FLASH Facts: The Thawne Family And The Reverse Flashes
WARNING - I have no idea where things may go with The Flash in Season 2 or beyond. Some of the things I’m going to discuss here may be spoilers. A lot of Flash history is being covered here, with a lot of things touching on weird aspects that have been hinted at in the show.
When people talk about the great villains of comics books, the average person will mention Joker and Lex Luthor. Comic fans will bring up Darkseid, Norman Osborn, and Magneto. Only the super comic nerds will bring up Professor Zoom: The Reverse Flash. Flash nerds will bring up the generations of Thawnes who have plagued the Flashes. Pound for pound, there is no greater evil in comics than the Thawnes. Killing a sidekick like Joker did? That would be too easy for this family. The Thawnes are out to destroy an entire legacy, even at the cost of the universe itself, and we can thank one dumb, drunk doctor for it all.
In September of 1963, comics history was made when the legendary team of John Broome and Carmine Infantino introduced Eobard Thawne in Flash volume 1, issue 139. In the 25th Century, Eobard Thawne’s favorite historical figure was Flash. He didn’t like Flash, mind you, he despised him, though he never really knew why. What Eobard did know was that, one way or another, he was going to kill Flash.
So, he was pretty lucky when a time capsule fell from the sky and landed at his feet. Inside, along with a baseball and some other 20th Century trinkets, was an authentic Flash costume and an atomic clock (which we’ll back to later). Eobard took the costume and, using future tech, pulled Flash’s powers from it and gave himself superspeed.
Eobard took the Flash costume and dyed it to be the reverse colors of Flash, making red yellow and yellow red. Then he started robbing museums of priceless art. He also found the time capsule again and stole the atomic clock.
At the same time, Barry Allen was just showing up in the future, looking for that atomic clock. Turns out that the clock was going to explode, which scientists in the 20th Century figured out after sending the time capsule off, so they sent Flash out after it. Flash meets Reverse Flash, they have a fight, Flash wins. Atomic clock is stopped. Day saved. This was all in a single issue. Whew….
Over the next 20 years, Eobard Thawne would show up from time to time to cause problems for Flash, but nothing too serious. He hated Flash, and he loved to tell Flash how much he hated him, but we never knew why Eobard hated Barry so much, or how it was that Eobard knew that Barry was Flash. Eobard, being a serious stalker, went so far as to have his face surgically changed so that he looked exactly like Barry Allen and, on more than one occasion, tried to get Iris West, Barry’s fiance (and later wife) to fall in love with him. The guy was sick. Real sick. We didn’t know just how real his real sick was.
It was 1979 and comics had changed a bunch since Eobard Thawne first showed up on the scene. Flash was selling well enough to keep being published, but Carey Bates, the writer at the time, knew he needed to spice things up. So it came to be that, at a costume party, Eobard Thawne would show up dressed as Flash and find Iris, dressed as Batgirl. He would then vibrate his fingers into her brain, killing Iris instantly.
This was insane, arguably the most shocking death in comics since Gwen Stacy, and it happened in one of the dullest comics on the shelves. It didn’t really help sales, though.
Four years later, in Flash volume 1, issue #324, Eobard decided to kill Barry’s new wife. Instead, Barry killed Eobard, snapping his neck. Again, this was insanity unlike anything else in comics at the time. Heroes didn’t kill the bad guys, it just didn’t happen. And yet again, no one paid any attention. This all led to one of the longest, most boring, comic book stories ever told: The Trial of the Flash. During the trial, which lasted a over a year in the comics, the Justice League voted on keeping Flash as a member, Barry was so disfigured that he needed plastic surgery, and Iris came back, alive and well (feel free to read the first two Flash Facts for more information on this).
Still, through all these adventures, and over 20 years, we never knew why Eobard Thawne hated Barry Allen. It wouldn’t be until 1993 that we would learn why Eobard was so obsessed with Flash.
In one of the greatest Flash stories ever told, writer Mark Waid gave everyone what they wanted, the return of Barry Allen. By this point, we had a new Flash, Wally West, and Barry had died long ago (nearly a decade). Still, fans wanted to see Barry back, so Mark, who had an open disdain for Barry, obliged. Barry came back, and he was kind of a dick. He tried to kill Wally, and he broke Jay Garrick’s (the 1st Flash) leg. It was cray. And then we learned the truth - this wasn’t Barry Allen, this was Eobard Thawne. We learned the secret history of Flash’s greatest enemy.
