WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for The Flash Season 3.
Make no mistake, fans of The Flash TV series: Barry Allen will return - whether it's as a hero or villain isn't as easy to predict. The odds say the show's hero will return in all his glory for Season 4, and we've already offered our own theory on a "new" Barry Allen taking the spotlight. But taking a closer look at the small story beats, updates, and new questions raised aside from the fate of Barry Allen alone, and it seems like the show's writers are setting the stage for The Flash to actually become the villain of the show he once starred in... but that doesn't mean he'll play the role willingly.
We're certain that such a theory will earn the ire of some fans before hearing another word, but we would ask those audience members to hear us out, since re-introducing Barry as a problem to solve, as opposed to the one who solves it could mean better things for the show's other stars. All the while, bringing to life even more of the acclaimed Flash: Rebirth comic series that shaped the TV show as a whole.
It's pure speculation on our part, but just in case we're thinking in tune with the show's writers, be warned that POTENTIAL SPOILERS for Season 4 of The Flash may rest ahead.
Barry Allen Joins The Speed Force - Just Like The Comics
By now most fans of The Flash watching the series in regular airing know that Season 3's finale saw Barry Allen go to Speed force Heaven, finally drawing his 'Flashpoint' guilt and repercussions to a close. The obvious problem with such a dramatic conclusion is that the audience isn't likely to believe that Barry Allen will actually stay dead, or absent from the main storyline in the next season. It's also backed up by the fact that the Season 3 finale of Arrow also saw Oliver Queen proclaim his vigilante identity dead... only to return in the next season premiere.
For the DC Comics fans, the finale's emotional climax was a thrill for a different reason, since it called on Barry Allen's actual demise directly. That 'death' came during the Crisis on Infinite Earths series back in 1986, when Barry ran so fast he was reduced to a skeleton before his friends' eyes. He was presumed dead, and stayed that way for over two decades. It was only in 2008's Final Crisis that he returned from the bounds of the Speed Force for good, revealing that his reunion with the mystical energy source worked in the same way as the speedsters who succeeded him (speedsters who join the Speed Force live on inside of it... but can return to a living form).
So if Barry Allen of the comics traveled into a Speed force afterlife, and now Barry Allen of The Flash has as well, it may be worth taking a closer look at how the comic book hero returned to the land of the living with renewed purpose.
How Barry Allen Returned in The Comics
Barry Allen made his return in the lead-up to Final Crisis as part of a much larger showdown with Darkseid, but it wasn't until Geoff Johns's The Flash: Rebirth that the new Barry took shape. It was in that very series that Geoff Johns - a self-professed superfan of Barry Allen, whom he called DC's "greatest hero" - made the changes that saw Eobard Thawne murder Nora Allen, thus ruining his future nemesis's life. But it wasn't the only surprising twist that Johns packed into the series, and may even take a back seat to the fact that once Barry returned to the land of the living... he started killing fellow speedsters with a single touch.
Not intentionally, of course: his time in the Speed Force wasn't spent turning Barry into a serial killer. But the first time he opened up his connection to the Speed Force, a former villain confined to its limits erupted out of the sudden link to the real world. The villain was Savitar, but a far cry from the version created for The CW series, so there's no need to speculate on the writers adapting that part of the story. The real twist came when Barry simply tried to stop Savitar by placing a hand on his shoulder - at which point Savitar was reduced to dust.
As he warned that Barry Allen was the "beginning" of the Speed Force itself, and also "the end," Barry's fellows speedsters had a problem of their own. Whatever happened when Barry took the life of a speedster put them all into painful convulsions, showing something had gone very wrong with the source of their powers. When Wally West and Barry went to investigate a lightning storm in the older hero's hometown, things took a heartbreaking twist.
Barry Allen Became The New Black Flash
Before Wally's eyes, Barry uncovered what he believed to be the true cause of his return: there needed to be a new Black Flash. For those who didn't follow Legends of Tomorrow's return of the Black Flash - essentially the force of Death for speedsters - was fulfilled by Hunter Zolomon following his 'death' in the season finale of The Flash Season 2. He carried out a similar job on that show, too, tracking down and killing Eobard Thawne for his heinous crimes against time and reality and for staving off his destined death for so long.
In the comics, Barry responded to the Black Flash energy inhabiting his body (manifesting in a crackling black hand reaching out to claim the Speed Force within Wally West and Jay Garrick, and return it to its source). When the efforts to contain him and permanently separate him from the Speed Force failed, Barry knew there was only one thing left to do. Give up this resurrected life, and run back into the Speed Force. If he was gone, he couldn't hurt the ones he loved ever again... but instead, he found the real villain behind this entire story: Reverse-Flash.
We don't know if such a twist, story, or even villain will be on hand for a possible adaptation to The Flash for Season 4, but judging by the show's love of turning heroes into troubled antagonists, this twist - Barry Allen returning from the Speed Force as its new and unwilling Grim Reaper - seems a likely possibility. Especially given one random, surprise plot thread dropped in The Flash's most recent finale...
The Arrowverse Needs a New Black Flash
It seemed a little strange that when Savitar and Killer Frost successfully opened up a breach into time and space, the Black Flash suddenly appeared to foil his place before he could execute it. It makes sense, since Savitar's plan to fracture himself into all time is certainly the kind of crime that the Black Flash and Time Wraiths are shown to prevent or punish. But considering how many horrors Savitar had already unleashed... justice in the form of a speedster Grim Reaper showing up right when he wanted it to was awfully good luck.
To make it stranger, the Black Flash could simply have not appeared, and no viewer would have said a word (the stakes were running far too high for minutia like this). Once the Black Flash did show up, he ran straight for Savitar, only to be frozen solid and killed by Killer Frost. So why include such a meaningless, unnecessary detail if it's dealt with as soon as it arises? Because if The Flash hadn't shown the Black Flash being killed, nobody would even know there was an opening to take in the Speed Force enforcement heirarchy.
But show the Black Flash being killed in what is, quite frankly, a weak method of completely destroying the embodiment of Death in the Speed Force, and everyone watching has to ask the question: will a NEW Black Flash need to be found?
We'll have to wait and see if a twist to turn Barry Allen into the opposing force of The Flash Season 4 - willingly or not - is truly what's being teased. But fans have to admit: it would bring a brand new kind of heartbreak to a show well-versed in the art. Not to mention give Barry's supporting cast a chance to save him for a change. Let us know if you think our theory is convincing, or if you have a different theory in mind.