There are characters who don’t reach the level of Superman or Batman, but who are none the less easily recognized by most non-comic readers as well. Characters who, when you mention their name, the non-comic reading guy on the street will have a vague idea of the guy’s powers and what his costume looks like. The Flash is such a character.
Maybe it’s because he’s one of those guys where his name says it all. Flash. Super-speed. It’s like Aquaman living underwater, you’re told a lot just in the name. Maybe it’s because the costume is so simple and sleek. Maybe it’s because people still remember the live-action show or his appearances on cartoons here and there. Or maybe it’s just that he’s so straightforward in his major abilities revolving around speed that he’s more of an icon, an elemental, than a super-hero. He almost seems to represent motion itself.
So let’s talk about him. Or rather THEM. For there have been several to wear the mantle of the Flash.
A MODERN-DAY MERCURY
Superman started a wave of super-heroes. Problem was, after DC sued the pants off a character called "Wonder Man" who was an obvious rip-off, a move that would not prove quite as successful when they tried to sue Captain Marvel later, everyone got nervous that having a guy with a bunch of powers would make them vulnerable to similar lawsuits or would seem too similar to fans. Solution? Focus your hero on ONE major power or quality. Marvel gave us two elemental characters in the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch. DC started several new theme-heroes well. Hourman (he has his powers for an hour), The Green Lantern (he gets magic from a lantern, like Alladin), The Sandman (he puts criminals to sleep), Hawkman (he’s a man emulating a hawk). And a guy whose specialty was speed. Hailed as a "modern-day Mercury" and the “Sultan of Speed”, and wearing a helmet that echoed the Roman god of speed and merriment, Jay Garrick was introduced in FLASH COMICS #1 in January 1940.
Unlike Green Lantern, Superman, Sandman, Batman and others, Jay Garrick was not an adult man in at least his mid-twenties with a full career and all. He was college student, specifically a student attending "Midwestern University" in the fictional Keystone City. The guy enjoyed playing college football but was a "leadfoot" and lacking in coordination. When he tried to ask out his blonde classmate Joan Williams, she snubbed him because she believed it was a lack of effort that made him a weak player, saying he obviously had brains and physical strength.
While he might not have used his brain much in football, Jay showed that he was quite the science whiz. For reasons that were never really explained, Jay was very interested in the study of "hard water." For you folks who have heard of hard water but don’t feel like grabbing the encyclopedia right now, I’ll give a brief rundown. Hard water is simply water with a high mineral content. It’s not dangerous if you drink it, but it can cause problems if its in your pipes because it makes washing difficult, among other things. If it’s in a boiler or a cooling tower, it can cause a breakdown in the system. It’s used for brewing beer and Bourbon and can be used to prevent damage to pipes by corrosive products.
So keep all that in mind as I continue.
Jay was studying the effects of hard water in the university lab. After many hours, it was getting late and he figured he could do for a break. So he sat down in the nice chair that was in the lab and lit a cigarette. He leaned back as he took a nice drag and in the process he accidentally knocked over the tubes. He tried to clean it up, but the gasses of the "hard water fumes" knocked him unconscious.
After being in a coma for a couple of weeks, Jay woke up and a doctor figured out that the hard water fumes had altered his body chemistry, speeding up all his reflexes. The doctor explained "Science knows that hard water makes a person act much quicker than ordinarily … By an intake of its gases, Jay can walk, talk, run and think swifter than thought …"
… Right … So how come the same doesn’t happen when people drink Bourbon? I mean, hard water is used to make that too. Hmmm. Maybe you just need to drink a LOT of Bourbon to get super-speed. Perhaps I will try that experiment later, just for the interest of science.
Anyway, after this ridiculous explanation, Jay realized he was the fastest man alive and decided he would dedicate his life to a new and altruistic purpose … WINNING FOOTBALL GAMES!
Yep. Jay just wanted to be the B.M.O.C. and impress Joan. So he won a game and got a date with the girl and then afterwards decided, as long as he had these amazing abilities, why not use them to help out other people? There was no moment of realization where it dawned on him that with great power came great responsibility. There was no tragedy by having a girlfriend or a parent killed by criminals. There was no bodiless voice telling him he’d been chosen by a higher power. He just figured "Why not?"
Emulating the god Mercury, Jay donned a winged helmet and put together a costume that was distinctive but also had a nice "off-the-rack" look to it. A long-sleeve shirt with a lightning bolt on it (cuz he was just that fast, dontchaknow?), tight blue pants that could have easily been tight blue jeans, and red boots with cute little wings on them.
