Warning: The following contains spoilers for The Flash: Fastest Man Alive #2 by Gail Simone, Clayton Henry, Marcelo Maiolo, and Rob Leigh, on sale now.
The DC digital-first series The Flash: Fastest Man Alive seems to take place in its own version of the DC Universe, where Barry Allen still isn’t the veteran hero that he’s destined to become. And in The Flash: Fastest Man Alive #2, the Flash comes face to face with his heroic legacy while facing the kind of time-travel problems that the X-Men usually have to deal with.
In this issue, the speedster comes face-to-face with Shift, a new villain who seems to have an answer for his every move. And as she tells a puzzled Flash, she’s traveled back in time to stop him before he causes a series of events that leads to the destruction of her world.
Lt. Beth Arden of the Speed Force Resistance has traveled back in time from the 25th century with a singular goal in mind – to eliminate the Flash. With weapons specifically designed to engage foes operating at super-speed and a special “shift” armor that allows her to shift through time to avoid physical contact, she presents a formidable challenge to the speedster, forcing him to rely on his intellect as much as his speed to avoid her deadly assault.
Once the Flash has dealt with the threat, he slows down enough to have a conversation with Shift, in which she explains her reasons for targeting the Scarlet Speedster. In her time, Eobard Thawne became obsessed with the Flash and recreated the accident that endowed Barry Allen with super-speed. But instead of becoming a hero, Thawne lost his mind. Calling himself Reverse-Flash, the villain was responsible for causing millions of deaths, and Shift reasons that if she eliminates the Flash before he ever has a chance to influence Thawne, she will have prevented all the deaths he will cause as his alter ego.
While most versions of Barry Allen are well-acquainted with the Reverse-Flash, this is seemingly the first time that this Barry Allen has ever heard of the villain who is usually his arch-nemesis. And instead of simply introducing him outright, this story establishes his threat by sending a high-tech warrior from the future back in time to stop Barry before he can inspire his future foe.
Although the mainstream Flash is no stranger to time-travel adventures, this Terminator-like approach of a lone figure traveling back to the past in order to prevent a horrible future is a trope that’s far more common in the pages of X-Men.
A few years before Arnold Schwarzenegger appeared on the big screen as a terrifying robot from the future, Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin presented “Days of Future Past,” an X-Men story in which one of the team members travels back in time from a dystopian future in hopes of preventing said future from ever happening. That story set a precedent for epics about battle-hardened time-travelers trying to prevent their desperate futures by changing present-day events. This concept has become a staple of the X-Men franchise, with characters like Cable, Bishop and even Wolverine tried to keep their future timelines from coming to pass in X-Men comics, cartoons and films like X-Men: Days of Future Past.
While the future revealed by Shift in The Flash is not quite as bleak as the ones the X-Men usually have to face, the deaths of millions is still no laughing matter. Although Shift’s mission of destroying someone regarded as a hero is somewhat questionable, her motives for attempting to do so remain noble. In the end, Shift elected to offer her services to Flash when he eventually comes face to face with Thawne and gave her a means of contacting her in the future, which indicates that she could become more of a hero than either one of them expects.
And until this Barry Allen comes face-to-face with Thawne, the Flash will have to live with the knowledge that his modern heroics could unleash one of the greatest monsters in any era.
In Flash: Fastest Man Alive #2, the Flash encounters a hi-tech, battle-hardened warrior who's on a mission to change her future's past.