is in the world, issue #9 will explain to you what Barry Allen's place is in the world, in regards to the Speed Force.
Nrama: In The Flash #10, we'll meet the Weather Wizard. Can you tell fans anything about that issue?
Manapul: Issue #10 is Barry Allen dealing with the ramifications of all the things he just learned. So the issue really deals with the burden of this responsibility.
This will take our story to Guatemala, where Weather Wizard is currently residing. He is also reimagined a little bit. He's a Guatamalan. And he's currently running his family's drug cartel business. And what happens is Patty's inquiries and investigation lead her there.
Buccellato: It's another issue that's reflective of Barry's state of mind and his character. What Weather Wizard is going through has parallels to what Barry's going through. It's another case where we're using the villain to reflect what's going on with Barry and his life, and his emotional state.
Manapul: Since the Captain Cold issue, since we started marching down this road of one issue, one rogue, each one has been reflective of Barry Allen's emotional journey.
This will all tie together in the Annual, and moving forward in issue #13 and on.
Nrama: Before that, you have issue #11, which introduces the new Heat Wave. What kind of guy is he?
Buccellato: He's a crispy guy.
Manapul: And Heat Wave hates Captain Cold. He hates him. He absolutely, absolutely hates Captain Cold.
Nrama: Is he also a reimagining of the villain?
Manapul: Yes. We're having a lot of fun really taking what everyone's expectations of what we would do with these characters and really turning it on its head. They're still who they are, but it's also an evolution into who they could have been. A lot of times, in comic book stories where everything's serialized, characters don't really grow. So we're kind of using the past knowledge of readers of who these characters are, and then using that knowledge to bring them to where they are now, in terms of the way they changed, and making them feel the evolution of these characters. They're interesting characters on their own, for people who may be new readers, but they're also evolutions of their past characters. They're the exact same people, but we've changed it to where their characters not just physically evolved, but emotionally evolved.
They also have different opinions of each other now.
Nrama: So they're connected?
Buccellato: There is a singular event that changed all of them, in terms of being meta, and also how they relate to each other, how they feel about each other, and how they feel about themselves.
So there is one unifying event that will be revealed.
Manapul: It all happens in the Annual, which comes out with issue #12.
And I don't think we've announced this before, but issue #12 focuses on Lisa Snark. She'll be the last rogue that we'll be putting the spotlight on before the Annual.
Nrama: Ah, the Golden Glider. Can you give us any hints about her?
Buccellato: Well, she's not Golden Glider. She's just Glider. And she's the most different, probably, of any of the characters.
Manapul: But she's still very much golden.
Nrama: It sounds like an exciting ride through all the Flash's rogues. But I get the feeling that this Annual is where the important stuff happens. Is it a big issue?
Buccellato: The Annual will lead into quite a climactic event in The Flash. The Annual will lead to something even bigger. We have big plans going forward that will spring from the Annual.
Manapul: One of the things that Brian and I have been working really hard to do since our first arc is create shorter, tighter stories. After Captain Cold, which was a two-issue arc, every story after that, more or less, is a one-and-done. Obviously, there's an ongoing thread. But we made a real effort to make each one a satisfactory story unto itself.
Every issue is building to something bigger. And we're getting a better picture of who Barry Allen is.
I think, for the most part, people know who The Flash is and what the parameters of his character are. So we're taking the approach of reflecting him in each villain. Each story you're getting, while it might seem like it's focusing on the villain, it's actually very reflective of the journey that Barry Allen is going through. And all of it ties back to a singular line or theme that we had in the first couple pages of issue #1. It's all tying together. I know that right now the hinges are coming loose a little bit, and things are a little bit out of control with this big journey that Barry Allen is going through, but it's all going to come back together in the end. Stick with it.