So I was right when I predicted, maybe six months ago, that I’d see Heroes in Crisis 9 before Doomsday Clock 12, for here is the former appearing the same week as issue 10 of the latter, with the penultimate issue due in another three months time and the final issue in sight of no published schedule at all. Let’s put the two together and talk about which is the biggest bust.
For me, it’s got to be Heroes in Crisis. I was expecting something interesting, thought-provoking, original and ground-breaking. I was expecting it to enslave me. I was expecting it to be good. Doomsday Clock has done nothing but live down to my expectations.
Last issue, Heroes in Crisis revealed that its villain was neither Booster Gold nor Harley Quinn, as had been trailed from the start, but instead Wally West, the series’ most controversial and unwelcome victim. What was so bad, as well as just dumbfuck stupid, about it was that whilst the multiple deaths were a tragic accident, Wally’s actions in covering up, concealing and fabricating evidence and framing innocents, placed him at or below the level of the most evil of supervillains.
Worse still than that, was the choice of Wally as the villain: Wally West, the victim of the New52, the wellspring of Rebirth in 2016, the character whose reappearance was a deliberate beacon, a symbol of hope, and who less than three years later has been trashed beyond recovery. And in choosing to make Wally such a manipulator of evidence, Tom King destroyed his own story: literally everything in issues 1-7 has been a fake, a red herring, a lie. None of it meant anything, except seven months’ waste of paper, ink and colour. Did nobody at DC realise this in advance?
The series has made Wally West irredeemable. The character is poisoned beyond any hope, except as a villin or a madman, for at least two decades: that was how long in took to bring Hal Jordan back after Emerald Twilight, and that only tenuously possible by having him be possessed by Parallax, the Fear-Demon. In the late 2030’s, assuming the comic book industry hasn’t disappeared up its own backside at last, someone can try to rehabilitate Wally. It would be nice if someone could come up with something that isn’t as cheap and casuall, or as blatant a rip-off, as having him be possessed, and not in his right mind.
Was this what Tom King planned all along? There’s been rumour, and circumstantial evidence, of editorial interference by Interferer in Chief Dan Didio. Who is known to dislike Wally West almost as much as he does Dick Grayson. Who was the force behind the conceptual approaches of the New52, which was rejected by Geoff Johns in Rebirth. Who has come out on top in a power-strugle with Johns, who made wlly the Hope of Rebirth.
Would DiDio be so petty? Are you kidding? He works in comics, doesn’t he? The industry is littered with the petty, the obsessive, the maladjusted.
You may by now be wondering why I am going on at such length on what is essentially a reprise of my comments on issue 8, but this is the bar that the last issue has to overcome when it tries to present the Redemption of Wally West, by doing more or less the same thing issue 8 did, that is, to wipe out what has gone before, and render the worst parts of issue 8 non-existent. It doesn’t work, not even for a second.
What happens is that, amongst another slew of single panel trauma investigations at Sanctuary, which we later learn is the new, repaired, publicly-known Sanctuary, the Booster-Beetle-Harley-Batgirl team catches up with Wally five days in the future where/when he’s about to strangle Wally West for his crime and take him back to Day Zero for his body to be found. Wally has decided against using time travel to, you know, like, stop himself from killing all those people in the first place, because of Flashpoint.
So, in the least convincing of manners and most cheap of reverses, Wally and Wally talk Wally out of it, Booster scoots into the future to grab a clone of Wally + 5 so that can be dumped at Day Zero, everybody hightails it out of Day + 5 before the Justice League get there, and Wally can go back to Day Zero and confess his crime and get therapy, and go on to his bright and bountiful future in the DC Universe. The fact that in doing so he has now changed time in contravention of his principles in not changing time is not allowed to cross the mind of anyone except awkward readers.
It’s bullshit, pure bullshit from start to finish. Worse than bullshit, it’s pathetic. The series has been dull, static and uninvolving, and it has undercut itself over and over to the point where it holds no reality whatsoever. And to prove this yet further, Poison Ivy is returned to life is issue 9.
That leaves Roy Harper as the only prominent dead character, along with a bunch of neverwases, and that isn’t going to last.
I really had hopes for Heroes in Crisis but it disappointed from the outset. According to one of the spoilers that I’ve avoided until now, King, as the writer, submitted his outline story and had the characters to use dictated to him, but I’m still not going to let him off. That’s stupid nonsense. Look for a complete set on eBay from Sunday afternoon onwards.
As for Doomsday Clock 10, this armpit of a story has dragged on for so long that I no longer have the energy for any truly visceral commentary. At this late stage, on this attenuated schedule, you’d think that Johns and Frank would be making at least some effort to move the story towards its glacial conclusion, especially given that Doomsday Clock is meant to be the future of the DC Universe and nobody as yet has any idea what they have to do to get there, and that it supposed to be the springboard for the long overdue returns of The Justice Society of America and The Legion of Super-Heroes.
Issue 10 has been trailed for longer than prehistoric beasts have existed as heralding the return of the Justice Society, and it is true that we have some new dialogue from their first meeting, but in which version of reality that takes place is beyond determining. Essentially, Johns has decided to spend this issue in the head of Dr Manhattan, who does not perceive time in linear fashion, and using this to summarise what the Doc has been doing since departing the Watchmen Universe and arriving in DC’s.
It basically wanders about haphazardly whilst the Doc adjusts to the idea of being in a Multiverse in which time shifts at periodic intervals, until he realises that the DC Earth is actually not a Multiversal construct but a metaverse, whose history is constantly shifting.
I mean, ho-hum or what, so very rose by any other name. In the end, we get back to the same old conundrum we’ve had waved under our noses for about a year of real time, that Manhattan’s perception of the future ends with Superman throwing a punch at him, meaning that either Superman destroys him., or Manhattan destroys the metaverse. And aside from all other considerations, the odds of Manhattan destroying something Johns has only just named/defined this week are non-existent.
This latest instalment essentially writes the series off as a crossover series, as well as its already pronounced failure as a Watchmen fuck-with. We haven’t had any of that for an issue or two, so in one sense it’s cheering to see Johns flash back to Manhattan’s last conversation with Ozymandias in Watchmen 12, but really it’s not since Johns has to lie through his teeth about what Alan Moore had these two talk about, and invent something that never happened and which demeans the good Doctor yet more.
With Tom King’s run on Batman suddenly announced as ending twenty issues prior than we’d been led to believe, and the only other DC title I’m getting being The Terrifics, I foresee discarding the contents of each of these series asbeing beyond easy. I doubt I’ll even have to read anything in which they have consequences.
Will someone put this thing out of its misery? Before August and issue 11.
This, as the Stone Roses once memorably put it, is the One. The Revelation. The scene in the Library without the Library and without the villain being amongst the listeners because, to reference Agatha Christie for a moment longer, this is the Roger Ackroyd moment. The narrator dunnit. And, as has been forecast with increasing confidence over the past few months, the Sanctuary Killer is Wally West.
I don’t like it. That has nothing to do with critical responses and everything to do with Wally being my Flash, the one I used to buy, month-in, month-out, during Mark Waid’s tenure, with and without Brian Augustyn. I can’t like Wally West as the madman killer, nor the cold, calculating plotter, nor the suicide he already is in a time paradox that undermines the credibility of the time paradox.
I’ve never liked Heroes in Crisis. To me, it hasn’t for one moment or one panel lived up to the potential I imagined for it when first I learned of the series. Wally’s soliloquy here, taking up the entire issue, explaining every twist and turn, detail and deliberation, also undermines the entire concept of Sanctuary in the first place. It failed on Wally, and by extension, when you remember all those hero’s concerns, expressed in dozens of Watchmen pages, it failed all of them. All we ever saw were deep-rooted traumas, traumas specific to the conditions of a superhero universe, but we never saw any cures. We saw problems but not solutions. These were problems that had no solutions, but we didn’t even see healings, neither permanent nor sticking plaster.
The story is that wally has been committed to Sanctuary because he’s failing to cope with the simultaneous issue of having lost the woman who meant everything to him and the children they had together, in short everything that made his life what he wanted it to be, and being seen as the symbol of Hope, since it was his re-emergence three years ago, in DC Universe Rebirth that kick-started DC’s current phase (the one that will never end because it will all be explained in Doomsday Clock and that will never finish).
