from issue #5[Warning: Major spoilers ahead for this week's Flash #3.]
When DC announced that two artists would be taking over the writing duties on The Flash, nobody was sure what to expect from Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato as they brought the character into the New 52 universe.
But now that the series is three issues in — with issue #3 hitting this week — one thing is apparent: This series is taking extra advantage of the art side of comics to tell its story.
This week's issue is particularly reliant upon visuals, and it ends with a shocker that is only explained by the art.
To find out more about their approach to the comic — and the frustration they're obviously feeling when people don't read the art in the title — Newsarama talked with Manapul and Buccellato to discuss The Flash #3 and its surprising ending.
Newsarama: Wow, guys. What's with that last panel in issue #3?
Francis Manapul: Do you think he's dead, or what?
Nrama: I don't know what to think! If I had to guess, I'd point toward the fact that there are so many solicitations out. So I think he's still around next issue, right?
Manapul: The other solicitations are fake. This is our last issue. [laughs]
Nrama: You shouldn't joke around about things like that in a written interview. People will believe you! And it's not like DC has never done that with The Flash in recent history.
Brian Buccellato: I don't know what you're talking about!
Nrama: No, really. What is the story behind Barry standing there and getting shot? Why is The Flash completely still long enough to be hit by a bullet?
Manapul: There's so much information that he takes in that he freezes up. There's just a flood of information. It's too much for him to handle.
Nrama: So this is just a matter of all that information getting the best of him, right?
Manapul: Yeah, and I think with issue #2, a lot of people thought we were making Flash too powerful. But here you see, we're actually not making him more powerful. We're giving him a weakness. At the end of issue #3, you see what our true intentions are, and what the real ramifications of these powers are.
So there are some negatives to this ability he has to process so much information, like getting shot in the head. I'd say that's in the "con" column across from the "pros" he has in using these powers.
Buccellato: Yeah, there's such a big downside to that power, and he doesn't know how to use it yet. And we don't know if he'll ever truly be able to embrace that power the way people think he should be able to.
Manapul: Yeah, he can't embrace the power if he's dead.
Buccellato: Yeah, that too.
Nrama: The way you've chosen to show his information overload is something that I think is unique to comics, with all these overlaying panels on top of the story panel. Did you guys go through a few different versions of how that would be portrayed?
Buccellato: Nope. The first way was the way that we went with.
Manapul: Yeah, this all really stems from conversations we've had, dating all the way back to Wonder Con last year. I remember going up the elevator after meeting with Brian, and then quickly running right back downstairs and showing him on my iPad. I'm like, "Brian, this is what we have to do, right?" And then we kept building on that.So for us, it was a very natural way of doing it. And I think using panel layouts, we could — unlike in any other medium, with a comic book we could use panel layouts and show all the images constantly overlapping to overwhelm not just the readers, but the Flash himself, right?
At the same time he's being overwhelmed, so is the reader. We said early on that we were going to get people into the Flash's shoes, and that's been our intention all along, to make sure that you really feel what it's like to be him. And I think the overloading of panels isn't an accident at all.
Nrama: It worked because I was confused at first, looking at all the panels and trying to figure out what was happening from all that information you had in them, yet the dialogue had that guy saying, "Why's he just standing there?"
Buccellato: Exactly! And if you look at the panels, he actually thinks, in his mind, that he's already beaten them.
Nrama: He's already, like, three steps ahead of them, with his costume on. All this stuff that's going through his mind.
Buccellato: To him, that information becomes the reality.
Manapul: The emotions you were going through as you were reading it — those were the exact same emotions that he was having at that moment. That confusion. That desperation to get through all that information. A little bending of what's real and what's not.
That's the purpose of the panel layout and the images that we used.
Buccellato: Interestingly, we've been accused in some reviews of having a simple story. I think people are trying to simplify what we're doing, based upon their own expectations of what they've seen before. But I think this issue's ending reveals that we have a larger plan. And it's got a lot of layers, and over time people will understand what it is we're doing. We're not revealing it all at once, you know? We didn't hit you with the big guns yet. It's all building toward something.
I'm personally really interested in what people think of this issue, because #3 is really the first leap forward into a story that people didn't expect.
I think comic book readers love to look at a story and then make assumptions about what's going to happen next. It's part of the culture. Their minds immediately begin guessing what we're doing and where we're going. But I don't think anybody can possibly guess where we're going.
Manapul: I think a lot of people forget that you can read the art. The art is meant to be read, you know?
And I think with issue #2, there was a lot of paneling and storytelling that some people overlooked. So I noticed that one guy would come away with more story than another guy. And the someone would be asking, "When did that happen?" And then you realize, it was right there in the art.
I've started realizing that a lot of people have grown accustomed to the process of only reading the words, and flipping through the book really quickly. But this is a visual medium. The art is meant to be read along with the words.
That's what we're doing in this book. Those panels are not just images on paper to razzle-dazzle you. They're part of the narrative. It's just that we're using images to help move the story forward.
This is a comic book. You don't just read the words and skim forward through the book. You also don't just read the pictures. You read both.
Buccellato: And I wanted to add that we pretty much gave away what our theme is in the very first issue, but I don't think anyone has caught it yet. So maybe I'll put that challenge out to you. The theme has been established, but no one has caught it.
It'll be interesting to see when people will catch on to our theme that we gave away in issue #1.
Nrama: Interesting. Now I'm wishing I had issue #1 in front of me.
Manapul: Everything we've done is in layers. I mean, aside from some of the panels being layered on top of each other, it's a very layered story. We're just slowly getting to the core of it.
