Among the successes in DC's New 52 initiative has been the revitalization of The Flash. And now, the title will get a slew of revamped villains, a new explanation for the speed force, and a new Flash Annual.
For years, Flash has had some of comics' most popular villains, a group known commonly among fans as the "Rogues." Beginning with a revamped Captain Cold in this week's issue #6, The Flash will be re-introducing the Rogues to the new DCU.
The Flash is already doing surprisingly well since the character was rebooted in September by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato. Along with the comic's sales success — landing consistently in the Top 10 since its launch — The Flash can also be held up as an example of artists effectively transitioning to writing.
Manapul and Buccellato have established a unique feel for the comic, mixing their art skills with their storytelling talents to make The Flash a standout in the New 52. While Manapul does pencils, inks and watercolors for the title, Buccellato does the colors. And they both plot and script the story.
Now that the team is beginning a series of smaller, quicker story arcs as they continue to revamp villains and concepts for The Flash. Newsarama talked to the pair to find out more.
Newsarama: Brian and Francis, now that your first storyline in The Flash has ended, what's coming up? You've got a few shorter stories coming up that are focusing on the rogues, don't you?
Francis Manapul: They are shorter, but they all tie together. With our first arc being a little long, we wanted to really get things moving now.The Captain Cold story will take place in issues #6 and #7, then #8 will focus on Turbine and the Speed Force. Then #9 is about Gorilla Grodd.
This structure allows us to focus on the different aspects of the Flash rogues gallery. While we enjoyed the long-form storytelling style of the first arc, there are a number of things we've learned along the way that allow us to go a little bit quicker and snappier with the way we're telling our story.
Nrama: What can you tell us about Captain Cold?
Brian Buccellato: Captain Cold is not a pushover. And I think Flash is in for a little bit of a rude awakening.
He's not your daddy's Captain Cold.
Manapul: Yeah, he's different, but there are a lot of aspects of Captain Cold that we kept. His motivation and his personality will be familiar. He's a downtrodden, regular guy just trying to get by. That's all still there.
But now he's a lot more powerful. For the Flash, the stakes are higher, the threat is a lot higher.
And the reader will be taking this journey of discovery along with Barry, because as Flash is discovering Captain Cold, or rather re-discovering Captain Cold, so will readers.
Nrama: The end of issue #5 had a real surprise, as we were told a little more about the nature of the speed force in the New 52 universe. Is your goal to define what the speed force is?
Buccellato: Yes. We're going to explain the speed force definitively.
Nrama: And that's going to be a definition we'll see in issue #8?
Manapul: Yeah. We're redefining the speed force, but we're also taking a lot of the elements that have been used to explain it in the past, and we're just combining them into one stew that is a little more palatable.And just to be clear, we're not throwing out what's come before. We'll be combining a lot of what you've seen in the past about the speed force. We wanted to put it together in a tighter, neater package.
The speed force has always been this thing that is half-defined, sort of defined, or redefined. And the way our approach is, it's such a simple way of describing a speed force to a new reader. We're trying to make it easier to understand.
This definition also gives a better purpose for the Flash's existence, and purpose for the speed force.
Everything has a meaning.
Buccellato: It doesn't just exist for an arbitrary reason.
Buccellato: Our approach is simplified and direct. We actually can even describe it in a couple words, which I think readers will be interested in finding out. It's such an easy thing to define for us, and I'm looking forward to readers seeing it.
Nrama: When you say seeing it, can you describe how you're portraying the speed force visually?
Manapul: Inside the speed force itself will be quite different. I think before, it's always been portrayed as just these speed lines and light and stuff like that. We really want to make it a world that's fully realized, you know? And when the Flash enters this world, we want the readers to be in awe just as much as Barry Allen is.
It's really going to be quite different visually.It's been defined before as this energy force in time, like it was portrayed before. And then it's been portrayed as coming from Barry Allen. And all of those things are kind of still true. I know that sounds cryptic, but you'll just have to read the issue to find out what I mean.
Buccellato: We don't want to say too much about it. But we felt like the inside of the speed force always looked like this sort of undefined thing. And the question we asked was, what is it?
So now we're just saying, we know what it is, and we will show you, and you will see in issue #8.
Nrama: The cover that we saw for issue #8 -- is that an indication of the type of art we'll see inside the speed force?
Manapul: Yes and no.
Buccellato: That's Turbine doing his thing on the cover. So a lot of what you see on that cover is Turbine.
Manapul: You'll actually get a glimpse of it sooner than issue #8.
Nrama: At the end of issue #5, it seemed like it as pretty imperative that Flash figure out whether he's "tearing apart space and time," as the doc told him.
