Hard Scifi at the Speed of Hypertext in 'Flash #2'

We didn't need an industry legend the caliber of Will Eisner to remind us that comics no longer plug into our everyday lives. But in a single, swift blow, Flash creative team Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato overturn more than 60 years of comics ghettoization.

The Flash #2

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellato
Price: $2.99
Publication Date: 2011-10

Before The Flash comics were pretty much just standalone adventures for me. Sure some of these adventures would bleed from one issue into the next, but that just meant shilling out another 50 cents to read adventure's conclusion. The Flash was wildly different. Here was a character in the midst of a murder trial (this should never happen), betrayed on the stand by his kid sidekick (this really should never happen) and still found time to do scifi superhero things like fight villains (like Big Sir and Gorilla Grodd) and visit a super-advanced Gorilla City hidden deep in the African jungle. In its closing stages, the original series of the Flash was amazing. But it too would be swept away by DC's megaevent, "Crisis on Infinite Earths".

Not that a changing of the guard left me behind at all. I really only got into the Flash with volume two, when erstwhile Kid Flash adopted the mantle (and costume) of his mentor, Barry Allen. Barry Allen had died saving the universe during the Crisis (he'd be resurrected for unknown reasons during the final part of the Crisis Trilogy, 2008's "Final Crisis"). And the few years prior's confusion around "the Trial of the Flash" evaporated when Wally West (formerly Kid Flash) assumed the role.

Not to say that I was a Wally West fan. I became a Wally West fan. Wally had the same kinds of adventures that I could vaguely remember Barry having (I was younger than five when I first brushed up against them, so the last years of Barry Allen's run remain unclear during my childhood). But the real reason I became a Wally fan was that I didn't need to battle through the high-stakes emotional drama of "the Trial of the Flash". I had been too young at the time and I understood that I was losing as much of half the weight of each issue. By age seven, I was just about ready for the social complexity of a superhero who had adopted the mantle of his mentor (and hero) but still lived with his mom.

Flash Fact: It's a return to classic hard scifi for Barry Allen. Learn more about rapid cell regeneration.

Wally's skirmishes with Vandal Savage, his battles with street thugs hopped-up on Velocity 9, his encounters with Cold War Russian speed-trio Red Troika (later Kapitalist Kouriers) his licensing as an INS agent, and his friendship with former villain, Pied Piper would prove to be endearing adventures. But writer-at-the-helm, William Messner-Loebs would often describe the limitations of Wally's powers, rather than the pure wonder of them. The aspirational elements of envisioning yourself in the hero's shoes were often lost.

I really became a Wally fan during Mark Waid's run, many, many years later in 1993. Not to mark himself as too ambitious, Waid did hit on the number one problem with Wally as a character--he still lingered in the shadow of his mentor Barry Allen. And Waid's solution to the problem? Bring Barry Allen back from the dead. The Return of Barry Allen is worth reading, even if you could simply google for the plot. The narrative itself, however, is richly rewarding. But the book did set the tone for Waid's run on the Flash. Waid's Wally West would be about the emotional reality of being the Flash.

Flash Fact: It's a return to classic hard scifi for Barry Allen. Learn more about augmented cognition.

The hard scifi (science fiction that was rooted in science fact) that Bill Messner-Loebs crafted so finely into the Flash mythos was often lost. Take the storyarc "Dead Heat", for example. When Wally encounters the villainous self-proclaimed God of Speed Savitar, the issue of exactly what Savitar has learned while vampirically leeching speed is often skirted. For Waid, the emotional reality is the core.

But Francis Manapul writer-artist behind the New 52 Flash and co-writer Brian Buccellato, simply streak ahead of any previous limitations in storytelling. What Manapul and Buccellato have produced with the Flash is a rich, textured drama that hinges on both the emotional core and hard scifi.

Flash Fact: It's a return to classic hard scifi for Barry Allen. Learn more about the neuroscience of prediction.

Once again, the Flash is as much the story of a hero discovering his powers, as of the nature of those powers themselves. Manapul and Buccellato conduct readers to a wonderland of augmented cognition and rapid cell development. But the real joy is linking beyond the ideas the writers express, and finding science theories for ourselves like the neuroscience of prediction and quantum entanglement and bringing these to bear on our reading of the book.

In a moving passage from Graphic Storytelling & Visual Narrative comics evangelist Will Eisner bemoans the loss of the kind of comics that represent the trials and tribulations of our daily lives. He writes: "There is a major structural difference between newspaper storytelling strips and comic books. In comic books, stories come to a definite conclusion, a tradition that began when the early comic books advertised that each story was complete. A book is free-standing whereas newspapers are connected to the pattern of daily life. In a daily continuity, therefore, the storyteller need only segue into the next adventure. [Milton] Caniff understood that the story had to emulate the seamless flow of life's experiences and that the human adventure doesn't have neat endings. His work shows us how to tell a story that could make itself part of the reader's daily life".

Flash Fact: It's a return to classic hard scifi for Barry Allen. Learn more about quantum entanglement.

And yet, with Manapul and Buccellato's the Flash here is finally a comicbook that once again emulates the pattern of our daily lives. The Flash is simply comics at its finest.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Forty years after its initial release, one of the defining albums of US punk rock finally gets the legacy treatment it deserves.

If you ever want to start a fistfight in a group of rock history know-it-alls, just pop this little question: "Was it the US or the UK who created punk rock?" Within five minutes, I guarantee there'll be chairs flying and dozens of bloodstained Guided By Voices T-shirts. One thing they'll all agree on is who gave punk rock its look. That person, ladies, and gentlemen is Richard Hell.

Keep reading... Show less

Tokyo Nights shines a light on the roots of vaporwave with a neon-lit collection of peak '80s dance music.

If Tokyo Nights sounds like a cheesy name for an album, it's only fitting. A collection of Japanese city pop from the daring vintage record collectors over at Cultures of Soul, this is an album coated in Pepto-Bismol pink, the peak of saccharine '80s dance music, a whole world of garish neon from which there is no respite.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.