Wally comes to the delusion that Sanctuary has been set up for him alone, that nobody else is undergoing pain equivalent to him but that they’re saying so to humour him. So if all the data is being destroyed by being broken down into billions of scattered bytes, the Fastest Man Alive can re-assemble them in seconds. And seeing everybody else’s traumas broke Wally mentally, set off alarms and caused him to lose control of the Speed Force momentarily, killing everyone at Sanctuary, except Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, because they were a bit slow coming outside (seriously?)
So far, so disappointing. A man suffering from PTSD goes crazy and becomes a mass-murderer? Lovely message, so positive and life-affirming, people suffering from any kind of mental health issue will empathise immediately. I know I do (no, I’m lying). But it’s the aftermath that drops a leaden weight onto the scales and sends the pan for Absolute Fucking Disaster crashing to the ground, because Wally West, the bright spark, the kid who did it all, the sidekick who grew up to become the man himself, who’s just caused deaths in a second of lost control… starts plotting a superspeed cover-up that puts the frame on two completely innocent people, not to mention re-programmes the entire place, re-sites ALL the bodies and creates all manner of clues, red herrings and mindfucks just to fool his CSI Uncle and The Batman. No. Not in a million years can this be accepted. Not just because it’s Wally West and I have a soft spot for him. Not just because there isn’t a hair of continuity between any version of Wally West that ever existed before and who the hell this person is, and not even because it’s a kick in the face for all the readers who bought into Wally’s return at the beginning of Rebirth. Because it’s bullshit. Because it’s crude. Because it’s lame.
And it falls apart. You see, Wally, this Wally who’s been relating this confession, has also gone into the future, by five days, and found his five days in the future self, all to buy himself the time to do something good to make up for this doing bad. Wally-Now catches up with Wally +5, in the company of some green-skinned woman I can’t recognise, and after Wally +5 gives him the last piece, the rose in the river, Wally-Now kills him, by strangling him. Kills himself. Suicide. So Wally’s now dead for real.
Or is he? I’ve already read one theory that everything, the whole story, is actually a fantastically sophisticated VR construct by Sanctuary, curing Wally. It’s elegant, I grant you, and there is still one issue to go, and go it shall, but from this point, any attempt to undercut this, to explain it away as a Hoax, a Dream or an Imaginary Story, will be twice as hollow as this episode.
But there were rumours in 2018, before Heroes in Crisis first appeared, that Brian Azzarello would be launching a new Suicide Squad series, with Wally West as a lead character, not that anything has been confirmed. Other rumours current at the same time have come to fruition, not that that proves anything.
It doesn’t really matter. To be honest, no matter how Emerald Twilight this gets, I have never been able to believe in the story, and once the final issue is out and I’ve said about that what demands to be said about it, not only will I be selling theseries on eBay, as I’ve threatened, but I will be deleting it from my personal version of DC Universe Continuity. Should Never Have Happened will become simply Never Happened, as far as I’m concerned.
How much of this story has been a waste of space? How many of the pages of this issue are pointless, an abuse of the audience by getting them to read a lazy, needless fight between Harley Quinn and Booster Gold, observed in couch potato fashion by Batgirl and Blue Beetle, until the four decide to pool their approaches? How many pages are wasted by Batman and The Flash using very different approaches to locating Blue and Gold, The Flash dashing off for microsecond searches of areas of the world where they’re not to be found, and Batman sitting in his Batcave chair, watching his alarms, which are hidden in every safehouse either of the pair have ever had, knowing that sooner or later, being Beetle and Booster, one of them will do something stupid and trigger their alarm? How many pages are given over to the Watchmen grid of Wally West talking to Sanctuary, updating himself on the number of weeks he’s been there and his evidently false belief that he’s been improving?
The answers to these questions are 11, 3 and 4 respectively. That leaves 6 pages (including a double page spread) that might, we hope, actually advance the story, although not in any way that makes sense up to the end of issue 7. These involve Wally and Poison Ivy and a field of beautifully drawn and brilliantly coloured flowers that are a genuine aesthetic delight, and they seem to be leading towards the suggestion, which has been suspected by a lot of people for quite some time already, that the Sanctuary killer is Wally himself.
I really hope that this is still red-herringing.
Art this time around is split between three artists, twelve pages drawn by series artist Clay Mann, nine by Travis Moore and the remaining three by Jorge Fornes, whose more primitive style stands out like a sore thumb against the other two.
I mean, there’s not really that much else I can say about this issue. The main cover, an exasperated Superman shouting ‘Enough!’ and thrusting Booster and Harley out of the picture has nothing to do with this episode. The only thing I can applaud is that it’s coming out on time, and as Doomsday Clock 10 has now been pushed back into May, my prediction that I’d get to the end of Heroes in Crisis before DC’s premier fuck-up crossover is going to come true in spades.
Given that Tom King’s current arc in Batman, ‘Knightmares’, is as boring as fuck and seeming interminable, this is not a period in which I am favourably inclined towards him. I’d like that to improve.
Six of nine. It’s a sad commentary on mainstream comics publishing today that the much-trailed Heroes in Crisis mini-series is slowly developing its own mini-version of the logical disasters that have most thrillingly contributed to the miserable buffoonery of Doomsday Clock. First, it was supposed to be a seven issue series drawn by Clay Mann but, once Dan DiDio, still pining for the misery of The New 52, managed to claw back sole control, it spouted two extra issues drawn by another artist, and all but officially designated as fillers, extra pages had to be shoehorned in to issue 2 by another artist to ram home the unconvincing death of Wally West, and now all we have of series artist Mann in issue 6 are a first and last page with all the stuff in between drawn by Mitch Gerads.
Still, at least the trains run on time. The consistent monthly schedule means we can put this turgid disappointment behind us in three months, whereas Doomsday Clock will still be with us when the sun has gone nova and all that is left of the Solar System is one cubic inch of charred Charonic rock.
I’m in two minds about this issue. Once again, we don’t move an inch forward. The story stops dead, if such a phrase can be applied to a things that has never once been alive. What we get are Mann’s two pages, showing heroes being questioned about how many people they’ve saved and giving different answers, whilst in between we’re treated to Sanctuary at work, in virtual reality settings, in the form of the sessions relating to Wally West, Poison Ivy joined by Harley Quinn, and Gnarrk, who is a thawed-out caveboy associated with the Titans, Teen or otherwise, a holdover from the very early Seventies. Despite the intelligence with which he is treated herein, he really is a case of scraping the barrrel.
It’s just more, more, more relentlessly slow and inert ‘insight’, and at the two-thirds mark another entire issue of it is amateurish story-telling and dire pacing.
Yet I have a smidgeon of respect for parts of this story, or rather one part, being Wally West. King reruns the DC Universe Rebirth moment when Wally finally gets Barry to remember him, to break him out of the Speed Force, and to reset the Universe to the tune of Hope that was Geoff Johns’ rationale both for Rebirth and the egregious Doomsday Clock. Typically, King reverses this completely. Wally is greeted by everybody as not just the symbol of hope but as Hope itself, but he cannot accept himself in this role, feels massively pressurised by it, because he has no Hope. He’s returned alone, without the love of the family that has been inttegral to him, with Linda Park, his lightning rod, without Jai and Iris, his children.
This part is good, is seriously good, and it holds within it something of the structure that could have underpinned Heroes in Crisis and made it work. If you had started from this, if you had made this the basis upon which the series was founded, if you had focussed on it and not diffused it with dozens of heoes undergoing trauma counselling that, even two-thirds of the way through, we are not seeing at work. All we get are gnomic utterances by superheroes, cryptic soundbites with very often the depth of a puddle, because King is using too many people to have the space for anything but shallowness, and because he’s still not leaving enough space for an actual story to clad itself upon these bones.
Simultaneously with this issue, I also picked up the four-part crossover story, ‘The Price’, running between Batman and The Flash, written by Joshua Williamson, which gets far more out of Tom King’s story than King has managed to do by concentrating upon living characters affected by these deaths and their implications, where King is concentrating upon characters who we are being told, unconvincingly, are dead, meaning that their issues and traumas haave ceased to have any meaning. Like the victims, the problems are dead. If anyone really is.
