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There’s a great issue of Flash written by Bill Messner-Loebs that hits everything I love about the original Wally West - he had a simple credo as a hero, “Nobody dies. It's a rule.” The issue, Flash volume 2 issue 54, is titled “Nobody Dies” because that is what it is all about. In the issue, Wally jumps out of a plane to save a woman who had gotten sucked out of said plane. Not being a hero who can fly, Wally finds himself in quite a pickle as he and the woman fall at an ever increasing speed toward the ground. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but they live. Great issue, well worth a read.
For the most part, when it comes to the Flashes, that rule is pretty true. There aren’t many deaths in the history of the Flashes, which makes each one really stand out. Still, as much as I love Wally’s credo, he’s wrong, people die. As the myth goes, and as DC goes, when people die, Death is there for them. Death has many forms, but most of the time it appears as a woman who is likely a huge fan of the Cure. For animals, like Rex the Wonder Dog, Death will appear as an animal, and for Martians, like Martian Manhunter, Death shows up as Lord L’Zoril, the Martian deity of death. For the New Gods Death appears as a dude on skis called the Black Racer.
For speedsters, Death is the Black Flash.
No one knows when the Black Flash came into being, but the oldest speedster around, Max Mercury, first saw it back when he originally got his powers in the 1800s. The Native Americans (who Max calls Indians which is pretty un-PC, but the guy is over a hundred years old so maybe give him a break) told him about the Black Flash, who they called Slow Lightning, a name that kinda feels like they were making fun of it. Personally, I wouldn’t make fun of Death, but you do you.
When Max was busy fighting German spies in America alongside Jay Garrick, they both saw Black Flash. Black Flash showed up again when Barry Allen died, and then when Johnny Quick died (these were both retconned appearances) and then, on the day he was to marry Linda Park, Black Flash came looking for Wally West. Max did what he could to save Wally, but his attempts lead to Black Flash taking Linda and trapping her in the Speed Force. In the end, Wally was able to get Linda back and beat Black Flash - Wally lead Black Flash on a chase through time, ending at the only place Death will never be needed, at the end of the universe, after every living thing has died. There, in a time where Black Flash served no purpose, it faded away.
Black Flash wasn’t gone, though; it showed up again when Bart Allen, the fourth Flash, was killed. It made one more appearance when Barry Allen came back from the dead - somehow, Barry’s return killed Black Flash and, for a brief amount of time, Barry became the new Black Flash. Barry got out of his Black Flash duties, and the role was taken up by the long dead Eobard Thawne.
Now here’s the rub: Black Flash may not be Death.
There are two three theories in the speedster world about what Black Flash is. The first is that it is just Death. The second is that Black Flash is a minion of Death used to catch speedsters who can outrun the Cure loving lady. The third theory is that Black Flash isn’t connected to Death at all, but is a manifestation of the Speed Force that comes to speedsters to pull them into itself just before they die so that they can come back if they’re ever needed.
A few things feed into this theory. Barry Allen came back from the Speed Force when the universe needed a speedster fast enough to outrace the Black Racer and save Orion son of Darkseid from a magic bullet. That wasn’t even the first time Barry showed up, though. When Superboy Prime was killing every hero who came near him, Barry, along with Johnny Quick, reached out from the Speed Force to pull Superboy into it. (for both stories see Final Crisis and Infinite Crisis).
Perhaps Black Flash gets a bad rap because he’s all creepy looking. Maybe, like Frankenstein’s Monster, the poor guy is really nice but everyone freaks out at his ugly mug. Black Flash may well be the savior of speedsters.
The uncertainty of Black Flash’s purpose shouldn’t surprise any comic readers. Created by Grant Morrison, a man who loves to play with kooky ideas and odd stories, the mystery that surrounds Black Flash is right up his alley. Other writers have played with Black Flash, but none of them have ever gone into its origins, which I think was a good call.
The look on The Flash is better than I originally expected. I like the added nastiness to Black Flash’s mouth, and you can tell that the CGI team has fun working on him. I wish they gave him three fingers, but you can’t get everything you want, right?