How well do you really know Barry Allen’s origin story? Chances are, even if you’re a die-hard Flash fan, the answer is “not that well.” Sure, there’s the chemicals and the lightning storm, there’s the version of events we all know and love over on the TV series — but what about the Barry who has been running around as the Fastest Man Alive since the Silver Age? What actually happened after that fateful night in the lab?
The truth is, Barry’s earliest adventures are pretty woefully underexplored. There are a few reasons for this. For starters, he’s a product of an era in comics where origin stories weren’t explored in great detail. But perhaps more importantly he spent the majority of of the late ’80s and ’90s, the time in which origin stories were rapidly becoming a highlight of superhero comics, dead and gone after sacrificing himself during the 1986 event Crisis on Infinite Earths. This meant Barry really missed the boat in terms of cashing in on the “Year One” craze that followed, with such notable in-depth origin stories like Man of Steel by John Byrne, Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, and George Perez’s Wonder Woman. Dead men don’t really need to have their beginnings explored and soon enough, a new flash named Wally West had taken up the mantle, leaving Barry as a fond memory and cautionary tale. But have no fear, because it’s a problem Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter are gearing up to tackle head on this May with the upcoming Flash: Year One story arc by Joshua Williamson and Howard Porter — the first of its kind — beginning in issue #70.
“Barry Allen is a hero on a pedestal,” writer Joshua Williamson tells Den of Geek, “he’s the hero who died, the hero who sacrificed himself. […] Everyone knows Barry as this super optimistic, hopeful guy. But when his mom died, it’s like Geoff [Johns] always talks about, he was standing still.”
Williamson is referring to Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver’s Flash: Rebirth, a limited series published in 2009 that resurrected a long-dead Barry Allen into the modern DC Universe, while re-framing his origin story. All that stuff you may have seen in the CW series where Barry’s mom is murdered by a time traveling Zoom? That all came into the mix here. Prior to that, Barry’s origin story just featured the chemical accident/lightning strike combo that empowered him and off he went — not exactly the most thoroughly fleshed out beginnings for a superhero.
Barry’s newly revealed childhood trauma positioned him to be the catalyst for an event known as Flashpoint, which sparked the New 52 era of DC continuity. It’s all a little complicated, but the long and the short of it wound up being Barry time traveling back to his mother’s murder and stopping it, thus creating an alternate timeline where all DC stories were condensed into an approximately five year period. Strangely enough, however, despite the major repercussions of Barry’s updated origins, there weren’t a ton of details to be found beyond Barry’s childhood and the murderer. What he was actually doing immediately after he got his powers, and why he decided to become The Flash in the first place, remained a mystery.
“[After he got his powers] he fell into this hole. And we’ve never really looked at what made him come out of that. It was scary for him. You don’t just automatically become a superhero. It’s not like you get powers and then suddenly everything is great again,” Williamson says. “Barry’s a scientist, so he was looking at it like a science problem. So, at the start of things, he’s actually super pessimistic — he’s looking at these abilities and thinking ‘what’s the point?'”
This idea that superpowers aren’t a magic bullet is central to what Williamson hopes to accomplish with Year One, by taking a look at what Barry chose to do for himself rather than what happened to him seemingly at random. “When we first meet him he has such a bleak outlook and he’s confronted with all this stuff that actually makes him take a look at himself, really deal with his feelings and his pessimism. We haven’t really seen anything like this before for him, in terms of an origin story. Even from the TV show, we wanted to make sure we were doing something totally new that you’d never seen before.”
For inspiration, Williamson cited the classic Showcase #4, which introduced Barry Allen to readers back in 1956. “Of course we looked at Showcase #4 a lot, but there’s actually a second story in that one that no one ever remembers that was really interesting to me,” he teased. Barry’s first appearance sees him take on a rather on-the-nose confrontation with a villain known as The Turtle in “The Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt,” but the issue doesn’t end there. Showcase #4 also features “The Man Who Broke The Time Barrier,” Barry’s second ever adventure in which he’s forced to track a criminal to the 50th century.
Williamson didn’t offer any specifics as to just how or why “The Man Who Broke The Time Barrier” will come into play for Flash: Year One, so start those conspiracy theory spirals — The Flash #70 is only three months away. It will be part of the ongoing Flash story — meaning there’s a chance you’ll find a reference or two to Rebirth-era events — but the arc itself will largely stand on its own. So use these next few months to catch up if you’re so inclined (it’s worth it, we promise), but don’t panic if you’re looking to jump in at the start of the arc.
The Flash #70, chapter one of The Flash: Year One, arrives on May 8.