Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato On Why The Flash Is Powered By Science...And Google!

One of the more hotly anticipated relaunches from DC Comics was fan favorite artist Francis Manapul taking over the writing, as well as the art duties for The Flash, a title he had previously drawn for superstar Geoff Johns. Joining him as co-writer was Brian Buccellato, and the book has delivered... Well, something no one could have suspected, and that's a real life science basis for the superhero physics of the Scarlet Speedster. To find out more, we chatted with Manapul and Buccellato by phone, and learned just what it means that The Flash is a "googlable" book:

MTV Geek: The reason we’re chatting today is to talk about your more science based approach to The Flash. So to ask this is the stupidest way possible… What does that mean?

Francis Manapul: [Laughs] What’s really cool about the Flash is the fact that he’s a scientist. He has these crazy powers, like running fast. So I think it’s pretty cool to contrast that, and ground that, and anchor that in reality. So quite a number of the things we do in the book are all real. It’s basically keeping what’s real, and for lack of a better word, juicing it up, amping it up to the next level. Some of this stuff is theoretical, so we’re bringing it to the next step by grounding in real world science and facts.

It helps expand the reading experience as well, because of lot of words, like extra cellular matrix… They’re all real. If you Google them, they help expand the world of the Flash, and it helps explain why certain things work. It definitely gives it more context.

Geek: Since superhero comics, as you know, are essentially based in an unreal world, how much of this is taking a real concept and pushing it beyond the real in some way?

Brian Buccellato: Personally, I like the areas where we can use real science to justify things that we want to do. We already have a result… Things like The Speed Force, you’re not going to find something in real science to explain it, so it kind of just is what it is. But regeneration, or cloning, in our world there are levels of that, and we can find reasons that are plausible, and use it in our story.

Its cool for kids, because if kids see a word… I know when I was a kid, if I saw a word I didn’t understand I would look it up, and now I would know something new. So for a kid to see a straight science term, and then want to know what it means, he can Google it – which is why we call it a Googlable series – and learn something new. It just adds to the reading experience.

FM: Within context for the story, we do a good job of explaining what its about. So you can read it as is, and not go beyond that. What’s really interesting about it, if you’re an inquisitive kid, and you Google it, it absolutely expands the reading experience. It almost gives it a sense of environment for the reader. It makes you feel like you’re a part of carrying this story forward, and that’s what’s neat about it. You discover these things, and you Google some of them, they’re minds are going to start wandering, in terms of, “Oh, what about this, what about that?” It allows participation for them to fill in some of the gaps, and fill in their interpretation of what they think happened.

Geek: It’s interesting you guys are talking about the Googable aspects of this, because sometimes with SciFi, you end up with these overly expository science explanations, like, “Captain, we need to reverse the dilithium crystals, before the radiation ray… etc.” How do you get around something like that?

FM: There’s certain aspects of the story that we have… Science, it’s come a long way. What we do is try to find something that is based in reality before we do anything like that, and so far everything that we’ve needed has been real. That’s what’s interesting – and scary – to think about. A lot of the stuff we’ve introduced, we didn’t make up. They’re real. It just feels like we’re taking some stuff that has a sound theory, and bringing it forward… Where would that science be twenty years from now? Thirty years from now? That’s what we’re doing with it.

BB: It’s one thing to extrapolate where the science will take you, but we’re not going to try and explain things that are unexplainable. I mean, I don’t know what a dilithium crystal is, and I don’t want to know. What you do is, don’t shine a flashlight on the things that don’t make sense. If running really fast is not plausible, if running at the speed of light is not plausible, you don’t try to give a hardcore science explanation to it. You come up with other explanations without trying to look foolish. [Laughs]

Geek: When you were doing research for the book, was their any real world science idea you found that was just to crazy to put into The Flash?

FM: Not yet. We’ll keep looking for you.

BB: Maybe we’ll find that crystal.

Geek: [Laughs] That would be great.

FM: What’s made it really interesting is that some of the stuff that we’ve found, and the problems that we’ve asked questions about… It’s freaky how much of this stuff is real, and it’s within our reach.

Geek: Do either of you have a science background?

FM: Google. [Laughs]

BB: Neither one of us has a strong science background, we’re more creative minded, but from me, all writing is problem solving. We have our results, we know what we want our characters to be able to regenerate. And then using our brains and our search engines to find what is the most plausible way to explain why they can do. We know what we want our characters to do, all we’re doing is researching to find a plausible way for the “how.”

FM: We’re by no means scientists, but we’re just trying to find logical things to solve our problems. We’re doing research. It’s part of writing. Sometimes we’ll find stuff, sometimes it’ll find us. There’s been weird moments where I’ve been watching Popular Science, or something like that, and I say, “Holy crap, that’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.” Everything we’ve found has helped move the story forward. We certainly don’t try to fit something in that doesn’t help the main story points. You want to help it, but we still want it be grounded and real.

