The Flash: Reading Guide
Throughout the decades long history of superheroes, one of the most influential red costumes has been worn by a number of men who have called themselves the Flash. Whether it is; Jay Garrick in the Golden Age, Barry Allen in the Silver Age or today, or even Wally West in the 80’s and 90’s the Flash has been one of the most popular characters in comics. Time and again, this fast-running hero has served as one of the landmark superheroes in the industry often signalling a change in eras. If you want to delve into the greatest Flash stories ever told, here are a few suggestions.
The Rival Flash (Flash Comics #104): In the Golden Age of Comics, Jay Garrick proudly fought crime and the Axis with his trademark red shirt and metallic helmet. In perhaps the biggest adventure of his superhero career, Garrick set a Flash precedent by battling an evil mirror speedster, thus starting a tradition in the Flash-mythos. Like Garrick so many years before, Dr. Edward Clariss inhaled hard-water vapors gaining super speed. Donning a black version of the Flash costume he naturally sets out to get revenge on those who rejected his scientific theories. Luckily the Flash is able to stop him, though he makes an arch nemesis in the process.
Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt (Showcase #4): With the exceptions of; Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, the superhero genre was dead. Enter the new head honcho at DC Comics, Julius Schwartz who had a plan to take the names and concepts behind the Golden Age heroes and reboot them for a new generation. His grand plan to resurrect superheroes all started here with Barry Allen taking over the Flash. To this end, Schwartz appointed; Robert Kanigher and and legendary artist Carmine Infantino to bring his vision to life. As a mild-mannered forensics scientist at his lab, a stray lightning bolt hits Barry, mixing with a cocktail of nearby chemicals. The result of this accident leaves him with the ability to move at incredible speeds. Inspired by the comic books he reads about Jay Garrick, Barry Allen dons the identity of the Flash. Throughout his introduction we see that he is an instantly likable character who now has to balance work, his budding relationship with reporter Iris West, and now fighting crime. Luckily Barry Allen is ready for it all.
Flash of Two Worlds (the Flash #123): One of the defining story elements of the DC Universe is the idea of the Multiverse. The concept that there are multiple earths in the DC Universe, all began here when the Flash embarked on a race for charity and ended up on Earth 2 coming face-to-face with the Golden Age Flash Jay Garrick. We get to see that Garrick has grown and matured since readers last saw him, finally settling down and marrying Joan Williams. As the two Speedsters forge their friendship an alliance of; the Fiddler, the Shade and the Thinker set out to make trouble. Both heroes team up and together save Keystone City. This classic story, not only boasted the creative talents of Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino, but proved to be a watershed moment in comic history.
Crisis of Infinite Earths: While technically this story encompassed the entire DC Universe the Scarlett Speedster played a very integral role in this epic. In this epic from the legendary duo of Marv Wolfman and George Perez, all of reality was at stake as the Anti-Monitor sought to wipe out the Multiverse. Given the Flash’s ability to travel between the different worlds, he was poised to be an obstacle to the villain. Barry Allen was captured by the villain Psycho Pirate to keep him from interfering in the Anti-Monitor’s plan. As one would expect, the Flash broke free and set his sight on stopping the anti-matter cannon. Running as he never had before the Flash successfully creates a vortex which draws away the weapon’s energy. However in the process the hero begins to fade away, yet he persists and eventually is forced to give his life in order to save the Multiverse. As this epic saga wrapped up, we see the Flash legacy get passed on once again as his sidekick Wally West, formerly Kid Flash, adopt the mantle.
Born to Run (the Flash #65-65): Despite a career as a sidekick, few were ready for Wally West to take on the mantle of his mentor and become the Flash. Shifting this perspective for the readers is why milestone Flash writer Mark Waid and artist Greg LaRocque gave readers a fresh retelling of Wally’s origin story. This put a modern spin on a story readers thought they knew, as they watched a young Wally West grow and adapt to the Speed Force on his way to fulfilling his destiny. Not only did “Born to Run” make a statement that Wally West deserved to be the Flash, but it also let fans know, Mark Waid’s run on the Flash series was going to be something special.
