This article contains spoilers for the Crisis on Infinite Earths comic, and possibly the TV version.
There’s an old saying in the DC universe: Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning. Either way, there’s probably a Crisis coming.
That’s not really a saying, but for such a multiverse-shattering series of events, there are a surprising amount of rules to them. Whenever a Crisis comes – whether it was the original Crisis on Infinite Earths, its successor Infinite Crisis, the contradictory Final Crisis, or even Heroes in Crisis – certain things always happen: the skies go blood red, a major retcon is on its way, and something big happens with Flashes. But how do you make something matter to a character who moves so fast he can exist between ticks of a clock? With Crisis on Infinite Earths coming to the CW DC TV universe, it’s worth checking out what happened to Barry in the comics to see if it gives us any guidance for where the show is going.
The Death of The Flash
Crisis on Infinite Earths, the 12-issue maxiseries by Marv Wolfman and George Perez restarted DC continuity by merging its myriad of timelines down to one coherent (they hoped) Earth. It set a lot of precedents for DC and the comic industry as a whole, but its most enduring contribution to comics has to be its scope: this book was HUGE. It destroyed an untold number of alternate timelines, mashing together various decades-long stories and characters acquired by DC in multiple rounds of consolidation. But it succeeded because it used personal touches and character moments to increase the poignancy of those changes, and nobody had a more heroic moment in the series than the Flash, Barry Allen.
Barry was the second Flash to hold the name, after the Flash of the Golden Age, Jay Garrick. After almost 30 years in the comics, by the time Crisis rolled around, his story was coming to a close. Reverse-Flash had killed Iris West, the love of Barry’s life, and was coming to kill his new fiancee, when Barry snapped Zoom’s neck to stop him. He’s put on trial and convicted, but eventually discovers that the whole thing was a plot to sully the Flash’s name and reputation by Abra Kadabra, and that Iris was alive and well in the 30th century. So after clearing his name, Barry uses his power to head off into the future and live happily ever after with Iris.
Obviously, that didn’t stick. A month into Barry and Iris’ happy future, the universe started fading to white, so Barry ran back in time to warn his friends, and as he arrived, was pulled off of Earth by the Anti-Monitor and the Psycho Pirate. He was held captive until he broke free, and as he was escaping, the Anti-Monitor was getting ready to blast the remaining, merged universe with an anti-matter cannon, finally eradicating all of existence. Barry couldn’t let that happen, so he used his speed to counteract the cannon and destroy it. But in the process, he was killed. Except…
Barry and Wally’s Three Worst Days
By the time Crisis was being put together, Marv Wolfman was a pillar of the DC Universe. He was best known for creating the newest team of Teen Titans, the run that influenced the team we see in cartoons and on DC Universe today, but he also had stints on Action Comics and Green Lantern and Batman books. He knew his DC heroes, and he was not a fan of killing off Barry Allen. So he wrote an out into Crisis.
Barry knew he was going to die at the hands of the Anti-Monitor when he went back. He would periodically travel through the timeline to check stuff out, and he saw his death coming in the Crisis. So while he was heading back to his own death, he made a few stops to fix a couple of things.
– He stops after Wally West, the Kid Flash who took up his mentor’s mantle after Barry’s death, and Wally’s wife Linda lose their twins to Professor Zoom, to help Wally grieve.
– He stops stops to help Wally in a later fight with Zoom that would have forced Wally to relive (and possibly change) that loss.
– And he stops a third time to help stop Superboy from punching continuity holes in the walls of reality (Infinite Crisis is not that great).
Surprisingly, despite that obvious way out of Barry’s death and the compelling plot point it leaves dangling over The Flash – that he can stop all he wants before dismantling the antimatter cannon in Crisis #8, but eventually he would have to head back there to finish the job – Barry’s eventual resurrection had him pulled out of speedster heaven at the center of the Speed Force, to resume his life in the DC Universe and save his loved ones from a mindless infection of Anti-Life in Final Crisis. He does outrun death and trick it into killing Darkseid, though, so that’s pretty cool.
But is this the blueprint for TV’s Barry Allen? The Monitor certainly has put pressure on Barry to believe that his death is imminent (see The Flash season 6 premiere for details). And this crew of TV writers has shown no timidity whatsoever about lifting even the most ridiculous plot points from the comics and gleefully slapping them onto our screens. Hell, they’ve been teasing the death of the Flash in Crisis on Infinite Earths since the very first episode of the show! Killing a Flash is something these folks do to warm up for the rest of the day – he’s already died once in the show, and stayed dead for longer than anyone would have expected. And they kill Reverse Flashes left and right.
The parallels between where Barry was at before comics Crisis and where he’s at before television Crisis are a little bit eerie. He’s got family off in the future he could be living with, his supporting cast is as or more interesting than he is (at least before this new season started), and to be honest, his show was getting a little bit beat up by the critics last year for (ahem) running in circles. It remains to be seen just how much from the comics and from the original writer’s intent will make the transition, but wouldn’t it be a jolt to the show to have Barry spend the final few seasons of his show trying to pack as much good into his remaining time before he has to run back and save the multiverse, closing the loop on the CW-verse?
We’ll find out when Crisis on Infinite Earths begins on Dec. 8.