At this point in the tie-ins to Batman’s Zero Year, it’s best just to assume that everyone in the DC Universe, from Hal Jordan to Ma Kent’s prize cow, headed to Gotham to help out during the Riddler-caused blackout. Barry Allen’s presence makes more sense than most, as rookie cops likely would be asked to help with policing.
We join him in the company of a young, lean, surprisingly studly Detective Harvey Bullock, and Bullock’s partner Spencer Thompson. Barry’s touring the city with them, keeping an eye out for trouble. They’re soon embroiled in the mystery of a new street drug, Icarus, that’s not quite ready for prime time – it gives users an adrenaline rush like no other … then causes them to burst into intense flame.
Also on hand is a young intern with the Gotham Gazette, Iris West, who as well as having some leads, proves a dab hand with a fire extinguisher. She and Barry hit it off immediately, their resolve to trace the drug’s origins in contrast to the detectives’ preference for doing something more obviously useful than saving junkies.
Barry’s forensic skills and Iris’ instincts see them trace the supply chain, leading to a climax that’s action-packed enough to make up for the fact Barry isn’t yet a speedster. Something does happen, though, that either influences his later decision to become a superhero, or emphasises that that’s just the type of guy he is.
Writers Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato use the extra pages – 28 rather than 20, that’ll be $3.99, kid – to give us our best look at Barry in the two years they’ve been guiding his series. As well as the expected courage and love of the law, we see his brains, compassion and sexiness. Yeah, I said sexiness. The man who fades into the page every time he shares a scene with girlfriend Patty Spivot comes alive when Iris is around. This begs the question; as they’re so good together, why didn’t they make a go of things years ago? But life is what it is – Barry’s heading back to Central City at story’s end and Iris has a career in journalism to carve out. ‘Starting line’ does, at least, show that, professionally and personally, Barry and Iris belong together (click on images to enlarge).
Not having read the solicitations, I didn’t realise Chris Sprouse was pencilling most of this issue – mind, this being a New 52 title, I doubt DC did either. Anyway, here he is, giving us typically clean, elegant stripwork that has me longing to see him attached to a regular DC title. And while ‘clean’ may not sound like a good fit for Gotham, Sprouse and inkers Karl Story and Keith Champagne know how to create a mood, and Buccellato’s colours only underline the atmosphere.
I’m a fan of Manapul’s pencils, but boy, was I disappointed to see Sprouse go after 19 pages. Manapul and Buccellato have defined the modern Flash as much visually as they have with their writing, but Sprouse and Manapul’s styles are too disparate to sit well alongside one another. In the space of a page turn we go from crisp definition to soft-edges; it’s excellent work, as ever – and I love the sneaky almost-appearance of Batman – but the change is jarring.
No complaints about Manapul and Buccellato’s cover, showing a non-nonsense, heroic Barry, surging towards trouble – it’s a winner.
Excepting one dangling plot thread which I fully expect the writers to revisit in their new assignment, this is a splendid done-in-one, a wonderful palate cleanser from the never-ending saga this comic usually is.
Just one question – when are Barry and Iris going to get it together?