Flash (comics)

From Academic Kids

Template:Superherobox The Flash is a DC Comics superhero possessing "super-speed," nicknamed the Scarlet Speedster. Created by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert, the original Flash first appeared in Flash Comics #1 (1940).

Thus far, three different people have assumed the identity of the Flash: Jay Garrick (1940-present), Barry Allen (1956-86), and Wally West (1987-present) Each of these individuals somehow gained the power of "super-speed," which includes the ability to run and move extremely fast, use superhuman reflexes, and violate certain laws of physics.

The second incarnation of the Flash was among the first heroes of the Silver Age of comic books in 1956. The character featured in a short-lived live action television series in 1990. The Flash is also featured in the animated series Justice League.


Publication history

The Flash first appeared in Flash Comics #1 (1940). This Flash was Jay Garrick, a college student who gained his speed through the inhalation of hard water vapors, and who wore a winged metal helmet. He is notable for being the first speedster in comics, and one of the first to have a singular super-power as opposed to the multi-talented Superman. He was created by writer Gardner Fox.

Garrick was a popular character in the 1940s, supporting two different titles and being a charter and long-time member of the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team. Garrick's adventures in the Golden Age of comic books came to an end when Flash Comics was cancelled with the publication of issue #104 (1949), and the subsequent end of the Justice Society's adventures with All-Star Comics #57 (1951). Superheroes (and the entire comic book industry) had fallen on hard times in the 1950s, and the Flash was only one casualty.

Missing image
Left to right: Wally West, Bart Allen as Impulse, Jay Garrick, Johnny Quick, and Max Mercury (background), from Flash #97. Art by Mike Wieringo.

A few years later, DC Comics decided the time was right to reintroduce some superheroes. Rather than bring back the Golden Age heroes unchanged, DC decided to recreate them as new, more modern characters. The Flash was the first such hero to be revived in a new incarnation. Showcase #4 (1956) introduced Barry Allen, a police scientist who gained super-speed when he was bathed by chemicals after a shelf full of them was struck by lightning. After several more appearances in Showcase, Allen's character was given his own title, The Flash the first issue of which was #105 (resuming where Flash Comics had left off).

The Silver Age Flash proved popular enough that several other Golden Age heroes were revived in new incarnations. A new superhero team, the Justice League of America, was also created, with the Flash as a prominent member.

The Flash also introduced a long-standing plot device into superhero comics, when it was revealed that Garrick and Allen existed on fictional parallel worlds. Their powers allowed them to cross the dimensional boundary between worlds, and the men became good friends; their respective teams began an annual get-together which endured from the early 1960s until the mid-1980s.

Allen's adventures continued in his own title until the advent of Crisis on Infinite Earths (The Flash ended as a series with #350). Allen's life had become considerably confused in the early 1980s, and DC elected to end his adventures and pass the mantle on to another character. Allen died heroically in the Crisis #8 (1986), though thanks to his ability to travel through time, he would continue to appear occasionally in the years to come.

The third Flash is Wally West, who was introduced in Flash #110 (1959) as Kid Flash. West, Allen's nephew by marriage, gained the Flash's powers through an accident identical to Allen's (this acquisition of powers has been criticized heavily by some fans), and adopted the Kid Flash identity and maintained membership in the Teen Titans for years. Following Allen's death, West adopted the Flash identity in Crisis #12 and was given his own series, beginning with The Flash vol 2 #1 (1987). As of 2005, he is the current holder of the title.

Fictional biographies

While several other individuals have used the name Flash, these have lived either on other parallel worlds, or in the future. Garrick, Allen and West are the best-known exemplars of the identity.

Golden Age Flash (Jay Garrick)

Jay Garrick was a college student in 1940 (suggesting he was born around 1922) who accidentally inhaled hard water vapors. As a result, he found that he could run at superhuman speed and had similarly fast reflexes. After a brief career as a college football star, he donned a red shirt with a lightning bolt and a stylized metal helmet with wings (based on images of the Roman god Mercury [1] (, and began to fight crime as the Flash. His first case involved battling the Fearsome Four, a group of blackmailers. In the early stories, it seemed to be widely known that Garrick was the Flash. It was later explained that Jay kept his identity secret without a mask by continually vibrating his body while in public so that any photograph of his face would be blurred.