Jay was the Flash and he damn well lived up to that name. He could outrace a bullet and snatch it out of the air. He could outrace the effects of gravity and sprint up the side of a building. By moving his body quickly enough, he appeared invisible to the human eye (later stories would say that he was vibrating his molecules at super-speed rather than simply shifting position back and forth very quickly). If he was nearby a fire, Jay could whirl around it and create a vortex that sucked up all the oxygen, or he could force people to fly into the air via mini-tornadoes he made in the same way. By speeding up the momentum of his arm, he could hurl a rifle so fast it would go through a tree trunk like a spear. When facing a tough opponent, he could toss a dozen punches at once, causing a major amount of damage. He could swim across large bodies of water with equally great speed. In later stories, he was seen to run so quickly that he could actually run over water like a high-speed skipping stone. Later stories also showed him doing such things as slicing through gun barrels by moving his hand down at super-speed like a knife.
Jay did not wear a mask. He was more creative than that. Although fans could see his face quite clearly, it was explained that normal people could not. By vibrating his facial muscles at a subtle super-human speed that the human eye could not follow, Jay was able to make his face blurry to others. No one would be able to recognize him in his civilian identity when he simply relaxed his powers.
Jay’s face vs. Jay’s face blurred up.
Jay started having adventures in ALL-STAR COMICS along with the Spectre, Hawkman, Dr. Fate, Johnny Thunder, the original Atom, the Sandman and the original Green Lantern. With the third issue, DC decided to have the various stars of their magazine not only meet but form a team, the very first super-hero team in history. The team was called the JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA (or JSA) and Jay was its first chairman, before later turning over that position to Alan Scott, the Golden Age Green Lantern.
Even when he was gone from the Justice Society, Jay made quite a splash as a hero. He had several memorable enemies: the Thinker, the original Icicle, the original Star Sapphire, the Fiddler, the Shade.
At one point in the late 1940s, a professor named Edward Clariss figured out a way to duplicate the accident that gave Jay his powers and became an evil version of the Flash, calling himself "Rival."
Jay also had his share of imitators. There was Johnny Quick, who was a reporter named John Chambers and was able to induce super-human speed and flight by reciting a "magic" mathematical formula: 3×2(9yz) 4a. By reciting another formula, he’d return to being a normal non-powered man.
Over by Marvel comics (called Timely at the time), another speedster appeared. During a stint in the jungle, Bob Frank was attacked by a snake. To save his life, he was given an emergency injection of mongoose blood (?!?). Upon recovery, Bob discovered he could now run and whiz by at velocities approaching the speed of sound (I guess Marvel felt the need to have an origin even MORE ridiculous than hard water fumes). Donning a yellow costume with funky wings on the cowl, he called himself the Whizzer and later fought alongside such heroes as Captain America.
In later years, it would be retconned that he was in fact a mutant whose speed powers were unleashed due to the trauma to his body of the bloodloss and the like and that the mongoose blood was not the actual source of his powers. But it’s hard to live down the fact that you were a guy called the Whizzer who wore a yellow costume. Even more remarkably, Marvel later had a villain and then a hero of an alternate Earth (specifically of the team Squadron Supreme) take on the name of the Whizzer.
There was also the character Quicksilver, described as a "laughing Robin Hood" by some folks. Quicksilver was a man who combined super-speed with acrobatics and was quite mysterious in his adventures. Readers never learned who he was or how he’d gotten such amazing speed.
Quicksilver, later known as Max Mercury
As the 50s came, super-heroes were falling by the wayside and eventually most comics concerning costumed vigilantes were cancelled. After eleven years, Jay Garrick ran off into the sunset and was not seen again for quite a while.
After a few years of doing sci-fi based comics, DC editor Julius Schwartz decided it was time for super-heroes again. But he wanted them reintroduced under a heavier sci-fi feeling. Also, since he wanted to get in new readers who presumably wouldn’t be able to find old comics from ten years previous (this was long before comic specialty shops and conventions, after all), he wanted these characters to be completely new. The super-hero name and basic powers for most of them would be the same, but origins, secret identities and often times costumes would be completely fresh. The first character to undergo this treatment was the Flash, who was reintroduced by Gardner Fox, the same man who’d written Jay Garrick years before.
THE FIRST SILVER AGE SUPER-HERO
In SHOWCASE #4 in 1956, we met Bartholomew "Barry" Henry Allen. Like Jay, Barry was a scientist, but unlike Jay he was not a student. He was a full-fledged police scientist living in the fictional Central City, the kind of guy we see so often on TV these days in shows such as CSI and the like. Barry was a good, decent man with a steady girlfriend, a reporter named Iris West, and a habit of showing up late everywhere he went. He also had a great fondness for comic books. We learned that Barry had grown up reading FLASH COMICS and ALL-STAR COMICS, both of which featured Jay Garrick, who became his boyhood hero. Even though it was fiction, Barry wished he could be just like the Flash.
