A “flashback” is a memory that resurfaces.

In traditional media, flashbacks will typically be used to assist with narrative. Normally, this assistance in narrative is through providing the reader additional backstory regarding certain characters or events. Flashbacks in comics may also use various artistic differences from the rest of the panels, such as color, to differentiate the flashback from the present.

Figure 1. Flashbacks are often used to add narrative to stories. Here, a plot twist is revealed in this panel of Watchmen #9 that further develops the series story. Image Source: Alan Moore (1987) DC Comics. Watchmen #9 (May).

In this panel from the ninth issue of Watchmen, a flashback is used to provide further narration. This particular flashback is a noteworthy moment in the story of Watchmen.

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This panel is one of a series of flashbacks illustrated by Watchmen artist, David Gibbons, concerning the character Laurie. Gibbons utilized flashbacks to illustrate Moore’s vision of this narrative. The flashbacks reveal that the story surrounding Laurie’s mother is more complicated than what the reader initially believes. The reader begins the story believing Laurie’s mother was raped by the Comedian, but the flashbacks reveal that the sex was actually consensual, and that the Comedian is actually Laurie’s biological father.

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Figure 2. The Joker’s past is revealed in a flashback. The faded and subtle colors indicate that the event is taking place in the past. Image Source: Alan Moore, Brian Bolland (1988) DC Comics. Batman: The Killing Joke (March).

Another comic that utilizes flashbacks is Batman: The Killing Joke. The flashback from Batman: The Killing Joke primarily serves to educate the reader about the Joker’s past.

*Spoiler Alert! Skip ahead to next paragraph if you wish to avoid.*

In this panel, the artist Brian Bolland made the flashback apparent through the faded and subtle tones used to color the images. Here, the flashback gives the reader a deeper level of understanding towards the Joker as a character. It is revealed through the flashback that the Joker was actually an aspiring comedian. Despite this, he could not manage to find a job, and struggled to provide for his pregnant wife. Through the flashback, the dark and villainous persona of the Joker changes to that of a tragic character.

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Figure 3. Naruto experiences a flashback. It is made evident the flashback is occurring as a grown Naruto looks towards the reader, while his younger self looks off into the distance. Image Source: Masashi Kishimoto. (2013) Shueisha. Naruto #66 (September).

The third panel is from the popular manga Naruto. Due to manga typically avoiding the use of color, the representation of a flashback in this comic had to be communicated through another method. It is made apparent that the scene in this panel is a flashback due to a grown Naruto looking towards the reader while a younger version of himself stares off into the forest.

Image Citations:

Alan Moore, Brian Bolland (1988) DC Comics. Batman: The Killing Joke (March).

Alan Moore (1987) DC Comics. Watchmen #9 (May).

Masashi Kishimoto. (2013) Shueisha. Naruto #66 (September).