Spoilers ahead for this week's The Flash #50.
The return of Bart Allen in this week's The Flash #50 seems to be a permanent addition to the "Rebirth" version of the DC Universe.
The character's return, written by Joshua Williamson with art by Howard Porter, not only concluded the "Flash War" storyline, but it also paid off some teases from earlier in the plot that Bart Allen might still exist.
So what's the big deal about Bart Allen's return? Let's review the character's history and what it means for the future of the DCU.
Who Is Bart?
Bartholomew Henry Allen II was first introduced in 1994 as Barry Allen's grandson, born during the 30th Century. As a child, he had a connection to the Speed Force that made him age quickly, making him appear as a 12-year-old when he was technically still only a couple years old.
After efforts to stop his aging failed, he was sent back in time to the present-day DCU because it would shock his body into restoring a more natural aging process. The time travel scheme worked, and the young Bart Allen became part of the 1990's era of the DCU.
That time period is important to note because Bart's grandfather, Barry, wasn't part of the DCU at that time. Barry had sacrificed himself years before to save the Earth, and his sidekick Wally West had become the new Flash.
So having Barry's grandson Bart around was particularly endearing to Flash fans. His presence not only gave Wally West a sidekick who called himself "Impulse," but Bart's age also gave youthful energy to the Young Justice team that became a fan-favorite series in the 1990s.
What Happened to Him?
After the character's popularity as a fun-loving, young superhero in the '90s, Bart's history in the 2000's had a few ups and downs.
During the successful 2003 Teen Titans launch by "Rebirth" architect Geoff Johns, Bart began to grow up and, soon after, adopted the name "Kid Flash."
Then after another accelerated-aging process, Bart Allen became the main Flash in 2006, starring in his own series titled, The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive.
Sounds like the character reached the pinnacle, doesn't it?
Not so fast. Bart's tenure as the Flash was very short, as he was surprisingly killed by the Flash Rogues only a year later. (In fact, DC kept Bart's death so secret that there were fake solicitations of his title released, hiding the death and end of his series from retailers and fans alike.)
Don't worry, though. Bart's death didn't last long either. Johns got his hands on the character again by bringing Bart Allen back to life in 2009's Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. He was back to being young again, and he rejoined the Teen Titans.
Everything appeared to be corrected for Bart Allen, and he returned to his role as a teenage speedster, surrounded by his happy Flash family.
Bart's entire history, however, was eliminated in 2011, when DC rebooted its continuity with the "New 52" initiative.
Bart's grandfather, Barry Allen, had not only been brought back to life a couple years earlier, but the 2011 reboot made him a much younger character.
And he didn't have sidekicks anymore.
And he certainly didn't have a grandson.
In fact, the entire "Flash Family" was eliminated by the reboot, including Wally West and Jay Garrick (the original Golden Age Flash).
None of the characters ever existed in this new timeline, including the young Bart Allen.
However, a new version of Bart Allen was later introduced as the speedster member of the New 52 era's Teen Titans. But instead of being Barry's fun-loving grandson, this iteration of Bart was a young criminal from the future that was sent to the past as punishment.
It wasn't a popular change to the character, and when the DCU went through a "Rebirth" initiative in 2016, the company corrected some of the "New 52"'s problems. At that point, the less popular, "New 52" version of Bart Allen disappeared.
So Who's This New Bart Allen?
This returning character in Flash #50 appears to be the original, youthful, Impulse version of Bart Allen from way back in 1994-2003. When the story in "Flash War" caused the Force Barrier to be broken, it appears that Bart was able to emerge from an exile from current reality to the modern DCU.
Bart's return, though still somewhat unexplained, isn't wholly unexpected. After all, a past version of Wally West returned at the beginning of "Rebirth," effectively jumping from the previous timeline into this new one.
According to the story that returned Wally West to the modern DCU in 2016, the character was lost in the Speed Force since the beginning of the "New 52" reboot. He explained that an unseen force had caused the reboot, and after being lost in the Speed Force for year, Wally found a way to use Barry as a tether (or "lightning rod") to emerge from his exile back into the current DC timeline.
About a year later, a story titled "The Button" hinted that other timelines and characters may be lost in some other realm too, some of them looking for their own opportunity to come back to the DCU. Specifically, Jay Garrick appeared during the story, hoping that Barry Allen would serve as his tether the same way he'd done for Wally. But the scheme failed, and Jay is apparently still lost somewhere, trying to come back to reality.
Subsequent "Rebirth" stories have reinforced the idea of other realities existing, including one that allowed a future version of Bart Allen (and his fellow "Titans of Tomorrow") to visit the current-day DCU.
And an earlier scene in The Flash's "Flash War" teased the existence of Bart Allen, showing him in a future museum as a Flash ally.
So, despite Bart's return not being fully explained yet, it's something fans were hoping would happen soon and knew was probable.
How did Bart return? This younger version of Bart apparently still existed somewhere, even as the "New 52" relaunch appeared to erase his existence. In Bart's case, his return seems to be connected to Hypertime, a DC concept that connects timelines and realities. Wally and Barry were shown in The Flash #50 running through Hypertime, able to see short glimpses of other realities.
After Wally West broke the Force Barrier in that issue, it somehow allowed Bart to see Wally in Hypertime and call out to him. (When Bart appeared, he said, “Not sure if you heard me or not Wally.”) After focusing on Wally in Hypertime, this version of Bart Allen somehow utilized Wally as a tether to skip from his own reality into the new DCU. Or at least, that’s our best guess.
But the true explanation? We'll have to stay tuned to The Flash to find out.
More importantly, Bart's reappearance means that members of the Flash family can return, including Jay Garrick, Max Mercury and Wally's children Jai and Iris.
It’s also even more probably now that readers will eventually see the return of other characters who were eliminated upon DC's "New 52" reboot, including the Justice Society of America and Conner Kent Superboy.