Retro Review: Flash #79 (August 1993)

by

I’ve made some hash lately (presuming that turn of phrase means anything, which in retrospect it may not) of comics publishing companies’ tendencies to tell stories that ‘have never been told before!!!!11!eleven!!’ regardless of whether or not there was a REASON those stories have stayed unspoken.  It’s hardly a new thing (John Byrne famously wrote a story wherein Superman executed three Kryptonian criminals to explain his ‘No Killing’ dogma, as if you really need to have a big backstory to a dearth of murder), but few of these instances manage to get told without some serious fallout.  Though Wally West may or may not even exist anymore, there was a time where he was the active Flash, trying to take on the mantle of his mentor and be successful as a man and a hero.

Then, Barry Allen came back.

FLASH #79
Script: Mark Waid
Pencils: Greg LaRocque
Inks: Roy Richardson
Colors: Gina Going
Letters: Tim Harkins
Editor: Brian Augustyn
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4.00

Previously in Flash:  Barry Allen was dead.  A stiff.  Bereft of life, he rested in peace, the last sacrifice of the universal war known as The Crisis On Infinite Earths.  After his passing, kid sidekick Wally West took up his costume, and while his speed was somewhat less than Barry’s own, made the role of Flash his.  With help from elder statesman Jay “The Flash” Garrick, self-help guru Johnny Quick, and zen master of speed Max Mercury, Wally had come close to accepting himself as a grown-up and as a hero in his own right.

Then, one day, Barry Allen came back. 

Much as ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ will tell you, though, having your loved ones back from the dead can be a dicey proposition, and Barry became more and more twisted, jealous of Wally’s usurpation of his legacy, angry at a world that had seemingly forgotten about him, even sufficiently enraged to snap the ankle of his own childhood hero.  Wally battled his friend and mentor, racing across Keystone City on a stormy night, and in a moment of chilling revelation, Barry Allen’s failings as a man and as a hero were clearly explained:  The man he’d trusted, the man he’d told his greatest secrets to, the man whom he had taken into his home was NOT BARRY ALLEN AT ALL.

In case you live under a rock, that slavering roid-rage mental case in yellow is none other than Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash, known also as Professor Zoom.  Circa 1993 when this story takes place, the Zoomer was, much like Barry A., pushing up the daisies, having been choked to death by Barry Allen shortly before Barry’s own demise, to stop Thawne from murdering Barry’s second wife the same way he murdered Barry’s first, Iris Allen, also Wally’s beloved auntie.  (Time-travel sentences always get so complicated.)  So, how has Reverse-Flash returned from the dead?

Revelation #2: Reverse-Flash hasn’t come back from the dead at all, he simply hasn’t been killed yet, thanks to the magic of temporal physics.  When this issue came out, I remember being floored by how ridiculously simple this plot twist was, and being very impressed and/or jealous of Mark Waid at being able to effortlessly use that simple thought (‘What if this is Zoom BEFORE he met Barry?’) and craft a story of this quality.  Bear in mind that the return had been played for nearly a YEAR in Green Lantern and Flash titles, and Barry’s sudden resurrection had been validated by Hal Jordan (who in 1993 was an elder statesman with white temples, rather than the Tom Cruise distillation he has become today.)  Most gratifying of all, Waid gives us additional texture and depth to the Silver Age origins of Professor Zoom, without ever negating or retconning what we knew…

A lot of what Geoff Johns has been doing with Zoom lately stems from HERE, rather than from the old-school depictions of Reverse-Flash, which should tell you something about how impressive these stories are.  Traveling through time for the first time ever, Eobard Thawne finds the Flash Museum in “the present,” which shows not only his own identity as the Flash’s dark mirror, his years of murderous rampages, and worst of all, his own murder at the hands of his most revered hero.  It’s enough to make a man’s mind snap…

Becoming Barry led Reverse-Flash to the public adoration he wanted, but his own insecurities led him to try and wipe out all the other Flashes.  Having explained all of this in mid-battle (using his superior Barry-Allen-level speed to hold Wally effortlessly at bay) Zoom is driven off by Green Lantern, Max Mercury and Johnny Quick.  The four heroes visit Jay Garrick in the hospital, and Wally reveals how Zoom has been able to assimilate himself so quickly:  He has his own copy of ‘The Life Story Of Barry Allen.’

