Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. – The New 52 Flash Legacy Part 3
Quick Flash recap. First we had Jay Garrick. Then we had a reboot in 1956 that introduced Barry Allen, said to live on a parallel Earth. Then a reboot in 1986 made Barry’s sidekick the new Flash and also altered history so Jay now lived on the same earth. In 2011, DC had another company-wide reboot in which all comic titles were cancelled and 52 new titles were released. In the New 52, Jay Garrick and Barry Allen once again live on separate Earths and Kid Flash is a very different character. Let’s get to it!
The Flash Legacy – Part 2
THE NEW 52 BARRY ALLEN
When Barry Allen was introduced in 1956, his origin was the optimistic and romantic story of a life long comic book fan who got what many would consider to be the ultimate superhero fan dream: he got powers and became a hero himself, fighting strange foes and exploring fantastic worlds. Soon after Barry came back into mainstream comics, his origin was altered somewhat in the 2009 mini-series The Flash: Rebirth. Where once Barry had come from a relatively happy childhood where his parents had lived on to proudly learn he was the Flash, readers were now told his mother had been murdered when he was a child and his father had been imprisoned for the crime. Trying to prove his father’s innocence was now what led him to become a crime scene investigator, rather than altruism, and the murderer turned out to be the result of a temporal paradox. The Flash’s enemy Eobard Thawne aka Reverse Flash, aka Professor Zoom, had decided to cause Barry pain by going back in time and killing his mother, giving us another example of a woman in comic books being fridged.
When the New 52 continuity began in 2011, DC kept the idea of Barry’s mother being murdered and his father going to prison for it. Again, this drove Barry to become a CSI. One night, a lightning bolt comes through the window, striking a rack of chemicals that explode over him as an electrified mixture. But this time, instead of immediately getting back up, unharmed and discovering he had powers, Barry wound up in a hospital for several days. After recovering from his chemical burns, Barry realized he had powers and decided to use his abilities to become a hero to the neighboring Keystone City and Central City (also known as the “gem cities”). According to him, it took him “forever” to come up with the name Flash.
Another difference was in the costume, designed by Jim Lee. In the New 52, Barry’s bio-electric aura no longer protected fabric from air friction, only his skin. So he couldn’t use cloth costumes. But he found out metal reacted strangely around his body when he was using his speed and underwent an effect similar to thermal expansion. So he created body armor that would collapse into a ring. Whenever revved up to super-speed, the energy he gave off caused the top of the ring to pop off and expand into the Flash symbol on his chest, which was now a metal badge, while smaller red metal plates hidden beneath expanded and molded around him.
It’s not a bad idea, but it doesn’t seem different enough from the classic costume ring to be dynamic. In fact, to me this costume transformation actually looks more generic now, similar to Iron Man, Gizmo Duck, and various anime characters who have body armor wrap around them. And that’s another thing that doesn’t work for me personally. The Flash is about speed and freedom and you put him in metal armor? That immediately tells me he’s weighed down.
Plus, the explanation for the armor doesn’t quite work with me. Okay, metal expands in his aura? Fine. What makes it shrink again? And if his bio-electric aura doesn’t protect things other than his skin from super-speed friction, how about those times when he’s carrying people and other objects at high speed? How are they protected but clothing he wears isn’t?
Okay, let’s talk about the design itself. I like that Barry has Wally’s more stylish belt. The chin strap on the mask looks good on the Flash, as do those new boots. Bio-electric aura or not, Barry needs serious footwear and the seams on the boots are a nice way of emulating the old style wings without bringing them back entirely. Much as I like the cowl wings (or cowl lightning bolts as they became later), the wings on the boots always seemed like unnecessary decorations to me.
Visually, I also don’t care for all these extra seams now present in Flash’s body armor. I understand they’re there to let us know this is armor, but in comic books we can buy into that without needing to see ever line and bolt, the same way we buy into many costumes being made of fabric even when they look painted on. The seams here are distracting, even more so when they glow whenever Barry goes into super-speed. It’s too busy and takes away the sleekness once present in Flash’s suit. When he’s already trailing lightning bolts in his wake, why make his costume busier by adding glowing seams? A basic rule of fashion is to know when to edit down. Overcomplicating a design can imply you’re not confident in it or focused.
But even with those criticisms, this look isn’t terrible by any means. And artists such as Francis Manapul, who was also the first co-writer of the New 52 Flash series alongside Brian Buccellato, still made Barry look great.
