By: Francis Manapul (story & art), Brian Buccellato (story & colors), Ian Herring (colors), and Wes Abbott (letters)

The Story: Get reacquainted with Barry’s less than ideal family life.

The Review: I’d love to see what the plot outline for this issue looked like, if there even was one.  It seems as though Manapul and Buccellato threw together a random smattering of “prequel” scenes under one general unifying theme involving Barry’s father…or father figure type relationships…or something and called it a day.

The result is a frustrating and scattered reading experience.  You’ve got your scenes of the accident that gave Barry his powers, his constructing his uniform, and his first discovering his powers.  Then you’ve got flashback scenes to Barry’s childhood and the day he found out that his mother had been murdered.  Then you’ve got scenes a little further into the future where Barry visits his dad in jail.  They there’s a bunch of stuff about Captain Frye, Barry’s de facto father figure, getting his big promotion.  It’s a wild assortment of stuff and it leaves me wondering what exactly Manapul and Buccellato wanted this issue to be.

More irritating still is the fact that this 20 pages issue follows no less than THREE time periods, jumping around between the three with reckless abandon.  You’ve got Barry as a kid, Barry when he first becomes the Flash, and Barry visiting his dad in prison (which, by the way, is still the early days of the Flash pre-new 52).  I can do the childhood flashbacks, but was it really necessary to jump back and forth between the other two time periods?  It results in a needlessly messy narrative.

It also means that this issue attempts to do so many things that it ends up, arguably, achieving nothing.  I don’t feel like we got a satisfactory “origin” issue of the Flash, with Barry discovering his powers and such, since that only got a few pages.  That’s really emblematic of this issue as a whole, honestly – each portion of the story has a glimmer of something special, but all those separate plot elements and timelines have to share space, so none get the necessary attention.  For instance, I like the idea of marital discord between Barry’s parents and Manapul and Buccellato do a good job of emphasizing the gulf between child Barry’s idyllic world and the adult world of his parents that is going on beneath the surface of that.  I also loved the visual of Barry’s first use of his powers.  The problem is, elements like this have to share space with weaker, barely related stuff – the cliched conversations with Captain Frye and Barry’s father, for instance.  There’s no one, central narrative to grab ahold of and as a result, nothing gets to truly breathe and fully develop.

And speaking of those two conversations, there is some clunky dialogue this month as well, often heavily laden with cliches.  The first page is particularly cringe-worthy while some of the “heartfelt” dialogue with Captain Frye seems overly familiar.

It’s a shame that I can’t be more high on this issue as man, oh man, is it gorgeously illustrated.  The layouts are great, the use of a sepia toned colour scheme for some of the flashbacks is brilliant, and the book is nothing short of beautiful.  This is still my pick for best-looking book of the new 52.  Manapul and Buccellato instill a sense of wonder throughout the book and everything is just impossibly gorgeous.  Honestly, the art does a lot to carry what is a pretty underwhelming issue.

Conclusion: There are glimmers here and there, but this was…kind of a mess.  The amazing artwork just barely carried it through.

Grade: C

– Alex Evans