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Comic Book / The Return of Barry Allen

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Heeeeeere's Barry!

"I'm the Flash! Do you understand me, punk? I'm the Flash!"

The Return of Barry Allen is a story arc from the second series of The Flash, running from issues #74 to #79, with issue #72 setting it up. Written by Mark Waid, it concerns the return of the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen...after his protégé, Wally West, had been the new Flash for years. Initially, Barry’s return is the cause for much celebration, but something's just not quite right...

The story is also known as the story where Wally West officially stepped out of his mentor's shadow. It also features the first appearance of the "Flash family" that would become a staple of the franchise, as well as the Modern Age debut of Max Mercury.

In addition to the usual Flash tropes, this story contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Origin Connection: Wally's defeat of Thawne inspired Thawne's hatred of the Flashes. He just happened to meet Barry "first".
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Late into the story, when Max Mercury suggests that Wally's speed has been inhibited all this time because of a mental block having to do with his being in Barry's shadow, Wally angrily declares that he's not going to hear another word of it, as he loves speed. Max coolly replies, "But you love your Uncle Barry even more", causing Wally to stop in his tracks.
    Max: You keep saying you don't want to replace Barry, but the moment you become as fast as him...that's exactly what you'll have done.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Eobard Thawne, in the worst way imaginable. He was already unstable, given that he got surgery to look like Barry and murdered a man to steal the cosmic treadmill, and finding out that he traveled to the wrong era was bad enough, but finding out that he's destined to be his idol's worst enemy? Yeah...
  • Atrocious Alias: Played for Laughs; when Wally and Linda are brainstorming new aliases Wally can use to distinguish himself from the other Flashes, both start cracking up at the name "Captain Zip".
  • Backup from Otherworld: It is heavily implied that Barry Allen's spirit is watching over Wally throughout the story. During the final battle with Eobard, a lightning bolt strikes the ground and helps give Wally the opening he needed. West looks up at the heavens knowingly and whispers his thanks.
  • Bait-and-Switch: It's well-known that "Barry" is actually Eobard these days, but at the time, it seemed like Barry really did return.
  • Battle in the Rain: A storm is raging during Wally and Thawne's final face-off.
  • Beard of Sorrow: After being betrayed and left for dead by "Barry", Wally is left broken, with some notable stubble showing up in the process. After discovering the truth and donning the costume again, he goes back to being clean-shaven.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Issue #79 opens with a single large panel of Zoom and Wally's narration saying this.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Due to losing his memories, Thawne genuinely thought he was Barry Allen, and it also explains how he passed a test via a green lantern ring.
  • Big "NO!": Thawne's reaction when Wally feigns using the treadmill to give him A Taste of Their Own Medicine: "No. NO! NOOOOOOOoooooo..."
  • Breather Episode: Issue #73 is mostly a Christmas Episode. Its contribution to the storyline is the cliffhanger that follows up on a small plot thread from #72.
  • Broken Pedestal: Wally develops a massive one for "Barry" after the latter leaves him to die and begins to rampage across the city. It quickly becomes a Rebuilt Pedestal when he discovers who "Barry" actually is.
  • Call-Back: Eobard tries to kill Linda by vibrating his hand through her head, just as he'd done to Iris West.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: By the end of this storyline, Thawne has embraced the monicker given to him, the "Renegade" Flash, and even fashions himself as a "champion of injustice".
  • Chekhov's Gun: When Wally and Jay find Barry lost in thought and trying to find something in an alleyway, they fail to notice a book in a pile of trash; most of the writing on the book's spine is faded and unreadable, except one: "Allen". That book is the key to everything in the story.
  • Crossover: The events of the story spilled over into Green Lantern #40, where Hal and "Barry" had a "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight (he wasn't). People who only read Green Lantern were probably very confused about Barry's sudden revival and turn to evil.
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • Eobard when he visits the Flash Museum and finds out what he'll become.
    • Wally hits one after "Barry" leaves him to die so that he'll be the only Flash. It's so bad that he doesn't even bother telling anyone (save Linda) that he's still alive.
  • Deus ex Machina: The lightning that strikes between Wally and Thawne, which gives Wally his second wind. It's implied that Barry may have been involved.
  • Easter Egg: Thawne's ID number is IFTNO-139, a reference to Carmine Infantino, co-creator of The Flash, and Issue #139, the first appearance of Eobard Thawne.