In the New 52, Wally West has yet to meet Barry (though that’s supposed to happen soon). In this reality, we met Barry after he had about five years under his belt (and according to Justice League and Batman issues, another year has passed since then). So Wally wasn’t around to help establish the Teen Titans with Dick Grayson and Garth (neither of whom he even met in this reality), though Barry still helped found the Justice League. And just over five years after Barry debuted as the Flash, the New 52 reality finally did get a Teen Titans team and a Kid Flash was indeed a founder, along with Red Robin (Tim Drake), Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark) and others. But it wasn’t Wally.
NEW 52 KID FLASH
The New 52 version of Bart Allen debuted in 2011 in the new Teen Titans #1, written by Scott Lobdell and with art by Brett Booth, Norm Rapmund and Andrew Dalhouse. His origin was mysterious. In issue #1, we saw Kid Flash recklessly endanger others while showing off as he tried to stop a six-alarm fire. A news report then said he’d been in operation as Kid Flash for about two months. But this was contradicted in issue #2, when Bart said he’d made his debut as a costumed hero just that very night when he’d arrived on the scene of the fire. Issues #1 and #2 said Bart had become a superhero because he wanted fame and it seemed like the natural thing to do after discovering he had such power. But issue #6 said he had started operating in public because he’d hoped to gain the attention of people who could help him figure out how to deal with his strange abilities.
In issue #4, Bart explained that six months before the events of Teen Titans #1, he had simply appeared at an orphanage, with no memory of his life beforehand. He already had powers and couldn’t remember if he had acquired them or been born with them. Whether “Bart Allen” was the name he remembered or an identity he adopted later wasn’t clear. Another change from the pre-New 52 reality was that Bart’s eyes were no longer golden but an ordinary shade of green. UPDATE: artist Brett Booth kindly pointed out to me that Bart’s actual eyes start as green but turn golden in Teen Titans#5.
In any event, it was clear he’d never met the Flash and had only taken the Kid Flash name and Barry’s symbol because he also had super-speed. He had never met the Flash and had no idea who the man really was. He had never called himself Impulse. Unlike Barry, his bio-electric aura evidently did protect clothing from air friction, so he didn’t build body armor. He just threw together a costume from store bought items. It’s basically a shabby cosplay attempt at the classic Kid Flash costume, with an extra lightning bolt on the belt buckle, padding on the shoulders and elbows. The red goggles emulate not only the Impulse costume but also what young Wally West wore in the fantastic Young Justice cartoon (pictured above), a show that shouldn’t have been cancelled and should continue at least as a streaming series or via direct-to-DVD specials. [Editor’s Note: Agreed!] But I digress.
This first New 52 Kid Flash costume got torn apart pretty quickly. Rather than operate in normal clothes, Kid Flash grabbed one of Red Robin’s earlier costumes from his closet. So basically, there were a couple of issues where Bart wore a Robin costume but replaced the R with a black lightning bolt that looks like it was done in magic marker. He also wore massive goggles over a bandana mask, making him look like a freaky Ninja Turtle. Not a great look, kid.
In Teen Titans #6, Bart’s powers went haywire, so the Teen Titans took Kid Flash to S.T.A.R. Labs (you see where this is going, right?), and teen scientist Virgil Hawkins (aka the hero Static) realized the young hero’s molecules were somehow out of alignment. In just a few minutes, Virgil made a new costume to stabilize the kid’s abilities, which shows he is both very generous and a super-speed tailor of some sort.
Bart now had a new, shiny uniform that was finally the same design we had seen on the cover of Teen Titans #1 six months previously. The suit was composed of “lightweight nano-mesh” originally designed for astronauts, so it wouldn’t tear easily. Virgil explained this material was perfect for Kid Flash because, somehow, lightweight nano-mesh keeps molecules aligned. SCIENCE! The design was based on doodles Virgil had drawn of alternate costumes for the Flash (apparently, he gets REALLY bored while researching the impossible sciences abundant in S.T.A.R. Labs).
This costume is actually pretty good. It’s a nice mix of elements from the classic Kid Flash and Impulse costumes. I’d opt for shorter gloves myself, but that’s just me. Gotta say though, the lightning bolt symbol on his left shoulder seems unnecessary. He’s covered in enough lightning bolts as is, you don’t need that extra touch there. What’s more, if this Kid Flash really has no connection to Barry Allen, then hey, don’t give him a circular badge that resembles Barry’s symbol.