The Flash soon became one of the best-known of the Golden Age of superheroes. He was a founding member of the Justice Society of America and served as its first chairman beginning with All-Star Comics #3 (winter 1940). He was always based in the fictional Keystone City. He left the JSA after issue #6, but returned several years later and had a distinguished career as a crimefighter during the 1940s.

(Several pieces of retroactive continuity fill out early Garrick history. A story explaining the retirement of the JSA members, including the Flash, explained that in 1951 the JSA was investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee for possible Communist sympathies and asked to reveal their identities. The JSA declined, and Garrick, who had recently married his longtime girlfriend Joan, retired. A trained scientist, he ran an experimental laboratory for several decades. All-Star Squadron Annual #3 states that the JSA fought a being who imbued them with energy that retarded their aging, allowing Garrick and many others—as well as their girlfriends and sidekicks—to remain active into the late 20th century without infirmity. The 1990s Starman series notes that the Shade prompted Garrick to come out of retirement in the 1950s, but the details of his activities during this time are hazy at best.)

Garrick emerged from retirement in 1961 to meet the silver age Flash, Barry Allen, from a parallel world. Garrick's world was dubbed Earth-Two, while Allen's was Earth-One. The rest of the JSA soon joined the Flash, although their activities during the 1960s (other than their annual meeting with Earth-One's Justice League of America) are unrecorded. That he and Green Lantern (Alan Scott) are good friends is clear, however.

Garrick was a key member of the JSA's 1970s adventures (as chronicled in All-Star Comics and Adventure Comics), as well as helping to launch the careers of Infinity Inc. Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths, all the parallel worlds were merged into one, and Keystone City became the twin city across the river from Allen's Central City. (Another retcon suggests that Keystone in this merged world had been rendered invisible and wiped from the memories of the world for many years through the actions of several supervillains, but this may itself have been retconned away.)

In the early 21st century, many of Garrick's JSA cohorts have retired or passed away, but Garrick remains active with the latest incarnation of the group. He is physically about 50 years old thanks to the effects of several accidental anti-aging treatments, but his chronological age is closer to 80.

Silver Age Flash (Barry Allen)

Missing image
Showcase #4 (September-October 1956, the first appearance of the Silver Age Flash. Art by Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert.

Barry Allen was a police scientist in 1956 with a reputation for being very slow, deliberate, and frequently late, which frustrated his fiancee, Iris West. One night, as he was preparing to leave work, a lightning bolt shattered a case full of chemicals and spilled them all over Allen. As a result, Allen found that he could run extremely fast and had matching reflexes. He donned a set of red tights sporting a lightning bolt (reminiscent of the original Captain Marvel), dubbed himself the Flash (after his childhood hero in the comic books, Jay Garrick), and became a crimefighter. In his civilian identity, he stored the costume in his ring, which could eject the compressed clothing when Allen needed it and suck it back in with the aid of a special gas that shrinks the suit.

The Flash acquired a colorful rogues gallery of villains. These criminals typically had unusually modest goals for their power level (robbery or other petty crimes), and each adopted a specific theme in his or her equipment and methods. They included:

The Flash became a charter member of the Justice League of America and good friends with Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). In time he married his girlfriend Iris, who learned of his double identity because Allen talked in his sleep. She kept his secret, and eventually he revealed his identity to her of his own free will. Iris was eventually revealed to have been sent as a child from the 30th century and adopted.

In the 1980s, Flash's life began to collapse. Iris was murdered by Professor Zoom (who had long loved her and been jealous of Allen), and when Allen was prepared to marry another woman, Zoom tried the same trick again. Allen stopped him, killing Zoom in the process. Put on trial for Zoom's murder, Allen was eventually acquitted, and learned that Iris' spirit had in fact been taken to the 30th century, where she was given a new body.

