By: Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato (writers and artists)

The Story: You have an uncanny resemblance to a guy I know.  Make that two dozen guys.

The Review: When Barry Allen returned to life a few years ago, quite a lot of people thought he would soon regain his position as the DCU’s primo Flash.  After all, Geoff Johns was writing him, the same Johns who brought back Hal Jordan and all but guaranteed he would become the most iconic of the Green Lanterns.  But somehow, Barry never really took with readers.  Even in his own ongoing, he never managed to establish a coherent identity or tone for himself.

Reading through this issue, you’ll realize the obstacle may lie in the very nature of Barry’s character: quiet, mild-mannered, more of a follower than a leader.  These qualities won’t pop out at you like the bolder, assertive personalities, but if you give them a chance, they might touch you.  You meet a lot of heroes who beat themselves up over a loss or failure, but none wear their sad heart on their sleeves like Barry, who even in costume remains a simple man who cares.

Still, when he gets into action, he gains some zip to his personality on top of the zip to his step.  While the civilian Barry seems content to let others take charge (mostly women and sometimes his boss) and lead him to the next thing, vigilante Barry charges into situations and sorts them out in a breezy (“Uuuhhh… Note to self: don’t vibrate using that frequency.”), efficient manner.

Vigilante Barry also seems something of a player, as he has no issue dating colleague Patty Spivot (after two years of waiting to ask her out) while entertaining a flirtatious relationship with reporter Iris West.  The attraction of both women is equal and opposing: the bookish, delightfully awkward (“Methodical is kind of hot.  I can’t believe I just said that.”) Patty appeals to Barry’s inner nerd, while Iris’ take-no-prisoners attitude is in tune with the Flash’s cockier side.

As far as plots go, the opening one has a solid foundation.  It gives our hero a personal stake by involving his old college buddy; it sets up a compelling mystery for Barry’s forensics chops; and it avoids the crutch of relying on one of the Flash’s many, slightly overused rogues.  Besides, any time you can mix a superhero’s real-life stuff with his crime-fighting stuff, the story gains that much more tension in addition to killing two birds with one stone.

Artists taking a stab at writing has given DC mixed results (occasionally painful—see Scott Kolins), but Manapul and Buccellato offer a pleasantly surprising script.  Except for a slightly cheesy quote from Barry’s late mother, it avoids pretention and stick to clear, tight, and convincing dialogue and narrative.  The interplay among the characters hums along in lively fashion, and reveal nice bits of personality to boot, especially among Barry’s pals at the CCPD.

With art taking on so much of the storytelling, though, you have no need to overwrite.  Manapul’s gloves come off as he offers some of the most dynamic and stylish work yet, almost bursting with sheer exuberance.  While the action scenes sing, my favorite page has to be of Barry researching a case in his apartment.  Despite the complex placement of the numerous panels, the flow of events remains clear, effective, and easy to follow.  And of course, Buccellato’s colors pretty up the whole thing very nicely.  With both writers also on art duties, this is as close to creator-owned work as mainstream superhero comics can get.

Conclusion: It doesn’t exactly hold your interest in its fist, but it keeps a hand on your shoulder, just enough to lead you back for a few more issues.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I use the word “pushy,” but let’s just admit it: taken at face value, Iris’ behavior comes off a little bit stalkerish.  Here’s her text: “I KNOW U R HOME.  UR NOT PICKING UP, SO I’M COMING OVER.”

– Barry’s idea for a first date is to take Patty to a tech symposium.  Also, he frets that he should’ve worn a tie to meet “Central City’s biggest and brightest [scientists]…!”  Oh, you dear, sweet, lonely man, you.