Geek: Moving on to talk about the current storyline. At the end of issue two, an EMP had hit, planes were falling out of the sky… Where are things going in issue three?

BB: Flash is going to have to deal with two cities that are without power of any kind. At the same time, he’s still got to find his friend Manuel, who has been abducted. His attentions are going to be divided from a Flash stand-point. From a Mob Rule [ED Note: The “villain” in this story arc] standpoint, there are ramifications to their experiment not working, and they are going to take steps to go in an alternate route. They still need to solve their problem, which we’ll reveal more in issue three, and they’ll find a new way to try and solve this problem.

Geek: Let’s talk about Mob Rule a bit…

FM: The idea is to overwhelm [The Flash]… This all stemmed from the very beginning when we took over writing the book. We were just expressing how we felt, and we felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the opportunity that we had – and the workload. [Laughs] So it was one of those things where Mob Rule – what we really like about him – is that he’s absolutely representational of how we were feeling at the time. What’s been really great about Mob Rule in general is that it’s going to challenge Barry in so many different ways… Aside from them being in so many different places at once, it challenges him emotionally. It challenges Barry’s perception of what’s good, and what’s bad. It’s a conflict of physical and internal, and it’s a great opportunity for a… I don’t want to say villain—

BB: He’s an antagonist, not a villain.

FM: The Rogues don’t have an emotional connection to Barry, the villain who gets the closest to that is Zoom. This is coming at it from a different angle. It’s a vendetta. With Mob Rule, there’s going to be costs that will cause a conflict in his own mind. It really challenges his perception of justice.

Geek: The other thing you guys are playing with are exploring The Flash’s powers as more than just “the guy that runs fast.”

BB: One of the things with Flash is that everyone knows he can run fast, so he’s got a unique set of problems when you’re writing that character… Because he’s so fast, your average villain can’t do much with him. You don’t want to repeat things that have been done before, so in our brainstorming sessions, we kicked around the idea, wouldn’t it cool if… It was intentional, we didn’t want to do what everyone has done with the Flash. We wanted to tie in cognition to the theme of the story. So I think it was very organic, but also a conscious decision to not rely on all the same old Flash gimmicks.

FM: Absolutely. One of the things Brian and I discussed when we were starting book was, we’ve seen his powers in so many different ways, but I really, really wanted the readers to see the world as he sees it… And Augmented Cognition was a great tool to be able to get that idea across.

BB: Visually, too.

FM: What’s been really cool about it, is we’ve heard from a lot of people who read issue two and said, “I’ve heard a lot about it, but I’ve never felt what it’s like to be the Flash.” We see the world through his eyes. Even though they are new powers, they seem like the logical evolution of where he’d be going, because if you can run really fast… You can’t just stop there. There has to be consequences, or advantages to certain things. Certain things have to change. You can’t just be a guy who’s running fast. There are certain aspects of your life, the way you think, that will change. When you’re used to seeing everything at the blink of an eye, and not really getting to take that all in… What would it be like? What would it be like if you were the fastest man alive, and everyone around you was super slow? Are you going to go crazy? Are you going to take advantage of it? There are so many cool things you could explore with just the simple fact of slowing up and speeding down time. As Brian said, it was an absolute natural progression to where he was going, and it makes sense for a character who’s all about moving, to keep him moving forward.

Geek: To wrap it up, other than Mob Rule, what can you tease for us that’s coming up with The Flash?

BB: We’ve got a lot of villains. The Rogues will take center stage – some of them – in the second arc, but before that, we have two one-off issues. One is a CSI, all Barry issue, where he gets to use scientific detective chops. And issue seven will be more about The Flash, and speed. Then we’re going to roll into the next arc with some of the Rogues. Something dramatic will happen at the end of that, that we can’t really go into, which will take us in a whole other direction with Flash.

FM: We basically look at it as… The events that happen with the EMP in issue two, that’s a threat that’s going on for the first season. An EMP blast, it’s no joke. [Laughs] The ramifications of something is that it’s absolutely disastrous. So for the first year, we’re going to be exploring that aspect of it. What’s going to be really cool, both from a visual and thematic standpoint, we’re going to be showing the contrast between the brightness of The Flash… We wanted to give the book a sense of hope and optimism, and what way to better do that visually than show it in terms of this one bright light in dark city? That’s season one, and season two… We’re going to be bringing the city and the Flash forward. There’s a tease for you.

The Flash #3 hits comic book stands from DC Comics on November 23rd, 2011.

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