The Flash is about to come to TV for the second time next week, and a lot of people are excited. Even more people, however, are really confused. So, for the non-nerd, here’s a slightly tongue-in-cheek breakdown of who the Flash is, and why you should care.
Aren’t there a lot of guys who can run fast in tights?
Yep, plenty. In fact DC has a lot of characters who can run really fast; super speed is a pretty standard power. What makes the Flash stand out, at least at DC, is how important he’s been to the company over the years.
In the 1950s, there were few superhero books on the stands. DC was looking to do something different, while staying within the bounds of the Comics Code, so in Showcase #4, an anthology book, they reinvented one of their old, forgotten heroes, Jay Garrick, as Barry Allen.
Barry was a different kind of superhero; he was a normal guy with a day job, not a member of the idle rich. Furthermore, he wasn’t a magician or a space alien: He was a scientist, an educated man who used his brain as often as his speed. As weird as it sounds, Barry Allen was the first middle-class superhero, a working stiff with a big heart. And part of his appeal is and always has been he enjoys the hell out of being super-fast; he uses it to goof off on his housework, to play light-hearted pranks, and generally be the life of the party.
That opened the floodgates and revitalized the entire superhero genre, while changing DC’s direction as a company and paving the way for even more superheroes from other companies. There’s a little bit of Barry Allen in Peter Parker, for example. And it’s more or less been that way ever since; the Flash drives DC, in some ways, and hasn’t been out of print since 1956.
I thought the Flash was some ginger? Or a kid? Or…
Yeah, there have been a lot of Flashes. DC has a tendency to make characters “legacies;” it’s a title, not tied to a particular character. Barry, actually, wasn’t the Flash for more than twenty years; he died (well, “died:” It’s complicated) during yet another sea change at DC, Crisis On Infinite Earths, where DC rebooted their entire universe. Barry’s sidekick, Kid Flash, got stuck with the job.
What are some great Flash comics?
The best place to start is with Mark Waid, whose run on the character is legendary. In particular, the start of Wally West, Born To Run, is a great read and a good place for new readers to start. Another excellent starting point is DC’s new continuity; The Flash, largely from Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul, is one of DC’s centerpiece books right now and it’s a great read. He’s not the main character, but the Flash is important to The New Frontier, Darwyn Cooke’s retelling of the Silver Age.
And, of course, there’s the upcoming TV series, which debuts next week on the CW. So really, there’s plenty of Flash if you want it.