SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for The Flash #39 by Joshua Williamson, Carmine Di Giandomenico, Ivan Plascencia and Steve Wands, on sale now.
The current volume of The Flash — which kicked off with DC Rebirth — has brought the character back to basics in a lot of ways, all while sowing the seeds for a larger Flash family outside of Barry Allen. Not only did the early days of the title introduce new speedsters such as Kid Flash, Godspeed and The Flash of China, the series has been hinting at the returns of characters thought erased from continuity. Glimpses into the future revealed the Tornado Twins — Barry and Iris’ twin children — are once again canon, and visits to the Flash Museum of the 25th Century featured displays for Impulse, John Fox and Dark Flash, among others.
Last week saw the release of the first part of the new “Perfect Storm” arc in what is hailed as The Flash’s 700th issue. While the selling point is the return of Grodd and a final showdown with Black Hole, it also has a brief glimpse into the past that may prove fateful into the future with what could be the DC Rebirth debut of Max Mercury.
The Whirlwind of the West
Max Mercury first debuted under the Quality Comics banner — the same publisher responsible for Plastic Man and The Ray, among others — under the name Quicksilver, but with its own speedster in The Flash, DC Comics never really needed to use him. Thus, the hero didn’t make his DC Universe debut until 1993, where he was reinvented as part of Mark Waid’s legendary run on The Flash. Max Mercury was revealed to be a time-hopping speedster originally from the early nineteenth century, gifted his speed power from a dying Native shaman and originally operating as a messenger, given the name Ahwehota, or Windrunner.
Over the years, Max used his speed to run into the future, operating under the names Quicksilver, Whirlwind, The Whip, Lightning and Blue Streak, among others, tying a number of different Golden Age speedsters together into one cohesive character. Eventually, he settled on Max Mercury and fought alongside Jay Garrick and Johnny Quick during World War II before retiring from superheroics. He remained retired until Jay cashed in a favor, asking for Max’s help in stopping Professor Zoom. It was Max who came up with the concept of an extradimensional Speed Force, and he was often referred to as The Zen Guru of Speed for his almost religious devotion to the Speed Force — in stark contrast with his friend Johnny Quick, who used a scientific formula to harness superspeed.
Under Waid’s watch, Max served as the guardian of Bart Allen, Barry Allen’s grandson from the thirtieth century, better known as Impulse. He helped Bart slow down and appreciate life outside being a speedster, and eventually sacrificed himself during a fight with the Golden Age villain Rival, becoming one with the Speed Force just as Barry Allen did in Crisis on Infinite Earths. He appeared briefly in Infinite Crisis to help the Flash family with Superboy Prime and returned from the Speed Force in the original Flash Rebirth, but didn’t really do anything in the intervening years between that story and DC’s reboot with Flashpoint.
Previously, there wasn’t really a place for Max Mercury in the post-Flashpoint continuity, where superheroes first appeared in a nebulous “five years ago” time period. However, with the impending return of the Justice Society of America, there’s room for superheroes from previous eras, which brings us to Max Mercury and The Flash #39. In a prologue, Gorilla Grodd narrates man’s fascination with lightning throughout the ages and it shows key moments throughout history; man harnessing the power of fire, Doctor Frankenstein reviving his monster, Benjamin Franklin conducting lightning through a kite. It also shows what appears to be a Native American man being thrown from his horse by a lightning strike.
All of these moments have significance that’s easily recognizable — a later shot of a man suspended in air being hit by lightning in what appears to be Egypt is likely Black Adam summoning the power of Shazam — so who is the Native American man? It’s likely that this is Max Mercury himself, with a new origin for the post-Rebirth continuity that eschews the white savior and racially insensitive Native mysticism for something that ties him more closely to Speed Force and hopefully reinvents him as a Native American man, a demographic woefully underrepresented in superhero comics and pop culture in general.
With “Flash War” on the way and the hints Williamson and his collaborators have been dropping for forty issues, it really feels like we’re back on the way to a full Flash family, and the return of Max Mercury would be one more significant marker on that road home.