Following the trial, Allen retired and joined her in the 30th century. However, after only a few weeks of happiness, the Crisis on Infinite Earths intervened, and Allen was captured by the Anti-Monitor and brought to 1986. Allen escaped and foiled the Anti-Monitor's plan to destroy the Earth, but died in the process. Since then, he has been lauded as one of the greatest of superheroes.

Iris was pregnant when Allen died. She had two children, the Tornado Twins, who would later meet the Legion of Super-Heroes. Each of her children themselves had children. One, Jenni Ognats, grew up to become the Legionnaire XS, while the other, Bart Allen, was born with a rapid-aging illness, and was sent back to the 20th century where he was cured. He remained there as the superhero Impulse (and later adopted the name Kid Flash).

Modern Age Flash (Wally West)

Wally West was the nephew of Iris West and Barry Allen's nephew by marriage, and was introduced in The Flash #110 (1959). When West was about ten years old, he was visiting his uncle's police laboratory, and the freak accident that gave Allen his powers repeated itself, bathing West in electrically-charged chemicals. Now possessing the same powers as his uncle, West donned a copy of his uncle's outfit and became the young crimefighter Kid Flash.

He soon adopted a slightly different, yellow-and-red outfit with his hair exposed, and became a founding member of the Teen Titans, along with fellow sidekicks Robin and Aqualad. Always something of a straight-shooter from rural America, Kid Flash sometimes felt out of place alongside more flamboyant heroes such as Speedy and Wonder Girl.

As a young adult, West found his powers to be failing and even doing damage to his body, and he retired from crimefighting until a cure could be found. But he was called to action again by the Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which his uncle Barry Allen was killed. As a side effect of the energies he was exposed to during that adventure, West's powers stabilized. However, he could no longer run at the extraordinary speeds of his uncle, but was limited to the speed of sound, and had to eat vast quantities of food to maintain his metabolism.

Despite these handicaps, West resumed his career, though he retired his own costume and adopted the costume and name of the Flash to honor his uncle. He did however make his identity public knowledge to keep from replacing Barry Allen in the minds of the public. A short time later, West won a lottery, bought a large mansion, and became something of a playboy. He joined Justice League Europe early in his career as Flash and also later joined the reformed Justice League. Like his powers at the time, West's finances and luck continued to ebb and wane until Flash volume 2, issue 62, when his playboy ways also ended and his fortunes stabilized.

Over the next few years, West learned several things about his powers. First, it was suggested that Allen had not actually been human after gaining his own powers, but was a powerful energy force of which West used only a fraction. As Allen's career wound down and after he died, West had access to only a fraction of the energy. Later, West discovered that in fact Allen was a conduit to the Speed Force, an extradimensional energy force that West and other speedsters also tapped. West had been holding back from fully embracing the Speed Force again for fear of replacing his uncle in the minds of the public.

A difficult encounter with a particularly vicious foe, the first Reverse-Flash (Eobard Thwane), who was bent on destroying Allen's memory finally motivated West to use his abilities to their fullest potential. As a result, West gained even greater speeds than previously seen in his days as Kid Flash. After discovering and being absorbed by the Speed Force, returning to earth and battling the student/priest of speed, Savitar, West gained some additional powers from the Speed Force, and even more powers after meeting an alternate version of himself, Wallace West (the Dark Flash), via Hypertime travel. Until West's accumulation of new powers circa issues 90 and up, some of his uncle's abilities continued to elude West; most notably, the power to precisely travel through time, especially with the ease which Allen accomplished these feats. More recently West has on several occasions used his speed to break time and even dimensional barriers. The abilities that West has not been able to duplicate seem to coincide with Barry Allen's unique and complete control of his molecular structure.

