For Those Who Ride on Lightning

April 22, 2007 at 6:11 pm Leave a comment

I was sitting here tonight, trying to decide what to blog about, when suddenly I realized I’ve barely talked about the important things in life. All humanity’s striving, all their hopes and dreams and efforts, everything that’s ever mattered… what have I really said about it?

More importantly, what have I said about the man that embodies all these things?

What have I said about The Flash?

Now, as always, I exaggerate because I love.

To be perfectly serious, I think The Flash is awesome. All of them. For you see, there’s not just one Flash; over the decades there have been many of them. It’s a long story. Let me explain.


Jay Garrick: The Golden Age Flash

Back in 1940 superhero comics were still in their infancy. Superman had only been introduced in 1938, and most of the characters that followed him were cheap knockoffs. Jay Garrick, the first man to bear the title of The Flash, was different. He ran fast.

It seems like a small difference, but it was actually quite huge; Jay Garrick was one of the first characters to have only one superpower, rather than a Superman-esque plethora of abilities. It set him apart from other characters, made him special. The origins of this power are somewhat dubious; he inhaled “hard water vapours” and was endowed with incredible speed. But hey, it was the ’40s. Standards of accuracy weren’t quite so high then.

Another thing that was different about The Flash was his motive for fighting crime. Unlike Batman, who was inspired by personal tragedy, or Superman, who was raised to an impossible moral standard, Jay Garrick used his powers to fight crime because it seemed like a nice thing to do. No real overarching motivation; he was just a good guy. He also used his powers to win football games.


Is that a kicking costume or what?

In addition to being one of the first superheroes, Jay was a founding member of the first superhero team; the Justice Society of America. They had a number of adventures over the ’40s, but by the end of the decade sales were down and most characters (save Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) saw their books canceled. The Flash was nearly consigned to the dustbin of history.

And then the Silver Age happened.


Barry Allen: The Silver Age Flash

What is the Silver Age? One might as well as what Barry Allen is; for all intents and purposes, the two are one and the same.

In 1956, DC Comics became interested in reviving their superhero line. Editor Julius Schwartz had writers Gardner Fox and Bob Kanigher and penciler Carmine Infantino create a new Flash. Where Jay Garrick had been a university student, Barry was a police scientist. His creation struck comics like a human thunderbolt; so successful was he that now EVERYONE wanted to do superhero comics. It revived DC’s characters, led to the creation of Marvel, and basically revived the entire industry. It was a new glory era for comics, The Silver Age.

Besides that, Barry Allen was ridiculously awesome.

Basically, it was this period that established what The Flash is today. Struck by lightning and doused with electrified chemicals from his lab, Barry gained incredible powers of speed. Taking a cue from Jay Garrick, Barry’s motivation was simple; he was just a nice guy who wanted to help people however he could. Of course, considering he could outrun light, catch bullets out of the air, vibrate through walls, and perform dozens of other tricks, “however he could” consisted of a lot. Barry also accumulated a Rogue’s Gallery on the level of Batman or Spider-Man; vivid, iconic villains that just seemed to fit.

The classic Flash villains, such as Captain Cold or Mirror Master, just seemed to have this funny sort of innocence to them. Like The Flash, they didn’t have any deep, hidden motives and schemes behind what they did. They didn’t want to conquer the world; they just wanted to rob a bank, have a good time off the proceeds, and do the whole thing again next weekend. They weren’t particularly bad guys, they just did bad things. And of course, The Flash got in their way. What can they expect to do against a man who moves faster than light?


Really, Captain Cold doesn’t stand a chance

The other revolutionary thing Barry did? Not long into his run, Barry traveled across universe to meet Jay Garrick, the original Flash. The teamed-up, became friends, and eventually started a cross-universe alliance between the Justice League and the Justice Society. The creation of this Multiverse, ushered in by The Flash, literally defined DC Comics until 1985.

What happened in 1985? Crisis on Infinite Earths. Decided that their continuity had become too complicated, editors at DC decided to simplify things by destroying every universe except for one. This was done by introducing a villain called “The Anti-Monitor”, who sought to destroy all reality and reshape it in his own image. A key pillar in his plan was to kidnap Barry Allen, who could otherwise travel through universes at will to marshall a defense. A nigh-omnipotent villain, and of all the people in all the possible universes who could stand against him, he’s worried about The Flash. Seriously, that is respect.