The shocking reveal about the author’s identity doesn’t come around until later in the issue, but you have to love the sheer surprise that Greg LaRocque gets into Johnny Quick’s face in that tiny little single panel close-up.  I love LaRocque’s Flash art, because his battle sequences and super-speed representations are amazing and kinetic.  In fact, after Carmine Infantino, he may be the finest Flash artist ever.  While the heroes regroup, Reverse-Flash goes on national television to reveal himself as the architect of the resurrection of Barry Allen (whose identity, by the way, is publicly known at this point, something I think Tom Welling Prime punched away) and threatens to give the Iris treatment to anchorwoman Linda Park…

Before Green Lantern can get a response, though, Flash is gone.  Linda Park, you see, is more than Keystone City’s answer to Robin Scherbatsky, she’s Flash’s sweetheart.  (Before he became a time-traveling Hannibal Lecter, Eobard Thawne’s defining characteristic was his complete lack of originality, leading to his one-trick pony wife-killing habit.)  Wally makes his way across town in mere milliseconds, but his speed is still not up to Thawne’s level.  Wally gets beaten down hard, and left bleeding, while Reverse-Flash taunts that he’s going to make everyone forget that Barry Allen ever EXISTED…  and there he makes his final mistake.  Wally realizes that he has been holding himself back to keep from overshadowing his mentor and best friend, but worse than that would be letting Zoom do it.

Suddenly, Wally’s lost speed is unlocked, and the two are evenly matched for the first time…  But then, it’s all taken away in a fraction of a second, as Wally trips and falls.  Certain death awaits him as Zoom moves in for the kill.

COMBO BREAKER!  Has Barry Allen spoken from the great beyond?  Or is Wally just the luckiest man on the face of the earth?  (After all, this is at least the SECOND time he has gotten a one-in-a-million lightning bolt right when and where he wanted…)  Regardless of the cosmological origins, the explosion levels the playing field, and with all things being equal in the speed department, we end up with a rookie pencil-necked-future-geek facing a very angry Flash, a man who has been fighting at super-speed since he was eight years old.

And since it’s the 90′s, we get a Lloyd Bentsen reference as a bonus.  Wally tricks Professor Zoom into thinking he’s using the Cosmic Treadmill to travel to the 25th Century, but suckers Zoom into running back home instead.  It’s nice to see that, even at full speed, Flash uses his mind as well as his legs to get the job done.

Heh.  That’s another thing I like about Waid’s Flash.  Having grown up breaking the laws of time, space and physics, Wally West comes across as a cynical, smart, and heroic figure, a perfect synthesis of Silver Age and 90′s mentalities.  We get a quick glimpse of Eobard Thawne returning to the future and having his mind wiped as a criminal, keeping him from remembering these events, and proving Wally right, while the heroes tell Wally his debt to Barry Allen is officially paid in full.  As the issue ends, we find that the city has rebuilt the Flash Museum after Zoom’s rampage, and they’ve made sure to rebuild the statue honoring their greatest hero.  Both of them…

And there’s the other shoe that dropped, as we find out that the official autobiographer of the Flash is none other than the Flash’s wife.  She did, after all, come from the future, just like Zoom.  And even though nobody really knows it, she did reunite with Barry right before his death in the Crisis.  For my money, you can’t beat Waid and LaRocque’s Flash when they’re on their game, and this issue is the climax of an arc that has them working at their very peak.  It’s the moment where Wally finally accepts that Barry is gone and makes the mantle of Flash his own (for the next 13 years, anyway) and adds a lot of interesting bits to the DC Universe.  I understand the thought process on returning Barry to life, but still think it’s a terrible shame that Wally’s nearly two decades as Flash have to be swept under the rug for the sake of the Letter of Saint Barry to Geoff Johns.  Flash #79 is the total package, nailing art, story, drama and DC history in a double-sized chunk of wonderful, earning 5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★★