The Flash’s Zero Month issue takes us back to the weeks after Barry Allen was hit by a lightning bolt. Swathed in bandages while his burns defy medical expectations by clearing up, he’s visited by newly promoted police Captain Darryl Frye. It turns out that Frye took Barry in after the tragedy of his mother’s murder, and his father’s imprisonment for it. Barry became Frye’s protege, joining the police as a CSI, watching for any technological advances that could help prove Dad Henry didn’t kill Mom Nora. And Frye helped the newly empowered Barry realise the value of symbolising goodness in a uniform, complete with badge.
The opening of the issue sees Barry working late in his Central City lab, remembering his most recent visit to Henry in prison. He was delivering the news that he had no new evidence that might free the elder Allen. Henry, thinking Barry should just get on with his life rather than hang onto hope where there isn’t any, says that, yes, he did kill Nora. And when the fateful bolt strikes the cabinet of chemicals, dousing Barry in a should-be-deadly cocktail, the memory of Henry’s shocking words mean his son almost welcomes death.
In an issue that jumps around without ever losing clarity, we see the boy Barry coached for a Spelling Bee by Nora, and pick up hints that all isn’t rosy with his parents. The reader learns more, that divorce is on the horizon – there’s another man in Nora’s life, and the implication of a later scene is that it’s Frye.
Maybe it isn’t, though. And maybe Henry Allen did kill his wife – of course he’d plead not guilty in court, and his guilt would explain why Barry can’t overturn his sentence. Who knows? Writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato do, and they’re perfectly capable of leading us in the wrong direction for sheer devilment.
Other interesting moments in a packed issue include the debuting Flash having a run-in with a small-time crook named Danny West (comic book rules say he has to be related to Iris – and maybe even the missing Wally West); and being met by an unidentified off-panel voice when his super-speed kicks in and he winds up in East Africa (Solivar of Gorilla City?).
The ambitious script even attempts to make sense of the Flash’s typically fussy New 52 costume design, with its extra lines and odd segmentation. Pleasingly, Manapul and Buccellato reinstate the ‘bursting from the ring’ concept, but along the way inform us that it’s not cloth panels Barry runs into, but metal plates. Seemingly, no cloth is strong enough to survive the as-yet-unnamed Speed Force, meaning that the Flash is wearing actual metal armour (click on image to enlarge).
Oh dear. It’s the one off-note in a fascinating issue.
Drawing the book too, Manapul at least makes the revelation look superb. The rest of the issue likewise soars, with Manapul’s imaginative layouts taking us through Barry’s life at a belting pace, slowing down for the significant moments and using cutaway inserts to comment and enlighten. And Buccellato’s careful, easy on the eye tones always make it clear just which flashbacks are flashing back the farthest. The opening splash, as lightning hits man, is a tremendous marriage of illustration and colour, only mildly marred by a composition that allows the gutter to split Barry in two (oh let’s be nice, maybe it’s a subliminal commentary on our hero’s coming double life … yeah, that’s it).
One titchy query about what we see on the page – is that an Earth 2 Flash poster on young Barry’s bedroom wall? Did he draw it himself? Is he dreaming about Earth 2, as DC writers supposedly did in the Silver Age? You can bet that when the inevitable crossover between Earths 1 and 2 comes, it’ll begin in the Flash – so maybe this is a wink to that.
By the end of the issue, Barry has attained a measure of peace regarding his parents, and readers have gained a bit more insight into what makes the Flash tick. As zero issues go, this emerges firmly in the Plus column.