  • Evil Counterpart: The story positions Thawne as one to Wally. Both are Flash fanboys, but Wally got to be trained by Barry and is a heroic person, whereas Thawne's fanboyism is outright obsession, and he's just not a good person.
  • Face Your Fears: With help from Max Mercury, Wally is forced to confront the fact that, deep down, he's terrified of the idea of replacing Barry. He's eventually able to get over it (and reclaim his full speed) by facing what turns out to be an even bigger fear: the idea of Thawne replacing Barry.
  • Fish out of Water: "Barry" is out of the loop regarding superheroics of the time, such as some heroes lacking their secret identities (including Wally himself) as well as the idea that Pied Piper turned over a new leaf.
  • Godzilla Threshold: When Jay Garrick recruits Max Mercury, he cites a debt that Max owes him to try to convince him to help. Max notes that Jay promised he wouldn't call that favor in unless it was a matter of life or death; Jay responds that him doing so should tell him how serious the situation is.
  • Guile Hero: By pretending to use the Cosmic Treadmill to kill Thawne in his infancy, Wally managed to trick and intimidate Thawne into going back to his own time.
  • Heroic Second Wind: After spending most of the last issue getting outpaced by Thawne, when Thawne rants about how he will ensure that nobody even remembers Barry Allen when he's finished destroying Central City, Wally finally overcomes the mental block he had imposed on his speed, expressing it with the following;
    Wally: Max was right. He was right all along. I am afraid. I'm afraid of replacing Barry. But I'm more afraid...of letting this bastard do it!
  • I Have Your Wife: Thawne takes Linda hostage to lure Wally out.
  • I Just Want to Be You: Thawne's obsession with the Flash turns out to have begun as a case of hero worship that got badly out of hand.
    Thawne: I used to dream about meeting him. I used to dream I was him.
  • Irisless Eye Mask Of Mystery: One of the main differences between Wally's suit and the original. "Barry" comments on it, noting that he always felt people trusted him because they could see his eyes. It's very useful here as a way to visually distinguish him from "Barry", at least until Eobard dons his classic yellow costume in the climax.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: The perils of time travel and the traumatic nature of his beating at Wally's hands has Thawne forgetting the events of the story. He does hold onto an instinctual hatred of the Flash, however.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: "Barry's" insistence that he's the Flash and nobody else in a story about Wally surpassing Barry is very clearly a play against those who see Barry as the one true Flash.
  • The Mentor: Max Mercury starts mentoring Wally here.
  • Never Trust a Title: Barry doesn't actually return...yet. Instead, it's Wally dealing with an Eobard Thawne from before his enmity with Barry and thinking he's Barry.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown:
    • Thawne delivers one to Combine for calling Wally the Flash when he is the Flash.
    • Thawne also gave one to Jay Garrick, Max Mercury and Johnny Quick, and it's his beatdown of Jay that pissed Wally off the most.
    • Wally himself delivers one to Thawne once he gets his second wind. It's to the point that Wally bitchslaps him. Twice!
  • Noodle Incident: Max Mercury owes Jay Garrick a debt from an incident where they worked together against a supervillain named the Screaming Skull.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • This is all of the speedsters' response when they find out that the Reverse-Flash is back.
    • Repaid in full in the finale when Thawne realizes that Wally's picking up speed, and is now an even match for him.
  • Power Creep, Power Seep:
    • Lampshaded and Discussed; Wally notes that his speed has fluctuated over the years, and that he's currently nowhere near as fast as he used to be. Meanwhile, the veteran speedsters (Jay Garrick, Johnny Quick, and Max Mercury) are all still fast, but have slowed down due to their ages. This is all why everyone is so terrified of the Reverse Flash returning: he retains his full speed and level of power, so none of them can truly match him.
    • By the end of the story, Wally regains his former power, returning him closer to the levels of speed he had back in the Silver Age.
  • Pretender Diss: Thawne starts to do this as he degenerates into villainy, attacking Wally and the other speedsters because he considers himself the one true Flash. Wally eventually gives it right back to him after his identity is revealed.
    Wally: Mister, I knew Barry Allen, and believe're no Barry Allen!
  • Properly Paranoid:
    • Turns out, Wally was absolutely right to be skeptical of Barry's return.
    • Jay Garrick had taken note of "Barry's" growing instability, and recruited both Johnny Quick and Max Mercury to help stop him if push came to shove. It most certainly does.
