With The Flash getting his own TV show again, we look at the characters who have worn the mantle of Fastest Man Alive.
THE Flash may be the fastest superhero in the DC Universe, but his move from comic cult status to mainstream popularity has been incredibly slow compared to the company’s other core superheroes.
Fellow Justice League core members Superman, Batman and Green Lantern have had their own movies, and even Wonder Woman has been in the spotlight thanks to her upcoming appearance in 2016’s Batman/Superman movie.
However, Barry Allen’s (the Flash’s alter-ego) recent appearance on Arrow on TV gave fans hope that we would finally be able to see a live-action version of the Scarlet Speedster again, and happily, that hope became reality when The CW announced it is producing a Flash series starring Grant Gustin as the titular hero.
Of course, The Flash did have his own TV series back in 1990, but it lasted only a season. So with this second chance on television, here’s hoping that it leads to a brighter future for one of comics’ most recognisable icons.
This week, we race down memory lane to pay tribute to the four characters who have worn the mantle of Fastest Man Alive:
Jay Garrick (Flash I)
Full name: Jason Peter Garrick
First Appearance: Flash Comics #1 (1940)
Created by: Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert
THE original Flash, created in 1940, was Jay Garrick, a college student who gained super speed by inhaling heavy/hard water vapours (which activated a latent meta gene) after falling asleep in his lab. This unorthodox beginning led to him dressing up like, er… a fireman, complete with a Mercury-esque helmet, and becoming the self-appointed protector of Keystone City!
The helmet was a actually a gift from Jay’s father Joseph, who wore it during World War I, and apart from giving Jay an eccentric fashion sense, it also functions as a weapon, and even as a shield!
Jay scorched the Golden Age highways through the pages of Flash Comics, All-Flash Quarterly, Comic Cavalcade, and as a member of the Justice Society of America. Unfortunately, post-WWII, the Flash fell victim to the decline in interest in superheroes as all of his titles were cancelled – his last appearance being a JSA tale in 1951.
Throughout his 11-year run, the simplistic storytelling nature in comics back then did little to help the Flash make an impact or leave a lasting impression. With little demand for the character, it took a Silver Age revamp to pull Jay out of limbo; in the classic Flash Of Two Worlds story in The Flash #123, a retired Jay meets his Silver Age successor, Barry Allen.
Barry Allen (Flash II)
Full name: Bartholomew Henry Allen
First Appearance: Showcase #4 (1956)
Created by: Robert Kanigher, John Broome and Carmine Infantino
WHEN DC revived its Golden Age heroes in the 1950s, The Flash was the first beneficiary, with Barry Allen replacing Jay Garrick in, well, a flashier costume. The success of this new Flash subsequently inspired DC Comics to revive its other heroes from the past such as Green Lantern and the JSA, reinvented as the Justice League of America.
A police scientist known for his tardiness, Barry becomes The Flash when his shelf of chemicals is struck by lightning, showering him in a freak chemical bath.
Inspired by Jay’s Golden Age adventures after reading an old Flash comic, Barry made his debut as the new Flash on 1956’s DC Showcase #4, and this was followed by The Flash #105, a revival of the original Flash title, which ceased publication at issue #104 in 1949.
Probably the most popular of all the Flashes, Barry has had two stints as hero – the first from 1956-1985, and then from 2008 till today.
His first stint brought many epic milestones that laid the foundations for present day story arcs. In the aforementioned The Flash #123, the Barry-Jay meeting introduced the idea of the DC multiverse (in this case, the parallel Earth that would come to be known as Earth-2), opening the floodgates to a host of parallel Earths.
What made the Flash-verse an endless source of adventures were the seemingly endless supply of villains from the present day and multiple time-streams, particularly that collective of super-villains called The Rogues.
Bad guys like Mirror Master, The Top, Captain Cold, The Trickster and Abra Kadabra tormented the Flash for three decades, but it took only one to tarnish Barry’s decades-old reputation: Eobard Thawne, aka Professor Zoom/Reverse Flash.
Barry spent the last two years of his first stint as The Flash on trial and in prison after killing Reverse Flash (The Flash #324) to prevent the villain from killing his then fiancée, Fiona Webb.
Having violated the “Thou shall not kill” code of superheroes, Barry almost loses his JLA membership and is harassed by the media during his trial. Although he emerged triumphant from the debacle (The Flash #350), the episode left Barry emotionally and physically drained – prompting him to seek solace in the 30th century with his wife, Iris.