You’ll also notice Bart now has red eye lenses built into his mask while his actual eyes were now golden. Later on, some artists made Bart’s actual eyes red while others artists made them blue. Not sure how that happened. Maybe Bart’s eyes change color based on his mood or whether he’s thinking about -I don’t know – thin mints. Thin mints are so good, people.
A few issues later, the Teen Titans were captured by Harvest, an evil baddie who secretly ran the organization N.O.W.H.E.R.E. This same organization had been hunting the Titans since issue #1. (To this day, nearly three years later, it has never been explained what N.O.W.H.E.R.E. stands for.) Harvest captured the Titans and some members of the Legion of Super-Heroes and he put the Titans in weird, glowy outfits. There was no real reason for this except, I guess, Harvest is secretly a big fan of Tron. I can’t blame him for that. Tron is cool. This Tron-like Kid Flash outfit, however, is not that cool. It just replicates the design of the Kid Flash outfit Bart had worn beforehand, but with added seams to make it more complicated. After three issues, Bart returned to his previous Kid Flash costume in Teen Titans #11.
KID FLASH IS EVIL AND NOT BART ALLEN (WHAT?)
Along with giving Bart his first real costume in the New 52, issue #6 also started throwing out hints about Kid Flash’s mysterious past. A cop who encountered the Teen Titans turned out to be a native of the 30th century (what are the odds?). This person immediately recognized Bart, despite the mask and different costume, as a masked criminal from her native time zone named Bart Allen. This suit is basically just a ski suit with a cowl attached to a visor that a skier might wear. Not a lot to it, except that it shows Bart to have a rather remarkable physique for a 15-year-old kid.
By the way, that picture above is written in Interlac, a common language used among humans and alien races in the 30th and 31st century of DC Comics (and by some people in the modern era). The top line translates to: WANTED. The three lines of text under Bart’s headshot read: Allen; Bart; 15, 5’9′. I assume this last line is supposed to mean that Bart is 15 years old and is 5′ 9″ in height.
Barry Allen was curious about Kid Flash’s origin and nature too. After discovering a murder victim who’d been slain by a super-speed killer, Barry decided to finally meet Bart and ascertain if he had anything to do with it. In Flash #21, the impulsive Bart led the elder hero on a huge chase around the world, not knowing or caring why the Flash wanted to talk to him. Kid Flash’s ignorance then put him in a situation where he had to be saved by Barry’s experience with speed and knowledge of science, forcing the chase to an end.
After saving Bart, Barry said he could sense the kid’s powers didn’t come by tapping into the Speed Force. Barry also sensed Kid Flash was native to another timeline and wondered if the teen was his own descendant from the future. Bart denied this and reacted angrily, calling Barry a “dumbass” and “loser,” telling him it was not his business where he came from. When Barry offered to help the kid with his life and powers, and even to share his secret identity, Bart said he had no interest in having anything to do with the older hero. The two then parted company. It was clear that there would be no Flash family in the New 52, at least not as far as Kid Flash was concerned. Maybe things will be different with Wally when he shows up.
Soon afterward, the Teen Titans took a trip into the 30th century and learned the truth. “Bart Allen” was an alias. His real name was Bar Torr and, as he claimed, he had no link to Barry Allen at all. Bart had been born in the 30th century on the planet Altros Prime. When he was 8, he saw his parents beaten to death for their religious beliefs by agents of the Functionary, an interplanetary government. Bar then ran off with his younger sister Shira. For the next several years, he regularly stole and killed in order to survive on the streets. Eventually, after leaving his sister at a religious orphanage, Bar joined the Purifiers, the strong arm of the Functionary, hoping to – well, I’m not sure, actually. It’s not clear if he gave up and decided to join them or planned to stop the system from within. Either way, it turned out the Purifiers did some smuggling to help make ends meet, and they preferred kids to do it because they weight less and used less spaceship fuel. This doesn’t really make sense when you’re talking about a spaceship, but that was the explanation. Bar was sent on several smuggling missions in ships with minimal radiation shielding.
During one smuggling run, Bar’s ship crashed. He woke up alive and with super-speed, not sure why he suddenly had powers. With his new abilities, he donned the black and blue suit we saw in issue #6 and gathered followers, became a violent revolutionary leader against the Functionary. But then one of his attacks on the government almost killed his sister Shira, who had grown up to join the Functionary. Wracked with guilt, Bar Torr turned himself in and promised to give up evidence against the others rebel leaders. Since the case would take months to build, he was placed in witness protection, which in this case meant sending him to Earth in the 21st century, blocking out his memories and giving him the cover identity of Bart Allen.
