[DISCLAIMER: At press time, I hadn't seen any interview with Dan DiDio about this post's subject. Therefore, in hindsight I may look like a complete idiot. At least I'm used to it.]
So there I was, polishing a bullet-point review of DC’s crossover events from 1986 to now (do I include Sins Of Youth?) when … well, here we go again.
SPOILERS FOLLOW for the meaning of DC Universe #0, like you don’t know already….
(By the way, I didn’t see anything in the issue which pointed specifically to Barry Allen, so the ending — or, rather, the interpretation thereof — was spoiled for me by other sources. At first I thought it could have been a reference to Wally West time-jumping within Final Crisis itself.)
So, the Wally-to-Bart-to-Wally progression looks a little different now, doesn’t it? “Don’t get attached to the first Flash you see,” indeed. Never mind “heroes die; legends live forever.”
The original plan might well have been for Wally to retire as a result of Infinite Crisis. This would have cleared the deck for Bart, whose murder — can’t have a Crisis without hurting a Flash! — would have put the title on hiatus until Geoff Johns brought it back with Barry. Two years is a long time to wait, though, assuming Bart’s title would still have ended last summer and Barry’s wouldn’t (won’t?) start until 2009.
Obligatory Rich Johnston rumor scorecard: on March 24, he predicted that Barry would be the leader of the Black Lanterns; and then on April 7, he backed off that prediction (“Expect a return, but not that way”). Since DCU #0 describes Barry as an omnipresent, time-and-space-spanning spirit, I’d say there’s no black ring in his future. Besides, the Black Lanterns are supposed to be part of next year’s Green Lantern event, not this year’s line-wide blockbuster. Still, Barry could return as part of Final Crisis, stick around long enough to serve as a Black Lantern, and then go back to the Speed Force, or wherever.
However, all signs seem to point to Barry’s triumphant permanent return, and even to his own series. (And, since we have certain priorities here, for goodness’ sake what about the numbering? Hal Jordan got a new No. 1. Wally picked up where his series left off. That might let Barry start with #351, but I’d be just as happy with combining Barry and Wally for Flash #600.) Still, what would a Barry-Flash series be like — or, more to the point, how would it be different from Wally’s series? Would Barry go back to being the slowest police scientist in Central City, married to the pride of Picture News? Would he hang out with Dexter Myles at the Flash Museum in between escaping from mirrors, freeze-rays, boomerangs, etc.? Would he be turned into a puppet?
None of these trappings are necessarily bad, at least to me; but it goes without saying the superhero funnybooks are in a much different place now than they were in 1985. Heck, even then Barry was mired in the seemingly-endless “Trial of the Flash” storyline, itself an attempt to catch up with more realistic times. I said last summer that the Rogues have moved on; and we’ve sure seen more movement over the past year, huh? The goofballs who used to act as Wally’s uncle’s weird friends have ended up killing Barry’s grandson. One of them just spent the better part of a storyline dragging around a fellow Rogue’s corpse.
DC has moved on, too. Remember all those Big Events that I would otherwise have been writing about — Legends, Invasion!, Genesis, Our Worlds At War? Barry missed just about all of them. (I’m sure he’s sorry about Genesis.) Barry wasn’t around for Justice League International; either of the Suicide Squads or Checkmates; or the “deaths” and returns of Superman, the Justice Society, Wonder Woman (twice!), Jason Todd, Ollie Queen, Hal Jordan, et al. In short, Barry has been gone for what have arguably been the most plot-heavy two decades in DC’s superhero history. That’s a lot of catching up.
Nevertheless, bringing back Barry would be one way to get rid of the Flash’s children — or at least leave the Allens’ kids a thousand years in the future. (That reminds me — how much older than Barry is Iris now?) If this is being done, even in part, to get around stories with the West twins, that’s just unnecessarily short-sighted; not to mention nonsensical. Does DC really think its twenty-, thirty-, and fortysomething readers will identify more with a childless couple in their high 40s than with the late-twenties parents of rapidly-aging superkids? I doubt this revival will feature the prime-of-life Barry and Iris, a la New Frontier. If it does, it’ll have to go a long way not to feel like a cheat.
In a way, that’s the problem with all of these rollback revivals, be they Ollie, Hal, Kara Zor-El, or Jason Todd. DC is so invested in its legacies that it sometimes ignores one of their cardinal rules: No Takebacks. Once a “name” is open, DC doesn’t waste much time filling it. Once it’s filled, though, it needs to be defended; or it risks being labeled a bait-and-switch.
Admittedly, each of the other revivals found a way around the No-Takebacks rule. Connor Hawke wasn’t that invested in being Green Arrow. Kara Zor-El was, technically, new to the post-Crisis timeline. With the rest of the Corps returning, Hal was free to be just another Green Lantern. Jason Todd wasn’t exactly interested in returning to a sidekick role.
This is different. Like I said last year, whoever wears Barry’s costume tends to be “the” Flash. DC must find a way to smooth over readers who grew up with over twenty years’ worth of Wally-Flash stories. That body of work isn’t insignificant, even next to Barry’s twenty-nine years. Kyle Rayner got ten years to himself, Matrix/Linda Danvers got fourteen, and Tim Drake got fifteen. I was in high school when Barry Allen died, but I’m sure there are fans alive today who weren’t even born then. Obviously I can’t speak for them, but I imagine Barry’s return might well feel like a repudiation of the DC-Earth with which they’re familiar.
Therefore, Barry’s revival necessarily forces Wally into the background — or worse, if DC decides Wally shouldn’t survive Final Crisis. (Linda and the kids could then become supporting characters in grand-uncle Barry’s book.) I really hope it doesn’t come to that. The long list of “the last things DC needs” (which should be on a dry-erase board in Dan DiDio’s office) has to have “another dead Flash” near the top. Bad enough that Barry will have to deal with Bart’s death.
As for Grant Morrison’s comment to the New York Daily News that the Flash is “the God of the modern world,” it might just be a generic statement about whoever wears the red suit. However, in a way it might also reflect the conventional wisdom that Barry is the patron saint of DC’s superheroes. Likewise, the Daily News characterizing Geoff Johns as “co-writer of the new Flash comics” could simply be a misstatement of his role in DC Universe #0, and this business about a new Barry series might well be puffery DC won’t discourage.
It’s tempting to predict that Barry’s return will span Final Crisis and not much more. For many readers, including some of us older ones, he’s the spirit of a Silver Age which has long since passed. However, DCU #0 appears to elevate him past that, beyond a mere emblem to an avatar. Barry’s presence in the story is reminiscent of Morrison’s depiction of the Black Racer in JLA‘s “Rock Of Ages.” Here, though, Barry isn’t Death personified. Quite the opposite, in fact: he’s part of the Multiverse itself. Having him return from the Multiverse as — what? its logos?* — would be eminently appropriate, considering that the original Multiverse played such a big role in his life.
Accordingly, if Barry’s back, I expect he’s bringing that Multiverse along with him. Regardless of how long Barry’s return lasts, it looks like the infinite Earths are here to stay.
* (I would have titled this post “The Word Became Flash,” but that might have been too much of a spoiler. Also, blasphemy.)