Warning: SPOILERS for The Flash #71
Every fan of The Flash knows that time travel is a speedster's last, and more dangerous weapon. But as Barry Allen's New YEAR ONE origin story has revealed, The Flash began his entire career as a superhero seeing how his future would play out... by meeting his future self.
It's a massive change to the mythology and canon of Barry Allen a.k.a. The Flash, and one that fans certainly won' be ready for. The term "Year One" became synonymous with Batman when Frank Miller revealed the earliest days of Bruce Wayne's mission. The same form of refreshed origin story was expected for The Flash... but we suppose when your powers have mastery over time and reality itself, 'learning the ropes' is a bit more dangerous. The good news? DC Comic fans now get to see the older version of The Flash that Barry Allen is destined to become in DC's future. SPOILERS ahead!
The Flash's First Ever Trip Through Time
While the 'origin story' begins more or less the same way as the version every Flash fan knows--right down to Barry knocking over, then catching a tray of food in slow motion--Josh Williamson and Howard Porter soon change up the formula. When you're a hero like Batman, your first year on the job means cuts, bruises, and maybe a gunshot wound or two. When you're Superman, it means accidentally shattering walls, roofs, and maybe a few bones. By taking that same approach to Barry Allen, the first days of The Flash more believably include: smashing through the limits of space and time, without any of the skills or knowledge needed to either save the day... or return home.
That's exactly where The Flash #70, just the first part of the "Year One" story took Barry, just days after gaining his connection to the Speed Force (and before he had any clue such a force even existed). Thankfully, being stranded in the future ruled over by a minor-league villain isn't all bad news. Because as grim and far-flung as this future may be, Barry Allen is still around. He's just gotten a little older by then. Well... a LOT older, actually. Good thing speedsters only get better with age.
Barry Allen Meets The Flash of The Future
After realizing that Barry's mind is too blown to recognize their resemblance (understandable), this older Flash reveals that he is Barry Allen, "a few years closer to the finish line." Sadly, Central City has fallen under the rule of Turtle, a rogue that this older and wiser Barry admits he never took seriously enough. With the city cut off from the outside world and any heroes who could help, Barry--well, The Flash version grabs hold of the rookie speedster with only one mission: get him home.
As they make their way from one stop on that quest after another, the older Barry can't help but pass on advice--in the process, tweaking Barry's origin story so that he received his first coaching on being a superhero from... himself. Before fans can wonder too much about the time logic behind that mentoring, the old Barry pulls on the heartstrings of every Flash lover to ever hope for a happy ending. As the older speedster says to his young, naive self: "The life ahead of you is awesome, Barry. Space. Time-Travel. The Multiverse. Team-ups with gods, monsters, space cops... and the great loves. There were hard days... But I loved every second of it."
This Old Flash Really is The True Barry Allen
Just to make the point clear, considering how inexact and malleable the future is in Flash stories, the older Barry Allen makes it clear that he isn't just A Barry Allen, but THE Barry Allen. Previous stories have played with alternate or parallel universes, or a glimpse of who The Flash of the future could be, but that isn't the case in "Year One." At least, that sure doesn't seem to be the case. The older Barry explains that he lived through this encounter when he was the younger speedster's age, and hoped he might save the future, thereby breaking the time loop. But now that he's come face to face with himself, fate has made itself known.
Just to make sure that readers accept that fact without any lingering doubts, the old Barry asks a sequence of questions to confirm that he's truly talking to the New 52/Rebirth version of Barry Allen. He has yet to fall in love with Iris West, yet to meet Wally West (either version of him), and has yet to live through his first Rebirth adventures. The most tragic beat? The greying, bearded Barry's simple question... "Mom?" The younger version confirms that she was murdered, but isn't prepared for the older Barry's follow-up question, verifying that he doesn't yet know "who did it?"
Harsh, but a fair way to place young Barry in his timeline all the same. In the end, the older Barry succeeds in assembling his Cosmic Treadmill and sending himself home--just as he was sent home by an older Barry when he lived through this same adventure. But he doesn't let him go without a few final words of advice.
Flash Returns Home... With a Warning
The Flash's advice to "say yes" to Iris West's interest may be the pearl of wisdom most likely to put a smile on every reader's face, but it's not the only hint that Barry drops. Seeing himself grown into a costumed, masterful fighter, and speedster superhero proves that Barry Allen will overcome any obstacle... but it's still Barry Allen we're talking about. Without any ego, and just a few hours in his new, super-fast body, Barry Allen returns home wondering if it's possible to avoid this future completely (and live out a normal, regular-paced life). But all that goes out the window when the Turtle makes his first appearance in Central City, and Barry sees innocent civilians--Iris West included--put in harm's way.
The solicits for the next issue in the "Year One" story suggest that Barry's path towards the hero we all know he'll become will get rougher. With his first villain also the one he never took seriously enough, will a beating from Turtle make him a better hero, or risk putting his entire destiny in danger? It wouldn't be a Flash story without the fate of the future resting on it, but we'll have to wait and see what other twists Flash: Year One has in store.
The Flash #71 is available now at your local comic book store, and online direct from DC Comics.