Gotham writhes in darkness as a hurricane roars over the horizon; it is a city in chaos on the brink of even greater disaster. A state of emergency is in effect and the call has been sent out for all law enforcement agencies to offer whatever aid they can muster. One of the brave souls answering that call is Central City Police Department’s forensic scientist, Barry Allen, a man who will one day become the hero known as The Flash. And you better believe that Barry Allen will stop at nothing to prevent a junkie from getting high! Wait… what?

I think I read the very first issue of The Flash back when the New 52 launched and I haven’t checked it out since. I liked it, but let’s face it, my pull list is plenty big. I’ve heard great things and therefore I was exceedingly curious to check out what the creative team of Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato had to offer with this Batman: Zero Year tie-in, especially with them scheduled to take over Detective Comics in 2014, but I honestly don’t know what to think about this issue. It has its good moments but it’s also absolutely ridiculous and the most pointless of all the Zero Year tie-ins. I mean, it evoked unintentional laughter right from the first page!

The opening narration describes a horrible blackout, a city in desperate need of assistance during an emergency and it sums up why Barry is in Gotham. That’s fine. And then it explains “To make matters worse, a storm is about to slam into the city. But until then, we’ve still got jobs to do.” Of course, I completely understand. I’m sure there are riots and looting happening all over town. Innocent folks also need food and blankets, plus I’m sure there’s some sort of evacuation effort going on in addition to all of this. You’re damn right the police have a job to do! Hell, this issue even clearly states that what caused the blackout was an EMP blast so I’m sure there are stalled cars everywhere so transportation is screwed and most forms of communication no longer work either– it’s a mess. Right? The next line of narration is this and I kid you not: “So now I’m chasing a drug addict through the darkest corners of Gotham City.” Barry, WHO GIVES A ****?!

That’s such a low priority! A junkie? Really? With everything else that’s going on? This isn’t exactly what you were called into Gotham for, Barry. Then on the next page Barry continues “But for some reason, the local cops I’m working with– officers Harvey Bullock and Spencer Thompson– don’t have the same sense of urgency.” AND THEY SHOULDN’T! Jesus, Barry! Yes, this new drug called “Icarus” does cause users to spontaneously combust when they overdose and that’s terrible, but is now really the time for diverting manpower to vice? And secondly, what do you know about working vice? You’re a forensic scientist! Granted, I don’t know much about Barry Allen– I’m still not 100% sure on how he became The Flash (he was struck by lighting while working with chemicals and now he is the most overpowered hero in the DC universe, correct? I wholeheartedly believe The Flash can destroy Superman, by the way) but does he know anything about being a street cop? Has he ever worked vice before? I understand the GCPD isn’t setting the best example for Barry by putting most of their officers to work hunting down The Batman during this crisis, but can Barry really not see the bigger problem?

And the drug itself is so absurd. It’s like krocodil but MORE fatal. By the way, do NOT google “krocodil” and look at the images while eating — the nerd I am, I immediately thought “This could be a believable jumping-off point for a Killer Croc origin.” WRONG. Basically, most drugs have their own medicinal sounding name or they have a fun name that makes them sound like they’d be enjoyable to take. And then there are drugs like krocodil which is named after the horrible side-effect it has on you. “Icarus” is like that only a bit more high-brow. I imagine the conversation between dealer and junkie goes something like this:

DEALER
Want to try this new drug?
JUNKIE
Sure, what's it called?
DEALER
Icarus!
JUNKIE
Wow! What's it do?
DEALER
It makes you feel like you have super powers. Like you can fly like Icarus!
JUNKIE
Wow. I don't know who that is, let's face it, I'm dumb enough to still score drugs during a hurricane.
DEALER
Of course.
JUNKIE
I'm sure things turned  out well for this Icarus-guy, but I'll go ahead and ask--what are the side-effects?
DEALER
You burst into flames if you take too much of it. Like Icarus when he flew too close to the sun.
JUNKIE
Again, I don't know who that is--

DEALER
--Let's move this along, I honestly shouldn't even be selling drugs right now.

JUNKIE
 This drug sounds like just the thing I need to get me through the blackout.
DEALER
Don't forget the hurricane!
JUNKIE
That too!

So as you can tell, I don’t like the plot of this issue and I think the main character is a buffoon. Barry Allen is a naive do-gooder who probably could’ve done more to help if he just handed out bottled water or something. HOWEVER, what this issue does show me is that Buccellato and Manapul are eager to write a detective story and they are also willing to dive into the grey area of the GCPD’s morality, which is wonderful to see. All too often we see either good cops or bad cops and it’s great to see some characters ride that moral line for a change– it makes for more interesting characters and more interesting stories that spur conversation among readers. The problem is that these creators tried to tell a really rich story about corruption and drugs in a single issue. There was really only 1 suspect the entire time so that doesn’t really give us much of a chance at mystery. There’s Bullock (we know he’s okay), Barry (we know he’s The Flash one day), a female lead with one of the most forced and fast romances subplots I’ve seen shoehorned in in some time (we know she’s okay because she’s a major Flash character), the junkie (dead), and then there’s one other guy we’ve all never heard of before. Had Buccellato and Manapul had a couple of issues to tell this story and if they had it take place ANY other time besides a MAJOR natural disaster then I think it could’ve been a good detective story. Really good. Time (number of pages) and place (Zero Year) were the downfall of this comic.

Besides the brief walk through some grey morality, the other great aspect of this comic was the artwork which was shared between Manapul and Chris Sprouse with inks by Karl Story and Keith Champagne (Buccellato also did the colors and did them quite well, I thought– I don’t think I’ve reviewed another book where the writer didn’t illustrate but still jumped in to handle colors). It’s a good looking book with plenty of detail, however Barry’s face looks a bit too placid on Sprouse’s pages and both artists drew the more handsome Harvey of Batman: Earth One and Detective Comics #25 rather than the fat slob we saw in Capullo’s Batman #25. Manapul definitely served up the best visuals with a full-page that showed off the psychedelic affect Icarus has and all of his other panels showed off a more gritty, noir atmosphere that complimented the detective story far more than Sprouse’s squeaky clean imagery. I’m excited to see what he does with Detective Comics in 2014.

Recommended If…

  • You’re a really big fan of Barry Allen I guess
  • More Harvey Bullock sounds fun… even if it seems like he could be doing something more important
  • You don’t care at all about Zero Year and just want to ignore all of what’s happening in the Gotham environment and just enjoy a detective story
  • Manapul is one of your favorite artists

Overall

This could have been a really good detective story– and that actually gives me a lot of hope for what this team does when they come to Detective Comics in 2014. However, trying to squeeze this kind of plot into a single issue probably wasn’t the right direction to take and it plays even worse when the backdrop is Zero Year. Barry Allen flies to Gotham to lend a hand in an emergency blackout/storm relief situation but he ends up ignoring the local police and devoting all of his efforts to a drug case? What’s the point of having a Zero Year tie-in if you’re going to go this far out of your way to sidestep the titular event? Watching Barry try to chase down a junkie who just wants to get high one last time before he dies in a hurricane is ludicrous. Ignoring desperate citizens so you can nab a load of drugs that will be washed out to sea in the next day (along with the innocent people you didn’t help) is even worse. There are much more harrowing adventures to be had when your hero is destined to be The Flash and your backdrop is the most crime ridden city in the world– in a blackout– in a hurricane. Come on! The artwork by Manapul is really impressive, though.

SCORE: 4/10