SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for The Flash #24, on sale now.
Post-Flashpoint, beyond the New 52, even past the early days of Rebirth, a new DC Universe is taking shape. But Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash, recalls an earlier time -- and he wants everyone else to remember, too. When the events of "Superman Reborn" led to the re-emergence of the version of Thawne who had died in Flashpoint and was native to the previous DCU, the Reverse Flash discovered that the world was not as he had left it. There was a new Wally West calling himself a new Kid Flash, an Iris West lacking certain key knowledge, and a Flash yet to achieve some of his greatest victories. In short, a terrific opportunity for revenge.
"My Dear Iris… West?"
While the Flash and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) battle multiplying villain Multiplex at Barry's birthday party (see last issue), Thawne pays a visit to Iris' home. We know from Thawne's appearances in "The Button" crossover with Batman that his frame of reference is solidly set in the pre-Flashpoint universe, making him one of possibly only two characters who remember the world that was, the other being Classic Wally West. Unlike Wally, though, Thawne's perspective is further complicated by the intricacies of time travel -- the Reverse Flash was born in the 25th century. He notes that, back home, "I was an expert on all things Flash," which makes sense given that Barry Allen's life and deeds will be some 400 years in the past by that point, but "that has changed."
For example! While beating the stuffing out of Kid Flash, Zoom remarks him that "you, young 'Wallace West,' are new," and taunts him by saying that not only is he not the "real" Kid Flash, but "you're not even the real Wally West!"
Ok. Ok. We as readers know where Thawne is coming from, we know his perspective, and we know that certain things have changed. But more than twenty issues into an ongoing series and two years since the introduction of New 52 Wally, this is a pretty remarkable of retro-continuity marking. And let's not forget that just last issue, in announcing his presence to Iris and Wally just as Wally had been discussing his villainous father, Thawne asserts that "there is only one Reverse Flash." If the thrust of Rebirth is to move forward, as it seems to have been with the re-integration of Supermen in "Superman Reborn," this is the exact opposite. But there's also a lot of universal reconfiguration going on just now, with unmistakable references to Crisis on Infinite Earths also cropping up this week in Dark Days: The Forge.
Oh, but Zoom's not done yet.
"Excuse me? You Don't Know?"
Barry maybe should have told Iris he's the Flash, as he contemplates this very issue. Because Zoom assumes that he already has. And learning that Iris doesn't yet know provides even more sadistic fodder for a villain whose greatest thrill is toying with people's lives.
There's another interesting bit in Thawne's speech, though. He suggests, at most half-joking, that Iris and Wally should "empathize" with him, because "the three of us have been hurt by the same man." This seems to be in the context of aspects of all their lives being "rebooted" -- Zoom's word -- and Thawne's blaming the Flash, not entirely unfairly, for manipulating the fabric of the universe without regard for how it might affect those around him. He also seems to believe that Iris can help him discover the full scope of what has changed.
Zoom abducts Iris to the 25th century, leaving the Flash to find the severely brutalized Kid Flash along with a message in blood: "You Know Where I Live." Barry catches his drift right away and dashes off to the future. But Thawne has a specific plan to reconstruct the world he knows, taunting Iris that he's offering her a "gift," to "remember a past life." That life, of course, being the one where he murdered her.
Who is Zoom, and What's His Connection to Iris?
In addition to Thawne's direct interrogation of post-Rebirth continuity, the "Color of Fear" arc has raised some other intriguing questions with potentially major ramifications for these characters moving forward. First, there's the top-level mystery of how Zoom survived his encounter with Dr. Manhattan during "The Button" crossover arc -- or if he did. The possibility of the Reverse Flash's return haunted Barry last issue, even as he stared down into Thawne's burned-out corpse. A flare of energy deep within a hollow eye socket suggested there may be life in him yet.
But another possibility is that the Zoom we see here is one that has not yet raced to his fiery death at the hands of a naked blue god. Time travel, right? But if that's the case, there are some other odd questions. From the moment pre-Flashpoint Zoom emerged into the current universe, his mission was to punish not his traditional adversary, but instead Batman, whose father had stuck a sword through Thawne's chest in the alternate reality. There is no indication in the current story arc that Thawne still harbors this grudge, or that he feels it's been resolved. There are a few possible scenarios, but they would require Zoom to have experienced at least some of the events of "The Button." Or he may actually have returned from the dead.
There's a parallel story in these issues, set in the 25th century's Flash museum and narrated by an unknown character off-panel -- possibly John Fox, a future Flash who has not shown up in post-Flashpoint continuity. In The Flash #23, this person revealed, somewhat implausibly, that history showed the Flash and Reverse Flash to be the greatest of friends and allies. In #24, there is commentary that the Speed Force is "hope made real," but "with all blessings in the multiverse there must be a cost." We see what appears to be bottled Speed Force energy, alongside another container of black energy.
It's not clear as yet how these factor into the current story at hand, but even if Classic Zoom had not returned, the New 52 universe certainly did not appear to be building toward a world where Thawne and Barry Allen were anything like BFF. This may signal that Dr. Manhattan continues to manipulate the universe, or that there are other factors at hand influencing the future history of the Flash.
Oh, and Iris?
How far is Zoom -- or is DC -- planning to go in rebuilding an earlier world? Because Iris's Silver Age history is wild. Iris discovered, shortly after marrying Barry Allen and learning he was the Fastest Man Alive, that she was a native of the 30th century, sent back in time as an infant refugee from a war between Earth-East and Earth-West. Ok! Then, after Zoom murdered Iris at a costume party (she was dressed as Batgirl) by vibrating his hand inside her head, Iris' birthparents brought her back… to the future! There, they built a new human body to house her spirit (really!). Between "The Trial of the Flash" and Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry moved to the 30th century to be with her and they started a family. The line would continue with Bart Allen, Barry's grandson, becoming the speedster Impulse and then Kid Flash in the late 20th century. Or early 21st, in DC's sliding timeline. Or none of the above, because he was erased as part of the New 52 reboot.
There has been no hint that Iris is from the future in modern continuity. But why not, at this point? It would be fun to get Impulse back.
Back in the original Crisis, after the creation of the singular new universe only Psycho Pirate remembered the way things were before. This was, on the one hand, a stroke of genius, because the Psycho Pirate was a nothing character. He was unlikely to do much with that information, especially since at the end of the story he was incapacitated by the enormity of his situation. And from that point on, it was all but impossible to use the Pirate in a story without evoking in some way his importance as a universal gatekeeper.
Zoom is a whole different situation.
The Reverse Flash is not a nothing character. He's by most accounts the Flash's greatest foe, responsible in the current continuity for murdering Barry Allen's mother and, as this issue reminds us, in previous worlds for murdering Barry's wife, as well. He feels aggrieved by the changes to the universe and intends to act on them, investigating the new corners of reality taking pleasure at the "second chance," as he says here, to commit his greatest crimes again.
Since the beginning of Rebirth, the DC Universe has been in flux, with the contours of reality being defined across several series -- most notably The Flash, Superman, and Titans -- to establish how the New 52 and pre-Flashpoint worlds are coming together to make a single coherent continuity. "The Color of Fear" arc establishes Zoom as a villain who would tear all of that down to the ground. It's a fascinating perspective for a baddie, drawing longtime readers in for the ride by reintroducing classic story points in utterly terrifying ways. Will history repeat, or will Flash succeed in saving Iris where he'd failed before? Who is the Flash museum curator with the unique perspective on the life and deeds of Barry Allen and Eobard Thawne? And what will the timeline look like by the time Flash and Zoom are done with it?