Ghost stories seem a natural fit with some superheroes. Not so with the Flash. An origin based in science, scientifically trained alter-egos, villains who use technology. Even the “magician” villain, Abra Kadabra, is more of a techno-mage, using highly advanced future technology to carry out transformations that seem like magic to our experience. The closest the Flash mythos gets to the supernatural is the metaphysical nature of the speed force, and even that is described in terms of energy and the nature of space-time.
So it makes sense that for 1998’s “Ghosts” annuals, the Flash story would feature not a traditional ghost, but one tied to the speed force: Johnny Quick, who had vanished into the speed force two years earlier during Dead Heat.
It all starts with Wally West sleepwalking — or, rather, sleeprunning — and being pursued by the spectral form of his former ally. Wally calls in Max Mercury for advice, but tries to hide what’s going on from Jesse Quick. The mystery is put aside, though, when Wally’s old flame Tina McGee shows up with a horrible problem: the long-dormant treatments that turned her husband Jerry into Speed Demon have reactivated, turning him super-fast, super-strong, and psychotic. The three speedsters have to stop him from causing too much damage and figure out a way to restore him to normal, all while Wally’s afraid to run at top speed for fear of his personal ghost.
The story acts like it wants to take itself seriously, but bounces around in sitcom territory most of the time: Everyone shows up at Wally’s door within a few minutes for no apparent reason, including Tina, who would have been better off calling him to save time. Linda and Tina have forgotten their earliest meeting just so Wally can worry about Linda finding out that he and Tina used to date. And while Wally’s tendency to keep secrets from people who really ought to be told is certainly in character (it’s a big part of Terminal Velocity), his refusal to tell Jesse that he’s being haunted by her father’s ghost reads more like an episode of “I Love Lucy” than like a character learning a valuable lesson. Speed Demon’s relapse is never really explained or tied to the main plot — it just happened.
In the end, Wally does learn an important lesson: “It’s not always about you.” Johnny Quick was trying to come back to say goodbye to his daughter, but Wally was the only person he could contact.
Two other notable stories featuring ghosts come to mind when thinking about the Flash: “The Doorway to the Unknown” and the return of the Top.
Through the Doorway
1964’s “Doorway to the Unknown” (Flash vol.1 #148) begins with the Flash returning to his apartment only to find a man waiting for him, seeking his help to put right a wrong he committed. Fred Dallman had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars, then framed an innocent man for it when his crime was discovered. But as he left town with his stolen money, he learned that the fall guy had been kidnapped during a jailbreak by other convicts who wanted him to lead them to the money. Sending an innocent to prison hadn’t bothered Dallman, but endangering his life did.
Dallman asked the Flash to rescue Dean…then vanished before the Flash’s eyes!
Comics Should Be Good did a piece on this story last year. They don’t reveal the ending, but you can probably guess from the fact that I’ve included it here that Dallman was, in fact dead at the time he spoke to the Flash. He’d just been killed in a car accident on the way out of Central City, as he tried to return the stolen money, clear Dean’s name, and save his life.
Climbing to the Top
Resurrections are a dime a dozen in comics these days, but the Top is notable not only for being the first major Flash villain to die, but also for returning from the dead at least three times purely under his own willpower.
Up until Flash: Rebirth rewrote history, Barry Allen’s parents were both alive through his entire career as the Flash. In Flash #297, (1981), they were in a car accident while driving to Central City to visit Barry. Henry Allen’s heart stopped for thirty seconds until the other driver performed CPR on him, but in that time, the ghost of the Top possessed his body. It wasn’t clear for several issues just what was going on, but he started acting strange and secretly meeting a younger woman while Nora Allen was in the hospital.
The woman turned out to be Golden Glider, and she and the Top began planning a real comeback. Why settle for living in the body of a middle-aged man when he could take over the Flash instead?
The Top and Golden Glider put their plan into motion in Flash vol.1 #302-303, trying to kill the Flash just enough for the Top to move in and take over. Barry faked his death, and the Top released his hold on Henry Allen, drifting back to the afterlife.
You’d think that would be the end, but he kept coming back. in 1990, Hawk & Dove Annual #1 featured a team of dead villains in hell, and over the next year of the series, the Top’s ghost communicated with Hawk, tricking him into setting up the circumstances for him to take over a new body. Years later, the Identity Crisis tie-in “The Secret of Barry Allen” revealed yet another return to life just a week after Henry Allen’s recovery.
In the last few years, DC has been releasing annual Halloween and Christmas specials. The Flash has made a few appearances here and there. Mirror Master vs. Bloody Mary with Kid Flash caught in the middle, for instance.
“The Speed of Life,” from 2007’s “Infinite Halloween Special” is a more traditional ghost story. Physicist Ira West, father of Iris Allen and grandfather of Wally West, had made only a handful of appearances over the last two decades. In this tale set after the West family’s return from another dimension, Wally comes home to find his grandfather in the living room, telling stories to his children. That wouldn’t be out of the ordinary except for one problem: Ira had died since the last time we saw him.
Remember what I said earlier about the Flash being more science-based than supernatural? In the end, it turns out that Ira might not technically be dead, so much as he was transformed by a tachyon experiment gone wrong. His “ghost” is just him bouncing around in time, exploring new frontiers of knowledge.
Unlike most of the stories in this particular collection, this one ends up being not creepy or horrific, but touching. Wally gets to meet his grandfather one last time. Ira gets to meet his great-grandchildren, and they get to meet him. Much like Jesse Quick’s last chance to say goodbye to her father, this ghost story is a family reunion.
More Halloween Heroes
Speed Force isn’t the only comics fan blog looking back at these annuals and other ghost stories for this year’s Halloween. Thanks to Chad of Corps Conjecture and The Lanterncast for organizing this multi-blog crossover event. Thanks also to Lia for providing the scans for the Top. Don’t miss today’s Halloween Horror series at The Rogues Kick Ass.
Check out the other sites below:
- “Ghosts” @ The Aquaman Shrine
- “Bough Breaks” @ Batman: Gotham Knights Online
- “Ghost Dance” @ The BLOG from the BOG – Swamp Thing
- “Seeing Ghosts” @ Boosterrific
- “Life Itself” @ Captain’s JLA Homepage
- “Ghosts’ – The Corpse Corps!” @ Corps Conjecture
- “What Creeps Out The Creeper?” @ DC Bloodlines
- “The Distance Gone” @ Diana Prince is the New Wonder Woman
“Shoe Shine.. Back from the Dead” @ Firestorm Fan
- “The Death Sentence” @ Great Krypton!
- “Happy Halloween” @ I Am The Phantom Stranger
- Martian Manhunter in “Heart’s Afire” @ The Idol-Head of Diabolu
- “Legend of Driq” @ Indigo Tribe
- The Vixen in “Role Model” @ Justice League Detroit
- “Ghosts” @ Power of the Atom
- The Spectre in “Zor” @ Siegel & Shuster: Mythmakers
- “Ragman — Ripped to Shreds” @ The Suit of Souls
- “High-Speed Hauntings” @ Speed Force