So in the tradition of remaking classic Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Superhero stories as rationalist stories (that is, what if everyone in the story tried to make their overcomplicated plots actually work), I’ve decided to describe how I’d do it to the Flash1. More specifically to Flashpoint, because that’s (a) everyone’s favourite Flash arc and (b) the only one for which I’ve actually read the comics. It would go something like this (Spoiler Warning: Flashpoint):
Like in the original comic, the Flash wakes up in a strange alternate universe. In this alternate universe crime is rampant, supervillains nearly destroy the earth (or at least kill millions of people) every other week, and the few poorly-organized superheroes still remaining barely manage to save the day at the last second each time. It’s only a matter of time until one of them slips up and total disaster comes. In other words, it’s the classic DC universe we’re all familiar with.
None of this matches up with the universe the Flash is from: There, the superheroes have long since united to figure out how to do the maximum amount of good with their abilities. Lex Luthor’s desire to change the world was channeled to more wholesome ends in that universe, and he used his miracle technologies to fight crime and disease. Superman, after putting in adequate safeguards, let Lex and his scientists experiment on him to advance medical research even further (all humans have nearly-unbreakable bones as a result of this research, and solar energy is cheap and universal due to inventions based on Superman’s Kryptonian skin receptors). But the safeguards were just a precaution – the superheroes of that universe trust each other.
In the original Flashpoint alternate universe, Bruce Wayne had been shot instead of his parents, and Thomas Wayne, haunted by the death of his son, became Batman, while Martha Wayne went mad and became the Joker. In my version’s original universe, Martha Wayne was the one who was shot. Thomas Wayne decides to work on sociological causes of crime, starting with lead removal. After he joins the other superheroes he also uses genetic engineering for population genetics to improve life outcomes (he mostly experiments on bats, giving him the name “Bat-man”). Bruce Wayne, left alone by his mother’s death and his father’s retreat into science, eventually goes mad and becomes the Joker, the superheroes’ greatest enemy, since he believes they’re replacing human warmth and emotion with cold utilitarian science.
Over the course of the story, the Flash befriends alternate-universe Bruce-Wayne-Batman, and gradually tells him about the philosophy of their original world. Bruce is skeptical of their ideals at first, but becomes convinced after hearing the results. In the original Flashpoint story, Thomas Wayne was convinced to help the Flash because it meant his son would be alive again (even if he wouldn’t be), and the story ends with the Flash giving Bruce a letter from his father he could never get before that. In my version, Bruce gives Flash a letter to his father saying he’s sorry for all the damage he caused in that world, and one to himself (it’s implied he’s trying to convince his alternate self to let go of his vendetta, but we never see the letter).
In original-world, the Flash is the most important member of the superhero society: Whenever they achieve a meaningful improvement, like curing bone fragility, he goes back in time to just after the league was formed and delivers it to them, so that the improvements affect as long a time as possible. Whenever a disaster threatens, he goes back in time to when it was still small and easily preventable, and undoes it. There are two necessary safeguards to this: First, he stops by to talk to versions of himself in the alternate timeline that exist at various points of time between now and the change, to make sure the change won’t have any terrible unforeseen consequences (any of them can call it off, and the Flash can always reverse the change in the future by going back to that point in time and telling himself not to do it).
Second, and this is important, he never, ever, goes back to before the society was organized. Because this would have the potential to undo the whole society (which instituted the safety protocols for the Flash’s time travel), it could potentially undo all the good they’ve done in their world. So as much as they might like to, say, kill baby Hitler and prevent World War 2, they can’t go back far enough to do it.
In the end of the story we find out this is precisely what caused this weird alternate universe in the first place: The Flash was tired of doing abstract good for everyone in the world when he wasn’t even allowed to go back in time and save his own mother. Eventually, he couldn’t stand it anymore, and he went back in time and saved her. The consequences were the complete dissolution of their world, millions dead from poverty and famine and disease, the world on the brink of destruction every other week. Once he finds out why it happened, he has to go back again and let his mother die.
I’d also include an explanation for the Flash’s speed, based on the multi-level brain theory from here. Basically, only the Flash’s lowest brain layers work at superhuman speeds, while his top layers work at normal speed. The inbetween layers are successively faster. This is why he can move fast enough to dodge bullets if he’s ready (he’s prepared his lower levels to execute dodging maneuvers), but not if he’s caught by surprise. It’s also why in a normal fight, he’s somewhat faster than normal but not fast enough to dodge bullets, his fight reflexes are lower than the top level but still above the deeply-trained bullet-dodging reflexes.
Also, rationalist Flash got with Patty Spivot, not Iris. Because she’s clearly much nicer to him and he’s not as controlled by plot-force as his non-rationalist counterpart.
1. Not actually write the story, though, because that would be way too much work. ↩