With the new Flash movie, named appropriately enough, The Flash, coming out in June 2023, we thought it would be a good time to do a retrospective of the hero’s history! First featured in the also appropriately named Flash Comics #1 in January 1940, the Flash was a Golden Age superhero who was just a couple years younger- or at least newer- than Superman or Batman, who premiered in 1938 and 1939, respectively. However, while Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne have had basically the same setup ever since, the original Flash and the modern movie Flash are a bit different.
Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert, the original Flash was University student Jay Garrick, a hard-working chemistry student who was also a notably slow athlete. Garrick’s experiments had unpredictable results leading to him gaining such extraordinary speed that it also provided secondary powers such as using speed to affect mass or throwing his dad’s military helmet-really fast. Inspired by the Roman god, Mercury, (himself inspired by the Greek god Hermes,) he dons a costume with a winged helmet, winged boots, and a lightning bolt logo on his chest. While this set up certain elements that Flash will have from now on, Jay also wore blue slacks with more lightning. Some suggest he just grabbed some normal clothes and decorated them, as they don’t match the sort of spandex onesie look most superheroes tended to have. Another thing that set him apart from most other superheroes was that instead of a mask, he just blurred his face so people couldn’t recognize him!
The original Flash stories were light-hearted, with goofy sidekicks, and were published by All-American Comics, which was bought by National Comics, which later changed its name to Detective Comics- what we know now as DC Comics. As a character, the Flash became a founding member of the Justice Society of America, a team of heroes you may be familiar with. The Flash was popular throughout the “Golden Age of Superheroes” which ended around 1951 due to cultural concern about the supposed immorality of such concepts, and a general shift towards other genres of comics. The last issue of Flash Comics was issue 104, released February 1949, although he appeared in other titles.
In 1956, a new Flash premiered, and this was the introduction of the Flash we still have today: Barry Allen. Also co-created by Gardner Fox, but this time with artist Carmen Infantino, Barry was the first hero of a major DC Comics reboot, which also was an early use of meta: Barry Allen was a fan of reading the old comics about Jay Garrick! With comic creators responding to concerns about their products creating “anarchy,” many Silver-Age heroes worked for or with police forces, so Barry Allen- despite being sought after by both Wayne Enterprises and LexCorp- became a forensic scientist working with Central City Police.
Instead of being ironically a slow athlete, Barry was ironically always running late. However, like his hero, he worked late in the lab until one day, an accident caused by a lightning bolt gave him superpowers! In this case, even more powers, which may or may not have connected with the more relevant use of lightning imagery. After appearing in other periodicals, the new Flash was given his own series, called The Flash, which premiered with issue 105 to suggest it picked up where the previous title left off. Barry Allen’s costume was decidedly different that Garrick’s (due to in-universe concern over lawsuits) featuring a few similarities to that of his predecessor, including the wings flair that eventually become further lightning bolts. While he generally looked more like other superheroes, Allen was unique in having his specially created, chemically-treated costume hidden in his ring. In the spirit of his namesake, Allen went on to be a founding member of the Justice League of America.
Bonus fact: The Flash #117 was the first appearance of Captain Boomerang, then a goofier fellow than recent films have depicted.
As many classic heroes had sidekicks, Flash had Kid Flash, aka Wally West, a youth mentored by Barry who gained similar powers when Barry, well, recreated the exact thing that gave him powers. In some storylines, Wally went on to take on the role of The Flash, when his cousin, also named Wally West, who also wound up with super speed. We’re not making this up.
In addition to the common trope of having a sidekick who was functionally a smaller version of the hero, the Flash was able encounter a parallel world, which meant meeting a parallel Flash and having the two Flashes team up- way back in 1961! (Although Wonder Woman first discovered that parallel earths in Wonder Woman #59, back even further in 1953!) This storyline even wound up having Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West all hanging out together.
From there? Well, we still have 6 decades to discuss! That said, most of the Flash appearances and references are more readily available, so we won’t bore you- or provide spoilers- for things you could look into yourself, especially since they would include many comic plotlines, nine seasons of the CW television series, and other appearances until now, when we know that the Flash- or at least one Flash- that appears in the 2023 film is the Barry Allen version introduced in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad in 2016, as played by Ezra Miller.
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