  • Psychosomatic Superpower Outage: With prompting from Max Mercury, Wally West explicitly acknowledges that he’s been holding himself back from his full speed potential since the death of his mentor Barry Allen because he’s afraid of actually replacing Barry as the Flash in the public view. He only overcomes this block when faced with the threat of the time-displaced Eobard Thawne threatening to replace Barry himself, as Wally fears Thawne replacing Barry more than he does himself.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: Jay realizes that Barry is going out of control that he chooses to gather a couple of Golden Age veterans to rein him in, becoming the first true appearance of the Flash Family.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Wally delivers one to Professor Zoom punctuating his No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Subverted. When "Barry" proceeds to give a member of the Combine a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown, Wally (and the reader) believes it's because Barry was angry for Combine seemingly killing Wally West. At the end, it's revealed that Barry was angry because Combine called Wally The Flash.
  • Sequel Hook: Barry's biography was written by Iris West, who everyone believed to be deceased at the time. Especially since the book's publishing date is still a few years away, meaning she will someday return to Wally's time.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The young couple Jay and Wally help out in the Breather Episode just happen to be named Joseph and Mary. The girl even went into labor inside a church on Christmas Eve, to complete the symbolism.
    • When Wally and Linda are both brainstorming new superhero names, the latter suggests "Quicksilver". Wally notes that it's taken.
    • Wally calling Max Yoda.
    • Wally appropriates the famous "Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy" quote.
      Wally: Mister, I knew Barry Allen. And you’re no Barry Allen!
  • So Proud of You: Hal Jordan says that he used to think Barry was the greatest hero he'd ever known. Then he saw Wally risk everything to defend the Flash legacy, and says that's now Wally.
  • Stable Time Loop: Eobard is inspired by Barry and travels back in time. He snaps when he realises he'll become the Reverse-Flash. Wally defeats him and sends him back in time (with amnesia) inspiring his hatred of the Flashes. He meets Barry and becomes the Reverse-Flash before Wally's time.
  • Straw Fan: Thawne was unable to face reality, so he rejected it and created a delusion for himself more amenable to his preferences. Waid couldn't have known just how accurate a caricature his version of Thawne would become, but he was so sick of fans refusing to accept Barry's passing that he turned Thawne into one of these.
  • Surpassed the Teacher: This story is where Wally officially surpassed Barry in terms of speed, after he came to terms with the idea of replacing Barry.
  • Take That, Audience!: Mark Waid wrote this story to shut up fans who wanted Barry back for good. You can't get any clearer than making one of Flash's greatest villains into a delusional, obsessive Barry fanboy who refuses to accept the world has moved on, and that Wally has become the Flash. At the same time, though, Wally himself serves as an Audience Surrogate for Barry fans, as he is subconsciously preventing himself from surpassing his uncle because he doesn't want to replace Barry in the minds of the public, but ultimately realizes that's what he must do. So it's not entirely an insult.
    • Additionally, Wally realizes that, while he may not be the perfect replacement, he's certainly better than Eobard Thawne. So there's a message of reassurance for the Barry fans in there.
  • There Can Be Only One: This is ultimately "Barry's" endgame, to eliminate all the other Flashes so that he will be the last one standing.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Barry is actually Eobard Thawne, but from before he actually met Barry Allen and became the Reverse-Flash.
  • Villainous BSoD: When Thawne first arrives in the present, he's badly disoriented when he makes his way to the Flash Museum. He fully snaps when he discovers that he's destined to become his idol Barry Allen's greatest enemy; he's so deeply traumatized by this knowledge that he convinces himself that he actually is Barry Allen, setting the story into motion.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Green Lantern's vulnerability to the color yellow is lampshaded by Professor Zoom during the fight immediately following the reveal of the latter's true identity. Hal forms an energy cage around Thawne, who snarks that Hal must have forgotten the power ring's weakness to yellow objects...and the Reverse-Flash costume just happens to be predominantly yellow. Cue Thawne easily chopping through the energy-cage's bars and laying a smack-down on Hal.
  • Wham Shot:
    • At the end of the Christmas Episode, Barry comes knocking at the Garricks' door, to the surprise of everyone present.
    • Wally confronts "Barry" in the Flash Museum and tosses him a Flash ring because he discovered the latter's true identity. Barry proceeds to quick-change into the costume inside the ring. Wally calls him by his real name: Eobard Thawne, a.k.a. Professor Zoom, just as the change is complete.
    • One that doubles as a Sequel Hook: "The Life Story of the Flash" is authored by Iris West-Allen, yet the date of publication is a few years from the present. Someday, Iris will return.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: For most of their time together, Jay refers to Wally most exclusively as Junior. When Jay calls him Flash for the first time (which actually surprises Wally), it was when he believes Wally is finally getting out of Barry's shadow.