The Return of Barry Allen (the Flash #73-79): After some time in the mantle, Wally West had finally shed his “sidekick playing hero” image to fully being embraced as the Flash…..that is until Barry Allen mysteriously returns. The entire superhero community is all too ready to accept Wally’s mentor back into the fold, leaving Wally West to ponder what his future holds, and whether or not to retire from heroic all together. Surprisingly Barry Allen has a new growing aggression, and it is discovered it is actually the Flash’s old enemy the Reverse Flash who stolen Barry’s identity. Now that the battle has turned personal the Flash has to dig deep in order to defeat this villain.
Absolute Zero (the Flash #182): When then up-and-coming writer Geoff Johns and artist Scott Kolins, took over writing duties on the Flash, his first goal was to tackle the Speedster’s infamous rogue gallery and turn them once more into menacing threats. In no story was his work more apparent than in this single issue which examined the Flash’s arch-nemesis Captain Cold. Told from the villain’s POV, we get to see what makes this cold blooded crook tick. Johns explores the history and psychology of Cold in a way readers had never seen before, and through all of his hardships the bond with his sister Golden Glider has kept him centered. When she is killed by her Captain Cold-knockoff boyfriend Chillabine, nothing will stop the long time Flash-foe from having his revenge.
Blitz (the Flash #197-200): Throughout his 164 issue tenure on the Flash, this was perhaps the magnum opus for writer Geoff Johns and frequent collaborator Scott Kolins. The Flash’s life is changed for the better when he learns his wife, Linda is pregnant with twins. Unfortunately he has little chance to celebrate, as “Blitz” sees one of his closest friends Hunter Zolomon turn on him and adopt the mantle of the classic Flash villain, the Zoom/ the Reverse-Flash. Feeling betrayed that his friend did not use the Cosmic Treadmill to help him when he needed it, Zoom sets out to make Wally West feel as much pain and anguish as he has. What ensues is one of the most epic Flash battles of all time, as both the hero and villain push the limits of the Speed Force to gain the upper hand on each other. While Johns teases readers with an ending reminiscent of Barry’s climactic battle with his Reverse Flash, what we actually get is something far more tragic.
The Flash Rebirth: The controversial story from Geoff Johns and Comics-Gater douche Ethan Van Sciver, pulled Barry Allen out of the Speed Force and restored him to prominence as the Flash in the DC Universe. As the DC Universe celebrates the return of the veteran hero, Barry can not help but feel he was never supposed to escape and that the Speed Force is trying to drag him back in. As he readjusts to life in Central City, the evil speedster the Reverse Flash reenter the fray for a chance to make things miserable for their old enemy. It all leads to a climax where Barry Allen unites the rest of the Flash Family together for an epic battle with the Reverse Flash. This mini-series reestablished Barry as the definitive Flash in the DC Universe, though for an entire generation who had grown up with Wally West as the Flash
Flashpoint: In his constant battles against the Flash, the Reverse Flash struck a decisive blow by stealing the time-travelling Cosmic Treadmill. He goes through the timeline of the DC Universe and sees to it that when Barry Allen was young his mother was murdered and his father was framed. In an attempt to fix the damage, the timeline of the entire DC Universe was thrown off by the conflict of the Flash and Reverse Flash. The Kents never found Kal-el, Wonder Woman and Aquaman are leading warring factions, Abin Sur never passed the ring to Hal Jordan, and Bruce Wayne was murdered in Crime Alley leading to Thomas Wayne being Batman. The only hope the Flash has in fixing everything is in allying with Batman and uniting the heroes of this world. The result of this storyline ended with the entire DC Comics line being relaunched with the New 52.
Hey readers for more goodness from the Flash be sure to check out the book The American Superhero: Encyclopedia of Caped Crusaders in History from ABC-CLIO publishing. A certain handsome, charming, crazed, humble writer for the House of Geekery (that would be me) has a whole chapter on this great character. Be sure to buy your copy HERE.