Though I am not Barry Allen's biggest fan, I have a certain image of Barry in mind. This issue kicked that preconceived notion clear out of my head. This issue gave me a Barry Allen that I could actually care about.
And, no, you cynics, it's not because Barry is single in DC Comics' New 52 continuity. Honestly, I'm a little disheartened by the fact that the writing team of Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato chose to break up Barry and Iris, one of comics' longest and most canonical couples, but at least no deals with the devil were made in the ending of that marriage.
The Barry Allen presented in the revamped continuity is an interesting combination of determined professional and uncertain single man. He's a forensic detective with a big secret. He's the Flash, a man of action -- but he goes about getting into that action through uncommon means. Uncommon in today's books, at least, or so it seems. Barry finds ways to excuse himself, and the Flash mysteriously shows up shortly thereafter. Manapul and Buccellato make those transitions charming, thoughtful and evocative of the Silver Age -- some of the things Mark Waid did so extremely well when he wrote the Wally West-starring "Flash" series.
Sadly, Wally is not present in this issue, but many of the supporting characters from recent "Flash" stories are. I've already mentioned Iris; yes, she's here, but not only are she and Barry not married, they aren't even dating. Part of the reason for that is the presence of Patty Spivot , a character introduced in the previous Flash ongoing series who has more than a little in common with Barry. Other characters from Barry's past are also at hand, including Forrest, Singh and Captain Frye.
For longtime readers, it's a welcome stroll down memory lane. For new readers, the story might be a tad jarring, but at least Manapul and Buccellato identify all of the characters by name and give most of them a purpose. And they don't stop with the familiar characters, introducing us to Manuel Lago, a character whose introduction to the story sets Barry's mind into convenient flashback mode, which in turn gives readers a chance to learn a bit more about this iteration of Mr. Allen.
Manapul's art is fabulous and freewheeling, playing with layouts to create spectacular designs that are as much pure art as they are story elements. The fact that Manapul and Buccellato are both writing this book and providing the art is apparent in the visuals that play up to their strengths so completely. The artwork is strong and complete and, if I didn't know better, I would say was coming from a single source rather than a team. I'm certain that connection was established in the previous run on the Flash, but here it's augmented and given a chance to explode all over the page.
That said, I'm not overly keen on the new costume design; the seams and chinstrap don't make a whole lot of sense and feel more like an attempt to kickstart an Image Comics 1990s revival than to truly innovate. Luckily, the artwork on the whole is so eye-catching that the costume design becomes less of an annoyance as the issue moves along, to the point where it's darn-near tolerable by the final, cliffhanger page. The way the costume forms itself around Barry's body together explains away the seams well enough while making a lot more sense than some previous methods of Flash donning his uniform. Plus, Manapul makes it look pretty cool.
This issue is a wonderfully organic jumping-on spot for readers new, old, or lapsed. If you're not a fan of Barry (and believe me, there wasn't a more apathetic non-Barry supporter than me), this book just might surprise you with its vivaciousness and zippy story. I fully intended to steer clear of this particular New 52 offering, but the debut issue gave me more than enough reason to return in four weeks.