Manapul: Yeah, and that's a little bit of a nod to Flashpoint. What he's doing can potentially destroy a world. He's constantly pulling stuff from the past and bringing it to the present, and vice versa. And for something like that to be happening all the time, it's not healthy for the timeline. All of that connects to our portrayal of what it looks like inside the speed force, as well as what you've seen in the past.
But that discovery at the end of issue #5 also presents a problem for Barry. As a hero, as a superhero who runs, how can you function and do your thing when you're told that you can't do what you do.
And in the opportune moment where he's told that he can't, Captain Cold shows up. You know?
It's a very challenging thing for a hero to be told not to do their thing.
Buccellato: Yeah. Imagine if you're told, OK, yeah, you're a hero, but you can't use your powers. If you're Batman, that might not be a problem. But it might be a problem for the Flash.
Nrama: But that would also show what part of him really is a hero, wouldn't it?
Buccellato: What defines heroism? I mean, are you a hero because you have powers? Or are you a hero because you put your life at risk to help others? That's real heroism. There can't be courage without sacrifice and fear and without risk.
Nrama: What can we expect from the new Gorilla Grodd we'll see in issue #9?
Manapul: I'll be honest, with Gorilla Grodd, we're changing quite a bit. He's still a gorilla. And there's still a Gorilla City.But there's going to be a deeper connection between Gorilla Grodd and the Flash than there was before. We're revamping more or less their origin and how they came to be. We're not going to do the alien spaceship granting these gorillas intelligence -- it's something like that, but different.
They're definitely going to be a lot more brutal. The thing that we really want to express with Gorilla Grodd is we want a villain that's scary. We want to really instill a lot of fear in Barry Allen. So far, a lot of the villains have reflected Barry Allen in some way. Mob Rule reflected what it's like if you run away from your problems. Captain Cold will be a reflection of what you're willing to do and where you draw the line. I won't say what the reflection is with Turbine, because you'll find out. And then with Gorilla Grodd, it's going to be fear.
I think that's what issue #9 is about. It's about fear and evolution.
Buccellato: And they're connected. Their origins and why the exist is very connected, and will remain so throughout our version of The Flash and Grodd.
Manapul: If in issue #8 we redefine what the speed force is, in issue #9 we absolutely state how Barry Allen connects to the speed force and what his purpose is. And Gorilla Grodd and Gorilla City play a very important role in that.
Nrama: What's coming to the title further into 2012? Will we see more of the rogues?
Buccellato: Definitely. We introduce the whole gallery, so to speak. And that will culminate in a bigger storyline where they kick Flash's butt.
Manapul: And you'll see shorter and tighter stories. The spine of the story will continue from issue to issue, but the main story will be one- or two-issues stories that feature different villains and all the colorful bad guys that define Flash's rogues.
Buccellato: There is an over-arching story. It all ties together. And Flash's rogues gallery is going to be different from the one people remember. There will be people in that rogues' gallery that you've never seen before and characters that are more familiar.
Manapul: Everything is really culminating to a bigger story, but we want to entertain the readers. Before we get to issue #12, we'll have a Flash Annual that will come out, and that will really set things up for what's coming.
Nrama: I know there was some confusion about the solicitations for this week's issue and what's coming up in the book. Weren't you guys originally supposed to do a story about the "Gem Cities?" What happened to that story?
Manapul: Yes, initially, #6 and #7 were going to be stories about the Gem Cities. It's always been referred to in the past as the "Twin Cities," and we were going to get into why they're called the Gem Cities now. But that story will have to wait. We decided to instead bump up the Captain Cold story because the demand for that one was higher from fans. So we'll tell the Gem Cities story another time. We're looking forward to building the world around Barry Allen a little more, devoting some of the story to the setting.
Nrama: Do you guys have a timeline of what has happened when in Barry's life and the history of these characters and even the cities where the story is based?
Buccellato: In a general sense, we have a timeline. We don't have a year-by-year, moment-by-moment timeline, but we know where the landmarks are. We know where the characters have been, and we know where they're going.
Nrama: It's interesting to hear you talk about keeping some things from past runs on The Flash, but redefining them for this new universe. I know you guys are comic book fans, just like our readers. As you redefine these things, do you keep in mind that you need to pay homage somewhat to what's come before?
Manapul: Yeah, it's a struggle that goes on behind the scenes, because you have to figure out what part of the past works really well and should be incorporated into the New 52, and how much of it doesn't work and shouldn't be brought forward.
Buccellato: I don't know that I'd call it "paying homage," but I think we're just approaching The Flash in a way that is respectful to what came before. Sometimes we just approach is as a re-imagining. We understand the spirit of the original, but we also know what feels dated about the characters and concepts. Like, if character X was created in 1967, then we know there are elements about him that specifically relate to that era in history. So we'll try to figure out a way to re-imagine those time-specific elements and relate them instead to modern times, while still keeping the core of the character intact.I think that's how we move forward with everything we do with the Flash, because there's so much history, and yet we are tasked to writing fresh and new Flash stories. We try our best to balance the changes with keeping the core elements.
