DC FLASHBACK: The Flash

Mon, July 2nd, 2007 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
CBR News Team, Editor

"The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive" #13, "All-Flash" #1

You have no idea how many times I have started this article.

It began with the rumor that Barry Allen would be returning in "The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive" #13. Then there were rumors that it would be the return of Wally West in issue #15. Then in third week of June we found out that, reportedly, the plan from the beginning was to end the current Flash series after a year and relaunch the original Flash series with the original numbering. Oh and by the way, Mark Waid is back.

This news has created a range of reactions, from cries of "bait and switch" to joyous praise of Waid's return. For me, it meant that I had to rewrite a perfectly fine article because I am no longer sure who will be wearing the Flash costume (though after "Justice League of America" #10, we have a pretty good idea) when the series returns with "Flash" #231 (purportedly taking the place of "The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive" #15) in August.

So, instead of covering the life of Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West or even Bart Allen, I give you the history of -- the Flash.

"Flash Comics" #1, "All-Star Comics" #3
The Flash first appeared in the "Flash Comics" #1 in January of 1940. "Flash Comics" was published by All-American Publications, which was one of several comic companies that later merged to form DC Comics. Created by Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert, Jay Garrick, the original Flash, was a college student who gained super-speed after inhaling hard water vapor (later heavy water vapor). Jay was the first super-speedster in comics and was iconic with his winged metal helmet, obviously cribbed from the Greek messenger god, Hermes.

During the 1940s, Jay appeared as the lead character in "Flash Comics" as well as "All-Flash Quarterly." Jay was a founding member of the Justice Society of America, who appeared in "All Star Comics" and was a regular feature in "Comic Cavalcade." "Flash Comics" was cancelled with issue #104 (February 1949) and Jay's final Golden Age appearance was with the rest of the Justice Society of America in "All Star Comics" #57 (February - March 1951).

Barry Allen launched the Silver Age in "Showcase" #4
In 1956, the Silver Age of comics began with the Flash in the lead of DC's re-imagining of their Golden Age heroes. Police scientist Barry Allen appeared in "Showcase" #4 (October 1956), gaining super-speed when he was bathed in chemicals struck by lightning. Interestingly enough, Barry named himself the Flash after reading a comic book about Jay Garrick. Barry was given his own title with "Flash" #105 (February-March 1959), which resumed the numbering from where Jay Garrick's adventures had ended. With this revival, DC began to revamp their other Golden Age characters and Barry, like Jay, became a founding member of the new super team: The Justice League of America.

In September 1961, Gardner Fox committed an act of writing genius that has been both blessed and cursed DC Comics for over four decades hence. "Flash" #123 told the tale of the "Flash of Two Worlds!" in which Jay Garrick and Barry Allen were established as existing on parallel worlds, and introduced the concept of the DC Multiverse from which many a crisis has grown. This was the first crossover between DC's Silver Age and Golden Age characters, and soon there were crossovers between Green Lanterns of Earth-1 and Earth-2 as well as the Atoms of both worlds. Eventually, the Justice League and the Justice Society would begin an annual series of crossovers that would endure until 1985.

Barry Allen died saving the universe(s) in "Crisis on Infinite Earths" #8
As with so many of the DC Flashbacks and Crisis Continuities I have written, I must say again, "along came 1985 and the 'Crisis on Infinite Earths.'" While the Crisis changed many characters and rebooted much of the DCU's continuity, few were as profoundly changed as the Flash. Prior to the Crisis, the "Flash" series ended with issue #350. The character of Barry Allen had fallen into a confused mess and DC decided that it was time to change the title. Rather than revamp the book in the planned manner of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, it was decided that Barry Allen needed to hand the winged boots off to a younger hero. In November of 1986, in "Crisis on Infinite Earths" #8, Barry Allen, running for his and the lives of everyone in the Multiverse, died.

Wallace Rudolph West, the nephew of Barry Allen's wife Iris West, first appeared in "The Flash" #110 (Dec. 1959 - January 1960). When Wally was about ten years old, he visited Barry Allen's police laboratory and the freak accident that gave the Silver Age Flash his super-speed was repeated when Wally was bathed in chemicals and struck by lightning. Wally became the sidekick to Barry Allen as the Kid Flash. Kid Flash was a founding member of the Teen Titans and maintained his membership with that group until the death of Barry Allen. During Barry Allen's death sequence in "Crisis on Infinite Earths," it was revealed that the lightning that struck Wally as well as Barry was in fact Barry Allen himself, traveling backward in time due to the tremendous speed he had achieved while saving the Multiverse.