In issue eight of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry Allen escapes. Things get bad from there.


I really love this cover. It just looks awesome

The Anti-Monitor has created a weapon capable of destroying the last five universe. Barry Allen is the only person who can stand against him. The Flash does what he does best, runs fast, and saves all of existence, at the cost of his own life.

It was at this point The Flash stopped just being a comic character, and became a legend. Sure, Batman has saved the world, Superman has saved Gotham. But Barry Allen gave his life to save everything. It’s a classic heroic sacrifice on an impossibly grand scale. People have actually taken to calling him the Patron Saint of the DC Universe. No matter what any Flash does from now on, it will always be measured against Barry.

And of course, there would be another Flash. Throughout the ’60s and beyond Barry was aided by his nephew Wally West, who took the role of sidekick as Kid Flash. When you think about it, the idea of any sidekick is that they’ll one day succeed the hero; why else train a kid to follow in your footsteps? And yet, Wally West was the first to do it.


Wally West: Flash and Kid Flash
(That’s a Pretty Ugly Picture)

Basically, Wally West’s time as The Flash was one of the most consistently well-written runs on a comic ever. When it started out he was slow and unsure, trying to honour Barry’s memory without overshadowing it. Quiet unusually, Wally didn’t have a secret identity at this time; he just let everyone know he was The Flash (that was later retconned out). As the series continues he fights Barry’s old enemies, grows into his role, and comes to accept his place in The Flash dynasty.

What was great about this period is that it solidified the idea of a Flash Family. Jay Garrick took on a sort of grandfatherly role to Wally, and Barry was constantly referenced. It wasn’t a matter of them being a bunch of people who wore the same costume and had the same name, as with a few other comic lineages; there was a real sense of closeness between everyone that made the concept of The Flash seem all that more special. Probably one of the best things writer Mark Waid did with his run here was establish the concept of The Flash as something important, something that bound all these speedster characters together.

One of Waid’s best story-arcs during this time was “The Return of Barry Allen” (comic book characters have a hard time staying dead, no?). Barry quite unexpectedly returned to Wally’s life, and for awhile there were two Flashes running around. Wally, still uncomfortable and not wanting to upstage Barry, fell back into the role of sidekick; that is, until Barry nearly killed him and left him for dead. In the kind of plot-twist only acceptable in comic books, “Barry” turned out to actually be Barry’s old enemy The Reverse-Flash, who wanted to take over Barry’s role as hero and saw Wally as unworthy of the role. Wally, faced with someone actually intent on upstaging Barry, was forced to put aside his mental insecurities and operate at full capacity, not only defeating the Reverse-Flash but finally accepting his role as Barry’s successor. If this all sounds corny to you, you need to read more comics.

Wally’s run as The Flash actually came to an end not too long ago, as a result of the crossover event “Infinite Crisis” (Crisis’ are something Flash’s seem to have trouble with). Replacing him is Barry’s grandson from the future (long story) Bart Allen, who first appeared as the hero Impulse and later went on to become the second Kid Flash. The new series with Bart got off to a rocky start, but it’s starting to find it’s feet now. It’s still too early to say how it will pan out, but there’s really no doubt that The Flash will continue in some form or another.



Bart Allen: Impulse, Kid Flash and Flash

Flash Feats:
– One of the First Major Superheroes
– Founding Member of the First Superhero Team (Justice Society)
– Ushered in the Silver Age of Comics
– Responsible for the Creation of DC Multiverse
– Founding Member of the Justice League
– Saved all of Existence with Death in Crisis on Infinite Earths
– Critically Acclaimed 200-Issue Run on “The Flash: Vol. 2” (the Wally West series)
– Is Totally Awesome

Editor’s Note: Occassionally I try to do earnest, informative posts. They usually end up pretty embarrassing. This is one of those times. Perhaps it’s best to just move on?

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Seriously, I’m Just Filling Space The Fastest Man Alive

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