SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for The Flash #25, on sale now.
DC Comics’ Rebirth incarnation of The Flash by Joshua Williamson, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Neil Googe, et al has brought a new life to the classic character in a way that no other creators have been able to since Barry Allen’s return from the most heroic death in all of superhero comics nearly a decade ago. The run has been one of the best straight-up superhero comics readers have seen in the past year, and over the course of twenty-five issues has re-established what’s so great about core Flash ideas. such as Barry and Iris’ relationship, his mentorship of Kid Flash and of course, his many rivalries with his rogues gallery.
When it comes to The Flash’s enemies, Captain Cold may be a pain in the neck and Gorilla Grodd may be the most intimidating, but no-one seethes with white-hot hatred for Barry Allen quite like Eobard Thawne, AKA The Reverse Flash. While there have been many — often complicated — origins for Professor Zoom, this week’s anniversary issue of The Flash streamlines Zoom’s past into a more coherent origin while also presenting a terrifying vision of Barry and Iris’ future.
Eobard Thawne first appeared in The Flash #139 by John Broome and Carmine Infantino as a criminal from the 25th century who discovered a time capsule containing The Flash’s costume. He was able to charge up the latent energy — this was way before The Speed Force was a part of canon — to become a speedster himself. He reversed the colors of the costume and traveled back in time to become a supervillain, though Barry was able to thwart him, remove the suit’s super speed and send him back to his home time.
This led to Thawne becoming obsessed with replacing Barry Allen as The Flash, and after recovering his speed powers, he was able to travel back in time again and again to use his knowledge of the past to commit crimes and ruin Barry’s life. He killed Iris by vibrating his hand through her head, and after Barry had grieved, recovered and became engaged to Fiona Webb, The Reverse Flash reappeared with plans to kill Barry’s new bride. This, of course, forced The Flash to take Eobard Thawne’s life.
Though he was introduced in the ’60s, the most iconic Eobard Thawne story arrived in 1993 when Mark Waid and Greg LaRocque’s “The Return of Barry Allen” seemingly saw the classic hero return from the dead. Eventually, Barry turned on his friends and closest allies, leading to Wally West discovering the truth: The man The Flash family thought was their deceased friend was actually his most hated enemy in disguise.
Waid and LaRocque’s revamped origin for Thawne expanded on his character by establishing him as a 25th century scientist who became so obsessed with The Flash that he underwent cosmetic surgery to look just like Barry Allen. After unlocking speed powers of his own, he traveled back in time to meet his hero, but discovered instead that he was fated to become The Flash’s greatest enemy and die at his hands. This forced Thawne to suffer a mental break where he truly believed he was Barry Allen, before his true personality slowly recovered.
Waid’s epic run on The Flash also established a history and a connection between the Allens and the Thawnes that spans centuries, as Barry Allen’s twin brother Malcolm was adopted by the criminal Thawne family and is actually a distant ancestor of Eobard himself. Not only that, but in the distant future, Eobard’s daughter Meloni would fall in love with Don Allen of The Tornado Twins and had a child together, meaning that Bart Allen, AKA Impulse, is the grandson of both The Flash and the Reverse Flash.
The Serial Killer
Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver reintroduced The Reverse Flash in the pages of The Flash: Rebirth, revealing that the villain was responsible for the death of Barry Allen’s mother and the framing of his father for the act. The murder was a change in continuity to previous Flash stories — Barry’s mother had always been alive — but it was a change reflected in the story, as Eobard traveled back in time to ruin Barry’s life as a child in many small ways before leading up to the grand finale of his mother’s death.
Johns also established a new origin for The Reverse Flash which saw the 25th century imagined as a place where time was valued as the most important commodity. Thawne’s own future self as Reverse Flash changed the timeline in every possible way to get his younger incarnation to the point that he unlocked powers in a similar manner to his Silver Age origin, thus becoming The Flash of the 25th century.
That brings us to the events of this week’s The Flash #25, which reveals that shortly after Thawne became The Flash of the 25th century, Barry Allen made his first jaunt into the future and befriended the young fan. However, he soon discovered that Eobard Thawne wasn’t just saving people as The Flash; he was putting them in danger in the first place so he could be a hero by saving them. The two Flashes come to blows over this, with Barry Allen defeating the young fanboy, but the shunning caused Thawne to actually attempt to turn his life around.
After being rehabilitated and becoming a professor at The Flash museum, Thawne traveled back in time to let The Flash know how far he’d come, but instead discovered that Barry had taken a new sidekick in the original Wally West. Reading this as a betrayal, Thawne returns home to his own time to plot the downfall of The Flash, intent that everyone sees him as Thawne now does — as an insincere hypocrite.
Williamson’s new story ties in a number of elements from the three main Thawne origins into perhaps the most simplified and elegant origin a serial time-traveler has ever had. The issue itself and the confrontation between Allen and Thawne is the most sophisticated characterization Thawne has ever received; like the best villains, there is a tinge of sympathy for him, before he reminds you that what he’s saying is actually a twisted version of events warped to justify his actions.
The issue ends with a shocking reveal that’s going to change the shape of The Flash books for the next year of Williamson’s run, and while it’s nothing we don’t already know as readers, it’s a huge bombshell for the characters involved. That’s without even tackling the prospect that The Reverse Flash remembers time how it’s supposed to be, and has knowledge of where The Comedian’s button came from. Whenever there’s a Crisis or a big continuity shake-up coming to the DC Universe, The Flash is always at the heart of it, and that looks likely to be the case once again as we head into Rebirth’s second year.
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