Wally West, the former Kid Flash, became the Flash in 1986
Following the death of Barry Allen, Wally adopted the identity of the Flash. He became the third Flash in "Crisis on Infinite Earths" #12 (March 1986) and kicked off the second volume of "The Flash" title in 1987. Wally found in the post-Crisis world that his incredible speed had been reduced to "merely" the speed of sound. Additionally, Wally's need for fuel to feed his speed was much higher than human norms, forcing West to consume large quantities of food. Wally revealed his identity to the public, openly taking on the mantle of his mentor. Shortly thereafter, Wally won a multi-million dollar lottery and, for a time, enjoyed the lifestyle that such money affords. Like those Flashes who came before him, West joined the preeminent super team of his time, the Justice League.

After experimenting with and expanding his powers, Wally learned that in his life Barry Allen had become something more than human and had tapped into an energy force of which Wally had only barely scratched the surface. Barry Allen had become a part of an extra-dimensional energy known as the Speed Force. The Speed Force is the energy source from which all the power of the various speedsters is derived. After a prolonged battle with Barry Allen's old foe, the Reverse-Flash, Wally became one with the Speed Force. From that point onward, West's powers grew exponentially, finding that he could run faster than even Barry Allen, and regained his vibrational powers as well.

Jay Garrick and Barry Allen by Alex Ross
West married Journalist Linda Park, and after Linda had a miscarriage as the result of an attack by the Reverse-Flash, Wally regretted revealing his public identity and had the Spectre erase that knowledge from the minds of the public (and presumably all those pesky written documents and hard drives). Unfortunately, Wally forgot he was the Flash as well (that Spectre is such a joker). Batman eventually figured out what happened and restored Wally's memory.

Wally's career as the Flash ended in "Infinite Crisis" #4 when Wally West, Bart Allen, Jay Garrick and Barry Allen (from within the Speed Force) united to remove the threat of Superboy-Prime from the world. Wally turned into energy and started to disappear. He appeared to his wife Linda and she grabbed him with their infant children in her arms and the four of them disappeared.

Barry's grandson Bart Allen AKA Impulse, who later becomes the second Kid Flash
Remember back when I told you how Barry Allen died when he ran so fast that he went back in time? Yeah, well, that's part of the story. During Barry's desperate run to stop the Anti-Matter cannon that threatened all of reality, Barry was removed from that moment in time and spent some time, well, time traveling. He spent some time with his wife -- in the 30th century. Iris became pregnant and has twins (a common theme with the West/Allen children.) The siblings grow up to become the Tornado Twins, who later meet the Legion of Super-Heroes. The Tornado Twins had children of their own. Dawn Allen has a daughter, Jenni Ognats, who grows up to become XS of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Don Allen fathers a son, Bart Allen. Bart was born with a rapid-aging illness and was sent back to the 20th century, where he was cured by Wally West.

Bart Allen graduated to the mantle of the Flash
Bart remained in the 20th century, finding mentors in Jay Garrick, Wally West and another Golden Age speedster, Max Mercury. Bart, taking on the costumed identity of Impulse, was a co-founder of the teen team Young Justice and later became the second Kid Flash and a member of the New Teen Titans. When Bart, Wally, Jay and Barry faced Superboy-Prime in the pages of "Infinite Crisis," Bart disappeared, seemingly into the Speed Force, only to return as an adult. It was in the pages of "The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive" #2 (June 2006) that Bart Allen took on the mantle of the Flash and, over the 13-issue run of the title, we discovered that Bart had become the Speed Force.

The Flash legacy
In the final issue of that run, Bart's evil clone, Inertia, drained the Speed Force from Bart, who was then killed by the members of the Flash Rogue's Gallery. Meanwhile, in the pages of "Justice League of America" #10 (June 2007), several members of the Legion of Super-Heroes traveled to the present to resurrect the "Last Legionnaire." The Legionnaires use 30th century technology by channeling released Speed Force energy via lightning rods (look, it was a Jim Shooter thing from the '60s, cut 'em a break). The Legionnaires travel to the place where Barry Allen and Wally West gained their powers and the last place Barry Allen appeared before he died. Batman and Hal Jordan realize the significance of these locations and believe that the Legionnaires are attempting to return Barry Allen to life. Surprisingly, the last Legionnaire turns out to be Wally, who returns with his wife Linda and their twins (who appear much older). In the future, Brainiac 5 indicates that Wally's return was unexpected, but that they had resurrected the person they had wanted, and he is actually encased in one of the lightning rods. We can only assume that this person is Barry Allen.

The past 67 years have been a blur for the Flash and the Flash Legacy, breaking new ground and always being at the forefront of change. In August, the Flash returns and one of the characters who's held the title "Fastest Man Alive" will give the Flash another run.

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