Do we have any answers appearing in the murk? I mean, we’ve already been shown Wally’s moment of death at the hands of Harley Quinn and now we see it at the hands of Booster Gold but for it to be either of them would be lame. One major news and gossip site still reckons it’s Wally himself, which at least has the merit of being stupid, but in that case why has Wally’s death had to be so blatantly inserted by DiDio’s decree?
I repeat, three months from now, the complete set, first editions, mint condition, will be going on eBay, unless you want to make a private bid in the comments? Exorbitant offers will be listened to most carefully.
I so looked forward to Heroes in Crisis. It’s subject seemed to have infinite potential but, three issues in out of nine, it is already both a crashing bore and a disorganised mess. Whilst there’s still ample time for it to pull itself together, at the moment I can only foresee the immediate aftermath of reading no. 9 to be the offering of the complete set on eBay: get your preliminary bids in now.
The whole series bears the mark of editorial interference, stemming, I strongly suspect, from Dan DiDio. Originally, the story was to have run only seven issues but at a late stage, too late for this to predate completion of the first couple of issues, it was announced that two ‘fill-in’ issues – nos 3 and 8 – would be added. Then, after issue 2 had appeared, it was casually mentioned that these extra issues, not drawn by series artist Clay Mann, were tie-ins that had been decided to be added to the series itself.
This comes after three pages in issue 2 having been drawn by a different artist, to insert a scene about Wally West’s death that otherwise wouldn’t have been in the issue.
What I, and many others, am smelling here is an attempt by DiDio to claw back something of the atmosphere and approaches of the New 52, his baby, that was roundly rejected in 2016 by Geoff Johns and the whole DC Rebirth saga. Though it was initially a sales boost, very few people actually liked the New 52, with its ultra grimness and ultra grittiness, its emphasis upon death and destruction, its refusal to allow marriages (because that would mean characters being happy) and its general, overall shitness.
Rebirth was a cosmic breath of fresh air, as well as being Geoff Johns’ baby, and which character was the symbol of Rebirth? Wally West. But Johns is no longer Chief Creative Officer at DC, and DiDio has room to start resweing his serpent’s teeth, and the first sign of this is inserting Wally West’s death into Heroes in Crisis.
I’ve already said I can’t believe it, and even though issue 3 features the (apparent) murder, via Harley Quinn’s sledgehammer to the back of the skull, I’m still not buying it. I’m almost certain I’ve never seen a comic book death so utterly unconvincing, and I’m convinced that’s because it wasn’t part of King’s story and has had to be forced in at DiDio’s orders: it isn’t believable because the writer doesn’t believe in it.
I also find it significant that the forthcoming Batman/The Flash four-part crossover in which the DC Universe’s two leading detectives team up to investigate Wally’s murder is being wholly written by Josh Williamson (a tie-in to Tom King’s series in Tom King’s regular title that Tom king isn’t writing any part of? And is having to announce he’s still going to write 100 issues?)
Issue 3 is a flashback issue whose cover is completely misleading. Batnan and The Flash’s faces reflect in a blood-stained, gold face-mask that reminds me of the Psycho-Pirate, but neither they nor any investigation takes place within. Instead, we see Sanctuary in operation through three figures. Lagoon Boy, a minor, pre-Flashpoint Teen Titan, traumatized by the deaths of his team around him is trying to getover his fear by continually being shot by a laser, repeating his injury until the trauma disappears (he is disembowelled by a stick and dies laughing). Wally West sits in the Chamber, a Star Trek-like holosuite, rebuilding his life with Linda and his children around him whilst a somewhat patronising system asks why (bloody obvious, I would have thought, and given he’s a superhero who’s re-emerged out of a previous reality, not something impossible to resurrect). And Booster Gold, on his first day, conjures up a snarky Booster Gold to argue with him.
Then there’s an emergency, people die all over the place, Wally huddles over a dead Roy Harper as Harley Quinn sneaks up from behind, bang bang, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer comes down upon his head…
The truth is that in one-third of its length, Heroes in Crisis has travelled exactly six inches. It’s been distorted by a megalomaniac who’s trying to fight a battle with someone who’s only recently stopped having more influence over him, and who seems blind to the fact that his yar-boo-sucks, I’m killing Wally West, ner ner, ner ner, ner is not only pathetic and childish but fucking pointless because if someone wants to bring Wally back after DiDio’s gone they’ll do so and it won’t even be because they want to piss all over his chips. It’s like John bloody Byrne sprinting back to Marvel the moment Jim Shooter was fired so he could bomb Pittsburgh.
And I thought this was going to be better than Doomsday Clock.
I’ve been waiting a few months for DC’s latest crossover series, both for the concept and the fact it’s being written by Tom King, a writer who has brought me back into reading Batman comics again – Batman! – for the first time since, probably, the Seventies.
Heroes in Crisis was originally billed as a seven-issue mini-series, drawn by Clay Mann, though at a late stage it was bumped up to nine issues, with issues 3 and 7 to be drawn by a second artist, which is mildly worrying. nevertheless, the concept is fascinating, and well within King’s capabilities and experience as a former CIA analyst.
The idea is that there is a place known as Sanctuary, set up and managed by the Trinity, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. It’s a refuge, a psychological refuge where traumatised superheroes can receive counselling over their experiences. Superheroes in counselling? It sounds ridiculous, but given the experiences they face on a daily basis, it’s not just logical but inevitable.
The set-up is that the series begins with a murder taking place at Sanctuary: not just a murder, but a massacre. I’ve been avoiding spoilers, especially about who dies, for weeks now.
So issue 1 is now to hand. To be honest, it’s a bit of a disappointment. What I’ve described above is, basically, about the whole of what we get. Nor is there any excessive amount of additional detail. There are dead bodies, including a number of no-marks, though the corpses include that of Citizen Steel, as in the one who’s been in Legends of Tomorrow this past two seasons.
But, and these are thrown away in a single panel without fanfare or follow-up in this issue, there are a couple of more substantial names: Roy (Arsenal) Harper… and Wally (Flash) West.
And the issue is plumped out by a running fight scene between Booster Gold and Harley Quinn, with the latter trying to stab the former, ending in a last page accusation that instead of it being Harley trying to complete her murder spree, as you would normally anticipate, she’s trying to bring in Booster because he killed everyone. She saw him.
I think we can safely assume there will be a few more twists along the way, but in terms of content, this is actually pretty thin stuff. I will be very surprised if Wally West is, or stays dead – he was ‘my’ Flash for a decade or more, through Bill Messner-Loebs and especially Mark Waid – and I will be equally surprised if Booster’s apparent culpability is the real deal, even under hypnosis, mental control, possession or any similar excuse.
It’s here, it’s begun, but given how it was sold to us, I don’t think Heroes in Crisis has travelled more than six inches yet. Roll on issue 2, and if King et al can actually keep a monthly schedule, I for one will be exceedingly grateful.
I’ve spent the three months since Barry Allen, in an excess of grief over his father dying, went back in time to prevent the Reverse-Flash from killing his mother, Nora, thus changing time and history, in avoiding all but the most unavoidable spoilers for season 3, i.e., photos.
Thus I have seen Wally West in his Kid Flash costume, and Jay Garrick-the-real-one in his Earth-2 Flash uniform (which, in the DC TV-verse is going to be Earth-3 and I’m going to get a terrible headache because that’s just wrong) avoiding learning anything about what was going to happen.
Which meant that I had a lot of time to speculate for myself about how they might play this and what they would do, and how it would affect everything else, and how long they would run it for (privately, I was thinking four episodes, maybe three if they panicked.)
It’s already over. Not entirely, which I shall explain in a moment, but by the end of this episode the big Reset has been, well, reset. Bye bye alternate timeline, bye bye, and you were a hell of a lot less fun than the Earth-2 (DC TV-verse) version of Team Flash.
This is because, as I may have mentioned from time to time, all my fascination with time travel and alternate pasts and presents and futures stems at root from Justice League of America 37. I expected changes, big changes, unrecognisable changes. I got small, disconnected changes. Cisco is rich, owns what used to be STAR Labs. Caitlin’s a pediatric opthalmologist. Iris is a reporter for Picture News, Wally used to drive illegal souped-up cars (now, wait a minute….). Joe, admittedly, is a hopeless drunk, uncaring of his job, whilst Barry has changed the most of all. He’s a CSI with the Central City Police Department and he’s got super-speed. Now, come on.
