Seven months after Batman made his first appearance, The Flash burst into the comic scene in Flash Comics #1 by creators Gardner Fox and Harry Lampert. The original Flash was a man named Jay Garrick, whose origin involved inhaling hard water vapors that gave him superhuman speed.
One thing that you have to understand is that comic book science has always been suspect. Even when the origins of Jay Garrick’s powers were retconned in the ‘60s, the hard water part was still there.
Of the four Flashes, Jay Garrick is perhaps the least well known. But in his era, the original Flash had two ongoing comic book series and he was a founding member in one of the first superhero teams...
In the winter of 1940, Gardner Fox and editor Sheldon Mayer brought together a team of superheroes together in All Star Comics # 3. In the first adventure of the Justice Society, the Flash took his place alongside the original incarnations of Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom, Sandman, Doctor Fate, Hour-Man and The Spectre.
The Justice Society served as the forerunner of the Justice League and all other superhero teams that came after it. Even after the cancellation of Flash Comics in 1949, Jay Garrick continued to be a member of the Justice Society until All Star Comics was turned into All Star Western in 1951. The Golden Age of superheroes was over, but the Silver Age was just five years away.
While Superman and Batman ushered in the Golden Age of comics, it was The Flash who heralded the start of the Silver Age in 1956 with the release of Showcase #4. Writers Robert Kanigher and John Broome teamed up with penciler Carmine Infantino to reimagine The Flash as an entirely different person. Together, they created Barry Allen, a police scientist who gained his superpowers when he was struck by lightning and doused in chemicals from his lab.
That’s only slightly more plausible than Jay Garrick’s hard water origins. But comic fans embraced the new Flash, and his costume was such a great design that it was largely unchanged for most of Barry Allen’s time as The Flash.
The Flash appeared in Showcase a few more times before graduating back into his own monthly comic, which picked up at #105 after the original Flash Comics had ended at issue 104.
In response to the growing popularity of The Flash, DC went on to recreate several of its Golden Age superheroes. Without Barry Allen, Green Lantern, The Atom, and several other DC icons wouldn’t be the same.
Teenage superhero sidekicks used to be all the rage. Robin is the most famous of the sidekicks, but even The Flash had one of his own. In 1959, Wally West was introduced as the nephew of Iris West, Barry’s girlfriend. While visiting Barry at the police station, the freak accident that gave Barry his superpowers happened again and gave Wally his own superhuman speed.
After that, Wally West became Kid Flash and he fought alongside his mentor before co-founding the Teen Titans, a superhero group of sidekicks that included Robin, Wonder Girl, Speedy and Aqualad. Many years later, Wally carved out a large legacy of his own...
Jay Garrick’s Flash served as a founding member of the Justice Society. Barry Allen’s Flash kept that tradition alive by joining the Justice League of America alongside Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter.
The Justice League made its debut in The Brave and The Bold #28 in 1960, before moving on to the Justice League of America ongoing series. For over 50 years, the Justice League has been DC’s premiere superhero group. And it’s no coincidence that the Justice League movie will be DC and Warner Brothers’ answer to The Avengers. The Justice League came first, and that team arguably has more widely known members than The Avengers.
In The Flash #123, DC published the now classic story “Flash of Two Worlds” that brought together Barry Allen and Jay Garrick. Gardner Fox (the co-creator of Jay Garrick), Carmine Infantino (the co-creator of Barry Allen) and editor Julius Schwartz came up with a tale that explained how Barry and Jay could co-exist as The Flash, because their adventures took place on two different worlds.
This was the beginning of DC’s multiverse, which became increasingly complex and unwieldy in the long term history of the company. But in the short term, it led to an annual tradition of Justice Society and Justice League team ups.
Every great hero needs a great villain. And The Flash has several villains who could give him a real challenge. On their own, Captain Cold, Abra Kadabra, Captain Boomerang, Captain Cold, Golden Glider, Heat Wave, Mirror Master, Pied Piper, The Top, Trickster and Weather Wizard could have become forgettable adversaries.
But as a team, the Rogues became greater than the sum of their parts. The Rogues made their first appearance together in The Flash #130 as a one-off, but they worked so well together that they’ve never completely gone away. The Rogues also had a unique relationship with Barry Allen’s Flash, in that they acted within their own code of honor. The Rogues had their share of crazy members, but they weren’t like the complete psychopaths that Batman dealt with on a frequent basis.