Barry eventually returned for one final battle – Crisis On Infinite Earths – in which he sacrificed his life to save billions of lives in the DC multiverse. While Crisis also included other major casualties like Supergirl and Wonder Woman, it was Barry Allen’s death that made the biggest headlines.
Captured by the Anti-Monitor because of his ability to traverse the multiverse (which threatens the villain’s plans to destroy the universe), Barry freed himself and destroyed the bad guy’s Anti-Matter cannon, but was disintegrated in the ensuing explosion.
Two decades later, Barry returned to the land of the living via the Final Crisis mega-event and was given a proper homecoming in the Flash: Rebirth six-parter. He has remained as The Flash ever since. Through the Flashpoint event, Barry was also directly responsible for the creation of the DC New 52 universe, which merged the DC, Vertigo and Wildstorm universes into one new universe.
On a side note, Barry is also the first Flash to race Superman (Superman Vol 1 #199), and after two races that ended in stalemates, he eventually emerged victorious in World’s Finest #199.
Wally West (Flash III)
Full name: Wallace Rudolph West
First Appearance: Flash #110 (1959)
Created by: John Broome and Carmine Infantino
BEING the nephew (by marriage) of Barry Allen and Iris West, Wally had the luxury of proper guidance en route to stepping into those speedy scarlet sneakers, unlike his two predecessors.
Getting his powers from almost the same freak accident as his Uncle Barry, the then 10-year-old Wally became Kid Flash. His quest to become a hero was boosted by Barry’s tutelage and membership in the Teen Titans, where he was instrumental in saving the world on several occasions.
Wally’s “big break” came after Barry’s death during the Crisis event, when he took up the mantle and served for 16 years as the Scarlet Speedster and a member of the JLA. Being an “accidental” hero, Wally started his Flash stint in unorthodox fashion – by going public with his identity and living on lottery winnings!
Ultimately, it was Geoff Johns who elevated Wally into the big leagues and cemented his place as the “ultimate” speedster. Johns’ cumulative nine-year stint (2000-05 and 2009-11) on the Flash did wonders in redefining and enhancing the Flash mythos.
Besides overseeing Wally’s transition from ordinary Justice League member to major superhero, he also injected depth into the Rogues, introduced a new Zoom, “religion-ised” the Speed Force, and finally, resurrected Barry Allen!
The best example of the progress The Flash underwent under Johns is another Flash-Superman race, this time in The Flash Vol 2 #209.
Midway through the race, Wally sizes up the Man of Steel: “In terms of raw speed, Superman and I used to be evenly matched. I’d even say he might’ve been a tad faster. But that was before I got over my fear of replacing Barry. Before I discovered where my speed actually comes from.
And before I learned how to better tap into the Speed Force and take complete control of my abilities. I could steal all of Superman’s kinetic energy and stop him cold, but it’d be like throwing him out of a car … one moving at over two thousand miles a second.”
No prizes for guessing who won that race!
Bart Allen (Flash IV)
Full name: Bartholomew Henry Allen II
First Appearance: The Flash Vol 2 #92
Created by: Mark Waid and Mike Weiringo
BART is the grandson of Barry Allen and his wife Iris. Born in the 30th century, he underwent an accelerated aging process and was raised in a virtual reality machine. In search of a cure, Iris took him back in time to seek Wally’s help.
Wally not only managed to slow down Bart’s hyper-accelerated metabolism, he also took him as his sidekick, under the codename Impulse (a reference to his reckless attitude).
It took a bum knee (courtesy of Deathstroke in 2003’s Teen Titans #2) to mellow Bart’s attitude, which led to him ditching the Impulse persona for the more mature Kid Flash mantle. He then graduated to bigger responsibilities during Infinite Crisis, absorbing the Speed Force and becoming the new Flash!
Unfortunately, Bart’s stint as the Scarlet Speedster was short-lived – he was killed by the Rogues in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #13. He did get a second chance though, in Final Crisis: Legion Of 3 Worlds #3, where Braniac 5 resurrected Bart to stop Superboy Prime and the Legion of Super Villains.
After that, Bart’s status among the living was reaffirmed in the pages of The Flash: Rebirth. Despite having mentors (Wally, Jay and even Max Mercury, another speedster hero) and team affiliations (Young Justice and the Teen Titans), Bart has never achieved the success or appeal that Wally had as The Flash – he remains better known as Kid Flash than as The Flash.