Why DC’s Flash asked readers for help in an interactive comic

Flash # 776 tells a unique, interactive story in which DC’s Scarlet Speedster and Doctor Fate need the reader’s help to survive.

Warning: The following article contains spoilers for The Flash # 776, on sale now from DC Comics.

Fresh out of the events of the previous issue, Flash # 776 (by Jeremy Adams, Fernando Pasarin, Matt Ryan, Jeromy Cox, and Rob Leigh) sees Wally West teaming up with the DC Universe’s response to Marvel’s Supreme Wizard Doctor Fate. The two heroes reunited after the Scarlet Speedster attempted to defeat the new vampiric villain Starbreaker, who later became possessed by Eclipso after attempting to lift a mysterious sword that landed in Central City. Fate then teleported itself and Wally to another dimension in pursuit of the villain. However, to Wally’s knowledge, there would be a second ally who would aid him in his fight against Eclipso: the Reader.

Even though Doctor Fate hasn’t shown the ability to break the Fourth Wall before, other well-known comic book characters have, making this meta-fictional technique a hallmark of the comic book world. Which also makes Flash # 776 Also interesting are the interactive techniques of including the reader in the story, showing why comics are ripe for interactive fiction and breaking the fourth wall. The problem sees fate revealing “the reader” to Wally before they both give instructions on how to help them navigate and survive the strange world.

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First, Fate asks the reader to turn the comic counterclockwise, which in turn spins the entire domain so Flash and Fate can climb up to the panels on the page. Then they enter a hallway with demonic warriors with torches waiting to ambush the heroes. Fate asks the reader to blow on the page, which extinguishes the torches and gives the heroes an advantage. Then they come to a door with a big hole and the Flash asks the reader to tilt the book clockwise so they can jump to the other side and enter through the door.

When they unexpectedly land in a pool of water and Fate is attacked by a squid demon, the reader is asked to turn the book upside down so the hero can grab a mysterious magical book. Fate, while still being attacked by the squid, then asks readers to flip the pages of the book to find the order of the three glyphs and touch them in the correct order so that the two can be teleported to Gemworld, where the Justice League Dark awaits.

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Before this groundbreaking issue, a few comic book characters broke the fourth wall. Although Deadpool and Ambush Bug are the first characters that usually come to mind, another famous example has come from Grant Morrison. Animal Man, in which the heroic Buddy Baker character looks the reader directly in the eye and realizes that he is a comic book character, ultimately meeting his writer. Another scenario of Morrison, the chapter “Ultra Comics” in Multiversity, the main character’s story also takes place in real time, as the issue also causes the reader to interact with the comic. Hellblazer # 120 (by Paul Jenkins and Sean Phillips) saw John Constantine break through the fourth wall and meet the reader in a pub.

Which makes Flash # 776 is unique and interesting in how interactive the comic is, drawing inspiration from Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books from the past and interactive fiction to allow the reader to participate in the story. It does this by showing how the reader’s actions in the real world can help the characters, thereby actually involving them in the story. Additionally, this issue also uses the physical qualities of the comic, forcing readers to flip it, an effect that would be lost with a digital copy. This unique brand of storytelling has grown in popularity recently, with the rise of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style storytelling on Netflix and DC animated feature films like Batman: Death in the Family. This opens up the potential for more of these types of stories in the future, which in turn could usher in a whole new dimension in the comic book world.

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