The Flash (AKA Barry Allen) died in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths (opens in new tab), and for fans of that Flash it left a gaping hole in their fandom – so his return in 1993’s ‘The Return of Barry Allen (opens in new tab)‘ storyline in the ongoing The Flash series was welcomed by many… except that it wasn’t really Barry Allen who returned, but Zoom in disguise.
“We heard a lot of expectation that we would bring him back, but we resisted,” then-editor Brian Augustyn tells Newsarama. “Our storyline was a sort of a ‘be careful what you wish for’ scenario.”
Originally planned as a one-shot, “The Return of Barry Allen” grew quickly to become a seven-issue event, including a tie-in with Green Lantern.
“The genesis of the story came during my days before writing Flash, when I had started doing Justice League Quarterly stories for editor Brian Augustyn,” Waid tells Newsarama. “We’d come up with a one-issue idea for a story where ‘Barry’ would reappear and the other Justice Leaguers would be trying to figure out how and whether or not he was legit.”
“The reveal would have been that he was actually Barry’s grandson from the future,” the writer continued. “That didn’t go anywhere for reasons I no longer remember – but, boy, am I glad, because if we’d done that in 20 pages, we never would have had ‘The Return of Barry Allen’ or Impulse.”
Going up against his mentor (even if later revealed not to be a real version of him) helped the then-primary Flash cement himself as the Flash to fans – something that Waid knew then needed to happen.
“To me, he already had, but that’s because I was so invested in Wally by then,” Waid explains. “But it certainly seems to be that becoming-his-own-man moment for fans, and I’m glad.”
“Interjecting Barry’s enduring legacy as the Flash and the Zoom fake out was a needed hurdle for Wally to becoming his own man and deserving to carrying on the Flash mantle in his own mind,” series artist Gregory LaRocque says. “I like to say Wally was a boy when I started on the book, and we watched him become a man.”
LaRocque uses more than just costumes and looks to differentiate the two Flashes – specifically, how they ran.
“Barry ran, Wally flashed!” the artist explains. “I drew Wally as if he was gliding within the Flash force aura. I never drew Wally running, it was mid glide like a rollerblader or ice skater.”
‘The Return of Barry Allen’ also helped organize a proper ensemble cast for The Flash – ‘the Flash Family,’ as it were. When asked if this was done on purpose, Waid admits it was – and wasn’t.
“It was purposeful only because I liked all those characters, but years later I realized I was subconsciously echoing what I loved about the Silver Age Superman -that he was surrounded by Supergirl and Superdog and the Bottle City of Kandor and others like him in some way, yet he remained unique,” Waid says. “But they were his family, and I suppose I unconsciously brought that sentiment to Flash.”
Augustyn said they were a family, if not by blood than by power.
“We saw that the multigenerational nature of a character like Flash lent itself to the idea of a family, over a wide span of time. And we created the Speed Force to connect all speedsters,” Augustyn says. “Thus, Jay Garrick, Johnny Quick, and others are all related by power.”
With the idea of family also brings forth the idea of lesser-known members of that family – such as Max Mercury.
“I’d loved that character since the first time I saw him when I was ten, in a reprint in Flash #214 – under his original name, Quicksilver,” Waid says. “I have no idea why, other than I was intrigued by the mystery that his feature ran for years, and yet he was never seen unmasked nor was his real name revealed. And I dug the costume.”
Waid says he and Augustyn had been workshopping how to re-introduce him into DCU and The Flash for some time before their new take on him came up.
“When Brian and I began casting around for some place for him in our run, we realized a ‘zen master of speed’ would be a great role for him,” Waid says. “Obviously, we had to change the name so as not to conflict with Marvel’s Quicksilver, and I want to remember that ‘Max Mercury’ just blurted out of my mouth.”
The only regret Waid has in the reintroduction of Quicksilver-now-as-Max-Mercury was that he didn’t change the costume, which would’ve given him a stake in the character by his understanding of DC’s contracts.
“My only regret in retrospect is not having changed his costume, because if we had, he’d be a wholly new character and under DC’s rules, I’d have a small financial stake in his equity.”
By the end of ‘The Return of Barry Allen” it was revealed that Barry did not, in fact return – but years later in 2008’s Final Crisis (opens in new tab) and 2009’s The Flash: Rebirth (opens in new tab). Waid disagrees with the decision for the character to actually be brought back, as his memory served DC and fans more than his actual return.
“I never wanted him to return, ever. He was DC’s first official Patron Saint, and I think Barry served DC and fandom better with his noble sacrifice than reanimated,” Waid says. “But at DC in the mid-’00s, there was a real from-above drive to return to DC’s Bronze Age, so Barry and Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) were suddenly back in and their successors were out. Not what I would have done, but there’ve certainly been some good stories with those two since, so the decision seems to have worked out.”
Dead or alive, “The Return fo Barry Allen” remains a high-water mark for The Flash fans – and for fans of superhero fiction in general, but also for those involved.
“I’m biased, but it may be because it is the best,” Augustyn tells Newsarama. “Seriously, we set out to make the best comic we could, as we always did. We definitely felt a deep connection to the characters, and the story definitely depended on the emotion the characters felt. I guess that story touched lots of hearts among fans. It helps that Mark Waid wrote a brilliant and touching set of scripts. Greg LaRocque’s art was also part of the equation.”
Waid echoed that sentiment, explaining that “In part because we were able to maintain the suspense of what would happen next. Brian and I deliberately avoided numbering the chapters of the story arc so readers would never be able to predict what would happen next because they’d have no idea when the story would reach its climax.”
“I think the Wally West Flash is a great example of crafting a character that readers really get to know on levels not found in most books today,” LaRocque added. “The story of the man behind the mask, being as interesting as the hero who dons the mask. Fans rooted for Wally to not only defeat the villain but also take that final definitive step & become the Flash, believing he was worthy of that tile. I always thought a more appropriate title for the series would be ‘The Return of The Flash.'”
The Flash’s ‘The Return of Barry Allen’ tops our list of the best Flash stories (opens in new tab) of all time.