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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
To celebrate the first anniversary of the New 52, September 2012 was “Zero Month” for DC Comics. All of their comics were released with a #0 issue which chronicled various tales and backstory all taking place before the respective titles first issue. The Flash was no different, and we finally got to see the New 52 origin of the Scarlet Speedster. The question is: how was it?
Overall, it was a solid issue. Nothing groundbreaking or game-changing. To be honest, there really is not much to Barry Allen’s origin. He gets doused in chemicals while being struck by lightning. Cannot really have variations on that the way you can on Batman’s or Superman’s origin.
What really stands out here is how they flesh out Barry’s characterization stemming from his childhood. Barry’s parents were not in a happy marriage (although, they never took it out on Barry), and things get worse when Barry’s mother is murdered seemingly by his father. This caused Barry to start obsessing with trying to prove his father’s innocence to the point where his dad flat out tells him he did it. His dad wants Barry to move on and live his life.
And this is what really worked for me in this issue (and, ironically enough, has been criticized by many in the internet echo chamber of comic fandom). Many superheroes are become superheroes because they have some sort of tragedy they need to make up for. Batman traumatized by his parent’s death. Spider-Man is indirectly responsible for Uncle Ben’s murder.
With The Flash (and this is new to the character’s mythology), him becoming a superhero is what allows him to move beyond his mother’s death. He is not obsessing over it anymore. He does the hero thing not out of a misplace sense of justice, but because he can. This is perfectly in line with the character’s original Silver Age motivations (“I got powers; I should use them for good”). Now, we have this backstory that deepens the character and makes him a little more complex.
As I mentioned earlier, online fandom has responded negatively to the fact that Barry’s mother was killed and his dad was in jail for it. It is criticized as it trying to darken the character. Personally, I think they spectacularly missed the point. It does not make him gritty or dark at all. In fact, it does the opposite. Manapul and Buccellato wonderfully subverted the superhero cliché by inverting it.
This is the first time since arguably the 1980s that Barry Allen has gotten an updated, fleshed-out origin (arguably because some might dispute that point), and it largely works. Some things are somewhat glossed over (I still have little idea of how Barry’s suit actually works – but, to be honest, it is really not all that important to me), but what is added to Barry’s backstory makes him much more interesting as it makes him being someone who has accepted his past and is now moving forward. And, let’s face it: moving forward is the theme of this entire series.