Modern time-travel movies will naturally leave audiences with questions, no matter how hard they try to keep the story clear. That may be the case with The Flash as well, given its complicated multiverse take on time travel. But there’s one big question the movie simply isn’t interested in answering.
Who actually killed Barry Allen’s mom?
The movie has vague answers. The comics have deeper answers.
[Ed. note: This piece contains spoilers for The Flash, the movie.]
If you’ve seen The Flash, the DC movie that’s one of the last entries in the Snyderverse continuity — or if you’ve seen The Flash, the TV show on the CW — then you know. Barry Allen’s emotional origin story is that when he was a kid, his mother was murdered, and his father was convicted of the crime. Barry was inspired to become a forensic analyst in part to uncover evidence to overturn his dad’s conviction.
The events of The Flash the movie, as well as the comic book crossover event Flashpoint, are sparked when Barry stretches the limits of his speed powers to travel back in time and attempt to prevent his mom’s murder altogether.
So who killed Barry Allen’s mother?
Barry Allen as a character has been around almost 70 years, and he didn’t always have a tragic childhood. That’s a detail that was grafted onto him in 2009’s The Flash: Rebirth comics series, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Ethan Van Sciver. Their issues begin with Barry becoming unusually preoccupied with his mother’s untimely death, as well as his father’s death in prison, heretofore unmentioned details of his backstory.
The twist reveal was that it was Agatha all along.
As Rebirth reveals, one of Barry’s oldest villains, Eobard Thawne (aka Professor Zoom, aka the Reverse-Flash) had traveled back in time, and he didn’t merely murder Barry’s mother and frame his father for it, he also caused basically every other bad, sad, or disappointing thing that had ever happened to Barry. Due to his interference with the timestream, Barry had retroactively always had a tragic childhood.
Who is the Reverse-Flash?
There are several versions of the character in comics, but the most famous of them is Eobard Thawne, who is kind of like The Flash’s Joker.
Thawne is a scientist from the 2400s who was an obsessive fan of the ancient superhero The Flash, so much so that he’d undergone future plastic surgery to look just like Barry and painstakingly recreate Barry’s accident with chemicals and lightning in order to give himself speed powers. Then he traveled back in time to meet his hero, only to discover an exhibit on the villain Reverse-Flash in Central City’s Flash museum. In a very time-travel whammy way, the proof that Thawne was destined to become his hero’s worst enemy — and eventually die at Barry Allen’s hands — cracked his psyche and became his villain origin story.
In Flash: Rebirth, a lot of hay is made out of the fact that time-traveling Flash characters can’t actually change the past; events that happen anywhere in the continuum just loop around into causing themselves, like with the Reverse-Flash’s origin story. But for Comic Book Reasons that you don’t need to know, Thawne’s speed powers work differently than Barry’s, and he can change the past.
But this presents Thawne with a challenge. He can’t kill Barry, or stop him from becoming the Flash, because then he himself would cease to exist. So The Flash: Rebirth is the story of what he decided to do instead. He went back in time to secretly follow every spare moment of Barry’s life and make it the worst it could possibly be, while still leaving Barry as enough of a hero to inspire Thawne to become the Reverse-Flash.
And, I mean, the man was thorough. Was Barry Allen ever able to have a party balloon without accidentally releasing it into the sky? Was he ever able to eat an ice cream cone without tripping on something too fast to see, and watching the scoops plop on the ground? It seems unlikely.
The crown on all this, of course, was that Thawne framed Barry’s father for his mother’s murder, which Barry discovered in the pages of The Flash: Rebirth. Barry’s attempt to travel back in time and reverse Thawne’s meddling in his life — and how it went very poorly — was the story of Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert’s Flashpoint miniseries, on which the 2023 movie The Flash is based.
Is Eobard Thawne in the Flash movie?
No. Thawne is in the original Flashpoint miniseries that The Flash is based on, but he’s really just there to gloat at how spectacularly Barry screws up while trying to stop him. It seems likely that the team behind The Flash felt like they had enough going on without introducing Eobard Thawne and the idea that he time-travel-ruined Barry’s life — so in this movie, they just leave the question of who actually killed Barry’s mother wide open, as if it didn’t really matter. And in a lot of ways, it doesn’t: The Flash is about Barry coming to new terms with his mother’s death, which he’ll have to do whether or not he finds out who killed her.
Also, it’d be pretty wild to bring in Michael Keaton’s 1989 Batman — who famously has the same kind of “I created my villain and my villain created me” sort of thing going on — and then do the same plot with the movie’s main guy, too.
It seems unlikely that The Flash will get a direct sequel, with the DC Films slate about to move in a very different direction. But the space is certainly there for a big old Reverse-Flash reveal. Who knows, maybe Barry Allen has danced with the devil in the pale moonlight.