Being a superhero comic artist/writer is a lot like being president. You’re always compared to the person who did it before you, the good ones last about eight years, and after your time is up life goes on without you. Effectively both presidents and comic book creators are just cogs (albeit important ones) in a larger machine. So at the end of the their time one of the best ways to remember them is to look at how they defined their role and what about it is now different because of them having been there.

For many creators the New 52 offered the perfect chance to mold characters and establish the very continuity to which all other future creators will be beholden. It’s a opportunity that many writers grabbed hold of and used to tell stories that have never been told before.  Though that wasn’t always the case. While their art may be fantastic, Francis Manapul and Brian Buccaletto’s weak writing and uninspired character choices left their run on the Flash as a missed opportunity to make an important, lasting impact on the character.

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It’s no surprise to anyone who has even casually glanced at one of their issues of the Flash that the art is incredible. Manapul’s pencils provide a crisp and light feeling for the character that captures both the tone of the book and Flash’s super speed better than any other artist. More than just “swooshy” lines on a page, the super speed here feels like it’s genuinely being achieved rather than the heavy and forced way that Scott Kolin’s art was before him. Also a major contributor is Buccalletto’s coloring. Each page of the Flash is packed with rich and vibrant colors that make Manapul’s pencils engaging, attention grabbing, and occasionally edgy despite their soft natured approach. However what really sets their art apart from anyone else in comics is the imaginative page layouts. Rarely is the reader treated to a page that is full of only standard comic frames. Each page turns into it’s own work of art that is not only beautiful to look at, but helps tell the story by connecting the art the emotional core of the story.

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Please understand that these are gorgeous.

Unfortunately their sharpness for artistry and colorization doesn’t transfer to their writing. Muddied themes and undefined characters are a constant problem in their run and prevent the reader from connecting with the story or the characters. It’s clear that there is always an attempt at organizing their writing under a theme, but you’re never quite sure what it is or it’s only partially applied to a story.

For example, their most recent story arc with Reverse Flash is about letting go of the past and “moving forward” with your life, but only in the villain’s story is that concept explored. Early on, Barry decides that he shouldn’t live in the past any longer and has his mother’s murder case file hidden from him. This isn’t mentioned again until after we witness the Reverse Flash ruin himself over his obsession with the past. Barry then decides that working on the case file isn’t living in the past and takes it back out to work on it.

One could argue the technicalities of that decision, but what’s more concerning is that it’s not an insight he gained from his actions over the course of the story. Barry’s story in this arc was that of a detective searching for clues to who the killer may be, but that journey did not involve him obsessing over the past or even thinking about his mother’s case.

The same goes for the other sub-plots; no one was meditating on the past or caught up in it in anyway so how exactly was that the theme? There are similar problems in all the other arcs which makes for a disjointed reading experience. You’re not sure which things matter or why they matter, and when you finally figure it out it’s not as satisfying as it should be; there was a lot of wasted time and not enough support to feel like moments had been earned. The one strength of their writing, though, is their ability to plot out stories. Events that happened early on in the series showed up again later and fit very nicely into the proceedings. Even if everything didn’t mesh thematically, structurally there was very little that happened that didn’t get some play later on.

As mentioned earlier being the first writers on a character after a universe wide reboot allows you a lot of room to shape the character, their villains, and the mythos for years to come. Disappointingly, though, despite having the opportunity to introduce Flash and some of his most important supporting characters and villains, there is very little to their contributions that will have a lasting effect on the book or the Flash mythos. That’s not to say that Manapul and Buccellato didn’t make any changes or define anything as their own, it’s just that things they did weren’t major, or creatively weren’t very strong. Not to mention, they failed to address the biggest issue that had always faced this character; Barry Allen’s missing personality. Instead we got a “wussification” of the Rogues and a Reverse Flash who is generally unconcerned with the original Flash; not a great recipe for an arch nemesis.

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Seriously though. Who talks like that? They sound like 5th graders pretending to be bad guys.

One of the great things about the presidency is that it’s hard for just one person to take everything down and it’s also easy to recover after a lackluster one. The same goes for comic characters. While Manapul and Buccaletto’s run on The Flash should be respected for it’s gorgeous art, here’s hoping the new creative team takes this character in a new direction and sets a clear path for storytelling success.

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These people are supposed to be criminals and occasional murders. Chumps? Sis? How about shit head and…literally anything but sis.

About The Author

Having recently discovered the adulthood phenomenon of disposable income, figured that, after getting a 401k, treating himself to comics was the perfect way to embrace being a grown-up. He lives in Washington, DC.

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