The first time I became aware of Francis Manapul as an artist was when he was announced as the artist on Adventure Comics with writer Geoff Johns, with a beautiful illustration of Superboy and Krypto with Ma Kent standing outside the Kent farm.
As you can see in the gallery of pictures in this blog, it is a gorgeous piece and it made me that much more excited for that comic.
Now Francis Manapul is working on "The Flash," as both the artist and co-writer with Brian Buccellato. They've taken Barry Allen back to his Silver Age roots in this comic with an exciting and quick science fiction superhero story.
The opening: "Struck by a bolt of lightning and doused in chemicals, Central City police scientist Barry Allen was transformed into The Fastest Man Alive. Tapping into the energy field called The Speed Force, he applies a tenacious sense of justice to protect and serve the world as The Flash!" (Francis Manapul, Brian Buccellato)
The Introduction of Barry Allen
Barry Allen was first introduced in 1956 and created by Robert Kanigher, John Broome and Carmine Infantino under editor Julie Schwartz.
Schwartz was in the midst of reviving old superhero ideas and bringing them back with more of a science fiction flair. Every issue of the old Flash had a 'Flash Fact' about the kind of science knowledge Barry would use to win the day. The very first issue of the new Flash series starts at a tech symposium in Central City that's soon attacked by Mob Rule.
Every issue makes use of one kind of science fact or another from the Law of Congestion to Augmented Cognition.
Manapul and Buccellato even used the idea behind Augmented Cognition to give The Flash another use for the Speed Force which is beautifully illustrated by Manapul.
Now Barry is using the power of the Speed Force to increase his mind's abilities so he can run through probabilities of events in his mind before acting.
The first time he uses it, Manapul shows just how things are running (pun intended guys, sorry) through Barry's head. Everything going on around him fades out and the colors on the page reflect this while there are more than 20 smaller panels surrounding him showing him what's happening and what his choices are.
The next three pages then show The Flash subtly arranging things around him so that a thief gets caught running out of a "CASH 4 GOLD" store and a guy playing on his phone while crossing the street doesn't get hit by a car.
Motion and Dimension
Manapul is also superb at showing motion and dimensions on the page. In the first issue there's a page that shows the Flash falling down to a city street and how he both survives the fall and tosses a bad guy to safety in a building.
In the next issue, there's a two page wide panel showing Flash quickly incapacitating the members of Mob Rule. As much as I loved seeing him draw Superman I can't think of anybody else that I would rather see drawing The Flash right now.
The next issue of The Flash hits comic book stores on Wednesday, January 25, and the first four issues are still available. His earlier work on The Flash with writer Geoff Johns is also still available, "The Dastardly Death of the Rogues."
My Introduction to Francis Manapul
The series where I first heard of Francis Manapul was Adventure Comics, written by Geoff Johns, and is a book that I still miss a little.
It focused on Superboy, aka Connor Kent, just after he came back to life. He moved to Smallville, moved in with Martha Kent and started attending Smallville High as an attempt to become more like Superman.
Superboy, as he was then, was the clone of Superman who first showed up in the wake of Superman's death at the hands (claws) of Doomsday.
Superman's Kryptonian DNA, however, was too complicated for Cadmus Labs to duplicate, so Superboy is half human. That human half came from Lex Luthor so Connor was always struggling to figure out who he was.
Adventure Comics #6 was their last issue together before they went on to another series together and it is both my favorite of their run and one of the best Lex Luthor stories. In it, Lex proves to Superboy that he would be capable of saving the world, if only he didn't have to devote his time and intellect to destroying Superman.
The Complexity of Lex Luthor
Luthor is my favorite supervillain because he's such an interesting character. Most arch-villain relationships start because the villain goes out and to do something evil, the superhero shows up to stop them and then they get locked into a never-ending battle.
Luthor, on the other hand, sees Superman flying overhead, being almost universally adored, and can't stand it. Lex is motivated by jealousy and an ego that could never possibly be appeased unless he were declared the greatest living person. He believes that only Superman is keeping him from achieving true greatness.
So Luthor proves that he could cure cancer and end world hunger to Superboy by curing his sister, Lena Luthor, who is confined to a wheelchair. And, after sending Superboy on many errands to gather ingredients, he cures her.
Then he injects her with something else, taking the cure away. He tells Superboy that the secret stays with him until Superman is dead before making his escape with the help of Brainiac.
A man who could be great if he wasn't blinded by his own ego and jealousies. A man who challenged a Superman because he sees himself as the superior one.
A collection with all of Manapul's work on Adventure Comics is still available in a collection called "Superboy: The Boy of Steel."
Finally, to get a better idea of the work he does take a look at this page at DC Comics' Source, where Manapul breaks down the work he did on the title page of last month's issue of "The Flash."
And now for something completely different: Fables by Bill Willingham
This is a Vertigo published series that started in 2002 and is written by Bill Willingham. "Fables" doesn't have any superheroes in it.
The 'fables' in question are the characters from fairy tales including Snow White, Prince Charming, the Big Bad Wolf, Little Boy Blue and Pinocchio, who are all living in their own little neighborhood in New York City since they were driven out of their homeland by The Adversary.
The series is always a lot of fun to read although, sadly, I'm currently 19 books behind. I don't buy Fables monthly but in the collected editions. I can only assume that the book is still doing well since it has had two spin-off series -- one of which, "Cinderella of Fabletown," was written by -- and still comes out every month.
The first collection, "Legends in Exile," is a murder mystery that focuses on Bigby Wolf, who is now the Sheriff of Fabletown, and Snow White, who is Fabletown's Deputy Mayor under Old King Cole.
It starts when Jack (as in 'and the Beanstalk') rushes to report a crime while Beauty and the Beast are in a meeting with Snow White.
I highly recommend this series if you're looking for a fun and (usually) light and romantic fantasy series. If you've watched the new show "Once Upon A Time" on ABC you might be passingly familiar with some of the ideas.
Personally, I gave up on the TV show after a bunch of episodes but it did make me want to dig out my "Fables" collection and read them again.
Like every week, I get my comics at . If you have any questions about comic books or superheroes you can leave them here as a comment or ask me on Twitter, where I can be found @BJDowd.