As DC Comics faced yet another Crisis of Infinite proportions in 2006, as characters were dropping dead left and right, I was reminded of the heavy casualties of its 1986 predecessor Crisis on Infinite Earths. Most of the deaths were third-string "cannon fodder" (losers like Bug-Eyed Bandit and Prince Ra-Man), but a few of them were bonafide A-Listers like Supergirl and the Flash. In a classic one-two punch, the seventh issue of Crisis saw the death of Superman's young cousin, followed by the death of Barry (Flash) Allen in the very next issue.
Already reeling from Supergirl's death, fans were shocked to see yet another character with a nearly thirty year history with DC wiped out.
But should we have been shocked by Barry's death?
After researching my own Flash collection, I've come to the disturbing conclusion that Barry's death was virtually inevitable, and should never have surprised us when it actually came to pass!
In other words, Barry Allen was a marked man!
Let's start with Flash #130 (1962), Exhibit A of "DC's Dead Flash Fixation":
True, the Flash is not technically declared dead on this cover (as he would be in later examples), but the vaguely "crucified" positioning of his body lends the scene an unmistakable air of tragedy and finality.
Death comes calling once again with Flash #163 (1966), as we see Flash (looking understandably ticked-off) imploring the reader "Don't pass up this issue" since his "life depends on it"...giving new meaning to the term "high pressure sales".
Granted, Flash is not truly dead on this cover, but the threat of imminent death if ignored by the consumer is enough to warrant its inclusion. Never before had a superhero been held "hostage" by its own publisher! It should be noted that this cover was often singled out by Julius Schwartz (long-time editor of The Flash) as one of his favorites covers, if not the favorite.
Not even a full year later, we see Flash #171 (1967), the first unambiguous Dead Flash Cover:
Not only is Dead Flash "unburied" and "unmourned"....not only is he lying in a No Parking Zone...but a young lad (matching his title's presumed demographic) is stepping over his ragged corpse while whistling a merry tune! What's next?
Will the wiener dog relieve himself on Dead Flash?
If there was any doubt that death was, indeed, stalking the Flash, five issues later in Flash #176 (1968) we find out that, sure enough,"Death Stalks the Flash"!
Straight from Central Casting, the looming Angel of Death figure holds a grasping, mummified claw over the delirious Flash, beckoning him into the Green Mist of Death (or Los Angeles...I can't tell from this angle). Who could have guessed that eighteen years later, it would be DC's editorial staff, not Death Personified, telling Flash "your time is up" and pulling the plug on him!
For those who still weren't getting the message that Flash was a Deadman Walking, Flash #186 (1969) should have made it perfectly clear:
It doesn't get any more unambiguous than that, does it? The "Skeleton Flash" image not only takes the "dead hero" cover to a shocking new level, but also serves as an eerie foreshadowing of his skeletal disintegration in Crisis #8. Note the young boy's astoundingly casual reaction upon spotting the Skeleton Flash, as opposed to the much more likely reaction of "EEEYYYAAAAHHHH! OH, MY GOD! AHHHHHHHHHH!!!"
If you're thinking things couldn't get worse than a Skeletonized Flash, then Flash #199 (1970) would make it clear that you're...well...dead wrong!
As you can see, not only is FLASH DEAD, but...once again....nobody seems to care (despite the sub-headline claiming the "world mourns"). The only one who does seem to care appears to be the same wiener dog from Flash #171....perhaps (judging by his wagging tail) looking for a decomposing snack.
Ten issues later on the cover of Flash #209 (1971), Flash is once again spread-eagle on the ground and proclaimed dead (though conveniently positioning his dead legs to allow for the Elongated Man story plug).
This time, Flash seems a little more proactive, as we see his spirit zipping off to find his "real killer". Let's hope he gets back before the Trickster shoots him in the groin with his decidedly non-zany .44 magnum.
Next up, Flash #227 (1974) gives us an interesting variation of the death cover, in which a living character is somehow made aware of his imminent death:
It's great to see Flash handling the news in such a professional, heroic manner: sweating profusely while blubbering like a baby! I wonder if someone slipped him a copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths #8? Whatever the case, get ahold of yourself, man!
The indignities just keep piling up with Flash #233 (1975):
Not only is Flash killed in his own home, with his corpse awkwardly positioned off the cover, but his killer, the Reverse Flash, also wants to bag his wife Iris (who's posing fashionably in the entryway).
I ask you, how could it get worse than this?
Well, look no further than the very next issue for your answer. The cover of Flash #234 presents the Flash killed not by a real-life Rogue (like last issue's cover), but by lifeless statues of his Rogues (that apparently were all created to stare at a fixed point on the floor):
Strangely, Flash Museum curator Dexter Miles seems more alarmed by the improbability of killer statues than he is by the reality of Flash lying stone-cold dead on his museum floor! Shovel him up, Dex....then you can solve the @#$% mystery!
The Death Cover of Flash #240 (1976) represents something of a milestone, since it's the first time anyone appears to be showing honest-to-goodness concern for the Flash dying:
Alas, her concern doesn't amount to much as Flash appears to be "struck dead" before she can reach him.
Besides being one of the most macabre mainstream superhero covers in my collection, Flash #258 (1978) also seems to foreshadow Barry's rather gruesome "disintegrating corpse" death scene from Crisis:
Echoing the theme of the previous cover, Flash #279 (1979) depicts The Deadest Man Alive rapidly dying or decomposing. Note the dramatically emphasized word DIE, in the slim chance the visuals weren't quite making that clear:
This marks the final example from the Flash series that I would consider a Death Cover (though many others came close), but let's not forget a few non-Flash covers that certainly qualify.
The cover of The Brave and The Bold #67 (1966) continues the "Who Cares if Flash Dies?" theme by suggesting that Batman was fully aware that Flash would "run himself to death" when sending him after The Speed Boys. "Some friend", indeed! Like Flash #240 (above), the Scarlet Speedster appears to be seizing and dropping dead in his tracks.
Thankfully, cover artist Carmine Infantino often drew vast, "suburb-free" open spaces surrounding his cities, so Dead Flash doesn't appear to be in any danger of colliding with....well....anything.
The next example, once again involving Batman (perhaps still feeling the guilt from the earlier Speed Boys incident), is Justice League of America #91 (1971):
Happily, the Justice League members seem to be truly concerned over the apparent death of the Flash. Then again, they may be more concerned with self-preservation after Batman's "Which of us will be NEXT?" question....or perhaps concerned by the Earth-2 Robin's goofy mask in the lower right-hand corner.
But they're concerned. That's the important thing, I guess.
With the body of evidence now before you (no pun intended), consider this: Could the sheer number of "Dead Flash" covers have had a sort of "cumulative effect" upon the collective consciousness of fans and creators alike, to the point where Barry's death may have been somewhat of a foregone conclusion? By seeing Barry's death "rehearsed" more than any other hero, could that have subconsciously "set the table" for DC's later decision to "kill off" the character?
However, the next time you get around to rereading the account of Barry's death in the original Crisis, perhaps The Many Deaths of Barry (Flash) Allen will inspire you to stroke your chin, tilt your head thoughtfully to the side, and say "Hmmmmm.....".
Whatever the case, Barry Allen...rest in peace. As the most frequently murdered superhero, you certainly deserve it!