The biggest thing I expected and which I decidedly didn’t get was that Barry would not have his powers and would not be the Flash. The show not only bottled that decision, they fudged it. Barry had his speed, he had all his memories, he was still the Flash except that, there being another Flash in town, he didn’t have to be a speedster (except for when he ran somewhere fast like he was always doing).
And I’m sorry it may be comic-book logic but I’ve had fifty years of this logic and it is logic, but if the alternate timeline had Cisco be very rich and have bought a STAR Labs not damaged by the proton accelerator blowing up, where did the accident that gave Barry his speed come from?
True, Wally’s ‘origin’ was completely different (illegal car, experimental turbo-mixture fuel, lightning strike, bongo, except that Wally doesn’t have supermetabolism for when villains stick a pole through your ribcage, for some unexplained, convenient and lazy reason).
What Barry did have was his parents back. Recently deceased Henry but, above all importance, long-gone Nora (played with charm, grace and a hint of calm MILFness by Michelle Harrison), for three idyllic summer months. What Barry didn’t have was any contact with the Wests. Ok, he’s been stalking Iris for three months whilst, in pure klutz-mode, working up the nerve to speak to her, but he doesn’t know either of the others and Joe doesn’t like him. But then Joe-the-drunk-fuck-up doesn’t like, or care about, anyone. Why was the alternate Joe a drunk duck-up? You expect that to be explained?
In terms of the story, there is a new speedster villain in town, the Rival (a very obscure Golden Age opponent of Jay Garrick, in the very last issue of Flash Comics in 1949, revived by Geoff Johns) who’s facing off with Kid Flash (don’t call me ‘Kid’), whilst Barry has got Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash (wearing Matt Letscher’s face, not Tom Cavanagh’s, the latter being AWOL this episode) locked in a speedproof glass cage and intending to keep him there forever. Like that was thought through particularly well by Barry.
The thing is, Thawne is issuing apocalyptic warnings about Barry dooming them both, and Barry’s getting spasms in which memories of his former timeline are getting sucked out of his head until he realises he has to collapse this bubble of time before it becomes permanent and Wally dies. Which means that to do so, he has to ask Thawne to kill his mother.
One episode. I am not the only person to feel cheated by that.
So, back to life, back to reality. Everything is as it was. Except that Barry done fucked up again. It’s not all quite the same. Iris and Joe aren’t speaking to each other. Father and daughter are estranged and have been for no little time. Maybe it’s because Joe is, or was, a drunken fuck-up like in the alternate timeline, I don’t know, that would be neat, but for that we’ll have to wait and see.
By the way, there’s a new actor playing precinct Captain Mendez this year. He’s played by Alex Desert. Hands up who remembers the awful 1990 version of The Flash…
So, given that I thoroughly loved season 2, this is for me The Flash‘s first major disappointment, making the whole cliffhanger thing into an annoying intrusion (still, Bary won’t mope about saving his mother any more). I’m going to pretend next week is the real start of the season. We have already got a twist coming: Edward Clariss, aka The Rival, was shot dead by Joe in Earth-A (for alternate) but is alive in Earth-1. He’s woken up by a mysterious voice and an invisible hand etching a word into his bedroom mirror. The word is ‘Alchemy’.
It’s five years since Flashpoint reset the DC Universe one time too many for me, as detailed here. It’s considerably longer since I last bought an actual DC mainstream comic, but I’ve not been entirely out of touch. Old habits fade only slowly. The thing about the New 52 Universe was that it broke the thread of continuity that had run through DC since the beginning. It undercut history, removed legacy, deleted the proper Justice Society of America, and took down Superman’s shorts. I borrowed a couple of GNs from the library, on occasions, and the storytelling was incomprehensible.
It’s also been a bust, commercially, which is why the universe is being reset yet again. DC Rebirth is the name of the game, and since ‘Rebirth’ is Geoff Johns’ property, it’s yet again his show. Though only in the set-up: after the appearance this week of DC Rebirth 1 and only, Johns is being shunted over to the films division to apparently counteract the effects of Zack Snyder.
I don’t like Geoff Johns’ writing. This has made following DC awkward for the last ten years and more, since he has been flavour of the decade, to the point of having been appointed DC’s first Chief Creative Officer (first, because they’ve never needed one before). Basically, that means that the DC Universe is run according to the tastes and preferences of one man, and if you generally don’t agree with that man’s perspectives, things are a bit of a wasteland for you.
Reading DC Universe: Rebirth 1, I felt a tremendous sense of deja vu. It was exactly like reading Countdown to Infinite Crisis eleven years ago: the same dynamics, the same focus upon an individual whose fate is the forerunner of change. Even the art was by the same artists , or ones who drew pretty much like the ones who did Countdown.
Whereas that one was the Ted Kord Blue Beetle, on his way to his lonely, but significant death, this character aroused a more immediate sympathy in me, because it’s Kid Flash: the Kid Flash, Wally West, the real Wally West, whose been on the missing list since Flashpoint. And whilst Barry Allen and I may have been born around the same time, Wally was, in a realer sense, ‘my’ Flash, the one I collected assiduously – until Geoff Johns took him over, at least.
What it’s about is that, despite his having been Flash the last time we looked, Wally has spent the years since the Flashpoint trapped in the Speed Force as Kid Flash. Now he’s trying to get out. In fact, he’s desperate to do so. The problem is that, to return to reality, he has to appear to someone who recognises him, and that’s not happening. Not Batman, not Johnny Thunder, not even his beloved Linda Park (who is now a struggling reporter from a very tiny blog about to lose everything. Not even the Flash, Uncle Barry, remembers who he is.
And Wally is utterly desperate. Not because he wants to return to life. He’d be happy to slip away, to dissolve in the Speed Force, to lose all identity forever, but he has to deliver a message, a warning. Five years ago, the Flashpoint, Barry Allen changed time by saving his mother from being killed in the past (odd coincidence that you should bring that up…)
Everybody believes that it was Barry’s action that changed time, created the New 52, but that’s not the case. Wally has a different perspective. There’s someone else, someone who manipulated things, who deliberately chose to steal ten years from everybody’s lives, ten years of incidents and events. It was done to weaken them, for some nefarious purpose…
And in the last possible second, Barry remembers, and Wally is back, to bring this warning. The Universe is about to be reborn, time to be restored, history will come back.
Because Barry, at the last possible instant, says Wally’s name.
Who is behind this, who has done this? That’s the good old fashioned sixty-four thousand dollar question. We get two clues.
One is a pan, from the earth to another planet, one with dark skies, pink sands, desert conditions. There’s a rigid, nine-panel grid page focused upon a watch, Wally’s watch, a gift from his Uncle. Someone is dismantling it, cog by cog, without touching it. There’s also some dialogue, with someone named Adrian, dialogue I remember from thirty years ago.
And meanwhile, Batman has been digging away at something, ever since the unknown stranger with a yellow and red costume and ginger hair manifested himself in the Batcave, pointing to the letter from his father that was an integral part of Flashpoint. There’s something behind the letter, buried in the rock, that Batman chips out in time for the final page. It’s a badge, a simple, yellow, smily-face badge, popular in the year 1985. And it’s got a diagonal streak of red – of blood – across one eye. (Except that it’s the wrong fucking eye…)
So the Watchmen Universe is about to be folded in with the rest of the DC Universe/Multiverse, after thirty years of separation and despite all the paramount reasons not to do so. But then, Johns and DiDio couldn’t give a shit about promises made by previous management, not when they can tangle their shitty fingers in a superior creation. It’s like the ‘let me piss in it and make it taste better’ joke.
So, what do we assume? At the end of Watchmen, Dr Manhattan, who had previously sequestered himself on Mars, decided to leave that Universe and create some life. Are we now to assume that the former Jonathan Osterman created the DC Universe? And that despite the good Doctor being a basically neutral but benevolent individual, he’s decided to play games with his creation? (Of course he will, Johns and DiDio are incapable of imagining that someone with Manhattan’s power wouldn’t act like a dictatorial shit with it. They really are extremely limited in their visions).
