The Flash has never been the kind of show that rigidly sticks to the canon of its titular hero. But with the third season premiering October 4, now is the best time to brush up on your comics history, especially since season three has found inspiration for the crux of its arc from one of the most pivotal, inventive story arcs from DC’s recent history — Flashpoint. Written by Geoff Johns, the president of DC Comics who has become an important architect for its extended universe, Flashpoint involves a lot of characters and themes that may veer a bit too dark for the overall optimistic universe of The Flash. But it holds many important clues for what exactly the consequences will be for Barry Allen, due to his selfish decision to travel back in time and save his mother — the same reason that kickstarted the events in the comic arc.
But Flashpoint isn’t the only comic from the Flash’s history that is worth checking out in anticipation of season three. With Wally West as the Flash this season and more obscure villains like Savitar joining the fold, now is the perfect time to dig into the bonkers history of the Fastest Man Alive. Some of these may be tricky to track down if you’re looking for hard copies, and others, like Mark Waid’s Born to Run line, are being rereleased in the very near future, likely due to the success of the show. So your best bet is to buy them digitally.
One of the joys of Flashpoint is just how different the universe becomes because of Barry’s choice to save his mother, which actually isn’t revealed until later in the arc. It goes far beyond his mother being alive and his father never having been in prison. Barry’s selfish decision has thrown the world into disarray: The Justice League was never formed. Bruce Wayne died as a kid on that fateful night in an alleyway with his father, Thomas Wayne, never becoming Batman. Aquaman and Wonder Woman are engaged in a bloody war that has a pretty high death toll. And Superman seemingly doesn’t exist, at least as we’ve known him. The events of Flashpoint had longstanding effects on the DC Universe, sparking the New 52 relaunch, which rewrote much of the accepted canon (and has since been reworked with Rebirth this year).
The Flash will likely not go this dark and gritty, or at least I hope not. The show’s attempts to go in that direction last season, by fleshing out the Hunter Zolomon/Zoom backstory, was mostly a bust. While Barry’s decision apparently will affect the other CW shows, it remains to be seen how dramatic these changes will be, especially now that Supergirl’s new home is on the CW.
The Flash: Born to Run
Mark Waid’s Born to Run is the seminal Wally West story. For an entire generation of readers (that I include myself in) Wally West isn’t just the best Flash, he’s the Flash. After Crisis of Infinite Earths killed Barry Allen, Wally went from Kid Flash to taking up the mantle of his predecessor and mentor. Wally is fun, kind, and handles his powers and the speedforce in a completely different (arguably more powerful) way than Barry. Born to Run is more than just an origin story — it takes Wally out of his predecessors shadow and makes him into his own hero.
Geoff Johns’s The Flash
Speaking of Wally West, check out Geoff Johns's early 2000s run with the character that lasted for several years. Johns reinvents the rogues and delves deeply into West family history. Pay special attention to issues #197–200, which introduce Hunter Zolomon. Yes, Zoom was originally Wally’s villain, and he works much better here than in season two of the show.
The Flash #220–#225: Rogue War
Wally West is more a supporting character in this than you’d expect, but it’s still a fun ride with the Flash’s rogues gallery at war with each other, including Captain Cold and Captain Boomerang.
The Return of Barry Allen
Ever wondered why The Flash has the propensity for so many story lines involving doppelgängers and villains pretending to be heroes? It’s because these story lines work pretty well in the comics including The Return of Barry Allen, from Mark Waid’s run. It was a pretty big deal for Barry to return, considering his death in Crisis of Infinite Earths paved the way for Wally taking on the mantle. Barry is more than just Wally’s predecessor — he was both a mentor and family. Of course, this “Barry” isn’t who he seems to be.
Have you ever wondered who would win in a race, Superman or the Flash? Well, you’re in luck. This 1967 has Superman and a fun-loving Barry race around the world for charity. This isn’t the only time such a race has happened. I’d argue that Wally is the faster, stronger Flash — although with Barry taking back the title in recent years, that seems to have changed.
The Flash #105 — Master of Mirrors
While Doctor Alchemy and Savitar (an evil speedster, as if The Flash could go one season without one) are poised to be the main villains of season three, they’re not the antagonists I’m most curious about. It’s Mirror Master, who isn’t a metahuman, but rather a criminal who finds a way to use mirrors to hypnotize, travel to different dimensions, and much more. Ah, science! The Flash #105 is a Twilight Zone–esque issue that highlights the inherent weirdness of one of the Flash’s best villains.
Being the love interest of a superhero comes at a high cost. In Terminal Velocity, Wally not only has to fight against his impending death, but save the woman he loves, Linda Park. It will be interesting to see how The Flash develops Wally West as his own person and version of the hero. Due to its somewhat loose approach to following the canon, certain aspects of Wally on The Flash are now associated with Barry — for better or for worse. Will Wally ever be with Linda Park, whom we saw date Barry briefly earlier in the show? Will he be portrayed as fast and powerful as he was previously in the comics? Or will The Flash keep him in Barry’s shadow?
The Flash is at its best when recognizing that the heart of the show is the West family. In season three, we’ll see if the writers learned from their previous missteps (and the greatness of comics like these), so The Flash can reach the heights of season one once more.