One April night, Barry was working late in his lab while a terrible thunderstorm was assaulting Central City. While standing before a metal rack of various chemicals, Barry suffered a fantastic accident. A stray lightning bolt slammed through the window of the lab, striking the metal chemical rack and electrifying the chemicals, all of which then simultaneously exploded onto Barry, drenching him in an electrified bath of various substances. Barry looked up from the floor, unharmed (the lightning had struck the rack and not him, after all, so he was mainly knocked back by the shockwave and the force of the chemical explosion). He sighed at the mess of the lab and decided he’d grab a bit to eat first and come back to clean up later.
But strange things started happening. When Barry tried to run to catch up with a taxi cab, he outraced it by several blocks. At a diner, a waitress dropped her tray and Barry not only saw the accident happen in slow motion, he was able to catch all the contents and set them right faster than anyone was able to see. From the waitress’s vantage point, Barry hadn’t moved at all.
Realizing that fate had somehow made him like his boyhood hero, Barry leapt at the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream. Concerned the comic book published of the old Flash comics might sue him, he decided that while he would emulate the Flash in name, he would wear his own distinctive costume. It was a sleek bodysuit, much like what some runners or skiers wear these days. The lightning bolt became not just a symbol of speed but a direct reference to the accident that had given him his powers. And by having the lightning on the wrists and belt, this allowed the artist to have some fun showing Barry moving at hyper-speeds, trailing the images of lightning bolts behind him.
Barry had all the abilities Jay Garrick possessed, with an added feature. Jay had been shown to vibrate his body at such speeds as to become a blur or simply invisible to the naked eye. Barry took it a step further. By increasing the vibration of all his molecules, he could cause them to inhabit a frequency that was different than physical matter and thus he was able to phase through solid objects like a ghost. Later stories would retcon that Jay could do this as well.
Barry also had a new twist on the classic mechanics of the super-hero costume. Some heroes wore their costume underneath normal clothing. Some had their costumes magically appear when they converted into their super-hero identities. Barry was quite different. He had his costume with him always, but not underneath his clothing or in some hidden briefcase. He carried it in a lightning bolt signet ring on his finger.
The costume was treated with a chemical of Barry’s own invention (he’s a scientist who can experiment through trial and error at super-speed, after all) that shrank it down so he could fit it within the ring. When Barry needed to don his outfit, he pressed a tiny button that opened up the ring and a tiny spring shot the costume out. Upon contact with oxygen, the costume expanded to full size. Barry then changed clothes at super-speed, thrusting his civilian clothes into the ring, which were also treated by the same chemical.
Like Jay Garrick, the first villain Barry fought as The Flash was a very very very slow criminal known as The Turtle. After that though, Barry got himself a host of regular enemies who rivaled Batman and Spider-Man’s in terms of how memorable and colorful they were. There were guys like James Jesse AKA the Trickster, a carnival con-artist with anti-gravity boots who used toy-like weapons including exploding rubber chickens and the like.
Sam Scudder, the self-styled Mirror Master, used various light-based and mirror weapons to either create illusions, teleport in and out of banks through reflective surfaces, or send Barry into mirror dimensions. There was the Mark Mardon, Weather Wizard, a common thief who thankfully never realized the full power he wielded as possessor of a wand that could manipulate weather in large or localized areas, letting him fire lightning bolts, freeze the air around him, toss around hurricane winds, etc.
Mick Rory took on the name Heatwave and wielded a flame-throwing gun. He later actually reformed and, showing what a noble guy he was, Barry forgave him and came to trust him as an ally. On the other side of the temperature game was Len Snart aka the vicious Captain Cold, whose gun slowed down molecular motion and made him a rival with Mr. Freeze in terms of the best ice-villain out there.
Captain Cold also had a sister Lisa who called herself the Golden Glider and cruised around on special ice-skates. Lisa got herself a fellow Rogue as a boyfriend, the criminal Roscoe Dillon, also called the Top, who possessed motion powers that allowed him to telekinetically spin at great speeds.
There was Digger Harkness AKA Captain Boomerang, who, despite the ridiculous name and costume, proved to be quite a nuisance with his razor-rangs and bomb-boomerangs and the like. Since his boomerangs were sometimes unpredictable in their movements, even a speedster was in danger when they were around. There was also Hartley Rathaway, the Pied Piper, who emulated his namesake. Originally born hard of hearing, the Pied Piper became obsessed with sound and music and used a variety of sonic weapons to either break apart bank vaults or hypnotize others into doing as he said (he was also an obvious reference to Jay Garrick’s enemy The Fiddler).
