WHO IS THE FLASH?
Along with Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, The Flash is one of DC Comics' most popular and longest running super-heroes.
Although a few characters have been The Flash, the concept is pretty much the same; a guy gains super-speed and he decides to fight evil. The Flash’s most defining image is a stylized yellow thunderbolt worn on the chest.
HOW MANY SUPER-SPEEDSTERS HAVE THERE BEEN?
There are three main heroes who have starred as The Flash, but there are dozens of super-speedsters throughout DC history and it has recently been established that the legacy of The Flash will span thousands of years.
WHO WAS FIRST?
In 1940, vastly-influential comic book writer Gardner Fox came up with JAY GARRICK, a Keystone City college student unable to nab a girlfriend because he was too slow to make the football team. Accidentally inhaling super-charged “hard water” fumes, Garrick gained the ability to think and move at near light speeds. Donning a funky hat that alluded to the swift mythological god Mercury, Garrick fought crime as “The Flash”.
The Flash was the first chairman of the Justice Society of America, comics’ original super-team, and remained one of DC's most popular heroes until the late 1940s, when most costumed crime-fighters pretty much disappeared.
WHO CAME NEXT?
In 1956, editor Julie Shwartz asked Bob Kanigher and Carmine Infantino to revamp The Flash for a modern audience. Their experiment was such a success, The Flash ended up reviving the entire super-hero genre and launched what is now known as the Silver Age of Superhero Comics.
This new hero was police scientist BARRY ALLEN, who also had girl problems from his perpetual lateness. Stuck by lightning and electrified chemicals, Barry was inspired by his comic book hero, The Flash, to use his newfound super-speed as a costumed crime-fighter.
Like the original, The Flash became the first chairman of the Justice League of America in 1960 and remained one of DC’s most dependably popular super-heroes for decades to come.
WHO'S THE NEWEST ONE?
The current Flash is WALLY WEST, nephew and former protégé of Barry Allen. Since 1959, Wally West had been The Flash’s young sidekick, Kid Flash. Wally even joined DC’s premier sidekick team, The Teen Titans, in the sixties and was a prominent member of Marv Wolfman & George Perez’s revamped New Teen Titans during the eighties.
When Barry Allen sacrificed his life to save the universe during the Crisis on Infinite Earth, Wally became the first sidekick in comic history to actually take his mentor’s place and assumed the mantle of The Flash in 1986.
Like his two predecessors, the newest Flash joined the revamped Justice League and his comic has often been ranked amongst DC’s best super-hero books in recent years thanks mainly to the efforts of writers Mark Waid and Geoff Johns and the incredible artists they’ve been teamed with.
HOLD UP, WHAT’S THE CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS?
The Crisis of Infinite Earths was a giant cross-over DC put together in 1985 to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. The story combined all the various alternate realities into one world and re-launched their major characters.
The story’s premise originated in the first team-up between Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash and Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash, which established the multiple Earth concept within the DC Universe. So it was sort of fitting that the last Crisis story was Barry Allen swan song. Barry died by running faster than the speed of light, leaving behind only an empty costume. The Barry Allen incarnation of The Flash has since become the Patron Saint of DC Super-Heroes—a perfect, untarnished hero who represents all that was good about being a superhero.
WHO'S THE KID FLASH IN TEEN TITANS?
Created by Mark Waid in 1994, Bart Allen was introduced as Barry Allen’s hyper-active grandson from the future. Originally named IMPULSE, Bart had his own monthly series for a time and joined forces with DC’s modern teen sidekicks in Young Justice, which has recently been revamped as a new version of the Teen Titans.
WHO ARE THE OTHER SUPER-SPEEDSTERS?
JOHNNY QUICK was another super-fast character created during the forties. He was a member of Roy Thomas’ 1940s super-hero opus, All-Star Squadron. His daughter, JESSE QUICK, was a member of the Titans for awhile and shows up from time to time in The Flash and JSA.
MAX MERCURY was originally known as Quicksilver, but his name was changed to avoid confusion with the Marvel Comics speedster of the same name. Mark Waid plucked this old character out of limbo to establish him as a sort of super-speedster Yoda to Wally. It was revealed that Max had been around since the early 19th Century and been periodically bumped ahead in time due to his brushes with near light speeds. Eventually, Max ended up serving as mentor and straight man to Impulse during most of his monthly series.
JOHN FOX is a time-travelling Flash from the distant future. John bounced around time thanks to his snazzy time gauntlets and even filled in for Wally in the present a few years ago. He is currently a member of Justice Legion A, the premier super-team of the distant future.
XS is the super-fast grandaughter of Barry Allen and a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Barry had two children with his wife Iris West while living in the time of her birth, the 30th Century. Their children grew up to become the first heroes of their era, THE TORNADO TWINS. The twins’ children are Impulse and XS respectively.
WHAT CAN THE FLASH DO?
Aside from thinking, moving and running really, really fast, Jay, Barry and Bart can vibrate their molecules through solid matter. Wally used to be able to do this, but if he does it now, whatever he vibrates through blows up. Wally can also lend other moving objects some of his own speed by extending his “aura”, an energy field that protects a super-speedster from the friction and heat their velocity creates.
Mark Waid revealed during his memorable run on The Flash that most super-speedsters derive their power from a quasi-mystical concept known as the “Speed Force”. If a speedster runs too fast, like Barry Allen did during Crisis, they are absorbed into the Force, which is sort of a speed-freak Valhalla.
HAS THE FLASH APPEARED OUTSIDE OF COMICS?
The Barry Allen version had his own cartoon that was a part of the Justice League of America show during the sixties and was also a member of the Superfriends (which was basically the Justice League with a different name) during the seventies.
The Flash had his own live-action TV series during the early nineties. The series starred police scientist Barry Allen, but was mixed heavily with elements from the Wally West incarnation of the character.
Most recently, Wally West (with Barry’s origin) is currently appearing in the new Justice League cartoon. He is a younger and less experienced version of The Flash in the comics though. He is voiced by Michael Rosenbaum, the same actor who plays Lex Luthor on “Smallville”.
Jay Garrick also appeared on Justice League as The Streak. Originally, the episode was to feature the Justice Society, but it was changed at the last minute to the Justice Guild.
There is also tons of Flash merchandise out there, including T-Shirts, statues and action figures…but no running shoes yet.
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE BOOKS RIGHT NOW?
Current Flash scribe Geoff Johns has shaken the comic up by having the world forget that Wally West is the world-famous Flash following his devastating battle with his arch-rival Zoom. Meanwhile, Johns is also evolving Impulse into Kid Flash over in Teen Titans.