Most Flash readers, if they know about Cobalt Blue at all, know him as a new character introduced in the second half of the Mark Waid/Brian Augustyn run on The Flash in 1999. They might know that his link to Barry Allen was hinted at in The Life Story of the Flash and the first Flash Secret Files (both 1997), or that two Cobalt Blues appeared in the 1997 Speed Force special.
But Cobalt Blue’s origins can be traced all the way back to 1980!
Let’s return to the Bronze Age of comics. The Flash’s life had been turned upside-down. Iris Allen had been killed, and after months of grieving, Barry Allen finally sold their house and moved into an apartment. His new neighbors became regular parts of the supporting cast, including Fiona Webb, a young woman who reacted to Barry Allen with open hostility.
In a two-part story by Cary Bates in Flash #290–291, we learn why: Barry’s face has triggered traumatic buried memories, and by now she’s convinced that he’s been stalking her…and intends to kill her!
She has good reason, too: Several years earlier, she had testified at a murder trial against her former boss. Financial tycoon Ross Malverk led a double life as a crime boss, and when she saw him kill a man in cold blood, she fled, escaping into the witness protection program and a new life.* When the Flash sees a photograph of Ross Malverk, the pieces fall into place.
That’s right: Ross Malverk, hardened criminal, looks exactly like Barry Allen. “They’re practically twins.”
Of course Malverk escapes from prison, and tries to kill Fiona. He’s eventually captured (but not without several more rounds of mistaken identity), and is never heard from again.
Two decades later, Mark Waid would introduce Cobalt Blue, a villain with a mysterious connection to Barry Allen. In his origin story (Flash v.2 #144), he turns out to be Barry’s identical twin brother, separated at birth and raised by a family of con artists as Malcolm Thawne. While Barry became a cop, Thawne became a criminal.
Waid never connects the dots on-page, but it’s easy to imagine that “Ross Malverk” was simply one of Malcolm Thawne’s aliases before he turned from simple crime to magic-enabled revenge.
“Practically twins?” You’ve no idea…
*A really new life. She asked them to brainwash her, Men In Black-style, into forgetting her old life and remembering the one established for her alias.