There was Al Desmond, Mr. Element, whose gun altered the molecules of other substances and who later changed his name to Dr. Alchemy, either because of a multiple personality disorder he had or because he just wanted a change. As Dr. Alchemy, he had a philosopher’s stone that did essentially the same thing as his old gun, but was a bit more powerful.
And the villain who wins the award of “Most Likely To Be The Butt of Gay Jokes” is Roy G. Bivolo AKA The Rainbow Raider. Colorblind as a kid, he was actually a prodigy with a paintbrush. If it hadn’t been for the colors clashing horribly, the paintings would have been seen as brilliant (I guess little Roy never showed his stuff to Modern Art galleries). His father was an optometrist who tried to cure his son’s condition. When he couldn’t, he did the next best thing before he died. He made special goggles that fired beams of colors as a weapon, making people experience different thoughts and emotions based on the colors. Exactly why it occured to him to make such a weapon was never explained, but now Roy had a purpose in becoming a criminal who stole paintings (“if I can’t appreciate them, no one can”), messed with the Flash, and took vengeance on non-colorblind people everywhere. Another case of a guy who could’ve had a very deadly weapon but was ruined by a silly look, name and motivation.
Most of these villains would team-up into a loose team know as "the Flash’s Rogue’s Gallery" or simply "The Rogues." Sometimes they wouldn’t be interested so much in committing crimes as they were in simply defeating the Flash once and for all, a man they both hated and respected as an enemy. Of course, there were a few villains who were a bit too dangerous or nuts to join the Rogue team.
During one of his adventures, Barry Allen discovered the hidden Gorilla City in Africa, a city of advanced technology where a society of pacifistic intelligent gorillas lived in peace, isolated from humanity. Barry made an ally of its king, Solovar, and made an enemy of its telepathic/psychotic citizen Grodd. Grodd (or "Gorilla Grodd" as writers sometimes called him) believed that with his telepathic powers and his gorilla strength, he was the rightful ruler not only of Gorilla City but of the rest of the planet, filled as it was with "lesser lifeforms" such as human beings, who he hated. Grodd was a dangerous enemy due to his "force of mind" and his psychotic lust for violence.
Abra Kadabra (or simply “Kadabra” as many called him) was a villain from the 64th century who came back to our time because he really didn’t fit in his own century. Using 64th century technology, he gave the appearance that he was a wizard. Obsessed with proving his power to everyone, he constantly troubled Barry Allen with seemingly impossible tricks, such as turning the Flash into a living marionette or causing a whole city to transform.
Another villain from the future was Eobard Thawne. Born in the 25th century, Eobard Thawne was a criminal scientist known as "the Professor" to his colleagues. At one point, Thawne came into contact with a time-capsule from centuries before that held, among other things, one of Barry Allen’s costumes. Using his advanced technology, Zoom was able to enhance the residual super-speed energies and vibrations in the outfit, allowing him to have super-speed as soon as he put it on. He now called himself "Professor ZOOM" and then reversed the colors on the outfit to symbolize that he was not a hero like the old Flash. As he committed crimes, the media called him the "Reverse-Flash." Barry later found out about him and defeated him. Over their next several encounters, Professor Zoom would become obsessed first with killing Barry and then later with replacing him. Due to his upbringing in the future, Barry’s secret identity and the identities of all his friends and loved ones were mere history lessons to him. That, added with his ruthlessness, made him a very dangerous enemy.
Of course, Barry wasn’t just attacked by time travelers, he became one himself. Using his scientific skill and knowledge of super-speed science, Barry constructed a treadmill-like device that utilized his speed/vibration energies and let him shift himself into the timestream. By maintaining an internal vibration, Barry was able to enter other time periods, just as he was also able to visit parallel Earths (more on that later). To return, he’d just have to relax the internal vibration and he’d be shunted back to his proper time.
This "cosmic treadmill" was housed in the Flash Museum of Central City, a building that was literally dedicated to the city’s beloved hero.
I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
But Barry was not all about fighting colorful thieves, telepathic apes and psychotics from the future. He was also a super-hero who had time to make pals.
Within his own comic, Barry encountered Ralph Dibny, a man who was not only just about the best detective around (rivaled only by Batman), but who could also stretch his body to absurd proportions. Calling himself the Elongated Man, Ralph helped out Barry on several cases and they became good friends.