Going all the way back to the first appearance of Reverse Flash, Mark Waid (and artist Greg LaRocque) showed us something we had not seen. After first finding the Flash costume and giving himself super speed, Eobard Thawne used the Cosmic Treadmill (we’ll get to it one day) to travel back to the 20th Century and meet Flash. When he arrived, he found that his timing was off, and he arrived too late - Barry was dead. Eobard made his way to the Flash Museum, looking to at least get something from his trip. It was there that Eobard saw the showcase on Reverse Flash. It was there that he learned that Flash would kill Reverse Flash. It was there that he learned that he was Reverse Flash. This moment drove Eobard insane. He vowed then and there to destroy the legacy of Barry Allen. Most recently, Thawne went back in time and killed Barry’s mom. Barry then erased all of existence trying to save his mom, then recreated everything. We covered all that in the 1st part of this series.
Still, this created what is commonly known as a time paradox, something that Mark Waid, a big Back To The Future fan would not just leave open all willy-nilly. There had to be a deeper reason as to why Eobard Thawne hated Barry Allen. Something in his blood that drove him to hate a man who died a century before he was born.
The next layer of the Thawne onion brings us back in time, to a very important day in the history of both the Allen and Thawne families.
On a summer night in Fallville, Iowa, a drunk doctor fucked up and killed a baby during childbirth. Lucky for him, another couple also showed up at his office ready to give birth, and to twins! So, drunk doctor took one of the twins and gave it to the birth parents. They named the child Barry Allen. Drunk doctor told Nora and Henry Allen that the other child was stillborn. He then took the other very alive baby and gave it to the couple whose baby he killed so that they wouldn’t sue him, and they named that baby… Malcolm Thawne!
Malcolm would grow up with Hugo and Charlene Thawne, who were con men as well as abusive parents. The Thawnes had a blue crystal that could take away someone’s pain for a few days. They used it to sell fake miracle medicine. Clearly they weren’t the most inventive con men. Malcolm ran away from home to find his real family and learned just how good his brother had it. Barry was living the life with a wonderful wife, superpowers, and a teen sidekick! Malcolm was pissed.
When Malcolm’s adoptive grandmother died, she left the blue gem to him, revealing that it was far more powerful than his adoptive parents knew. She also gave him a prophecy…
A thousand years will the blue flame burn, granting your fondest wish... consuming not one Flash, but two...before at last claiming the life of your greatest enemy: Barry Allen
Malcolm then became the villain Cobalt Blue and attacked Barry. He lost. Then he tried again, and lost again. And again.
Malcolm, in a battle with Flash, ended up being sucked into the blue crystal, but the legacy of Cobalt Blue continued on for a thousand years, with various people taking on the mantle, and all of them losing to a Flash. The battles between Flashes and Cobalt Blues came to a head in the year 2957, when every Flash fought every Cobalt Blue. Sure enough, the Flashes won but not before Malcolm killed Barry, causing a HUGE problem, being that Barry had to die at a specific time and if he didn’t die at that time all of reality would be destroyed. So Wally West, the 3rd Flash, went back in time and took the place of Barry, dying by the hands of Cobalt Blue. But that didn’t stick (I honestly can’t remember how Wally survived - it was a pretty weak story from what I recall).
Still, the Thawnes weren't done with the Allens! In 2980, a Thawne was elected president of the Earth. A truce was called between the Allens and the Thawnes, agreed to by Barry Allen, who was now living in the future with Iris. They would have twins, Don and Dawn Allen, who would become the superheroes known as the Tornado Twins. Don would meet and fall in love with Meloni Thawne, the daughter of President Thawne. Meloni loved Don as well, and they married. President Thawne didn’t like this at all, so when the Dominators came to Earth looking to take over, he cut a deal with them that included the death of Don and Dawn Allen, but not before they each had children.
After that, President Thawne would try to take over the galaxy using the Cobalt Blue gem, only to be stopped by Eobard Thawne! Eobard destroyed the gem, ending the Cobalt Blue legacy forever. That didn’t stop President Thawne’s plans to fuck with the Allen bloodline though.
