Welcome to the 2021 A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is DC Comics. And that’s mostly because of my undying affection for the comic book characters and stories that I grew up reading in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. So stay tuned all month to (maybe) learn a little something about 26 corners of the DC Multiverse.
I can’t think of too many well-known characters in the DC Universe beginning with F. But the biggest is definitely the Flash, the Fastest Man Alive.
But the question must be asked… Which Flash are we talking about? Hmm…
That’s right, there have been a fair few characters to call themselves the Flash. But we’ll come back to that.
For me, my introduction to the Flash came with the 1990 television series starring John Wesley Shipp (whom you may know as Dawson Leery’s father). Actually, I’m sure I’d seen the Flash on TV before on the old Super Friends cartoon, but the live action Flash is more memorable. The show appeared on CBS and focused on Barry Allen, a crime scene investigator who was simultaneously struck by lightning and doused with some lab chemicals which granted him super speed.
Sadly, that series only made it one season. But I was intrigued by this guy in all red that could run really fast. Like… how does he fight crime if he’s just really fast? Superman is really fast… but he also has super strength and heat vision and flight and cold breath and… well, I could go on and on. But I won’t.
Anyway, I was curious enough to pick up a couple of issues of The Flash, which advertised the TV show on the cover, reminding readers to tune in to CBS. But inside these issues, the Flash we were given was someone named Wally West!
What?! Where’s Barry Allen?!
Yeah… by the time I really started getting into comic books, Wally West was officially the Flash. Not only that, but he was the third person to carry that title. Crazy, I know.
Back during the Golden Age of comics, the very first Flash was a guy named Jay Garrick. When the Silver Age rolled around, a new Flash was introduced. This is where Barry comes in. And it was actually his introduction to the comics world that ushered in the Silver Age of comics.
Now, these stories were all way before my time. But from what I understand, in-continuity, Barry Allen grew up reading about Jay Garrick’s adventures as the Flash in comic books. So when he became a speedster, he took on the name Flash as an homage to his childhood hero.
Well, now DC Comics had two versions of the Flash out there running around. Not really at the same time… or were they? The Flash is so fast that he can vibrate between dimensional barriers. This introduced the idea of the multiverse. And one day, it so happened that Barry Allen, the Flash of Earth-1, met Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-2.
Yeah, even though all those Golden Age characters came first, it was decided that they got shuffled off to Earth-2, while Earth-1 became the regular DC continuity. How’s that for fair?
Barry Allen ran his race right up until the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, which saw the complete destruction of the multiverse, since DC wanted to simplify things and just have one DC Universe. But during that story, Barry sacrificed himself, at which point his sidekick, Wally West the Kid Flash took over as the Flash.
Honestly, I didn’t follow the Flash too closely during my serious collecting years. Much like my exposure to Aquaman, what I saw of the Flash came from his involvement with the Justice League or in the company wide crossovers. Although, I knew Wally had his own (sort of) sidekick in the form of a kid named Impulse.
Impulse was Barry Allen’s grandson from the future who had inherited his grandfather’s super speed and came back in time for some reason. I never really paid much attention to Bart Allen’s origin story. However, I do know that Impulse was pretty immature, but as he grew as a character, he eventually took on the name Kid Flash.
During another Crisis that came long, Wally West seemingly became one with the Speed Force, which is apparently what gives all speedsters their power. And while Wally was within the Speed Force, Bart aged up (because comics) and became the fourth Flash. Bart headlined his own Flash title for about a year and then he was killed off. He was later resurrected as a teenager and once again became Kid Flash (because comics).
When Bart Allen died, Wally West returned. But it wasn’t long after Wally’s return that Barry Allen returned. And it was said that Barry was one of those comic book deaths that would never be reversed. But he came back.
Geoff Johns, whom I’ve mentioned as one of my favorite DC Comics writers, gave us a pretty good Barry Allen comeback story in The Flash: Rebirth. I honestly don’t know how much the Rebirth story changed or updated Barry’s origin story. But I’m pretty sure this is where it was revealed that Barry’s mother was murdered by the Reverse Flash who had traveled back in time to when Barry was a child. Barry’s father was falsely convicted of Nora Allen’s murder, which is what inspired Barry to become a CSI in the first place, leading to his eventual “accident” that causes him to become the Flash.
Then, a few years later, Johns would be the driving force behind Flashpoint. It’s in this story that Barry uses his speed to go back in time and prevent his mother’s murder. However, in doing so, the butterfly effect completely transforms the DC Universe as we know it. Barry never gained his speed powers. Thomas Wayne became Batman after his son, Bruce, was senselessly killed in an act of random violence. Superman was an emaciated lab experiment who had been found by the government as an infant. Wonder Woman’s Amazons were on the brink of war with Aquaman’s Atlantis. It was a broken world.
Barry eventually realized that he needed to allow his mother to be murdered by his arch-nemesis in order to put things the way they were supposed to be. Only it didn’t put things back the way they were supposed to be…
This is where we got the stupid New 52 and DC Comics completely reset their entire continuity. Except some things stayed the same… like Batman had still had five Robins, but he’d only really been Batman for about five years? That makes sense. And since Green Lantern had been popular for several years at this point, they couldn’t exactly reset what was going there. You can’t see it, but I’m shaking my head in utter disgust at the idea of the New 52.
I’m not bitter…
In live action, we have only seen Barry Allen as the Flash. There was that short-lived 1990 series. There is also a current Flash TV show that airs on the CW starring Grant Gustin as Barry. This is a spin-off of Arrow and a part of the wider televised DC Universe that also features Supergirl and Batwoman among others. So far, the only Flash to appear on the big screen is also Barry Allen, but as portrayed by Ezra Miller in both Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League.
On the animated side of things Wally West was the Flash featured on Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, though I’m pretty sure they’ve gone back to Barry as the Flash in the DC animated film series.
Have you heard of the Flash? Of course you have. But did I do the character justice with this post? Did I leave out any important details? Let me know what you think down in the comments!