Barry became one of the founding members and indeed was also the first chairman of the JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA (or JLA), a team that succeeded the Justice Society back in the 40s and that was composed of the Martian Manhunter, Aquaman and Wonder Woman (with Batman and Superman as part-timers who only showed up when they needed to). It also had a man named Hal Jordan who was the new hero called Green Lantern.
The 1940s Green Lantern, a man named Alan Scott, had been the wielder of a one-of-a-kind magic ring. In the wake of DC’s new reinvented heroes, the Lantern had been heavily revised just as the Flash had. In the new continuity, the GL was Hal Jordan, a test pilot who had been selected by a dying alien to become part of an intergalactic force of space-cops known as the Green Lantern Corps, all of whom were armed with a "power ring."
As the years went on, Hal Jordan and Barry Allen would be depicted as two people who became fast friends and fans came to look at the Green Lantern/Flash team in the same way they saw the Superman/Batman team. Even if it didn’t happen everyday, it was something you knew would come around often enough and that you looked forward to.
Barry also got himself a sidekick at last. One day, Iris was being visited by her nephew Wally West, president and sole member of the Flash Fan Club of Blue Valley. Wally really wanted to meet the Flash, whom his aunt had done several stories on, and was bored by this bow-tie wearing cop Iris was dating. At one point, Iris had to go and left the boys alone together. Hoping to impress Wally and give the kid a thrill, Barry told him he was actually a very good friend of the Flash and that the super-hero was at that moment hanging out in a spare lab Barry kept in his apartment.
Wally entered the lab, disbelievingly. Faster than Wally’s eyes could follow, Barry (who had been standing behind him a moment ago), ran forward, vibrated through the wall so that he could enter the lab first, and donned his costume. Wally was shocked to find his hero "waiting" for him. The two talked and Wally finally asked "How did you get your powers?"
As a storm began brewing outside, Barry explained the basics of what had happened to him. He set up several chemicals on his metal rack, to demonstrate what kind of substances had exploded onto him on that fateful night. As Barry was finishing his explanation, a lightning bolt cracked through the window and duplicated the exact same impossible accident, except that this time it was young Wally who got caught in a bath of electrified chemicals.
Realizing that, impossible as it sounded, the exact same accident had just happened, Barry wondered if perhaps it had led to the same result as well. He quickly tested Wally and found out the kid now had the same super-speed abilities he did. Barry told Wally he’d train him how to use his abilities and as a gift he gave the boy his own costume-ring with a shrunken down version of the Flash costume. Wally became Kid Flash (not the most creative of sidekick names, but it’s still better than Flash, Jr.). After a while, Flash finally revealed his own true identity to the boy and they became an inseparable team.
After a while, DC decided that Kid Flash needed a distinctive look. Unless you had them stand next to an adult in order to give a sense of scale (Wally was obviously much shorter), it was sometimes difficult to tell whether or not you had Flash or Kid Flash in a scene when they were standing alone. But for whatever reason, it was decided that Barry couldn’t just give Wally a new costume. Instead, a story was worked around the concept.
In an adventure in which Barry learned of an impending alien invasion, he also found out that a different race of friendly aliens had hidden a few weapons on Earth. While investigating one weapon, Barry accidentally set it off as Wally ran into the room. The weapon shot a beam at Wally and suddenly his costume altered. Barry realized the weapons was some kind of thought-matter transformer and had reacted to Barry’s subconscious idea that Wally should have his own distinctive look.
Not long afterwards, Wally continued to strike out on his own more when he became a founding member of the Teen Titans. The first unofficial meeting between the Titans was a gathering between Kid Flash, Aqualad and the original Robin, Dick Grayson. Later, they officially became a team along with Wonder Girl and Speedy. It was Wonder Girl (Donna Troy) who suggested their name.
In years to come, it would be shown that among the Titans, Wally West and Dick Grayson grew quite close to each other and became best friends.
Barry also had regular races with Superman, sometimes for charity, sometimes because some villain wanted to make a wager on who was faster. The races almost always ended in a tie or were interrupted before they could be finished. Basically, no one wanted to say Superman wasn’t the best at everything, but neither did they want to discredit Barry’s tagline of being "the fastest man alive."
A story came that would not only change the life of the Flash, but of the entire DCU as a whole.
At a charity event, Barry was showing off his abilities to several children. At one point, he was demonstrating his ability to attune his body to different vibrational frequencies, when he suddenly found himself transported to the outskirts of another city. Journeying into the city, he found it was not one he recognized and that all the people in it were asleep, possibly hypnotized by the strange fiddle music he heard. After some investigation, he found three villains congratulating each other on their scheme to hypnotize everyone and rob "Keystone City" blind. The villains were the Shade, the Thinker and the Fiddler, all of whom Barry recognized as being fictional characters from old Flash comics, just as Keystone City had been a fictional city.
