The Flash: Who is the Reverse-Flash?

Who is Eobard Thawne? Well, he's the Reverse-Flash, for one thing. But how much does he have in common with the comics?

Reverse Flash in CW's The Flash

We dusted this one off in honor of “The Reverse-Flash Returns” airing on the CW. This article contains potential spoilers for The Flash TV series and several comic book storylines.

Since the first episode of The Flash, fans have been teased with the question of “who is the man in the yellow suit?” Comic book fans know him as the Reverse-Flash, a character who has plagued DC Comics speedsters for decades.

Trying to untangle the intricacies of Reverse-Flash history would really be a pointlessly confusing task. But it looks like The Flash is taking elements from two distinct incarnations of the Reverse-Flash and either combining them into this “man in the yellow suit” we’ve already seen in action, and/or spreading them out across multiple characters.

Buckle up…because this one is gonna get weird.

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Eobard Thawne as Reverse Flash in DC Comics

The original “man in the yellow suit” was Eobard Thawne, who became Professor Zoom, the Reverse-Flash. Thawne was a man from the future who got himself some super speed and a snazzy suit (don’t ask how, just go with it) and became obsessed with Barry Allen and came back in time to bedevil him. To virtually nobody’s surprise, Harrison Wells has now been revealed as Eobard Thawne, and he certainly has a bit of a Barry Allen obsession.

The Professor Zoom/Eobard Thawne of the comics became so obsessed with Barry that he had plastic surgery to resemble him more. Obviously, the show took a different route. But there’s a neat parallel here, anyway. The television Eobard Thawne didn’t come here from the future and create the fictional identity of Harrison Wells. No, Harrison Wells was a real scientist, and Eobard simply…absorbed him. Or something. Either way, while it isn’t plastic surgery, it does kind of mirror the comic Thawne’s visual transformation.

Keep in mind that Flash executive producer Geoff Johns added a major component to Flash and Reverse-Flash mythology when he wrote The Flash: Rebirth, a comic series that first revealed Barry’s troubled past. Who killed Nora Allen in that comic? That would be Eobard Thawne. But before he took on the “Joe Chill” role in Flash’s history (where are my Batman fans?), the character’s greatest achievement was the murder of Iris West, something which makes the final moment of “The Flash is Born” all the more chilling.

Shortly before Barry and Iris were to be married, Zoom murdered Iris with a super speed blow to the brain, and years later he intended to do it again when Barry was getting ready to marry Fiona Webb. While trying to stop Zoom, Barry accidentally killed him. This kicked off what is arguably the greatest storyline in Flash’s history, “The Trial of The Flash,” a two-year long exploration of Flash’s manslaughter trial.

“The Trial of the Flash” felt wildly out of place, especially in a DC Comic, upon its publication in the early ‘80s, but in hindsight it was actually kind of ahead of its time. I’m willing to wax endlessly about how excellent it is and why it really deserves a more prestigious place in the role call of mid-80s superhero comics that helped move the genre forward, but I’ve got my hands full trying to explain this whole “man in the yellow suit” thing. I promise to get to it in a future article, though.

Now, none of this clears up the Eddie Thawne issue, but I’m trying to get to that. For now, Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne has referred to Eddie as “a distant relative” and we’re forced to leave it at that. But it opens up a whole range of confusing possibilities.

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Y’see there’s also another Reverse-Flash, inspired by the deeds of Professor Zoom. This one was a cop…but not Eddie Thawne. He’s also probably not the guy on season two, but I wrote more about that in another article.

Confused yet? Good. It means you’re human and you haven’t read too many comic books like I have.

Hunter Zolomon as Zoom in DC Comics

Anyway, this police officer, Hunter Zolomon, found himself disabled thanks to supervillain activity in the area, and blamed Flash (Wally West) for not going back in time to stop it from happening. Without getting into too many details, Zolomon ends up with powers, although he isn’t a traditional speedster. Instead, he kind of manipulates how he moves through time, so he may as well be moving at super speed. 

Zoom (no Professor for Zolomon, as he clearly didn’t finish evil graduate school) had a disturbing MO, and it’s one that kind of lines up with the show’s interpretation of Eobard Thawne, too. By creating personal tragedies for Wally West, he figured he was helping the Flash become a better hero. Well, in theory, if Nora Allen lives, Barry doesn’t necessarily have the drive to become a police officer, and in turn, a hero. So killing Nora Allen could be considered a “personal tragedy” that could create a hero, right? Well, yes, but again, in the comics it was the OTHER Reverse-Flash who did this, not Hunter Zolomon.

Anyway, in the comics at least, Professor Zoom didn’t do any of this because of any twisted logic, he only did it because he clearly got his PHD in being an evil yellow dick. There are still mysteries that need to be resolved before season’s end, though. It’s still not quite clear why Flash and Reverse-Flash were beating each other up through time like that, although we do know that’s how Eobard ended up stranded in our time period in season one, and that he’s trying to use Barry’s speed to get back to where he should be. 

Look, it’s time travel. It’s supposed to give you a headache. If it’s not, it’s doing something wrong.

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Mike Cecchini is not from the future and looks terrible in yellow. You can follow him on Twitter at your own risk.

* note – This article originally ran in 2015, but it has been updated to reflect recent revelations on The Flash TV series. I didn’t get everything right the first time, and I’ll probably update this again before we’re done! *