The concept of the Reverse-Flash goes all the way back to Flash Comics #104 in 1949, when Dr. Edward Clariss recreated Jay Garrick’s powes and became The Rival, while wearing a darker variation of The Flash’s costume.
But the Reverse-Flash is better known as Professor Zoom aka Eobard Thawne, a 25th century criminal who figured out how to use one of The Flash’s costumes to give himself superspeed. Unlike Barry Allen, Zoom used his abilities for evil and he became obsessed with Barry’s life.
There are potential spoilers below for The Flash TV series ahead, if the show follows the outline of the comic book history. You’ve been warned!
Zoom was dangerously infatuated with Iris West, the woman that Barry loved and later married. When Iris rejected Zoom, he killed her. Years later, Zoom threatened to do the same thing to Barry’s new fiancée Fiona Webb. To save her life, Barry killed Zoom and he stood trial for his murder.
The Flash made his animation debut in The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure, a short-lived cartoon from 1967. Barry Allen appeared alongside Wally West’s Kid Flash in two of The Flash shorts. But Wally was depicted with black hair and a strangely reversed version of his Kid Flash costume.
Barry also appeared alongside the Justice League in this series, while Wally teamed up with the Teen Titans.
To a generation of comic book fans, the DC heroes were better known as the Super Friends. While The Flash appeared as a guest star in the earlier incarnations of the Super Friends animated series, Challenge of The Superfriends brought The Flash into the team on a regular basis as the Justice League took on Lex Luthor and his Legion of Doom.
Very few animation franchises last as long as the Super Friends did. It began in 1973 and kept going until 1986.
In the neverending battle of comic books, it’s rare for an iconic superhero to get a true happy ending. 1985’s Flash #350 found Barry Allen in an odd team up with the Rogues as they tried to defeat Professor Zoom and restore their timeline.
In the end, Barry was reunited with Iris and they went to live together in the far future before starting a family together. They were truly happy... for a while. But red skies were on the horizon.
Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s Crisis on Infinite Earths completely rewrote the rules of the DC Universe and did away with the multiverse in 1985. Along the way, worlds died and heroes lived as a new DC Universe was born.
But first, there had to be sacrifice. Supergirl fell in battle against the Anti-Monitor, an otherworldly being who tried to destroy all of existence. In Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, Barry Allen stepped up for the race of his life as he used his powers to destroy the Anti-Monitor’s ultimate weapon.
However, Barry’s body couldn’t handle the strain and he physically disintegrated... leaving behind only his costume and his ring. It was one of the great comic book deaths of all time. Even the pilot episode of The Flash has a pretty overt reference to this storyline.
In the aftermath of Barry Allen’s death, Wally West became the third Flash in the DC Universe. Unlike his fellow sidekicks, Wally took over his mentor’s role and made it his own. Writer Mike Baron and artist Jackson “Butch’ Guice kicked off Wally’s solo adventures with The Flash # 1 in 1987.
However, it took many years for the fans (and even the fictional DC characters) to accept Wally West as the one and only Flash. Most comic book historians point to Mark Waid’s run on the title as the turning point for Wally West. Yet for some reason, DC has yet to fully collect Waid’s Flash stint despite the high quality of the stories and the art.
The Batman movie was a huge hit in 1989, so it was inevitable that other superheroes would get their shot after that. In 1990, CBS ordered The Flash as a live-action TV series. And it seemed to borrow some of the look and tone from Tim Burton’s Batman. Composer Danny Elfman even gave The Flash a very Batman-esque opening theme!
John Wesley Shipp played Barry Allen, but this wasn’t the Barry Allen of the comics. The creative team of The Flash TV series fused Barry with a lot of Wally West’s characteristics and even a few members of Wally’s supporting cast. But the world wasn’t quite ready for The Flash, and it performed poorly in the ratings when CBS sent it up against The Simpsons and The Cosby Show on Thursday nights.
Consequently, The Flash ran for only a single season on CBS.
In 1994, Mark Waid introduced readers to Bart Allen, the grandson of Barry Allen. Iris West brought Bart back to the present so that Wally could help him control his powers and stop his rapid aging before it killed him. Because Wally was Iris’ nephew by marriage, that made him Bart’s first cousin once removed.