Rebirth is good as far as it goes, which is up to the point where the big reveal is intimated, at which point it turns into a possible utter disaster. I’ve signed up to get Earth-2 Rebirth, which is the Justice Society reboot, but that’s on a contingent basis, and depends very much on how authentic that series feels.
Nevertheless, I do not see myself making a return to DC like I used before, even if they restore Superman’s red trunks, an issue that remains to be seen. Too much time has gone by, old habits and old knowledge have been strained beyond repair. Johns may be gone but his spirit lives on, and my place is back among the back issues. Especially if they’re going to start shitting even more on Watchmen.
The original Flash was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert for Flash Comics no 1, published by All-American Publications in 1940. He was Jay Garrick, a Research Chemist in Keystone City, and his was the most simple and appealing of powers: super-speed: who had not dreamed of being able to run fast, with the wind whipping through their hair?
Garrick gained his powers through a lab accident whilst a student at Midwestern University: clearing the lab one night, he broke a retort of hard water: overcome by its fumes, he breathed them in all night, until discovered and rushed to hospital in the morning. He made a complete recovery, but concealed from everyone but his girlfriend, feisty Army Colonel’s daughter Joan Williams, that his body chemistry had been changed and that he could now run with superspeed.
That origin has been tweaked half a dozen times since, in an attempt to introduce even a fraction of plausibility into it, but all the reboots do is to further emphasise that, as superhero origins go, this is one of the least credible ever, and there is, trust me, a great deal of competition. It’s typical of comic book irony that such a silly origin should characterise such an excellent and successful character.
As The Flash, Garrick wore a simple costume consisting of a long-sleeved red top decorated by a yellow lightning bolt, blue pants, red boots, and a symbolic winged helmet of Mercury, the Roman God of Speed. Like his fellow heroes, Garrick wore that costume under his street-clothes, ready at any time to throw them off and race into action.
Garrick was a founder member of the JSA, and its first Chairman, recognising his status as the character most likely to be voted into his own solo title, making him the first after Superman and Batman to achieve this success. All-Flash ran from 1941 – 1948, during which period not only was the Flash invited back into the JSA, but he also became one of the regulars in Comics Cavalcade, one of the last successful anthology titles to be introduced in the 1940s. This meant that The Flash was appearing regularly in four titles, one more than each of Superman and Batman.
But the swing away from superheroes after the end of the war affected everyone, except a handful. One by one, All-Flash, Comics Cavalcade and Flash Comics were cancelled, and at the end of 1950, when All-Star became a Western title, The Flash disappeared, presumed forever.
However, as we already know, in 1956 National Periodical Publications decided to test the waters of whether kids were ready to read superheroes again by reviving The Flash. But editor Julius Schwartz, unwilling to revive a character who had already been “done”, insisting on creating a brand new character, more in tune with the 1950s.
The Flash 2, created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino, was Barry Allen, blonde crew-cut, bow-tie and sports jacket, the perfect image of Organisation Man. He was a Police (i.e. Forensic) Scientist with the Central City P.D., again out in the flat mid-West. Allen was working late one night in the lab, with a storm approaching. After a coffee-break during which he reads an old issue of Flash Comics, starring his childhood favourite, the lab is struck by lightning. It overturns a cabinet of chemicals on Allen, drenching him with an unpredictable mixture of electrified chemicals (now THAT’S an origin!).
After leaving the lab, Allen undergoes a series of experiences in which he seems to move at superspeed, but he does not fully realise what has happened until the following morning, when he can not only see a bullet flying towards his fiancée, reporter Iris West, but push her out of its way. In emulation of his comic book hero, Allen becomes the Flash.
The new Flash ran in an all-red body suit, incorporating a pull-over head cowl and eye-mask, with yellow boots, yellow lightning flashes at wrists and waist, and a chest symbol of a yellow lightning bolt across a white circle. The costume was made of an advanced version of the material used in inflatable life-rafts: in compressed form it was stored in a signet ring on Allen’s finger: when exposed to the air, it instantly grew to full size and Allen would don it over his street clothes (yeuch!).
National’s management were strangely reluctant to accept the positive sales figures and it took four try-outs over three years before Allen was awarded his own series, picking up the original numbering of Flash Comics with issue 105, and John Broome took over scripting.
Given the background of both Broome and Schwarz, there was an unsurprisingly strong SF element to the Flash’s adventures. Broome made use of a wide variety of scientific and pseudo-scientific tricks to underpin Allen’s speed (long though I believed it, I have been forced to come to the conclusion that there is no scientific validity to the notion that objects which vibrate at different rates can occupy the same physical space without damaging each other: I invite any reader of this to come up with even a shred of proof that this actually is true). And Broome also came up with a constant stream of costumed villains, a Rogues Gallery built around scientific gimmicks, who would stretch the scientist in the Flash to defeat them.
Schwartz’s success with the Flash led to a new Green Lantern and then to a revived Justice Society, renamed by Schwartz as the Justice League of America. The Flash was a founder member. Unlike the JSA, the League didn’t require all its members to appear in each issue, nor did it have a permanent Chairman: instead, the office was passed round from issue to issue. As one of National/DC’s most popular characters, the Flash appeared in most issues, and took his turn in charge many times.
Also in 1960, Broome gave the Flash a boy side-kick. Kid Flash – who originally wore a cut down version of Barry’s uniform before gaining a snazzy yellow and red version of his own – was Iris’s nephew Wally West, a 10 year old from the farming community of Blue Valley and a big Flash fan. Iris arranged through Barry for Wally to meet the Flash (Reporter though she was, Iris was certainly no Lois Lane). The Flash explains his origin in Barry Allen’s home laboratory when an identical lightning bolt overturns the cabinet on Wally, giving him exactly the same powers! Ok, it’s a good origin, but this was stretching probability, and a much later story went to great lengths to suggest a reason why this event duplicated itself so exactly.
Kid Flash would appear periodically as a guest star, or in back-up stories, until he gained an independent life as a member of the Teen Titans, a foursome of teenage sidekicks hanging out together.
Meanwhile, the steady stream of letters wanting to know about the Golden Age Flash, and how Jay Garrick fitted in with Barry Allen. It was obviously a story that would sell, so Schwartz brought in Garrick’s creator, Gardner Fox, to write the landmark “Flash of Two Worlds” for issue 123. Whilst carrying out superspeed tricks for the Central City orphans, Allen vibrates into invisibility and finds himself several miles outside town. Thinking he’s passed through a space warp, he runs back only to find prominent local landmarks missing. Fearing he’s also passed through a time warp, he checked the date on the newspaper, which is correct (June 4th 1961). However, the paper is not the Central City Picture News but rather the Keystone City Herald – Keystone City as in Jay Garrick.
Allen finds Garrick’s address in the phone book and, in civilian clothes, calls on him and his wife, Joan. He shocks them by relating Garrick’s origin as the Flash, before revealing his own. Allen’s theory, based on the vibrating-at-different-rates idea, is that there are two Earths occupying the same physical place in the Universe, but forever invisible and intangible to each other because they vibrate at different rates: Allen has discovered Garrick’s Earth because he has accidentally tuned into its rate.
The implications of this single issue would underpin the entire DC Multiverse for twenty five years to come, and its waves continue to have effect even now, in The New 52.
For now, though, it was a massive success, concluding with a nostalgia fest as three of Garrick’s old foes obligingly appeared out of retirement to require a fight.
The story was the predicted smash and called for a sequel, in issue 129, when Garrick came to Allen’s Earth and helped him out against a couple of his Rogues. It also included a teaser flashback to All-Star 57, marking the first post-Golden Age appearance for the other six JSA members of the team’s last phase.
Emboldened, Schwartz and Fox took things a stage further in the third team-up, in The Flash 136, which took place on Garrick’s Earth, where six of his old JSA comrades had been kidnapped. Thanks to Barry Allen, they are rescued and agree to come out of retirement, which happened only two months later, in a two part story in Justice League of America 21 and 22, with both Flashes taking part.
This story formally named Allen’s Earth as Earth-1 and Garrick’s as Earth-2, and was the foundation of a series of annual team-ups that ran for 23 years.
With Kid Flash changing his costume so as to no longer be identical to Barry Allen, and joining the Teen Titans, by 1965 there was a status quo that would hold for twenty years. Garrick appeared regularly in JLA/JSA team-ups, and occasionally teamed up with Allen: in 1976, surprisingly belatedly, All-Star was revived for the JSA, with the Flash as a regular attendee.