Realizing that he was somehow in a place where these villains were real, he surmised that here Jay Garrick must be real as well. Quickly, he went off and found Jay Garrick, asleep next to his wife Joan. He woke them up and Jay was startled to meet this OTHER Flash who not only knew his secret identity but claimed to be from another Earth.
Barry talked about how he had read stories about Jay Garrick in comics written by a man named Gardner Fox, a man who said he got the ideas from his dreams. When Jay realized that the year Gardner Fox stopped writing Flash comics was the same year in which he had retired, Barry came up with a theory. Gardner Fox had been tapping into images of this alternate Earth through his dreams. This was in fact a parallel Earth, created at the same instant as his own earth, but it and its whole universe existed at a different vibrational frequency. Since Barry had been the one to make this discovery and the first one to break the multiverse barrier, he referred to his home as Earth-1 and Jay Garrick’s home as Earth-2.
This was a major change in continuity. Whereas DC had been pretending for a couple of years now that all their stories before the mid-fifties simply didn’t occur, the edict now was that those stories of the Justice Society and their contemporaries DID happen, they simply happened on Earth-2. Likewise, this explained how Superman could be a young man in the modern Superman comics and when he was working with the Justice League and yet comics in the 40s depicted him as being around in World War II. That was not OUR Superman but rather the Superman of Earth-2 who, like the JSA, had been in operation many years earlier.
The two Flashes joined forces to defeat the team of criminals and at the end Barry relaxed his internal vibrations to normal, allowing him to be shunted back to his native Earth.
Jay Garrick and Barry Allen would team up again and eventually the entire JSA would meet the whole JLA in the first of what would become nearly annual meetings. And all because Barry was showing off with his powers one day.
Barry went on doing the right thing, fighting the good fight. Eventually, he became one of the first super-heroes to say "screw never getting with the girl" and decided to marry his long-time love Iris West. The wedding did not go off without a hitch. There was a big battle in which Barry’s identity was exposed and time literally had to be rolled backwards so that the chaos would never happen as far as history was concerned. Before time was rolled backwards, Barry told Iris he would tell her his secret after they were married.
With time rebooted, Barry and Iris got married again and this time things went smoothly. Barry didn’t tell Iris his secret though, not sure how to and not sure the time was right. He hadn’t counted on his subconscious making the decision for him. For the next year, Barry began talking in his sleep, reliving battles he had earlier in the day and revealing to Iris that he was, in fact, the Flash.
A year after they were married, Barry finally told Iris the truth, only to find out she already knew. Iris was furious she had been kept in the dark but eventually the two settled their differences and went on with a strong, healthy marriage based on trust and understanding. Now, whenever Barry had to excuse himself from an event or hanging out with friends so that he could don his costume and save the city, Iris acted as his wingman, helping to come up with quick cover stories as to why Barry had to vanish for a few minutes. Kid Flash might’ve been his sidekick, but Iris became Barry’s partner in every sense of the word.
Barry Allen was somewhat unique as super-heroes went. The angst that affects so many, particularly today, didn’t really touch him. He had a strong career, friends at work, friends in the neighborhood. The public respected him in both his identities. He was a popular member of the JLA. And thanks to his super-speed, scientific mind and years of experience, he was one of the most formidable heroes around. Life was good.
Which makes the later tragedies all the more sad.
THE DARK TIMES BEGIN
DC was evidently feeling that their boy Barry was getting quite boring. After all, he was a nice guy with no real emotional hang-ups. It was decided that some tragedy needed to enter his life. Professor Zoom showed up again and, not for the first time, demanded that Iris marry HIM, as he intended to take Barry’s place. Iris refused and Zoom hypnotized her into forgetting for a day, saying he would be back to ask her just one last time.
Barry and Iris went to a costume party, with Iris dressed as Batgirl and Barry dressed as … well, the Flash. Hal showed up at one point in his Green Lantern costume to say hi to his old buddy. Just after he left, Iris went to the bathroom and was approached by the Professor. She regained her memories of the previous night and said once again that she would never marry Thawne. Zoom decided that was that and vibrated his hand to pass through her skull. Then, he regained just a small level of intangibility, causing her brain to shut down.
Zoom left and Barry found his wife dead. Barry asked Hal Jordan if there was some way his power ring could reverse time for Iris and bring her back. Hal said that it wasn’t their place to mess with life and death like that (an ironic attitude considering the events of EMERALD TWILIGHT and ZERO HOUR in later years). Barry apparently agreed with this, as he didn’t try to use the cosmic treadmill to go back in time and prevent the death either.
