[27 February 2012]
PopMatters Comics Editor
By Kill Bill, already by Volume One, Tarantino’s time-jumping technique seemed coherent, bowing finally to the necessary logic of sense that narrative theory dictates (and dictates for good reason). Would Uma Thurman’s knife fight with Vivica Fox, in Fox’s fictive kitchen, with Fox’s fictive daughter right upstairs really have been the fitting coda to the story of the revenge of woman left for dead by her erstwhile comrades? Would that scene really have been the burning segue into Volume Two that Kill Bill demanded? This movie was a profound statement, the redeeming of a genre, and an anonymous knife fight might not have been the ticket. Instead, Tarantino weaves and warps, through flashback and flashforward arguably his most logical movie (at least until Inglorious Basterds).
The whole of Volume One plays like an irrepressible backbeat. There’s a constant and a sustained forward momentum, at each turn the stakes get raised. There’s that anonymous knife fight. Then the reason for it. Then the struggle to overcome physical setback. Then the sourcing of superior weapons. Then taking down the gang in that restaurant. That magnificent, sweeping one-shot fight sequence that left some hundred-something yakuza dead. By the time Uma Thurman made it back to the States, by the time she killed Fox, Bill already knew she was coming for him. And he had the longest of all possible times to prepare.
Up through Reservoir Dogs and particularly in Pulp Fiction Tarantino refused this same creative option he exercised in Kill Bill and again, later in Inglorious Basterds. There’s something tighter about these later movies that Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction and even in its own way, Jackie Brown are deeply dismissive of. Pulp Fiction is about Tarantino inviting you to enjoy the ride. Do you trust him enough by now, after Reservoir Dogs, to throw caution to the wind and allow him to bounce you through narrative time as he pleases? And with Reservoir Dogs it was different, it was simpler. The time-bouncing mirrored the external chaos of an in-over-their-heads stickup team getting to grips with the chaos their actions unleashed.
Kill Bill showed a maturity on Tarantino’s part, a definitive growth. Not the fake growth of “make ‘normal’ movies, you fiend!”, that manic hyper-stylized sensibility of Tarantino’s is still very much in play with Kill Bill. But that Tarantino-ism is so much more accessible, and that is the real growth that Tarantino spotlights with Kill Bill. A Tarantino who gives us classic Tarantino, but better.
All of this is fine for Tarantino. He does one film every half-decade or so. And over the course of the last decade we’ve learned to grow accustomed to this pace. Because Tarantino, since Kill Bill, has been giving us the most accessible kind of high art. So the inordinate gap of years between one Tarantino and the next is perfectly acceptable, given the high quality of each project.
Then there’s Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, the creative team in every sense of the New 52 The Flash. And my only question is, How dare they?
Both Francis and Brian plot out the story, with Francis doing scripting, as well as penciling and Brian doing color and separations. There’s something oldtimey about them, but at the same time, something deeply cutting edge. Oldtimey in the sense that it’s anachronistic—we don’t really see cartoonists work on mainstream superhero books these days. But there they are, geographically dispersed across the full breadth of North America and connected through cyberspace. And something deeply cutting edge, bleeding edge about them and their collaboration on the Flash. This book is deeply unfair to other creative teams working on other books. After the Flash readers come to expect too much from “throwaway” entertainment.
So really, how dare they? How dare they do a book this good? How dare they do a book this good, this frequently? How dare they make high art look this easy?
Like the cartoonists of old, Francis and Brian play games with the space of the page—panels appear in the for of words, words tumble through empty space on the page. Panels fly by as if just momentarily there on the page, rushing to get to where they need to be. Tossed across the page, strewn as if idly so, rushing by and affording us on the briefest of all possible glimpses, this is the overtaxed sensation of what it must feel like to be the Flash. This is what it must feel like to live life in the rearview, catching up to your life only while on the run.
This partnership is working so well I want to personally ensure that the finely-crafted, superbly scripted villain from Francis and Brian’s first storyarc, Mob Rule, become a template for these writer-artists themselves. This last interview with them, they spoke about how Mob Rule was a conceptual opposite to the Flash. The Flash moves so fast, he attempts being in more than one place at one time. And yet, with Mob Rule, the villain cloned from Flash’s alter ego, Barry Allen’s, lifelong friend Manuel Lagos, there finally is a villain that can be in more places than one, at one time. And that’s the grail for this creative pairing. They are so supernaturally good, I want to see them cloned, again and again. I say this only out of the firmest, most inviolate belief, that art is all that ennoble men. My plea for cloning Francis and Brian is a plea for the ennobling of us all, and those of us yet to come.
Francis and Brian attempt, and quickly master, Tarantino’s trademark time-bounce style this issue, “Best Served Cold”, that sees Barry Allen, as the Flash, face off against his oldest, and in some ways most familiar foe, Len Snart’s Captain Cold.
In the first, it’s the science that gets to me. The Captain has evolved his powers exponentially. He’s now able to command cold at a molecular level, and this time, slow the the very air molecules around himself to the point where he becomes a real adversary to the Flash. How so? Well slowing down the molecules surrounding the Flash adversely effects how Barry Allen is able to tap the Speed Force.
But the science is just intellectual set-dressing. I’m really back to, How dare they?, at this point. The real beauty, the true art of the story is how the characterization of each of the leads cascades into the becoming a fully-visualized, vividly-realized world. It’s the small, personal space of Patty Spivot, her head resting in Barry’s lap, both on a Cheeta Bus (yup, Cheeta’ without the H), as they escape from their romantic getaway. It’s Iris West, Gal Reporter, aboard a decommissioned boat, now turned cheesy sea-themed mega-cafe, like the kind you feel you’d properly find in San Francisco or Seattle.
That scene is purely beautiful. It is the three of them, together at last, Barry, his newly “minted” girlfriend Patty, and Iris West, Barry’s longtime paramour from Old DC. Patty speaks openly about her and Barry’s exclusivity, while discussing details of an abduction cold case that Iris herself investigated. And Iris for her part, speaks openly about her about-face in reporting the Flash, how she’s begun shaping him as the hero rather than an incompetent. And all the while, we gather so much information about Central City, and sister city, Keystone. They must be Rust Belt cities, right? Where else would you find seafood inland, other than around the Great Lakes.
And of course, there’s centerpiece of the book itself, the battle between Captain Cold and the Flash, and how the landscape changes as a result of that. The pillars of ice shearing apart the shipyard restaurant. The river frozen solid. The anger of a man who would rather avenge his sister’s imminent death, than fight to save here.
And that’s the heart of it. That unwavering moral core that Barry brings to this and to every situation. Played off against the state of moral collapse his antagonists find themselves in. The Flash looks like science fiction, talks like science fiction, but at its heart, really is a Western. In their so-much-more-than capable hands, Francis and Brian have time and again reminded us that these stories, these Flashes are much more about finding the right-versus-wrong that lurks deep within every good-versus-evil.
This Tarantino-esque, catching-up-to-the-Flash kind of a story, told over two days, is just thematically-rich and deeply-apposite detailing on exactly that genre of story.