Nrama: Yeah, there is a lot going on in different places, particularly with the blackout, as we've seen little scenes from Iron Heights and what's going on with Mob Rule, and what's going on in the police department. Was it your intent to kind of expose where the Flash rogues were within this blackout?
Manapul: Yeah, and what's great about it is that we have a chance to build our world. Build our Flash world. So like in issue #3, we're introduced to Axel, which a lot of old-time readers know as the Trickster. And we're also introduced to Captain Cold. So we're slowly introducing the current world as it is, and where people are.I think it's important to know that these rogues aren't starting from scratch. This is an evolution of them. And we're going to continue to unravel the mystery of why they are where they are.
We've structured it in a way that we're introducing these characters so that new readers can feel that we're introducing a new character into the mythos of the Flash. And for old readers, they can get a different level of satisfaction because they have recognition of them from past versions.
Buccellato: We haven't thrown away all the past of all the rogues. Obviously, it's truncated in five years because this universe is only five years old. But their past has happened. And what you'll see with the rogues is an evolution. They're not a replacement.
Nrama: Can you explain how Barry stopped the airplane? It was vibration, right?
Manapul: Right, he vibrated the entire airplane and all of its contents through the bridge. And he vibrated it long enough for the momentum of the plane to slow down.
Buccellato: You'll notice that in some of the later panels, the edges of the plane break off. As he's losing his grip on his ability to vibrate, the outer parts of the plane are no longer vibrating, which is why they broke off.
Manapul: Yeah, if you read the art, after the plane vibrates through the bridge, in the first panel, the entire plane is vibrating. And in the second, you'll see that only the main cabin is still being vibrated, and the wings have snapped off. And it's what's keeping the plane on the surface of the water and preventing it from going all the way through. The Flash is able to hold on long enough until he gets on solid ground.
In the first issue, we established that he had a problem vibrating through the floor and doing so at the right frequency. But now, with his mind moving at a much faster speed, he's able to calculate the right frequencies and the right things to do.
Buccellato: We could have spent a lot of time with words explaining this. We could have spent a whole issue explaining the plane, but obviously, we're moving forward. So there is information in the art that people are going to have to read.
Nrama: So this ability he has, for his mind to move at a faster speed, saved an entire airplane of people. Yet in the same issue, that same power debilitates him.
Buccellato: Yeah, we opened with one manifestation of the power, and closed the issue with another. That was on purpose.
Manapul: Yeah, in issue #3, we show the pros and cons of that power.
Nrama: His greatest power is also his greatest weakness.
Nrama: Does the blackout represent something thematically?
Manapul: Absolutely. This isn't really a spoiler, I don't think, but this blackout will have more ramifications than it seems at the beginning. Our first 10 or so issues will be dealing with the blackout. With our message of trying to keep our book hopeful and optimistic, I think we really needed to do a visual representation, and symbolically seeing it. I mean, what's more symbolic than a bright red, glowing guy running in a completely dark city? Right?I think thematically, as well, we're asking, what happens when a city — a city that's always on the go and moving forward — what happens when it stops?
It's the exact same thing that Barry is going through. He's moving forward and going so fast. How do you defeat him? How does he lose?
You defeat him by making him stop moving. And that's why he gets shot in the head, right?
So the city is a reflection of what the Flash is going through.
In year 2, which we look at as season 2, it's going to be the same thing. What the Flash is going through will be reflected upon the city as well.
Nrama: Let's talk about the supporting cast you have in place. I actually saw a blog saying, "Team Iris" or "Team Patty," which I thought was hilarious. Will we see that relationship played out? I mean, assuming he lives.
Buccellato: If he lives, it will definitely continue.
We haven't decided, to be quite honest, we haven't decided where our run is going to end in terms of some of Barry's relationships. So that's not a certainty. I know some people think, oh it's going to begin as a love triangle, but then he'll end up with Iris.
Nothing is certain yet.
We're still exploring Patty, and we're exploring Iris, just as the readers are.
I'm not on any "team" yet. I'm on "Team Barry" currently.
Manapul: Yeah, we're trying to keep it as natural as possible. We don't have a definite idea that he's going to win Iris over, or that Patty's going to get her man. We're just seeing where Barry develops as a person, and who the right girl will be for him as we go along and discover who Barry is.
Barry Allen hasn't really been explored to this extent in quite awhile. He's been dead for a long time. And I think the exploration into who he really is will help us develop who that "right" person is, and who should be with him.
Buccellato: That's one of the few things we don't have nailed down yet. We obviously have a lot worked out about the plot. We have about 24 or 25 issues worked out. So we know where we're going with virtually everything. But I think we're letting Barry find his way when it comes to his relationship.
Nrama: What was the thought behind creating the villain, Mob Rule?
Buccellato: Francis and I really wanted to create an antagonist — because I don't think he's a villain — an antagonist who was tied to Barry personally, and who we could use to illuminate Barry's character.
All the characters have to stir the protagonist, even the villain. So we went for a power that could challenge him, which is why we have the clones. Someone who can be everywhere at once.
But with regard to Manuel's personality, we created someone who Barry could have been had he made different choices. Or had he not been the guy he ended up being, with the values that guided his choices. Manuel was coming from a different set of values, so his choices led him down a different path.
So they're sort of reflections of each other, or the yin and yang, of each other. And those were the two big processes we went through creating Mob Rule.
Nrama: Then to finish up, are there any hints you can give us about what's coming up?
Manapul: I don't know. It's getting pretty chilly here. I think I have ice in my veins.
Buccellato: Make sure you don't catch a cold.
Manapul: Right now, we've set up the world, and I think in the next arc, we're going to start pulling it apart. And right at the center of it is the Flash's most iconic villain.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!