Instead, he hunted down Zoom for revenge. They fought at such high speeds that they exited our dimension and at one point it finally seemed that Zoom was sucked into the vortex of space and time. Barry was upset he hadn’t had his revenge, but at least now knew that his enemy was lost forever in the timestream.
Barry tried to start a new life. He moved from his house into an apartment building. He made new friends, had new neighbors. It was almost like DC was trying to turn his whole arena around and turn him into a different character, a somewhat darker character who, like heroes such as Batman, was now touched by the tragedy of losing a loved one.
During a Justice League adventure, Barry grew feelings towards his new teammate, the sorceress Zatanna, and voiced them, but was turned down. Feeling rejected, Barry decided he maybe wasn’t ready for someone else so soon after Iris.
The Top developed psionic powers but proximity to Barry’s super-speed vibrations caused a violent reaction with his new powers. He died as a result of this, only to later return as a sort of spirit. When Barry’s own father was in a car accident, the Top was able to possess him before he regained consciousness. He then met up with the Golden Glider and together they intended to have the Top inhabit Barry’s own body. But this failed, apparently because the Top tried to possess Barry while he was not only alive but conscious. Barry defeated him and the Top’s spirit was seemingly no more.
Eventually, Barry started dating a woman named Fiona Webb. And not long after that, they were going to get married. But sales weren’t doing too well still and DC decided even this wasn’t enough. They’d have to go more extreme.
In the meantime, Kid Flash had also become a more serious character. For a while, he and Dick Grayson gave up being with the Teen Titans in order to focus on going to college. When the Teen Titans reformed, Wally was recruited by the sorceress Raven, who he was romantically drawn to. But after some time, Wally discovered that his feelings for the woman had been because Raven had planted them in his mind through her emphatic abilities. Hurt by this and feeling that he had no life outside of being Kid Flash, Wally hung up his costume and quit on the same day that Dick Grayson decided he could no longer be Robin. Dick Grayson would return to Titans under the alias "Nightwing" a few months later, but it would be a while before Wally felt the urge for crime-fighting again.
To make matters worse, Wally later contracted a disease that interacted with his abilities. Basically, the more he used his super-speed, the worse the disease would spread and damage his body. Now he was forced to be normal or risk death.
And speaking of death …
One of the Guardians of the Universe, those blue-skinned monk-like aliens who formed the Green Lantern Corps millennia ago, approached Barry on the day he and Fiona were going to get married. The Guardian explained to Barry that there was a "crisis" coming soon and that it had already begun causing ripples throughout the multiverse. One of these ripples had caused an opening in the timestream and Zoom had been able to escape and was now here on Earth again.
Barry flew into a rage and quickly encountered his old enemy Thawne. Zoom laughed at Barry, taunting him with the question of "Guess who’s going to kill your wife again?"
The two engaged in a super-speed battle around the world, fighting tooth and nail. Finally, Professor Zoom reached the church where the wedding was being held. Fiona had just left the chapel, on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to her belief that Barry had stood her up at the altar.
Seeing Zoom reach out for Fiona, Barry reacted on pure instinct and grabbed the villain in a super-speed headlock, snapping his neck in the process. It wasn’t until someone else told him that Barry even realized he’d killed the villain. Not wishing to become a fugitive, Barry turned himself into the police. He was allowed a lot more free reign due to his status with the police and his reputation, but the fact was still that he would have to stand trial for manslaughter.
Thus began a year-long storyline revolving around "The Trial of the Flash." Fiona freaked out when Barry never showed up. You see, Barry wasn’t sure it would be right to explain to Fiona that he hadn’t stood her up, that he’d been fighting as the Flash, when he’d also have to say "and I might be put away for murder soon, sorry." Although he would later question if it was the right decision, he decided to leave Fiona alone and let her believe he’d simply skipped town.
Barry maintained his secret identity throughout the trial. At one point, realizing his lawyer was going to ask him to unmask in front of the jury, Barry had scientists from Gorilla City completely alter his face and hair color.
During the trial, Kid Flash told Barry about his decision to retire from crime-fighting. And when he was put on the stand, Wally admitted that he believed Barry could have stopped Zoom without killing him.
Then, the revelations started happening. One was that Kadabra was manipulating the trial, trying to ensure that Barry was convicted. Another revelation was that one of the jurors was not who he appeared. Apparently, a time traveler from the future had taken mental possession of this juror in order to ensure that Kadabra did not interfere with the past. Barry realized that the time traveler who was mentally possessing the juror was none other than Iris, alive and well. But how?
