SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for "The Flash" #19 and "Action Comics" #976, on sale now.
This week, the shape of DC Comics' Rebirth universe comes into much greater focus thanks to the "Superman Reborn" arc's conclusion in "Action Comics" #976, and "The Flash" #19 by Joshua Williamson, Jesus Merino and Carmine Di Giandomenico, which re-introduces one of Barry Allen's greatest foes -- with a reality-warping twist.
Eobard Thawne is back, but that's not the big news -- he's been all over DC's promotional art for the upcoming Batman/Flash crossover, "The Button," after all. No, the big news is that he's back... and he remembers Flashpoint.
"Split in Two"
One doesn't need to read the Superman books to follow the current "Flash" storyline, but for a fuller understanding of what the particulars of Zoom's return mean, what his appearance says about the state of the Rebirth universe, and how ripples might be felt throughout the Flash family, a quick recap may be of assistance.
The pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois Lane survived the New 52 universal reboot thanks to the machinations of Tellos, the villain of "Convergence," who had "collected" their version of Metropolis within a pocket universe. Their son Jon was born during that event. Afterwards, they found themselves exiled to the New 52 reality, where they had been living a peaceful existence until familiar heroes started turning up -- including a version of Superman. Fast forward through hundreds of issues' worth of that guy's adventures, and the New 52 Superman dies, releasing his energy into Lana Lang, who then becomes Superwoman. (There's obviously a bit more to it than that, but...)
Meanwhile, back at the start of Rebirth, Mr. Oz told Supes that he and his family aren't quite what they think they are.
In the "Superman Reborn" arc, we learn that at the creation of the New 52, Superman was "split in two" -- the pre-Flashpoint and New 52 versions. With the help of young Jon, the halves have now been made whole, and the universe begins to rewrite itself to incorporate a common history.
Yeah, but, the Flash…?
As all of that is happening over in the Superman books, a burst of energy frees Zoom from his shackles within Iron Heights -- but it's not the Zoom we last saw. Instead of the shiny, metallic New 52 suit with the sunken eye-holes, Thawne appears in his classic matte-yellow threads. The New 52 universe seems to be getting zipped back up with the pre-Flashpoint reality, with the earlier reality coming out on top.
But Zoom is a unique case, too. Like Barry, he went into Flashpoint knowing that reality had been altered. Unlike, say, Thomas Wayne's Batman, the Zoom that died in Flashpoint was the "real" version of the character. And now that that version has been "made whole" by recombining with his New 52 counterpart, he remembers Bat-dad killing him. Follow the story next week in "Batman" 21!
"Rebirth" is entering a new phase, that much is clear. With "Superman Reborn," with the imminent "Flash"/"Batman" crossover addressing the mysterious manipulator of reality (but it's Dr. Manhattan, right?), with the just-announced "Dark Days" summer event, big things are happening. And taking Zoom's return in context with revelations in "Superman Reborn" offers some intriguing clues about what direction things could take, especially in regards to the Flash family.
The concept of re-integrating the pre-Flashpoint and New 52 characters as "making whole" raises some interesting questions. First, what does this mean for characters who don't have a doppelgänger in the one world or the other? Was it only possible for the late Professor Zoom to return to life because there was a version of him in the New 52, or is there some other mechanism through which forgotten heroes can return? This has direct relevance to Barry's family of speedsters, of course. Even after Wally West made his triumphant return, we're still missing key members of the cast, perhaps most notably Bart Allen, Barry's grandson from the future who has gone by the names Impulse and Kid Flash. There's also Jesse Quick, though the latter may return as part of the teased JSA storyline. Bart did not have a place in the New 52, but in the recombined continuity, it's hard to imagine him remaining M.I.A. for long.
There's also a story in the near-but-not-quite replacement characters of the New 52, especially within the Flash's radius. Bart may have been nowhere to be found, but there was an approximation of him over in "Teen Titans." And there's the most obvious conundrum of the two Wally Wests, both of whom looked to Aunt Iris for maternal care.
But while we're talking of Zoom, why not examine the curious case of the New 52 Reverse Flash. Daniel West, whom N52 Wally knew as his uncle but is in fact his father, was the first evil speedster to take up the name post-"Flashpoint," adopting the moniker formerly held by Thawne as one of two noms-de-guerre; because when you're as evil as Professor Zoom, one villainous epithet just isn't enough! When Thawne returned, he was only called Zoom. Was Daniel somehow split off from Thawne when the New 52 universe was born? If so, why?
Because remember, there is an intelligent design behind all of this.
(Probably Dr. Manhattan's.)
If we think of each change to the universe not as a decision by the creators and powers-that-be at DC Comics but as a decision by a character, there must be a narrative motivation for that character, and there must be a chain of events that leads to his plans working or failing. Let's say the mystery deity -- we'll call him "Dr. M" -- decided he needed a Kid Flash. It's clear why it can't be (original) Wally West or Bart Allen, but why does he need a Kid Flash at all? And if there must be a Reverse Flash, to what end? And, having created one in Daniel West, why have another in Thawne? Was Thawne's return part of Dr. M's plan, or is this another instance of the universe fighting to correct itself?
Did Dr. M create New 52 Wally West in an attempt to prevent the original's return?
Is Dr. M trying to work around the absence of important characters by creating his own versions? And did the universe fight back?
If the latter, it plays into DC's stated thematic goal of "Rebirth," returning the sense of hope and wonder that some felt was missing from much of the New 52. In this scenario, Manhattan -- sorry, "Dr. M" -- failed because these heroes and villains can't be replaced.
Although it's also worth noting that some of the new characters and versions of the replacement universe have value of their own; once again, we look to New 52 Wally West. There's thematic value in that, as well, and one can imagine that when all of the threads are finally tied up, the DCU that emerges will benefit from the best of both worlds.