We know very little about Zoom, the new villain in The Flash's second season, as yet, and while the comics might give us an idea of what to expect...it's a bit tricky.
In the original source material, Professor Zoom, Zoom and the Reverse-Flash have been used somewhat interchangeably over the years, which muddied the waters last year when fans were trying to figure out who Harrison Wells really was -- and will likely do so again this year as we make our way through the inevitable mystery of Zoom.
During Geoff Johns' run on The Flash he tried to build a buffer between the two identities so that he could have two similar characters exist in the mythology without being totally indistinguishable -- and in the New 52, things have gotten a bit more distinct, even. So let's take a look at the names in play and see what sense we can make of it all.
The first, Eobard Thawne, is a time-traveling supervillain who drew his powers from the speed force like Barry Allen did, who had comparable speed and powers but who used them for evil. Obviously, this is the version of the Reverse-Flash we saw last year -- although disguised as Wells and often bearing some of the physical characteristics of a later iteration of the villain (more on that a little later).
Thawne had a mean-on specifically for Barry and the two tangled dozens of times over the years, with some of the more notable examples being things like Thawne murdering Barry's wife (Iris) and Barry killing him in retaliation and then standing trial for Thawne's death.
In the Geoff Johns-penned Flash Rebirth, Thawne learned that Barry Allen had died, sacrificing himself to save the universe during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Enraged that his enemy had died with dignity, Thawne sent a subliminal message to Barry, who had briefly emerged from the Speed Force, engineering Barry's return from the dead during Final Crisis.
Thawne then broke into the Central City crime lab, murdered two police scientists, and recreated the accident which originally had granted Barry his speed, creating the Negative Speed Force. he then traveled through time on a personal vendetta against Barry Allen: He pushed a young Barry down the stairs, burned down his childhood home, left the door open so his dog was hit by a car, murdered his mother and attempted to stop his son's marriage in the 30th Century (thanks to the DC Wiki for that cheerful refresher).
The second Reverse Flash, Hunter Zolomon, was somebody who fancied himself a friend and aide to The Flash. Like the Reverse Flash on television, he incorporated some black into the outfit, he worked to make Barry "better" and he had the crazy red eyes. This is the version who became generally known as "Zoom."
"My name is Hunter Zolomon. Despite what the public believes, I am the fastest man alive. I am Zoom. But I am not a Rogue. Far from it. I have taken the name and colors from Eobard Thawne -- the time traveler know as Professor Zoom -- in order to terrorize my friend. Wally West. The Flash. I suffered through tragedy. I lost my family to it. I understand the depths it will drag one down to. And only by surviving it does one become stronger. I will recreate myself to help my friend and in turn -- the world. I will do anything to make the Flash a better hero."
He wasn't technically faster than The Flash, although it often seemed like it; his powers worked a little differently and involved manipulation of time, allowing him to basically move between seconds, appearing fast but in fact moving at normal speed, just in a way that made him nearly impossible to hit.
His backstory: He was severely injured following an attack by Gorilla Grodd and left paralyzed. He wanted then-Flash Wally West to travel back in time to stop the injury from happening, but Wally refused, not wanting to mess with the timestream. When Zolomon tried to use the treadmill himself to do it, the resulting explosion is what gave him his powers. He determined that in order to be a better hero and understand personal loss, Wally had to experience some of his own, and targeted The Flash's loved ones, even causing a miscarriage in his wife.
Ultimately, he fancied himself a perfect foil for The Flash because he wanted to make him a better hero. Everything he did, then, he rationalized that it was only to challenge The Flash and force the speedster to evolve past it.
The fact that he's primarily a Wally hero (once Barry returned from the dead, Zolomon became less of a figure in the series, with Thawne returning to prominence) seems worth mentioning, since we know that Wally West will appear in some capacity this season on The Flash.
To add to the layers of confusion around the characters' naming, though, there are a few things to consider.
First, Tom Cavanagh, who played Harrison Wells/Eobard Thawne in the first season of The Flash, will remain on as a series regular in Season Two.
Second, following the events of the Flashpoint reboot in 2011, almost none of the history above remains canonical (although The Flash has generally used mostly pre-Flashpoint origins for characters, so it is pertinent). In the post-Flashpoint DC Universe, we haven't seen Zolomon at all yet and the Reverse-Flash was in fact a relative of Iris' named Daniel West. In that world, Eobard Thawne finally made his first appearance just a couple of months ago as part of the line-wide DC You publishing initiative...and he's going by "Professor Zoom" again.
That's not to say that these two are the only contenders, of course...but since fans had asked, we wanted to (as much as we could) clarify the distinction between the two names, and explain why they're used so interchangeably.
But who is going to be Zoom on TV? Leave your thoughts in the comments.