This… doesn’t really make sense.
If the Functionary has time travel tech and learned the identity of the revolutionary leader, why not go back in time and kill Kid Flash before he gets his powers and starts a rebellion? Bar had been an employee of the Purifiers, so it would’ve been easy to figure out a time and place to take him out. Or they could’ve used their time travel tech to just transmit Bar a few months into the future when their case was ready to go to trial. But for some reason, they sent him into the 21st century, totally unsupervised and unaware of his true identity, which sounds like it’s endangering his life more than protecting it. And if Bart Allen was only a cover identity he was given after being sent to the 21st century, why did his “rap sheet” from the future that was seen in issue #6 identify him by that name?
It’s also, I must say, kind of remarkable Bar Torr has the same basic origin as Red Robin. In Teen Titans #0, we learned that Red Robin aka Tim Drake was now, as far as the New 52 was concerned, not actually named “Tim Drake.” That was just an alias he adopted after entering the witness protection program. You’d think Red Robin would ask Kid Flash why the dude stole his origin rather than enjoy some originality. Then again, it seems to be a weird tradition for a Kid Flash to copy an earlier hero’s origin.
Whatever the case, Kid Flash regained all his memories and then revealed he’d been running a long con. He had only agreed to be put on trial to help his followers launch a surprise coup when he was brought before the judges. When his rebel army showed up at the trial, Kid Flash ordered them to kill everyone, including the Teen Titans if they got in the way. Then, Bar Torr’s sister Shira arrived and reached out to him, bringing the fighting to an end. Bar turned himself in again and apologized to the Titans, saying they were friends and family even if he had, you know, just ordered their deaths a couple of hours ago. What happens next is anyone’s guess, as the Teen Titans series is ending. With Bar now revealed to be a baddie, maybe this is setting up Wally to step in as the new Kid Flash. Who knows?
JAY GARRICK, MODERN DAY MERCURY
The New 52 brought back the idea that Jay Garrick and Barry Allen lived on parallel Earths. In the new series Earth 2, originally written by James Robinson and with art by Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott, we saw an Earth wherein an older Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman all died while fighting the villainous Darkseid. Five years later, new heroes started to emerge. Jay Garrick found the god Mercury crash to Earth, soon to die. Literally, it was the god Mercury. And before he expired, ol’ Mercury/Hermes decided to pass along some power to Jay, turning the guy into a speedster. When Jay wished, a costume magically formed around him, complete with running boots and a helmet.
This is definitely a fun design. It’s sleek and ultra modern, evoking the atmosphere of the classic Barry Allen Flash look without copying it. A lot of people would’ve given Jay an all red look, but here we incorporate the blue that was part of his original outfit. And the way the lightning now extends down his leg rather than stopping at the trouser line is a very nice touch. You’re not confusing him with Barry. It’s important that Jay maintain his own identity.
But I wonder if this costume doesn’t look too practical. I like that the helmet now has a chin strap because, seriously, how did the old helmet stay on Jay’s head all those years when he was running up buildings and such? But if this is a magic suit created by a literal god, I’d expect it to make look more like a second skin or something that can’t be sewn by Earthly hands. The zippers, seams and design of the shoes make it look a lot more grounded in reality. I guess Mercury’s magic just supplies you with what you need, rather than a suit that is itself magical. But on that note, if we’re now saying that Jay got his powers directly from Mercury, then I’d think the classic winged helmet should have been used. It would now be a literal reference to the source of Jay’s speed. Replacing it with a helmet seems a lost opportunity to me, even if the helmet doesn’t look bad. Again, these are just my own musings. All in all, this is a pretty sharp suit.
Hey, look at the time. That brings our look at the Flash legacy to a close. At some point, we’ll take a gander at the evil side of the legacy, the reverse and rival Flashes. In the meantime, feel free to send us suggestions of other character you’d like to see tackled. And if you’re at Emerald City Comic-Con this weekend and see me walking around, feel free to say hello! This is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off.
Alan Sizzler Kistler (@SizzlerKistler) makes a habit of standing in front of a rack of chemicals any time there’s a bad lightning storm outside. He is an actor and writer, as well as the author of Doctor Who: A History.