Some of the biggest news emerging from last week's Hero Con in Philadelphia was DC Comics' surprise announcement that writer Mark Waid would be returning to write the Flash, sparking a firestorm of speculation (based on numerous clues) that the one wearing the red tights would be none other than a resurrected Barry Allen!
As with most big news that comes down the pike in the comics biz, there's already a chorus both cheering and jeering the possibility of Barry's return. I'm solidly in the Pro-Barry camp, and after reading a number of objections from people who aren't, I thought I'd answer a few of them here.
Of course, the real nature of what's going on won't be revealed until today's new comics hit the stands...so all of this may be a moot point.
But when's that ever stopped me before?
"Who is this 'Barry Allen' anyway?"
Barry Allen was actually DC's second super-speedster to operate as The Flash. The first was Jay Garrick, whose adventures were published between 1940 and 1949, ending when superhero comics hit the skids. Kicking off a new wave of superhero popularity (commonly referred to as "The Silver Age") was Showcase #4 (1956), featuring Barry as an updated Flash, complete with a spiffy Space Age uniform.
Later on, Barry's speed allowed him to bridge dimensions and meet his famous predecessor on an alternate Earth, simultaneously sparking DC's long association with Multiple Earths storylines.
Barry's solo series (picking up on the numbering of Jay's old Flash Comics series) continued on into the 1980's, when the winds of change, paired with DC's incompetent handling of the character, led to its cancellation in 1985.
Later that year, Barry would appear in Crisis on Infinite Earths, a mini-series designed to clean up and streamline DC's (allegedly) too-complicated continuity. Despite most heroes getting a chance to shine, Barry was a curiously absent figure through much of the story....appearing as either a weeping spectral figure or stuck in motionless captivity. Following the double-size Death of Supergirl issue, Barry died the very next (regular-sized) issue...coming across as almost an afterthought or mild aftershock to Supergirl's much-trumpeted demise. Making matters worse, Barry's final act came off as an odd, metaphysical abstraction rather than a concrete contribution to victory. Running in circles around a cosmic doohickie (the purpose of which wasn't clear) and then crumbling into a skeleton wasn't exactly the blaze of glory you'd expect for a guy of Barry's stature.
Needless to say, the handling of Barry's death was as bungled and incoherent as the final years of his series.
"Geez, you're pretty bitter about this, aren't you?"
Actually, no. I mean, it's been over twenty years, so I've long since gotten over it. Plus, there's that little detail of Barry not being real that convinced me pretty quickly to move on.
"Why not bring back Wally West instead? He's already alive!"
There's definitely a case to be made that Barrys' former protege', who began his career as Kid Flash and later assumed Barry's mantle as The Flash, should come back and pick up where he left off. As of this writing, he's supposedly living in The Speed Force (don't ask) with his wife and kids...so I say let the guy continue enjoying a well-earned sabbatical. For the past twenty years or so, the character's benefitted from a variety of conceptual upgrades and interesting new directions, so maybe it's time for his mentor to reap the benefits of today's more sophisticated forms of storytelling.
"I think this bringing back the dead stuff has simply got to stop. Hal Jordan, Jason Todd, Bucky for Pete's sake! Bucky? Come on, Mark, you know that this is getting ridiculous! Let the line be drawn with Barry. Or so help me, you know Uncle Ben will be next."
I can understand the concern that death means almost nothing in superhero comics anymore, but we'd crossed that bridge long before anyone seriously thought Barry might be coming back. True, there are certain characters who simply can't come back to life without undermining the entire narrative of a character...such as your example of Uncle Ben. In his case, or the case of Bruce Wayne's murdered parents, the death is a cornerstone of the character's beginnings....their "reason for being" if you will. These, I would agree, are truly untouchable "permanent" deaths. However, Barry's not one of those essential deaths. High profile, maybe...but not essential. His role in a virtually forgotten cosmic crisis has little to no bearing on anything that's happened since, other than garnering a few "Dear Old Barry" sniffles from time to time.