Bart’s powers also led to his extremely poor attention span and led to his superhero name, Impulse. Bart became Wally’s sidekick for a while and he even had his own Impulse comic book series. Years later, Bart joined Young Justice, and a later incarnation of the Teen Titans, where he became the new Kid Flash.
Bart Allen’s introduction to the pages of The Flash were part of Mark Waid’s ongoing efforts to expand the Flash family. Although Jay Garrick wasn’t related to the Allens or the Wests by blood, he and his wife Joan served as unofficial grandparents to Wally and Bart.
On top of that, Max Mercury was introduced as a superspeed hero who became Bart’s mentor and guardian. Wally even brought Jesse Quick into the fold. She was the daughter of Liberty Belle and Johnny Quick, who almost became The Flash herself at one point.
Wally West’s Flash made a guest appearance on Superman: The Animated Series. But in 2001, The Flash was part of Bruce Timm and Warner Bros. Animation’s Justice League animated series alongside Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl.
This was one of the few times that Wally West actually got to be The Flash outside of the comics. Justice League amped up Wally’s playful side, but the series also established him as the heart of the team. The final storyline of Justice League Unlimited’s first season also gave Wally a big heroic moment that he had long deserved.
For reasons that have never been fully explained, DC Comics only allowed the producers of Smallville to use Bart Allen as their stand-in for The Flash. Kyle Gallner played Bart in the fifth season of Smallville, before returning to appear in the proto-Justice League episode from the sixth season and he came back one more time in the eighth season finale.
Bart was never called The Flash in Smallville, but he disliked the Impulse nickname that his teammates gave him. The only shoutouts to Bart’s predecessors were the fake IDs that he carried with him.
In 2000, Geoff Johns joined The Flash as the regular writer and he began remaking Wally West into more of a blue collar, working class hero. Under Johns’ direction, Wally continued his marriage with Linda Park and she became pregnant with his twins.
Johns is also credited with revitalizing the Flash’s villains, particularly The Rogues, who become much more popular during his stint on the book. A new Reverse-Flash was also introduced as Zoom. Unlike the first Professor Zoom, this Zoom had a sick desire to make Wally a better hero by making him suffer. Towards that end, Zoom caused Linda to miscarry her children.
The tragedy of their lost children didn’t define Wally or Linda. Some time later, Wally went up against both versions of Zoom and he inadvertently found a way to change history so that his children survived. In the newly-created timeline, Linda gave birth to Jai and Irey West.
Shortly thereafter, Wally became entangled with the events of Infinite Crisis. As Wally was forced out of his world, Linda held on to him with the twins in her arms as they faded away together.
In case you're wondering about that picture, that's Barry Allen making a cameo appearance as he helps Bart Allen take down the evil Superboy Prime. Believe me, it would take too long to fully explain that one...
With Wally gone, an older Bart Allen became the fourth Flash in the DC Universe. Bart also headlined a new comic book series: The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive in 2006.
While Bart initially had a blue collar job like Wally, he soon relocated to Los Angeles and started training in the police academy to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.
Bart’s time as the Flash was extremely short lived. Perhaps the readers never had the chance to fully warm up to the idea of Bart taking over from Wally.
In his final adventure as The Flash, Bart confronted his evil clone Inertia, who had tricked the Rogues into helping his plan to steal Bart’s speed. In the chaos that followed, the Rogues fatally injured Bart and they immediately regretted their role in his death.
But that death didn’t stick, as Bart was eventually revived in the far future and he returned to the present in his younger incarnation.
Wally West and Linda Park-West returned from another world during the second storyline of Brad Meltzer’s Justice League run (which was co-written by Geoff Johns). Their children, Jai and Irey came back with them and appeared to have aged a few years.
Jai and Irey also developed superspeed powers of their own, as they essentially became their father’s newest sidekicks. This change of direction made The Flash seem more like The Incredibles, but it didn’t catch on with the fans and it came to an end less than two years later.
For twenty years, Barry Allen was the patron saint of dead superheroes. No one dared to bring him back from the dead out of fear that it would weaken his heroic sacrifice from the original Crisis.
However, Grant Morrison resurrected Barry for the Final Crisis event miniseries and he teamed up with Wally West to play a critical role in bringing down Darkseid once and for all. In the aftermath of the story, Barry was still alive and he was reunited with Iris for the first time in years.