There was more development in Teen Titans for Kid Flash. In 1970, as a response to the ‘Age of Relevance’, most of the Titans, Wally West included, gave up their powers and costumes after their inexperience led to a campus riot that killed a prominent peace envoy in issue 25. Under the philanthropic gaze of millionaire Mr Jupiter, the grey-jump-suited teens dealt with social and teenage issues. Unfortunately, the experiment sent sales tumbling, and was abandoned (as was scripter Steve Skeates) halfway through a two-part story. The series tried a ghoulies and ghosties approach instead, but was still cancelled with issue 43.
Two years later, Teen Titans returned for another and very pallid ten issues before being cancelled again, but it, and Wally West, took on a new lease of life in 1980 when the team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez started The New Teen Titans, DC’s first genuine fan-favourite series, and its first corrective to the effects of the notorious DC Implosion in 1978.
We’ll return to the New Teen Titans and Wally’s part in it, after looking at Barry Allen’s career since the early-Sixties.
To be frank, entertaining and amusing as Broome’s (and Fox’s) stories could be, and successful as The Flash was, after starting the Golden Age Revival there were very few stories of significance in the rest of the decade. One such, however, featured Allen’s marriage to Iris West in 1965: National’s first superhero wedding, and only the second in comics after Marvel’s same year pairing of Mr Fantastic and The Invisible Girl from Fantastic Four.
The marriage was almost ruined by Allen’s 25th century foe, the Reverse-Flash, who was obsessed with Allen to the point of believing himself in love with Iris. Professor Zoom (his alternate name) tried to substitute for Allen at the ceremony but was beaten off with Iris none the wiser.
The new Mrs Allen was also none the wiser as to her husband’s secret identity, which became a running theme for the next year until, after a visit from the Garricks and some strong words from Joan, Allen agreed to tell Iris on their first Anniversary. At which point he discovered that she’d known since their Wedding Night, because Barry talked in his sleep!
That’s a charming little story that betrays too much of its time, and of the Comics Code Authority’s strictures. In 1965, nice girls didn’t – at all – until they were married, but in the Nineties the notion that Barry and Iris wouldn’t have slept together until then would have been too strange for an audience to believe, and a more complex justification had to be found for his sudden lapse into somniloquy.
Two other stories of significance achieved this by being so insanely dumb that, if back issues did not exist, we would politely assume them to be merely urban legends. The first of these, published in 1967, purported to be the real origin of the Flash: that he had been given his speed by a trainee angel named Mopee who had broken the rules by using materials that Barry Allen didn’t own himself, hence the need for Mopee to return and take them away again. This was so colossally dumb, National were trying to pretend it hadn’t happened practically before the inks dried.
But the other, a 1969 Robert Kanigher effort entitled “The Flash’s Wife is a Two-Timer!”, despite being almost as buzzard-gaggingly stupid, cannot be so ignored, for it would go on to form a crucial component in the Flash-mythos.
For the benefit of our younger readers, a ‘Two-Timer’ was an already archaic, or ‘square’, term for someone who was cheating on their partner, and it is as misleading as it is cheesy. Instead of being about adultery, the story was even worse. Iris Allen discovered that Professor and Mrs West were not in fact her parents but that she had been adopted. Which would not have been so bad if it hadn’t also have been revealed that she had actually been born in the Thirtieth Century, but that her scientist parents, in fear of an imminent and destructive nuclear war, had sent her back in time a thousand years so that she might live.
Now if you sit back a think for just a second about the likelihood of a woman born after a millennium of human evolution being medically indistinguishable from her incredibly distant ancestors or the likelihood of concerned parents sending their child to such an unutterably primitive age, you will have thought for exactly one second longer than Kanigher himself.
Nevertheless, the fact that Iris Allen was no longer the sweet, uncomplicated, loving wife of one of the saner and well-balanced heroes, but a time-travelling visitor was shuffled into the deep background until, in Barry Allen’s final months, it was resurrected as the big twist in his final issue.
Such things apart, most of Allen’s career avoided great highs and lows. By the late Sixties, John Broome was easing himself out of comics and America, and his role as Flash scripter went to Cary Bates, one of the earliest fans-turned-writers, who would go on to write over 150 issues of Allen’s series, in a quiet, pseudo-Silver Age manner, for so long as Julius Schwarz maintained editorship of The Flash.
Let us move ahead to 1980, and resume Kid Flash’s story, in The New Teen Titans. The new team consisted of three old characters, three new ones, and a rebooted Sixties teenager with no previous connection to the Titans. Under Wolfman, Wally West would receive the first sustained attention to character of his career: Wolfman depicted West as a product of his midwestern, small-town background, naturally conservative – or at least rabidly anti-Communist – undemonstratively but firmly Christian.
But the most significant aspect of West’s presence was that it was coerced: initially, he had turned down the Titans, only to join up after falling in love with new girl Raven, unaware that the half-human, half-demon girl had used her empathic powers to induce his ‘love’, because she desperately needed him for the new team.
When this was revealed, almost three years later, West was badly hurt, but he did not leave the Titans for another six months, and then for two totally different reasons. One was to assist his girlfriend Frankie Raye in coming to terms with unwillingly developing superpowers, the other the (secret) discovery that he had himself developed a mysterious degenerative condition whereby his own speed was killing him.
In this period, Garrick was effectively inactive, under the ground conditions of the new All-Star Squadron series. In ‘real life’, he was now in his sixties, but writer Roy Thomas unveiled a hidden JSA adventure in which the entire team, plus significant others like Joan Williams, had been exposed to chronal radiation, which slowed everybody’s ageing process by about fifty per cent: the sixty-something Garrick was, physically, only forty-something.
Our focus now swings back to Barry Allen. Things had changed in the world of Central City. Schwartz had finally retired as editor of The Flash, after over twenty years, in 1978, to be succeeded by artist Ross Andru, veteran of several series at both National/DC and Marvel.
Bates had been writing his calm, polite, Broome-manque stories for many years. True, at any given stage you could gather together a year’s issues of The Flash, throw them in the air and read them in whatever order they fell, without seeing any difference, but this had been good enough to keep Allen’s audience as stable as any other in the declining market of the decade.
But Andru wanted more. He had come from Marvel, where issue-to-issue progression and development and stories based in emotional dramas were the order of things, and where continuity meant more than the meticulous cross-referencing of Allen’s super-speed tricks to which issue they had previously been used in.
Things changed, suddenly. Allen found himself under pressure from a strict Police Captain, giving him grief over all his absences from the lab. An undercover cop started investigating drug-running through the lab, with the same Captain framing Allen as the culprit. Barry and Iris started to bicker and argue. Allen was ordered to supervise a morally dubious experiment on a prison inmate, Clive Reston, undergoing a Clockwork Orange procedure that would backfire, turning Reston into a monster who escaped. At a fancy dress party, with Iris making a very tasty Batgirl, she and Barry resolve their differences and decide it’s time to try for a baby. Reston kills Iris.
And yes, it was almost as schematic as that, not helped by veteran penciller Irv Novick retiring after the first issue, throwing Andru back on, first fill-ins, then a young and inexperienced penciller with no ability at body language or expressions. Though despite that, a disbelieving Allen’s grief at being shown his wife’s body in the morgue came over with sufficient power and helplessness to momentarily pause the story.
After that, the clichés start to run into each other. The Flash pursues Reston but is injured by him, enough that, when Allen shrinks back from exacting the Ultimate Price for His Crime, Reston still falls to his death from A High Place, the injured Flash unable to save him.
Then Bates promptly unveils evidence that Reston did not, after all, kill Iris. The true villain was actually the Reverse-Flash, giving Iris a final ultimatum to leave Allen for him and, when she gave him a final refusal, killing her by vibrating his hand into her head and literally scrambling her brain (ew, yeuch! and no-one spotted this at the autopsy?).
So Allen gets to go through the revenge issue again, up to a fresh point of exacting the Ultimate Price, only this time a vision of Iris comes to him to turn him away from Sinking to the Villain’s Level, but the Reverse-Flash still pays a terrible price, being trapped in a malfunctioning Time Bubble that will never again materialise in an actual time period into which he can escape.
