[intro-text size=”25px”]A forensic scientist for the Central City police, Barry Allen stops crime not only for the local precinct but in costume as the Flash but as well. The best Flash stories are not those where he simply runs fast, but those where he must outsmart his enemies, relying on his investigative abilities as much as his super speed. He is a character of indomitable hope and inspiration, but with the recent storyline stranding him out of time and away from his hometown the series has suffered. Thankfully, this issue is a homecoming of the most dramatic sort.[/intro-text]
During Barry Allen’s time-displaced absence, a future version in a sleek blue, electrically charged suit returned to the past—our present time—to clean up all the mistakes he knows his past self has made over the years. As students of pop culture, we all know this is doomed to fail. The future Flash has no compunction about using lethal force against all of the criminals he knows will one day hurt people close to him.
One of the best aspects of a Flash issue is the inventive ways the writers employ his super-speed. Controlled through pirated Wi-Fi signals, the villain of this issue has turned every hand-held electronic device in Central City into powerful bombs. What follows is a smart layout that tracks the Flash swiping thousands of phones and tablets to send goofy texts, take selfies and make dinner reservations all in under a second, effectively overloading the network before the detonation signal could be transmitted.
Once present day Barry Allen is able to return to his timeline he wastes no time stemming the future Flash’s murderous assault on villains that would otherwise be apprehended and brought to justice. The debate over heroes employing lethal sanctions against their adversaries has been a well-trod comic motif, just as much as past and future selves squaring off against conflicting ideologies. What is novel in this take are the psychological effects this struggle has on those close to Barry Allen.
The return of the true Flash was worth the price of admission, but the compassion and humanity he offers, even to his opponents, best defines the nature of the man and makes this such a stellar issue. Once the true Flash returns, the blue Flash of the future is so moved by his past version’s selflessness he realizes that he confused vengeance with justice and sacrifices his life to save the city. “I’m sorry,” he laments while dying, “I was so arrogant. Please take another path, Barry. Don’t waste your years thinking only of vengeance.”
No time-travel story is worth its weight without the inevitable fallout that comes after. Sure the city is saved and the Flash is returned but at the cost of his love life. Co-writers Robert Venditti and Van Jensen handle his relationship on a mature level that offers solid grounding for such a fantastical character. His girlfriend does not blame Barry for the imposter’s actions but she cannot look at him without seeing the others face, remembering all of the blood on his hands. It is bittersweet that his love for her anchored him back in time only to lose her the moment he returns. We leave the Flash alone in a dark apartment as she walks out on him. He fought to return home to the loved ones he left behind only to find he is more adrift and lost than ever before.
The issue closes on epilogue that serves as a terrific cliffhanger that I won’t spoil here, but suffice it to say, the Flash’s troubles are only beginning.