Flash 101: Catching Up with the Flashes
With an eagerly awaited new show premiering next week on The CW, it’s safe to say the Flash is more popular than he’s ever been before. Considering we’re talking about a character who has remained an icon of comics for over 70 years, that’s really saying something. Yet, while many people may recognize who the Flash is, the character’s world and history aren’t generally as well known as those of Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman. So to fill you in on a few of the basics, we thought we’d whip up a quick 101 on the Fastest Man Alive. Or should we say, the Fastest Men Alive.
Yes, there have been a total of four men who have wielded the mantle of the Flash since the character’s debut, and we thought we’d take a quick (this is the Flash, after all) look at them. But first, a caveat. With the possible exception of Green Lantern, the Flash has the most complex history of all of the Justice Leaguers. His stories involve traveling through time and dimensions. We’re talking about the guy who discovered the Multiverse, after all. There’s no way we’ll be able to touch on everything in a simple, straightforward blog post. Instead, we’re just going to focus on the basics, largely for the benefit of new fans. If you’re a longtime Flash reader, you probably don’t need this 101. You’re ready for the advanced class.
But for the rest, let’s start at the beginning with the very first Flash…
The Flash made his comic book debut in 1940’s FLASH COMICS #1 by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert. Jay Garrick was a college student in Keystone City who developed incredible superspeed after he fell asleep in the science lab and accidentally inhaled the hyper-charged atoms of a radioactive liquid. He was the one and only Flash up until the mid-1950s.
Jay stands out from all of the later Flashes due to his Golden Age-era costume. With his red, lightning bolt-branded shirt, his blue and yellow pants and his distinctive silver winged helmet, he looks much, much different than his successors. He’s also the only version of the Flash to not wear a mask.
During his tenure, Jay would help form the Justice Society of America, a group with which he’s had a continued association ever since, and would serve as something of a father figure for later Flashes. While Jay traditionally appears middle-aged, chronologically he’s actually a lot older. This is the result of a few events within his life that slowed down the aging process, including a period spent in suspended animation.
In The New 52, Jay Garrick can be found in the series Earth 2, where he’s much younger and wears an updated take on Jay’s Golden Age costume.
The most widely known iteration of the Flash is Barry Allen, and unsurprisingly, it’s the version that will be brought to the screen in the new CW series. Debuting in 1956’s SHOWCASE #4, written by John Broome and Robert Kanigher and drawn by the great Carmine Infantino and Joe Kubert, Barry Allen’s Flash brought new energy and relevance to the character and is largely regarded as the first Silver Age super hero.
A forensic scientist in Central City with a reputation for being constantly late, Barry gained his powers after a bolt of lightning struck him in his lab while he was surrounded by chemicals. While his powers were similar to Jay Garrick’s, Barry’s costume was considerably different, and with a few minor alterations, has largely remained the Flash’s costume to this day. Featuring a red bodysuit and cowl, with yellow boots and gold detailing that drew its inspiration from the lightning bolt that struck him, it was Barry’s costume that truly earned the Flash the nickname of the Scarlet Speedster.
Barry was the star of the monthly Flash comic from 1956 through 1985’s universe-changing CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, where Barry tragically gave his life to save the Earth from the Anti-Monitor. He was succeeded by the next guy on our list, but that wasn’t the end of Barry’s story, as you’ll see in a bit…
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