Note that Zoom gets a comic book ‘death’ from which he can be retrieved whenever he’s wanted whilst Reston actually dies, but that’s the difference between a name player in the stock supporting characters and being an inarticulate new creation who doesn’t even get a codename.
Andru moved on, Len Wein took over as editor and Bates went back to his calm, polite, Broome-manque stories, this time with added new background as Allen moves into an apartment building and tries to cope with being a bachelor again.
But before we consider that, we must look at the anniversary story Bates wrote for The Flash 300, a triple-size tale, drawn by the returning Carmine Infantino, back at DC after his sacking as Publisher, a story that would be Bates’s masterpiece.
A bandaged man lies in a hospital bed in a private room, unable to move. Years ago, Barry Allen was caught in an horrific lab accident, when he was showered by electrified chemicals. Allen suffered appalling, paralysing burns, and has been bed-ridden ever since whilst Doctors slowly rebuilt him physically. Soon, their work will be complete, and he will be able to move, walk, live again.
But, unable to bear the reality of his condition, Allen’s mind has constructed for himself a powerful fantasy, that the accident gave him superpowers, comic book superspeed. Instead of paralysis, he lives a wild, free life, capable of running round the world in,literally, seconds.
Now, Allen’s doctors must free him of this delusion, break down his comforting fantasy, if he is to truly recover.
For Allen, it’s a lonely, utterly unsupported battle of wits to escape a subtle, paranoid plot by one of his enemies. But the slowly building case is inarguable; seamless, complete, absolutely convincing. The Doctor can even produce a living, still-loving Iris West, and a Reverse-Flash to confirm he never killed her.
For the reader, it’s obviously a cunning plan and, if you escape the beautifully maintained suspension of disbelief, a fundamentally flawed one – what happens when the ‘cured’ Allen is released from hospital into a world where the Flash manifestly does exist, and meet friends who know Barry Allen to be the Scarlet Speedster? But for the duration of the story, that suspension is willingly, eagerly maintained.
And it is the Reverse-Flash who saves Allen, by giving him the one incongruity, the one flaw that his relentless search for logic can seize on to destroy the whole structure of lies: if there never was a Flash, how can there have been a Reverse-Flash?
From there, the series resumed its general course. Allen met and started to date a young red-headed woman called Fiona Webb, who was initially suspicious of him: Webb had been relocated under the Witness Protection Programme and Allen was identical to the man she feared. Once the Flash had removed the threat to her life, she relaxed with Allen.
Meanwhile, Crisis on Infinite Earths was now being discussed and the decision was taken to kill off Barry Allen as a massive symbolic, we’re-serious-about-this gesture. With more than two years to go until the actual event, Bates started laying the ground.
Out of the blue, Allen asks Fiona to marry him. Their rushed wedding day is marred when the Reverse-Flash reappears, set on killing Allen’s second wife. The pursuit of Professor Zoom kept Allen from appearing at Church, causing Fiona great distress and humiliation. The Flash finally stopped Zoom at the final instant, managing to drag him back in a choke-hold that, stopping Zoom at superspeed, broke his neck. The incident drove Fiona into an asylum, whilst the Flash was charged with manslaughter, later upped to Second Degree Murder. Barry Allen had ‘disappeared’ and was presumed murdered by Zoom. Allen left it that way after learning that his re-appearance might cause Fiona permanent mental damage.
The next two years dealt at length with preparations for and the conducting of the Flash’s trial. He was quickly suspended from the Justice League, several of whose members vote for expulsion. The series was set for cancellation with issue 350, which would appear simultaneously with Crisis 7, in which Supergirl was killed. As early as Crisis 2, the Flash had appeared in pain and terror, arousing fears.
The trial ended with the Flash being found guilty, but this verdict was ‘forced’ on the other Jurors by Flash’s foe Abra Kadabra, masquerading as Jury Chairman. Another juror also came from the future, intent on ensuring that History’s true verdict of Not Guilty was not disturbed. This juror persuaded the Flash to fight back and expose Kadabra, and winning his acquittal.
This other juror was Allen’s beloved Iris.
Using Kanigher’s appalling story, Bates revealed that Iris’s thirtieth century parents, knowing the time of her death, had created a machine that reached through time to pluck her ‘soul’ from her body seconds before Zoom struck, bring it to their time and house it in a clone body, ensuring Iris still lived.
Now, with his twentieth century life in ruins, with Barry Allen ‘dead’ and the Flash’s reputation mired, Allen chose to retire to the Thirtieth Century, reunited with Iris. The couple enjoyed a blissful month, during which, unknown to Allen, Iris became pregnant, before the Flash was swept up into the Crisis. In issue 8 he died, alone, unseen, sacrificing himself to save the entire Universe by destroying the Anti-Monitor’s Tachyon Cannon.
Allen literally ran himself to death, his body disintegrating into its component atoms as he poured it on. Cut loose from the time stream, he bounced from time to time before unravelling. A later Origin re-telling added a touching note as Allen’s final conscious moment saw him slip back in time to Central City, to a night of storm, his atoms forming into a lightning bolt that flashed down towards the Central City Police Department lab…
Despite Wally West’s declaration in Crisis 12 that he would take up Allen’s name and costume, DC initially intended to produce a completely new Flash. Little is known of who/what this Flash might have been (a throwaway reference in Alan Moore’s unproduced Twilight of the Superheroes proposal refers to “Barbara Randall’s new female Flash”. Eventually, DC announced they were abandoning that idea because they couldn’t think of a way to do it without it appearing to be a massive insult to the legacy of Barry Allen.
Thus, after a year’s delay, first in the pages of the crossover series, Legends, then immediately in a new Flash series (no definitive article), Wally West became The Flash 3, the first teen sidekick to actually grow up and take over his father-figure’s role.
At first, the name of the game was to be as unlike Barry Allen as possible. West, who lived in New York and didn’t keep his identity secret, was callow, brash and self-centred. He’d seen his Uncle die a pauper so he wanted payment for his non-emergency work. The Crisis had got rid of the mysterious degenerative speed condition but now he was stuck at just over the speed of sound and had to refuel constantly by wolfing down junk food. West was also moody and promiscuous (he was 20, so what’s new?) and he even started seeing a woman ten years older than him who was separated but not divorced from her husband. Bad boy, bad boy.
West was also filthy rich, having won the Lottery in issue 1.
All this stemmed from new writer Mike Baron, who lasted only until issue 14, in which he obligingly bankrupted West for incoming writer Bill Messner-Loebs. Loebs, who, like Baron, came from outside mainstream superhero comics, took a more left-wing, even socialist approach, with West experiencing poverty and seeing the DC Universe with a darker eye. His associates were friends outside the superhero field, even after he moved back to Keystone City in search of a lower cost of living.
West also found himself joining the new Justice League International, as part of its spin-off Justice League Europe, as much for the salary as anything, though he was treated as money-conscious and weak-willed in that series.
West did not begin to come into his own as the Flash until Loebs left the series and Mark Waid – one of the better, most inventive superhero writers of the last twenty years – took over. Waid immediately positioned the series as a firmly Silver Age oriented title, yet incorporating the emotional dramas, continuity and, to as little an extent as he could get away with, the enforcement of grim’n’gritty agony.
Waid’s aim was to solidify and elevate West to become the Flash, a process he began by bringing back not just Jay Garrick but Barry Allen.
At this point, let us go back briefly to Garrick. Since 1986, he and the JSA had been trapped in limbo but, as described elsewhere, a Justice Society of America mini-series featuring Garrick in his prime had led to the JSA being returned from limbo and receiving their own, albeit short-lived and controversial series, again with Garrick prominent. As a bonus, Garrick received another rejuvenation, this time mystical, owing to his time in limbo.
Of more significance, Garrick immediately became a central part of West’s supporting cast, a wise, experienced grandfather-figure, who would have a significant role to play in “The Return of Barry Allen” and many more of West’s subsequent adventures.
“The Return” begins with the utterly unexpected return of Allen on Christmas Eve, apparently resolving out of electrical energy into his body in a back alley. West is, at first, sceptical, unwilling to let himself believe his beloved uncle and mentor is back, but gladly accepts him when Allen finally mourns at Iris’s grave. Allen too is weirded out to find West has adopted his name and costume.