Manapul: I think the perfect example is the way we portray Barry. The core and essence of the character remains the same, but we just changed the window dressing a little bit, spruced it up and made it fresh and new.
Nrama: And that's your approach with the rogues?
Manapul: It is. I think the essence of these rogues is still there, and a lot of the motivations and what makes them who they are -- that's still there. But the powers and how they got them might have some changes that make the character feel more up-to-date. Those things aren't as important as who they are. We're sticking true to that.
Nrama: And you know, I have to admit to you guys. Since we talked last time, I have been re-educating myself to really stop and read the art. You've forced me to slow down and enjoy the comic.
Manapul: That's funny, but that's great!
Nrama: In issue #5, when we last saw Manuel Lago, I almost missed all those fingers on the floor. Almost. And even that reflection in those last panels where you can see Mob Rule. It's just those little visual details that tell the story. Do you run into a lot of your readers who are like me, having to re-wire their brain and say, OK, read the art, not just the words?
Buccellato: Absolutely. And I don't know if you know this, but Francis knows how to draw. I just want to state the for the record.
Manapul: It's not even so much that I know how to draw. I think it's more about telling a story. I would like to think I know how to do that. At the risk of sounding arrogant, I can tell the story by using more than just words. I can tell the story by also utilizing the art. That's what a comic book is -- that's what makes it unique. The story isn't told in just words. It's also told through the art.
So if you're a person who's used to just glancing through the art and reading the balloons and flipping through, you're going to miss quite a lot in The Flash.
For example, in issue #4 and #5, Captain Cold essentially breaks out. And unfortunately, because we were wrapping up a story, we didn't have a whole lot of room to actually show him breaking out. So when you look at issue #5, when you see Iron Heights, you see a trail of ice that leads Iris out. It's the footprint, literally, of Captain Cold, showing where he escaped. You can see ice wrapping around the hill where he went down to the water, and then when the Flash is running through a bunch of ice chunks, that are shaped to be the title page, there are actually footprints on it that Captain Cold used to cross the water. And you see ice chunks leading toward the shore.
That's the kind of thing that, as a reader, if you were astute about reading the art as well as reading the words, you'll have the answer to how Captain Cold escaped. I suppose we're making you work a little harder to figure it out, but all the information is there in the story, right where you can see it.I think that approach makes it more fun when you read the book. I'd even like to think people will go back and read the book a second or third time, just to get a better reading experience and maybe even come away with something unique on subsequent reads. I'd like to think it gives you more value, like you're getting more story than what the page count might suggest.
Buccellato: There's a practicality to it. We only have 20 pages to tell a lot of stuff, so we pack other things into the art. It's creative problem solving. How do we tell 75 things in 20 pages, and not make it feel like it's just exposition or text? That's what I think is great about the Flash run so far, and it's a testament to Francis' storytelling ability. We're not overwhelming you with captions, and anyone who's skimming through the pages in the shop, you're not really reading the art. You're missing a lot of the story.
Manapul: I know a lot of people are pretty stoked about the interesting layouts I've used and the non-conventional storytelling and stuff like that. But I don't arbitrarily use layouts that way. I'm not going to just do a panel shaped like lightning because it looks cool. I only try to mess around with layouts if it helps the story. Like in issue #4, every interesting, psychedelic double-page helped tell the story and helped expand on a different aspect of it. We never just use an interesting layout or breakout of a border unless we're doing it for a good reason.
But to answer your question, yes. We want to challenge the readers to think and really read the art.
Nrama: It's interesting that you use the term "discovery," because when we had talked in the past, you felt like the theme of the comic was really a reflection of the type of discovery you guys were going through as writers. Do you still feel that way, or is the theme evolving?
Buccellato: I think it's still the same theme. Originally, we wrote about Flash being overwhelmed, and that echoed what we were feeling at the time. I don't think we're overwhelmed anymore. We've gotten up to speed pretty quickly.
Nrama: Nice way to describe it for a Flash book.
Buccellato: Yeah! I didn't even mean that! But yeah, I think the theme of The Flash, moving forward, will be focused on facing new challenges and sort of learning his way, and that does echo what we're going through now.
In a sense, it's evolved. It's not brand new for us anymore, and it's not brand new for Barry. But it's still a reflection of us because while the Flash is discovering and growing as a hero, we're learning new things about telling these stories in new and fresh ways as we redefine and explore the world of the Flash.FACEBOOK and TWITTER!