A raison d’être is a “reason for existence.” Batman exists because Bruce Wayne saw his parents shot in Crime Alley. And since his resurrection in “Final Crisis”, the Flash has existed because the only case Barry Allen couldn’t solve was his mother’s murder.
During “Flashpoint”, however, that all changed. Barry found out who the killer was and finally accepted his mother’s death. So readers of the relaunched comic have to ask: What will be the Flash’s raison d’être going forward?
In the Flash #1, co-writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato do not answer this question outright, but instead incorporate it into their vision of who Barry Allen is and what his journey will be.
Gone is the brooding, emotionally distant man obsessed with his mother’s murder. Instead Manapul and Buccellato reinvent Barry Allen as an optimistic hero who even quips with the bad guys. If done incorrectly, this portrayal could have been too simplistic. However, the writers balance Barry’s altruism with scenes of quiet determination and yearning for deeper motivation.
Manapul and Buccellato vocalize this motivation in a flashback. Barry and his old friend Manuel are running from a rugby team, because Manuel has messed around with a player’s girlfriend. When Barry vents his frustration, Manuel argues that Barry just hasn’t “found someone worth taking a beating for”.
Here is where The Flash transforms the raison d’être from character trait to goal; Barry doesn’t have someone worth taking a beating for yet (and it shows in his personality), but he’s looking.
In the short-term, the writers suggest Manuel as this person, though more likely he’ll end up a villain. The dialogue is convincing enough, but the plotting and over-the-top ending make Manuel a less relatable character. Since the flashback, Manuel has been “too busy outrunning ghosts to notice the friends he left behind”. In fact, he only comes back into Barry’s life when he appears to die. By the end of the issue though, Manuel is shown to be alive, and he and Barry are running as in the flashback, but this time from a group of Manuel’s clones.
Manuel aside, the writers do succeed in providing a viable, long-term raison d’être in the character of Iris West. Longtime readers will know Iris as Barry’s wife, a very prominent character in previous comics. But whereas Superman #1 closes with the revelation that Lois Lane is with another man, the Flash shockingly opens with Barry on a date with Patty Spivot, a coworker and forensic analyst for Central City’s Police Department.
Barry is all smiles around Patty, but only later with Iris does he actually look like he’s in love. After a fight scene, Barry lies face up in a sewer, and Manapul (who pulls double duty as artist) draws him sublimely bright-eyed. In the next panel, we understand why when see what Barry sees: Iris West framed by The Flash’s electricity surging around her.
Manapul and Buccellato are clearly building a relationship with Iris as Barry’s journey to achieve a raison d’être; however, to make it interesting, they’re adding some conflicts along the way. Manapul portrays Patty Spivot’s jealousy convincingly, as when she pulls Barry away from Iris and the look on her face when she subtly jabs, “[Iris] comes on a little strong, doesn’t she?”
(It should be pointed out that in this same scene there is a hooded figure glowing red in the background that is not mentioned again; if this character turns out to be a major villain, it is an incredibly slight nod.)
The writers throw another significant, though well-worn, wrench along the path of the relationship: Iris West is a reporter and Barry Allen is the Flash. This secret will be tested in the next issue when Iris goes to see Barry’s broken-into apartment.
Beyond characterization and story, what makes the Flash so palpable even though it focuses largely on Barry’s inner growth is Manapul’s kinetic artwork. Nearly half the comic seems to involve Barry running in some way, but each time it feels different and interesting: Barry runs at the fourth wall, but in each panel his costume attaches further; a flashback is brightly lit and washed out, giving it a nostalgic feel; Barry exudes electrifying joy as he runs on water with red and yellow bolts trailing him.
Ultimately, the Flash abounds with potential to not only reinterpret the character of Barry Allen, but to reinvent what it means for a superhero to have a raison d’être, that is, a reason for their existence.