This starts to come out more as Allen grows increasingly self-centred about the title of the Flash and resentful towards West. Eventually, he accuses West of trying to replace him, to make people forget him, and he abandons West in a death-trap. West only just escapes, to find Allen publicly announcing his death.
Heartbroken, West is left purposeless as Allen starts to direct a revenge spree against Central-Keystone for forgetting him. Garrick enlists fellow speedsters Johnny Quick and Max Mercury, to (unsuccessfully) go up against Allen. West’s malaise ends when, in the alley where Allen returned, he discovers an old, badly damaged book which is not to be published for several years yet. He is stunned by the names of the book’s author, and its writer.
West sets up a fight that destroys Allen’s costume, forcing him to come to the Flash Museum to retrieve the last one existing. But West has substituted another costume, that of the person who thinks he is genuinely Barry Allen but who is really the owner of the strange book – the Reverse-Flash.
Zoom’s story is rewritten to portray him as someone who hero-worshipped Barry Allen and who forced his way back in time to meet his idol, only to arrive several years too late, and to discover that he was destined to be Allen’s worst enemy, and to be killed by Allen. Hysterical trauma forced the knowledge deep, leaving Zoom thinking he was Allen and trying to take his place.
Eventually, West not only beats Zoom but forces him back to his own time, with no memory of anything but a burning hatred for Barry Allen. To do so, he has to burst through his own psychological limits and finally surpass Allen’s speed.
Incidentally, the book’s writer was Iris West Allen, whom West believed to be dead.
This was the springboard for a series of stories, during which West discovered that his, and all speedsters, speed came from a semi-sentient energy dimension known as the Speed Force, into which all speedsters were gathered when they died. West became the first speedster to enter the Speed Force and return, anchored by his love for girlfriend, TV reporter Linda Park. After that, West ‘mainlined’ speed, becoming the Fastest Man Who Ever Lived.
Shortly before this, Waid introduced a new element to the Flash Mythos, in the form of Impulse.
Impulse was Bart Allen, grandson of Barry Allen and heir to all his speed. Iris’s pregnancy had resulted in twins, Don and Dawn, both of whom inherited half their father’s speed. They had gone on to become heroes themselves before being killed at the behest of a descendent of the Reverse-Flash, but Don had married Meloni Thawne, also of the Reverse-Flash’s dynasty, and he had inherited Barry’s full speed.
Unfortunately, he had also inherited a hypermetabolism that saw him grow to the physical age of 12 in only two years. Bart was brought up in Virtual Reality, which could run fast enough to keep up with him. As Bart was in danger of simply dying by living too fast, his grandmother Iris broke him free and brought him back to the 20th Century, to West, the only other speedster to get his powers as a child, who could help cure him.
But Bart, used to living in a video game, found reality confusing. Max Mercury took on the job of training and raising him, as Impulse got his own series.
Waid’s run on The Flash was West’s best period. He succeeded in outlasting the grim’n’gritty period, making West’s adventures underpinned by glory and the sheer love of speed. He established that Barry Allen had originally been born with a twin, who had been still-born, leaving Allen in unconscious search for what was missing, that this need in Allen called down the lightning that transformed Wally West and that finally Allen’s twin turned up alive, as a mysterious villain, Cobalt Blue.
And that Cobalt Blue’s real name was Malcolm Thawne, the ancestor of the Reverse-Flash.
Waid’s final adventure involved getting Wally and Linda married, after a long story introducing the short-lived Hypertime – an intriguing means of reintroducing a much more flexible version of the Multiverse that DC dispensed with all too soon.
Waid’s period saw a large number of other Flash’s added to the legend, though not to the main line of Flash’s that we’re discussing here. He created future Flash John Fox, originally of the 27th century, and, very temporarily placed Jesse Quick, daughter of Johnny, in a Flash uniform when West, afraid he was going to die, was desperately trying to get Bart to take seriously the responsibility of being the Flash, but Waid’s most notable addition was actually a tendentious character, a new Kid Flash in a contingent future timeline, who was Iris West II, West’s own daughter, a warm-hearted, eager-to-please, somewhat anxious teenage girl in a slick Kid Flash costume who would have made a great character if only she’d been ‘real’.
Another interesting creation was Dark Flash, aka Walter West (Wally’s full name was Wallace), a older, harder, hypertime alternate who found himself in West’s timeline for a memorable year of stories.
There were also a millennia’s worth of ‘future’ Flash’s as Waid portrayed Barry Allen’s legacy spanning the centuries, his speed running true in his family line. When Barry Allen fans complained that Wally West’s series demeaned their hero, by making Wally out to be the best and fastest of all time, it should be noted that it was not West’s legacy that lasted 1,000 years.
Impulse was quickly given his own series, a high-tempo, light-hearted, wonderfully comic affair of Max Mercury trying to train both Impulse and Bart Allen in a quiet southern town (Manchester, yay!). First Waid, then Bill Loebs, maintained this theme for 49 issues, before a new team took over with a more serious approach in mind: Impulse would join such teams as Young Justice and the Teen Titans, where he would take on a more grown-up aspect and become the new Kid Flash.
Waid moved on from The Flash after almost 100 issues and was replaced by the increasingly central figure of Geoff Johns, though I dropped the series at that point. Linda would get pregnant, miscarry due to the machinations of Johns’s new Reverse-Flash, leave Wally for a time. West’s identity would become secret again for a time, Linda’s babies would be (improbably) restored and she gave birth to twins. Wally talked of slowing down.
And the revival of a new JSA series gave Garrick a lease of life, as one of the elder trinity, the first generation founding fathers of the team, taking on responsibility for encouraging and training their legacies.
With the twentieth anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths coming up, DC decided upon a sequel that would shake things up as the original had. Infinite Crisis, more tightly controlled than its predecessor but still utterly risible in many places, shook up The Flash. In attempting to neutralise a raving villain, West, Garrick and Bart tried to imprison him in the Speed Force: Garrick dropped out but Bart and West disappeared, the latter having chance to bring Linda and his new-born twins along with him.
And Bart returned, in a Flash costume, a decade older, but apparently without powers: the Speed Force had vanished.
Only not so. Bart Allen became The Flash 4, in a new series, The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive. Jay Garrick continued with the JSA in a new Justice Society of America series. Though his various rejuvenations had been reversed, and he was now in his mid-Eighties, it was implied that the exposure to the Speed Force for all those years had kept Jay physically young.
It was not announced at first that Bart’s series was only planned to run for 15 issues, by far the shortest Flash ever. In the event, it was ended after 13. Bart, unsurprisingly, still had his superspeed, the Speed Force having coalesced into him, but through the machinations of Inertia – his Thirtieth Century cloned twin brother – Bart was temporarily cut off from his speed during a pitched battle with the massed Rogue’s Gallery and was killed.
Simultaneously, Wally West and his family were drawn back from the alternate dimension in which they’d lived for 10 years (?) over the last twelve months. West resumed the role of Flash 3, his series picking up its old numbering and, after meeting out appropriate punishment to Inertia, focused on training ten year old Jai and Iris in their respective abilities with the Speed Force.
Even this arrangement did not last long. The ‘creative’ Powers-That-Be at DC had decided upon a Silver Age-oriented theme of Iconicity. Hal Jordan was back as Green Lantern and, after twenty-three years, Barry Allen would return in 2008’s Final Crisis. Wally West was overshadowed. Geoff Johns wrote a six issue reboot of Allen’s history as The Flash: Rebirth, and a new Flash series starring The Flash 2 began.
Meanwhile, in one of Final Crisis‘s offshoot series, Bart Allen was revived, in the Thirty-First Century, back as a teenager, and brought back to the present day to resume being Kid Flash.
It didn’t last long. Barry Allen was used as the centrepiece of Flashpoint, the 2011 crossover series that rearranged the furniture of the DC Universe yet again, this time sweeping away any history older than five years ago.
The picture is different now. Barry Allen is now The Flash 1, and a new Jay Garrick, younger than Allen, of a completely different character and origin, is The Flash 2, in the series Earth-Two, now a contemporary and, to the new readers, a secondary creation. Neither Wally West nor Bart Allen exist, yet, if ever. There is not yet a Justice Society, though there will be. The world has been changed since then, and you can read it for yourselves.