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Comic stories today tend to be, for better or worse, told in a longform fashion. Where we once would have had a single issue to tell us the story of Spider-Man battling Green Goblin, today that same story will be told over the course of half a year of issues. This style, often called “writing for the trades” (meaning that the stories were being stretched out to fill a trade paperback) became popular with Marvel and DC right around the turn of the century.
But, as usual, Flash was well ahead of the curve. Way back in 1983, writer Carey Bates started what turned into a twenty-seven issue, two-year storyline that we now know as “The Trial of the Flash!” Along with having no clue that the story they were buying would last as long as a season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, readers were also unaware that what they were witnessing was the final epic tale of Barry Allen, the second Flash in history, and the first to die.
The story really began some years earlier, when Iris West, the best reporter this side of Lois Lane, and the only woman Barry Allen ever loved, was murdered by Eobard Thawne, the Reverse Flash. Barry, finding himself to be a widower, took on the life of one, moving out of the house he shared with Iris and into an apartment. He spent more time as Flash because when he was Flash, he wasn’t Barry, and when he wasn’t Barry, he didn’t have to think about Iris.
Meanwhile, in another city, Beverly Lewis found her life being torn apart by another murder. Beverly thought she was pretty much set for life as the assistant to Ross Malverk, a super-rich financial tycoon, but boy was she wrong. Turned out that old Ross was hooked in deep with the mafia and one night Beverly accidentally witnessed her boss murdering another man.
Bev was placed in the Witness Protection Program and given a new name - Fiona Webb. Along with the cool name, she was moved to the very cool Central City where her neighbor was… Ross Malverk. Or, at least she thought it was Ross. Turns out that Ross and Barry Allen look exactly alike. In time, Flash found the real Ross Malverk and handed him over to the authorities. With all that taken care of, Fiona got herself a new job as the assistant to Senator Creed Phillips. Before long, Fiona and Creed became romantically entwined.
Now, since this guy is a senator, you can imagine that he has some skeletons in the closet - maybe an affair or some quid-pro-quo stuff. Sadly, that kind of thing is just to be expected in American politics these days. Well, Creed did have a secret he didn’t want people to know - when he wasn’t sitting around with 99 other political fat cats deciding the fate of the country, Creed dressed up in a costume, called himself Eradicator, and dissolved criminals into protoplasmic goo.
Creed went and got himself killed, and Barry saw an opening. He knew he could never really love another woman like he loved Iris, and figured that Fiona was surely looking to get with a guy who wasn’t murdering people, so her standards were probably low at the moment. The neighbors started dating. For Fiona, it seemed like she finally found the perfect guy. For Barry, it was a way to try and move on from Iris. Did Barry love Fiona? Maybe. But is maybe enough of a reason to propose? It was for Barry. After just a few months, Allen popped the question and Fiona, having no idea that the nice normal guy she had fallen head over heels for was actually a speedster who hung out on a satellite with Superman, said yes.
The wedding was set for July, but it would never happen.
The Reverse Flash showed up at the wedding of Barry Allen and Fiona Webb with one goal - to kill the bride. After all, he had done it once before and the message didn’t seem to sink into Flash’s brain: if Flash found love, Reverse Flash would destroy it. Refusing to let Thawne ruin his life twice, Barry quickly got into the game - and for the fastest man alive, quickly means, like, really fast.
Barry and Eobard battled it out across the planet, and into outer space, as they beat the living tar out of each other. Barry struggled to find a way to stop his adversary as well as save the hundreds of lives Thawne was putting in danger with each moment the race went on. At the same time Reverse Flash taunted Barry at every turn, writing in the sand in letters big enough to be seen from the JLA watchtower orbiting the Earth “Guess who’s going to kill your wife again?”. I mean… that is just evil. That is next level dark.
For everyone else, what happened next was as quick as lightning, but for Barry Allen and Eobard Thawne, it was a moment that lasted a lifetime. They raced, Eobard in the lead, towards the church. Standing there at the doors of the church, as still as a painting, was Fiona, her wedding dress a thing of pure beauty, her makeup smearing with each tear that rolled down her cheek as she waited for her missing groom.
Eobard reached out and began to vibrate his hand. His plan was simple, and one he knew would work - he would send his hand into Fiona’s skull and scramble her brain, just like he had done to Iris. A smile formed on the villain’s face - his moment was at hand.
Barry pushed himself to move faster. He came up behind Eobard and grabbed his enemy. With his arm around Eobard’s neck. Barry pulled his greatest nemesis away from his bride to be. The two speedsters came to an instant stop, crushing the earth under their feet and creating a sizable ditch. Suddenly, to everyone at the church, Flash and Reverse Flash appeared before them with Flash, his arm still around Thawne’s throat, screaming “NOT AGAIN!”
Flash let Reverse Flash go and the villain fell to the ground, his head twisted, his neck snapped in two.
Flash was far from the first hero to kill someone in battle in the DC Universe, but he was the first to turn himself over to the police for manslaughter. The Scarlet Speedster spent a night in Central City’s jail while waiting to face a judge. Being as Flash is a straight up hero, none of the officers were willing to unmask him, and Barry wasn’t ready to reveal his identity to the world, so everyone agreed to just kind of let that bit (and the fingerprinting) go. In the morning, the court set a trial date and Flash was released on his own recognizance.
The trial of the century was ready to begin.
To be continued…