West married journalist Linda Park. After an attack on Linda by a new Reverse Flash causing a miscarriage, West regretted the public knowledge of his identity. The Spectre wiped the knowledge of the Flash's secret identity from everyone's mind, including West's. He began working as a mechanic for the Keystone City Police, a job that reminded him of Barry Allen (whom he only remembered as a police scientist). Eventually, Batman deduced the truth and restored West's memory. The truth has also been revealed to West's friends in the heroic community, and to Linda Park, who found it difficult to deal with and took some time away from her husband. They are now back together.

Like his predecessors, West has a friendship with the Green Lantern of his time (Kyle Rayner).

He also has a close relationship to Nightwing (Dick Grayson) the original Robin now grown up.

Powers and abilities

All incarnations of the Flash can run and move their limbs at superhuman speeds, and possess superhuman reflexes. All possess an aura that prevents air friction from affecting their bodies and clothes while moving.

Barry Allen possessed several other abilities that Jay Garrick and Wally West have not always been able to duplicate. He could vibrate his molecules through solid matter, could run on thick snow clouds and could travel through time and to other dimensions with the help of a "cosmic treadmill". Most unusual was Allen's complete control of his molecules, allowing him to vibrate through solid matter and, on one occasion when transformed into a mirror, "melt" himself and reform as a human to defeat the Mirror Master.

Wally West has been shown to have a connection to the Speed Force, an extradimensional energy source, which provides his powers and gives him several other abilities. While all speedsters are powered by the force, West mainlines the power from the force itself and cannot be cut off from the source, unlike the others. Wally is believed to be the fastest of all known Flashes, and has on several occasions sped faster than light and entered and exited the speed force by his own volition. He can create his costume out of pure speed energy, and can either impart his high velocities to other people and objects already in motion or steal the velocity they possess. West can vibrate through objects; in the past, West would cause whatever he vibrated through to explode, but has recently shown this to be a controlled ability as he can pass through objects without any ensuing explosion. Although not nearly as precise as Allen when he used his cosmic treadmill, West has shown to be able to traverse Time and dimensions with his own powers, much like Allen in Showcase #4 in 1956.

Other media

A version of the Flash guest-starred in Adventures of Aquaman in 1968. In 1997 on CBS Flash was in a live-action 70 minute air called Justice League of America. In 1977 a TV Special appeared called Legends of Superheroes. Later on CBS Flash was in a live-action 70 minute air called Justice League of America as well.

The Flash has appeared on television, most notably in a short-lived 1990 series on CBS that starred John Wesley Shipp (aided by visual effects and a molded costume). His most famous opponent in the series was the Trickster, played by Mark Hamill. This foreshadowed Hamill's subsequent success at playing the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series.

The Flash has appeared in Superman: The Animated Series, voiced by Charlie Schlatter in the second-season episode "Speed Demons". He is most notably voiced by Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luthor on the television series Smallville) in the Justice League animated series. Some fans of The Flash have criticized the Justice League animated series portrayal the character due to the chauvanistic element series writers gave to his dialogue in early episodes of the series.

The Flash has made a guest appearance in the television series Smallville, in the fourth-season episode "Run" (first aired October 20 2004). He is portrayed as a self-centered teenager who uses his powers for personal gain. He goes by the name Bart Allen, but is shown to be carrying multiple ID cards also identifying him as Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West. His speed in the episode seemed to far surpass Clark Kent's and they apparently became friends towards the end with allusions being made of forming a "league" one day.

In December 2004, David Goyer (writer of the Blade trilogy and Batman Begins) announced plans to write and direct a major motion picture starring Ryan Reynolds as the Wally West version of the Flash. The film will be released by Warner Bros. sometime in 2006.

"The Ballad Of Barry Allen" is also a song by Jim's Big Ego featured on They're Everywhere and released through Creative Commons. The song takes an alternate view that Barry Allen does not in fact possess the ability to travel at super-speed, but instead is cursed by fate to live in a slow-moving world.

Related characters

As the first super-speed hero in comic books, the Flash was inspired by or has spawned a variety of imitators and conceptual descendants. These include:

External links


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