In 2009, Geoff Johns returned to The Flash alongside artist Ethan Van Sciver for The Flash: Rebirth, a miniseries that reestablished Barry Allen as the main Flash, while keeping Wally West, Jay Garrick, Bart Allen and even Irey around as Flashes (although Irey became the newest Kid Flash).
This was not without some controversy, since an entire generation of comic book fans had grown up with Wally West as their Flash. But the change stuck, and Barry Allen has been DC’s primary Flash ever since. The Rebirth storyline also reintroduced the original Professor Zoom and it was revealed that Zoom went back in time and murdered Barry Allen’s mother just to torment him and ruin his life.
The Young Justice animated series featured both Barry Allen and Wally West, but Barry was only a background character as The Flash. Wally was one of the stars of the series alongside Robin, Aqualad, Artemis, Superboy, Miss Martian and other young heroes who rejected the status of “sidekick.” Impulse came into the series during its second season.
In many ways, this series was Wally West’s last hurrah. By the second season of Young Justice, Wally retired from superheroics but he was forced back into action and he seemingly made the ultimate sacrifice. The untimely ending of Young Justice made it unclear as to whether Wally would return.
Flashpoint was the story of how Barry Allen broke the DC Universe. And it’s never been the same since.
As depicted by Geoff Johns and artist Andy Kubert, Flashpoint followed Barry Allen as he found himself trapped in a nightmarish world of his own making. As Professor Zoom gleefully told him, Barry changed history by saving his mother from Zoom, but it led to a terrible future with Wonder Woman’s Amazons and Aquaman’s Atlantean army on the verge of a war that would destroy the world.
Barry had no choice but to go back in time and prevent his younger self from altering the timeline. But the resulting changes created a brand new timeline. And one of the consequences of that change was that Wally West and his wife and their children no longer existed.
Flashpoint was used as the storyline excuse for The New 52, DC’s linewide comic book reboot in 2011. In his newest incarnation, Barry is much younger than before and he is not yet in full control of his powers. This time, Barry’s love interest was a co-worker named Patty Spivot, while Iris West was depicted as more of a friend to Barry than anything else.
The Flash’s costume was also redesigned by DC, which added a lot of strange looking lines to his outfit. This version of The Flash also played up his tragic backstory with his mother and his quest to prove that his father did not murder her.
Eventually, Wally West reappeared in this timeline as an African American teenager, whom Iris asked Barry to mentor.
As the first DC superhero TV series after Smallville, Arrow quickly proved to be one of The CW’s biggest shows. Early in the second season, the seeds of a spinoff series for The Flash were planted in a two part episode that introduced Grant Gustin as Barry Allen.
Barry’s appearance here drew heavily upon the newly created backstory that the character received in The New 52. Barry recounted the tale of his mother’s murder as a justification for his obsession with chasing the impossible. Barry even became an unofficial member of Team Arrow and he helped save Oliver Queen’s life.
The closing moments of Barry’s second episode of Arrow depicted the accident that created the Flash as a result of a freak lightning storm mixed with the fallout that came from the destruction of the advanced particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs.
Almost one year after his initial appearance on Arrow, The Flash debuted on The CW and established itself as the network’s number one show. The response has been so positive that The CW has already renewed The Flash for a second season.
Gustin has turned out to be a very good choice for this incarnation of Barry Allen. He’s also surrounded by a strong supporting cast that includes Tom Cavanagh, Jesse L. Martin, and even TV’s original Flash, John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s father, Henry Allen.
The CW is already talking about the possibility of adding a third TV show to the shared universe of The Flash and Arrow, with crossover episodes between the two series now planned as a yearly event.
For years, Warner Bros. has been looking for an answer to Marvel Studios’ success with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Last year, Warner Bros. announced an aggressive slate of DC superhero movies that would share continuity with each other. The Flash is currently slated to be the sixth film to be released in this series.
Ezra Miller has been cast as The Flash, but it’s not clear if he’s playing Barry or Wally. Although the smart money would be on Barry, since The Flash TV series won’t share any continuity with The Flash movie.
No one knows if the DC movies can match the box office of Marvel’s films. But unless something drastic changes at Warner Bros. within the next few years, then The Flash is going to make his debut on the big screen in 2018.