So, why not bring him back for something other than maudlin tributes or time-travel stopovers?
I think one of the treasures of a fictional reality is the ability to bend the rules in a way we could never do here in the "real world". We all know that physical death is permanent and there's nothing we can do to reverse it. Do we really need superhero comic books to uphold and teach us that lesson? Nuh uh. Instead, if we can bend the laws of physics to allow humans to fly, shrink, climb walls and run at light speed, is it any less an outlandish fantasy to want to beat death itself? Barry's carried enough water for the "We need to respect death's permanency" line. Do we really need him to stay dead in order to prove that rather obvious point?
At the end of the day, comics are about telling great stories, and Barry has many more left to tell.
"I think this is just more proof that the Silver Age nostalgia freaks who run the industry are trying to re-live their childhoods."
Now who's bitter? Sure, the industry (and much of the fanbase) includes those who grew up reading comics in the 60's and 70's, but keep in mind they're also the same people who've been creating the comics you've read from the 80's on up to the present, so they've got a stake in the current status quo, too. Another thing to keep in mind is that even though so-called "Silver Age Characters" are enjoying more of the spotlight these days, it doesn't mean that the Silver Age era's storytelling style will accompany them. It's been proven time and again that a truly strong character concept can adapt to any era in the hands of a dynamic creative team, and Silver Age characters are no exception. Instead of sweeping them under the rug, as DC attempted to do in the early 90's, inventive writers have rescued Silver Agers like Hal Jordan and Ollie Queen from the ash heap and restored them to a vital, relevant presence in the DC Universe.
I don't think anyone is trying to relive their childhood (that's what back issues are for, after all), and one man's nostalgia is someone else's first story, so I don't buy the plea for nostalgia-free comics. Sure, if you marinate in nostalgia month after month, you're no longer growing or moving forward...but a dash of nostalgia has always been part of the superhero comics "recipe", especially so for the rich traditions that define the DC Comics experience.
"Barry's return would completely invalidate Crisis on Infinite Earths."
At this point, I don't think anyone's losing too much sleep over what this does or doesn't do to Crisis. Nothing will change its status as a mind-blowing milestone event, but it's influence over the current DCU has been radically diminished by recent events...most notably the return of the multiverse concept, the whole reason for Crisis in the first place (and not to kill off Barry Allen, as some seem to believe).
"I don't want the squeaky-clean Barry Allen getting 'tainted' by the more ambiguous, darker morality of modern comics."
I see this one alot. Sure, Barry would encounter a starkly different moral climate than he did in the comics of thirty to forty years ago, but it doesn't follow that Barry would automatically be changed into some kind of sneering anarchist. So cheer up...lots of writers are still in the "uplifting and heroic" business, and Mark Waid is definitely among them.
Who's to say Barry's upright character won't have an effect on the world around him?
"C'mon...Barry was as square and uncool as it gets. I can't see anyone making Barry cool enough for kids today."
Well, if "cool" means making him a "Guitar Hero II" maestro with an emo haircut, I guess he's not going to pass muster. However, if we're talking about Barry's reputation for a coherent moral perspective and his domesticated, average-guy sensibility, that IS why he's so cool! Want to be a non-conformist in today's crowded superhero market? Be a well-adjusted, confident guy who's comfortable in his own skin!
Add to that Barry's career as a forensic scientist, which (based on the hundreds of procedural crime dramas on TV) is cooler than ever. Add to THAT the fact that the fresh, luminous artwork of Daniel Acuña will be featured in the rebooted series, and I think Barry's all set in the "cool" department.
So, by the end of the day today we'll know for sure if it's Barry, Wally or someone else entirely taking over for the hapless Bart Allen. My money's on Barry, because if anything is going to live up to DC's hype, Barry returning from a 20 year death trumps Wally coming back from a one-year sabbatical any day of the week. Come on, DC...get it right this time!
Whatever happens, you can bet I'll have plenty to blather about on Thursday.