President Thawne took Don’s son, Bart, and locked him up. Bart was stuck in superspeed and was aging fast. By the time he was 2, he looked 12. Thawne was raising Bart in a VT environment so that Bart could learn at superspeed. Thawne’s plan was for the Science Police to find a way to stop Bart’s sped up aging so that Bart could then be used to go back in time and mess with Barry Allen. Iris didn’t dig this, so she kidnapped Bart and brought him back in time herself.
Still, President Thawne persisted! He made a clone of Bart, called Inertia, and sent him back in time to mess with Bart. Inertia failed. At some point, President Thawne lost the office. We never even learned the guy’s first name.
Writing all of this out, I can kind of see why people find comics to be so confusing.
Not all Reverse Flashes are Thawnes though. In fact, of the six characters that would be considered Reverse Flashes, only two of them are Thawnes.
There is Rival, the first Reverse Flash, who went up against Jay Garrick. He didn’t do much, but he was the first, so he should be noted.
Then you have Eobard, who we covered.
Then comes Jerry McGee, who went by the name Speed Freak, and was the first evil speedster that Wally West would go up against. In a common format for Flash baddies, he would end up becoming friends with Flash.
After that came Hunter Zolomon, who I think Eddie Thawne is semi-based on. Hunter Zolomon was a cop who goofed up, and his goof led to the death of his father-in-law, which led to his wife leaving him. A bum knee took him out of action, and Hunter became a profiler for the Keystone police. Then Gorilla Grodd broke his back and paralyzed him. Hunter begged Flash (Wally West) to go back in time and stop all this terrible shit from happening to him. Wally refused because every time Wally had messed with time travel, it went bad. Hunter refused to accept this and tried to use the Cosmic Treadmill himself. The Cosmic Treadmill blew up and Hunter gained a type of superspeed - he was trapped moving through time faster than others, constantly being pushed forward. Hunter became Reverse Flash and dedicated his life to making Wally a better Flash. This included killing Wally’s unborn children by causing Wally’s wife, Linda, to have a miscarriage. Unlike other Reverse Flashes, Hunter doesn’t focus solely on Flash - he believes that he is a hero himself, and works to make the other DC heroes better by destroying their lives.
Inertia, also called Kid Zoom, was the sidekick version of Reverse Flash, sent after Bart Allen, Barry’s grandson. Inertia trapped Bart and took over his life, spending a few weeks in Manchester Alabama. While pretending to be Bart, Inertia attempted to trap Max Mercury (Bart’s mentor and guardian) in the Speed Force*. Bart broke out of his holding and saved Max. Inertia became frustrated as he figured out he was just being used to carry out a 200 year feud between families that, really, only one family cared about, and he vanished. He would show up again and trick the Rogues (a good natured team of villains that battle Flashes) into killing Bart. The Rogues would then turn on Inertia and kill him. These were the kind of things that lead to me quitting comics for a few years.
In the New 52 reality of DC Comics, there are two Reverse Flashes running around. One is Daniel West, Iris’ brother. The other is Eobard Thawne who was trapped in the Speed Force after the events of Flashpoint** but has now escaped and is messing with Barry again. This is the current storyline in the comics, so I can’t speak on it much at this point.
OK, take a breath, we’re coming to the close here!
In the TV series The Flash we’ve seen the origin of Eobard Thawne, and how he came back in time to kill Barry so that Barry wouldn't kill him. The show streamlined a lot of the pieces, making it easier to follow. One thing they did that I loved, and my good friend Todd Sutton pointed out to me, is recreate, almost perfectly, what Eobard Thawne looked like before changing his appearance.
I LOVE IT!
We know that Harrison Wells is coming back for Flash season 2, but we don’t know exactly how. I don’t buy the idea that Eddie Thawne is dead. I’m betting he’ll be back, and he’ll be a new Reverse Flash, looking to fuck with Barry over Iris.
Next week, we’ll be covering the remaining members of Team Flash, Cisco, Caitlin, and Joe West. Why all three at once? You’ll have to wait to see!
*The Speed Force is the otherworldly power that gives people superspeed in the DCU. The concept was created by Mark Waid and he never thought anyone would really do anything with it, what with the goofy name and all, but as it turns out, the Speed Force has become an important aspect of the DC Universe
**Flashpoint was the mini-series where Barry tried to go back and save his mom. This created the New 52 Universe.
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