SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for The Flash #27, by Josh Williamson, Howard Porter and Paul Pelletier and on sale now.
If you’re a fan of the Flash, you’re probably pretty familiar with the concept of the Reverse Flash, a man named Eobard Thawne who, like Barry, has super speed and wears a flashy costume. Of course, the “Reverse” might sound like he’s the literal opposite of the Flash -- maybe someone who slows things down instead of speeding himself up? Or maybe someone who runs backwards?
There are a lot of obvious and incorrect guesses pretty readily available for casual or newer fans to throw darts at. The reality of the Reverse Flash is, however, pretty complicated. Mostly because his “reverse” status is actually ideological at its core. Flash media, be it print, animated or live action, has traditionally made this apparent by painting Eobard as someone who is essentially pure evil -- a sort of manic, time traveling serial killer who is motivated solely by his endless need to destroy Barry Allen from the ground up.
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At that point, the problem then becomes finding a way to make Thawne’s homicidal drive, well… unique in the scope of the DC Universe, a place that just so happens to be populated by enough over-the-top villains to populate a decent sized Midwestern town. Why is Reverse Flash someone that’s specific to The Flash? What differentiates him from any of DC’s other iconic arch rivals, like Lex Luthor or The Joker?
Well, The Flash #27 has the answer, and it's probably not the one you expected.
The rebirth of the “classic” Eobard Thawne (as opposed to his New 52 revamp) began in the Flash/Batman crossover mini-event “The Button” back in April, a four-part storyline which connected the original Thawne to the events of last year’s DC Universe: Rebirth one-shot.
Since, then, Thawne’s taken up residence as a perpetual thorn in Barry’s side in the hero's own ongoing series, stepping directly into the spotlight for the three-part “Running Scared” arc which served to highlight Thawne’s Rebirth status quo. For the most part, it’s a story that fans will be pretty familiar with, borrowing heavily from elements of stories like The Flash: Rebirth and Flashpoint. Thawne’s from the future, he time traveled to kill Barry’s parents, he’s connected to a negative form of the Speed-Force, and so on -- But that’s where things start to get their Rebirth-specific legs.
It’s not that creators Josh Williamson, Howard Porter and Paul Pelletier are trying to reinvent the proverbial wheel with “Running Scared” -- just unlock a different side of it by shining a light on one of the most unique aspect of Eobard and Barry’s relationship.
Reverse Flash doesn’t hate Flash the way Lex Luthor hates Superman, or Bane hates Batman. It’s actually (appropriately) quite the opposite. It’s the reverse. Eobard Thawne loves Barry Allen, obsessively and vengefully, which is where his endless, destructive need to ruin Barry’s life comes into play.
“Running Scared” highlights the fact that a young Eobard grew up alone (though Williamson was quick to confirm that that particular story element came out of an earlier Geoff Johns Flash issue) with only his idealized and imaginary version of Barry -- a character from his history books -- to keep him company. Barry was, for all intents and purposes, Thawne’s only friend, confidant, and emotional anchor, despite the fact that the two of them wouldn’t actually meet for years and years.
It was plenty of time for a very troubled and very lonely Thawne to fall in love with a version of The Scarlet Speedster that existed only in his imagination...and, well, it’s pretty obvious how that particular emotional endeavor actually went down. Actually meeting Barry and subsequently being forced to deal with the fact that he was just a guy and not the cartoon character Thawne had built in his head for years, proved to be too hard a stress test for Thawne’s fragile psyche.