Monday, November 28, 2011

Flash #1

DC Comics, 20 pages, $ 2.99

Co-writer and artist: Francis Manapul
Co-writer and colorist: Brian Buccellato
Letterer: Sal Cipriano

The first 10 pages of Flash #1 are the best introduction to a superhero comic I’ve seen in a long time. It’s just good, stylish, irresistible straightforward storytelling.

To (a) introduce the hero’s civilian identity, including Love Interest A and another supporting cast member, (b) provide, and zoom in on, an establishing shot that gives you a solid sense of place, and (c) kick off the first crisis, with the villains (literally) smashing through the roof, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato need only two pages.

A mere 11 panels, to be precise—with dialogue that actually sounds like people talking, rather than some lazy writer unloading information. And the absence of those dreadful, indiscriminate caption boxes that clutter up much of the rest of the “New 52” debuts is both notable and delightful.

What next? Page 3, of course: the Flash, to the rescue. In five horizontal panels separated by the credits, protagonist Barry Allen suits up as the Flash racing towards the reader.

At the center of the masterfully designed double-page spread that follows, we get a good look at the title character. The 12 panels arranged around him in orbital shape continue the story while also providing a lead-in to the series: In the upper right corner, there’s a brief stylized summary of the character’s origin story, while the five panels forming the lower semicircle in the splash are shaped like the letters “F-L-A-S-H.”

We’re only at page 5, and we’ve already got a hero, a secret identity, a supporting cast, a bunch of villains, a conflict, a first act—and a title sequence with a theme song.

Pages 6 and 7, then, show the Flash chasing the attackers, who are attempting escape into the Central City night with one of those helicopter/airplane hybrid things. The layouts here are clear and—apologies for the pun—flashy, but they’re mainly set-up for another eye-catcher.

Consisting of a nine-panel grid (street and buildings) sitting on top of two horizontal panels (the sewers below), page 8 shows the Flash and one of the attackers falling from the sky. In the center panel of the upper grid, the Flash uses his high-speed vibration powers to hurl his opponent through the window of a building to the left (“KRASH”), before he proceeds to vibrate himself through the asphalt (“VVVZZZZ”) and into the sewers (“SPLASH,” of course). The colors in the page accentuate the action and give the scene further focus and depth.

Manapul and Buccellato put in another explosion, and then, as we take a deep breath after all the fast-paced action, slow things down and take a page to have Love Interest B show up at the scene, as we discover that the Flash is fine.

To wrap things up, the sequence gets a full-page epilogue in which the Flash returns an object stolen by the villains to the supporting cast member introduced on page 2 and, as Barry Allen, reconnects with Love Interest A, making an excuse for his absence during the crisis.

And then, after this well-rounded and inventively staged introduction to the series and concept, the actual story begins. It’s good to remember that superhero comics can be fun.

The rest of the issue isn’t entirely as breathtaking as those first 10 pages—it’s only a rock-solid, incredibly well-told, beautifully drawn and colored superhero story. But that’s okay, and there are still some highlights; a birds-eye view of Barry’s office, for instance, or a kinetic and smartly choreographed chase sequence that has Barry jump off a quay wall to pick up speed underwater and re-emerge as the Flash.

And while there’s ample reason to like Flash for what it is, I also like it for what it’s not: There’s no pointless violence or cruelty here and no cheap pandering to the hardcore audience. It’s just two confident storytellers telling their story and trusting the audience to follow.

There are even some caption boxes with an internal monologue in the latter half of the book, but they’re brief bursts that are actually thought-like and fit the pacing at any time and enhance the action, rather than to disrupt it or bore the reader with irrelevant information or other unlikely “thoughts.”

In short, Manapul and Buccellato’s Flash is a celebration of storytelling. Its visuals, its pacing and its layouts radiate rhythm and creative zest. The creators make it look easy, but it isn’t, of course. In an ideal world, every superhero comic would be created with the kind of craft and ambition, thought and deliberation and just plain fun that are on display here.

This creative team is one to watch.

Grade: B+

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