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Bart Allen: Gone In A Flash...

Bart Allen is dead, all in accordance with a prophecy brought to him by his grandmother, Iris Allen. So we were warned, but who believed it? In the process, for the first time in their history, the Rogues have gone from strangely affable villains in a game of cat and mouse with a speedster to cold-blooded (if panicked) killers.

That's not quite fair. The way Marc Guggenheim wrote Bart's death, you could make a case for it being accidental, a desperation move by his foes unintentionally overloading. It might be the first case of "Death By Too Many Gimmicks."

Though this run of Flash, the Fastest Man Alive stumbled to thirteen issues, fans never really sparked to Bart taking the full-on scarlet mantle of his grandfather. And so DC pulled the plug and, like the return of Hal Jordan to life and the role of Green Lantern, will give the fans what they think they want.

In three weeks, Mark Waid returns to writing Wally West as The Flash. Granted, Geoff Johns made a mark on the character, too, but it's generally acknowledged that Waid's run on Flash stands as one of the greats in comics history. Some say you can't go home again, but enough time has passed and enough changes wrought on Wally (and Waid) that this could be something new and different and just like old times all at once.

Aside from allowing Wally to return, the death of Bart also allowed DC to redefine and undo some damage from the last couple of crises. Though it wasn't necessarily Brad Meltzer's intent, Identity Crisis allowed for the possibility that the Rogues had been kept mild through mind control. Geoff Johns ran with that idea, retconning a time when an altered Top had begun messing with the heads of his fellow Flash villains, considering himself a hero.

From the beginning of his ascendancy as one of DC's top writers, Johns has subscribed to the theory that modern times require villains to be more powerful, more ruthless and far less moral than they used to be. He allowed an exception for Len Snart, Captain Cold, who subscribed to a peculiar code of honor, though it didn't rule out killing if he had a good enough reason.

To that end, Johns wrote a Flash special, Iron Heights, which introduced the next generation of Rogues, killers almost to a man. Among them was the horrific Murmur, a man who cut out the tongues of his prey before killing them. Even the warden believed that the ends justified the means, and long before it became politically fashionable, he had no problem with torturing super-powered prisoners, and if a few died…well, go ahead and cry, you liberal whiny-pants.

This new generation allowed the old Rogues to feel morally superior, but after Identity Crisis, it became clear that wasn't good enough for Johns. Old and new clashed, but instead of making a stand for a kinder gentler villainy, it became an excuse for the old guard to become crueler and more dangerous.

Not a one of them was safe from the possibility that they'd had their minds messed with, and this extended outward in the DC Universe to Catwoman. At least Selina Kyle decided that even if she had been rewired against her will, she liked it better on the slightly sunnier side of the law. Under Johns' writing, the Flash Rogues made a different decision, and two allies of The Flash turned rogue again, the Trickster and the Pied Piper.

Call it a continuity punch in the gut from Superboy-Prime, but both those characters actually had well-written, well-reasoned explanations for having joined the side of justice, if not the heroes themselves. James Jesse, the Trickster, had helped the Rogues escape from the clutches of DC's current demon lord, Neron. After brushing up against evil so naked, Jesse felt a need to atone for his past crimes. Let me repeat that - the Trickster turned good after ripping off the devil. It's a legitimate win for the forces of Judeo-Christianity, acknowledging the Almighty after an encounter with his opposite number.

But Johns doesn't have much patience for true spirituality in the DC Universe. Take a look at a scene in Infinite Crisis as Mr. Terrific stands outside a church, insistent in his atheism. Never mind that Zauriel, indisputably a member of the warrior host of Heaven, gives the sermon inside. When questioned as to how he could not believe when his own team included the Spectre as a member, Mr. Terrific dismissively answers, "before my time." Convenient, then, to forget that it was The Spectre who inspired and encouraged him to take the mantle of the first Mr. Terrific, Terry Sloane. Seems like sloppy thinking for the third smartest man on Earth. At best, it's ungrateful.

As for the Pied Piper, he had started doing charity work and forged an uneasy friendship with Wally West. Eventually it turned into outright respect for each other, and though he'd likely never carry his own title, Piper was one of the first and few gay super beings in comics. He chose the right because it was the right thing to do.

When Geoff Johns left Flash, he left those two characters firmly back on the side of the Rogues. Early issues of Countdown have included their efforts to prove themselves bad again. There writer Paul Dini has left room for doubt, as the two have found ways to fake their way out of the worst crimes the Rogues ask of them.

Then Bart had to die.

Now in the pages of Countdown, Dini can put them back on the right path. We know from DC Nation that the two would be "Villains Defiant," and now we understand they're on the run from both sides. Moreover, the action here may change a lot of things. We're not about to see a kinder, gentler Joker, but some villains may re-evaluate their savagery. Yes, we need arch-enemies in order to make superhero tropes work, but for the Flash, they're Rogues, they're Scoundrels, not Right Bastards.

As for Bart's death itself, it undid a lot of things that DC editorial wanted to try but bombed with fans. The Speed Force reasserts itself, Wally returns and …well, as Lon Lopez keeps pointing out to me, Bart technically hasn't been born yet. If we can see an alternate Legion of Super-Heroes come back and release Wally from the lightning, we can have an alternate Bart come back.

Yet it's a tough call to make. To make up for the Geoff Johns criticism above, he had figured out something truly interesting and worthwhile to do with Bart for the first time since, well, Mark Waid left Impulse. If someone at DC can figure out how to at least get back to that point, we can welcome a return of Kid Flash. Unless Wally's daughter wants the job.

In the meantime, Bart Allen died a hero, tragically too young - technically, the guy couldn't have been more than ten or eleven years old. Maybe DC could stop it here for a while. We get it. Heroism has a price. It would be nice if stories in the DC Universe could reflect that heroism also is worth every penny that gets paid.

Hey, write to us and let us know what you think, or talk about it on the forums!

Derek McCaw


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