Every Wednesday we take turns to delve into our trusty longboxes, pluck out a dusty back issue, and give you our thoughts. We’ll also try and place it in the context of the time it was originally published.
So, for better or worse, they’re bringing back Barry Allen (at least, they appear to be – I’m writing this the day before Final Crisis #1 is due to hit, so I’ve no idea what’s actually contained within its pages). If so, one of the most pivotal moments in comics history, the death of the DC Universe’s “first saint”, will have been undone. And since the “random” element of this weekly feature went out of the window a while back, let’s once again do something a bit topical, and take a look at the story of the second Flash’s original demise.
But rather than tackling Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, the issue in which Allen actually died, I thought I’d take a look at this Secret Origins annual from a few years later – as it’s a story contained within its pages that I feel really set the Flash’s death in stone as a classic comics moment – and, what’s more, created an iconic image that any potential resurrection would surely step all over (unless they use Marv Wolfman’s rather excellent loophole – but then, who am I to predict the actions of Grant Morrison?)
As was par for the course with the Secret Origins annuals, there are actually two fairly sizeable stories contained within. We’ll skim over the first one, though, partly because it’s concerned with Wally West rather than Barry Allen, and partly because it’s not all that great. Wally’s visiting his psychiatrist, grumbling about the fact that his powers aren’t what they were, and basically relays his life story, explores his guilt over not being the hero that he should be in Barry’s footsteps, and repeats ad nauseam that his Dad turned out to be a Manhunter in the then-recent Millennium crossover (hey! We’ve not done one of those yet, have we? Maybe next time!) His psychiatrist is a bit of a tosser, to be honest, and Wally comes off like one too. Despite the nostalgia trip, it’s therefore not a hugely enjoyable read, and really serves only to emphasise how ludicrous in concept and origin Kid Flash always was. There’s also an attempt to add gravitas with a shoehorned-in link to Rudyard Kipling’s If… that feels desperately out of place.
The second half of the issue is somewhat better, however, and revels in its Silver Age origins, as Robert Loren Fleming takes us on an appropriately speedy trip through Barry Allen’s life, with artwork by the man who kickstarted it all in the first place – the great Carmine Infantino. The first section is the standard origin tale, lifted from the original story in Showcase #4, but adding in certain thematic elements to be re-used later (most notably involving thunderbolts). The second part is a fairly typical adventure with the Rogues Gallery, again providing a thematic link by virtue of the “human thunderbolt” villain. All of this is good, Silver Age style fun, and rattles along at an enjoyable pace.
But it’s the third part, which ties everything together and links it with Allen’s death in Crisis, that really impresses. Rather than simply having the Flash run so fast that he causes the Anti-Monitor’s doomsday weapon to disintegrate (as happened in the original Crisis issue), we instead see that his goal was to outpace and catch the tachyon particle that fired said weapon – and which moves faster than the speed of light. Allen was therefore forced to break the light barrier in order to catch it – and this caused his body to disintegrate and him to become a being of pure light. This is what caused the “trip back through time” that we saw originally (with Barry showing up in visions to various characters in the past) – but in this version, it culminates in Barry returning to the scene of his original accident… as the very lightning bolt that caused him to become the Flash in the first place.
Alright, so it’s perhaps a little hackneyed. But it’s a lovely moment, and the entire thing is well-constructed – we can well believe that Barry’s entire life and career were structured from the beginning to lead to that instant – and the idea that he gets to endlessly live the greatest years of his life out over and over throughout infinity is, you feel, a fitting reward for the sacrifice the character made in Crisis. It’s a superb capstone for the second Flash – not least because of the fact that Infantino isn’t just there to add nostalgia, but turns in some genuinely dynamic work even at this late stage in his career – and it’s one that Morrison (and DC editorial in general) would do well to be aware of if they do end up adding Barry to the near-endless list of famous comics resurrections.
Incidentally, just as a quick note about the time period in which this book was released – there are full page adverts contained within for two series “coming soon” from DC. One is for Morrison’s Animal Man run, and the other is an absolutely beautiful David Lloyd piece promoting the DC version of V for Vendetta. What a time to be alive, eh?