It turned out Iris was actually not native to our time-zone. Originally, she’d been born in the 30th century. Soon after her birth, Earth was engaged in a war that her parents believed would destroy the planet. Rather than let their daughter be killed along with them, they sent little Iris back into the distant past where she would have a more peaceful life. There, Iris was adopted by the Wests.
As it turned out, the Earth didn’t destroy itself. And when Iris died, her parents had arranged that her spirit would be transferred into a new body, one that had been treated to become a duplicate of her original one. Alive and well again in her native time-zone, Iris learned that Kadabra was going to interfere with the past and had come to prevent it.
Working together, Iris and Barry defeated Kadabra’s schemes and Barry was found to have acted in self-defense of another human being. Barry then decided he was done with being a super-hero. He’d fought the good fight for years, but now he just wanted to settle down with his true wife, away from it all. He said his good-byes and went to the 30th century with Iris.
Before his defeat, Kadabra claimed that part of the reason he had been trying to cause the Flash to be jailed was because it would alter the future and prevent his "final fate" during the Crisis, indicating to the readers that the upcoming crossover might have lethal results for him.
Barry spent a whole month in the 30th century with Iris. A month of wedded bliss that was peaceful and happy and wonderful for both of them, where they had neither careers or super-villains to take any time away from their lives. Later stories revealed that as soon as he arrived in the future, Barry had his true face restored with 30th century science. For a while, Barry had a happy ending.
And then the Crisis came …
The full story of The Crisis On Infinite Earths can be read about in my CRISIS GUIDES. The gist of it is this. A guy called the Anti-Monitor, a powerful being from the anti-matter universe, started destroying all the positive matter parallel realities in a bid to basically become God. The five Earths where all of DC’s heroes lived were the last remaining realities, fighting for survival.
Because he was one of the only beings who could travel between universes unaided, Barry was taken captive by the Anti-Monitor and imprisoned. During most of the Crisis, Barry was tortured by the Psycho-Pirate, who was working for the Anti-Monitor.
Using his powers and showing an incredible display of will-power, Barry was eventually able to over-power his captors and went inside the Anti-Monitor’s anti-matter cannon, the weapon that could destroy universes. By running at the speed of light, Barry knew he could cause a feedback loop of energy and destroy the cannon from within. He also knew that such a strain on his body, coupled with the anti-matter energies that were already affecting him, would definitely kill him. But it was him or several realities and he saw no choice.
As Barry ran, he saw images of the future and the past flicker before his eyes. Finally, the energies ripped his body apart and he faded into nothingness, leaving only his costume behind as the cannon exploded.
Barry’s last words were, "Th-there’s hope … there is always hope … Time to save the world! Time … back in time … Do what you have to … we must save the world … we must save the world …"
In the center of the rubble, Barry’s empty costume lay on the ground next to his signet ring. The narration said, "He is gone now, this Flash … Barry Allen … Gone saving more than one universe from more than certain doom. He has died fighting for what he believed in … And thus, he died … without regret. Though his death is unknown to all but one, he will be mourned … Trust us, he will be mourned."
In his death, Barry bought the universes a second chance and was an instrumental factor in the final victory. Later on, during the final assault on the Anti-Monitor, Wally West donned his costume once more so that he could help Earth’s heroes. When he heard the Anti-Monitor claim Barry was dead and found the empty costume, he flew into a rage. His uncle and mentor was gone.
In the battles following Barry’s sacrifice, various villains actually teamed-up with Earth’s heroes to try and defeat the Anti-Monitor. Mirror Master was one of them. But when he, alongside the villains Icicle and Maaldor stopped to argue about how best to accomplish their mission, they were shot from behind by the evil scientist Krona. Flash fans had not only lost Barry, but now one of his most famous baddies as well, as well as an old enemy of Jay’s.
The Anti-Monitor was finally defeated and during the battle, Wally was blasted by an energy beam that somehow interacted with the speed-disease in his system. His body seemed to have regulated itself. His speed was no longer in danger of killing him, but a side-effect seemed to be that he was no longer as blindingly fast as he had been before, nor could he control his body’s vibrations to allow him to phase through matter anymore. Now, he could just go beyond the speed of sound.
Deciding Barry would not be forgotten, Wally became the first sidekick in comics history to fulfill the unspoken promise that one day they will carry the fight for the fallen hero. Wally West became the new Flash.
And we shall discuss Wally and all that happened after the Crisis (including some changes to continuity) in PART TWO of my Flash profile, which starts HERE.