Once nicknamed the Scarlet Speedster, the Flash possesses "super-speed," which includes the ability to run and move extremely fast, use superhuman reflexes and seemingly violate certain laws of physics. Thus far, four different characters, each of whom somehow gained the power of "super-speed", have assumed the identity of the Flash: Jay Garrick (1940-), Barry Allen (1956-1986, 2008-), Wally West (1986-2006, 2007-), and Bart Allen (2006-2007).
The second incarnation of the Flash Barry Allen is generally considered the first hero of the Silver Age of comic books and the superhero has remained one of DC‘s most popular ever since. Each version of the Flash has been a key member of either the Justice Society of America or the Justice League, DC’s all-star teams. Wally West has recently rejoined the Justice League, and Barry Allen recently returned to life in the pages of Final Crisis.
The Barry Allen version of the character (with Wally West elements) was featured in a live action television series in 1990, starring John Wesley Shipp. The Wally West version of the Flash (with mostly Barry Allen's story though) is featured in the animated series Justice League.
Jay Garrick was a popular character in the 1940s, supporting both Flash Comics and All-Flash Quarterly (later published bi-monthly as simply All-Flash); co-starring in Comic Cavalcade; and being a charter member of the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team, whose adventures ran in All Star Comics. With superheroes' post-war decline in popularity, Flash Comics was canceled with issue #104 (1949). The Justice Society's final Golden Age story ran in All Star Comics #57 (1951; the title itself continued, as All Star Western).
In 1956, DC Comics successfully revived superheroes, ushering in what became known as the Silver Age of comic books. Rather than bringing back the same Golden Age heroes, as Atlas Comics, the 1950s precursor of Marvel Comics, unsuccessfully tried to do, DC reimagined them as new characters for the modern age. The Flash was the first revival, in the aptly named tryout comic book Showcase #4 (Oct. 1956).
This new Flash was Barry Allen, a police scientist who gained super-speed when bathed by chemicals after a shelf of them was struck by lightning. He adopted the name The Flash after reading a comic book featuring the Golden Age Flash. After several more appearances in Showcase, Allen's character was given his own title, The Flash, the first issue of which was #105 (resuming where Flash Comics had left off).
The Silver Age Flash proved popular enough that several other Golden Age heroes were revived in new incarnations. A new superhero team, the Justice League of America, was also created, with the Flash as a charter member.
The Flash also introduced a much-imitated plot device into superhero comics when it was revealed that Garrick and Allen existed on fictional parallel worlds. Their powers allowed them to cross the dimensional boundary between worlds, and the men became good friends. Flash of Two Worlds (The Flash vol. 1 #123) was the first crossover in which a Golden Age character met a Silver Age character. Soon, there were crossovers between the entire Justice League and the Justice Society; their respective teams began an annual get-together which endured from the early 1960s until the mid-1980s.
Allen's adventures continued in his own title until the advent of Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Flash ended as a series with issue #350. Allen's life had become considerably confused in the early 1980s, and DC elected to end his adventures and pass the mantle on to another character. Allen died heroically in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (1985). Thanks to his ability to travel through time, he would continue to appear occasionally in the years to come.
The third Flash was Wally West, introduced in Flash #110 (Dec. 1959) as Kid Flash. West, Allen's nephew by marriage, gained the Flash's powers through an accident identical to Allen's. Adopting the identity of Kid Flash, he maintained membership in the Teen Titans for years. Following Allen's death, West adopted the Flash identity in Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 and was given his own series, beginning with The Flash vol. 2, #1 in 1987. Many issues began with the simultaneously glad and rueful catchphrase: "My name is Wally West. I'm the fastest man alive. I'm the Flash."
Due to the Infinite Crisis miniseries and the "One Year Later" jump in time in the DC Universe, DC canceled The Flash vol. 2, in January 2006 at #230. A new series, The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive, began on June 21 2006. The initial story arc of this series, written by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo with art by Ken Lashley, focused on Bart Allen's acceptance of the role of the Flash.
Flash: Fastest Man Alive was canceled with issue #13. In its place The Flash (vol. 2) was revived with issue 231, with Mark Waid as the initial writer. Waid also wrote All-Flash #1, which acted as a bridge between the two series. DC had solicited Flash: Fastest Man Alive through issue #15. All Flash #1 replaced issue #14 and The Flash vol. 2, #231 replaced issue #15 in title and interior creative team only. The covers and cover artists were as solicited by DC, and the information text released was devoid of any plot information.
While several other individuals have used the name Flash, these have lived either on other parallel worlds, or in the future. Garrick, Allen and West are the best-known exemplars of the identity.
Bartholomew Henry Allen II ("Bart") was the grandson of Barry Allen and his wife Iris. Bart suffered from accelerated aging and, as a result, was raised in a virtual reality machine until Iris took him back in time in order to get help from the then-current Flash, Wally West. With Wally's help, Bart's aging slowed and he took the name Impulse. After he was shot in the kneecap by Deathstroke, Bart changed both his attitude and his costume, taking the mantle of Kid Flash. During the events of Infinite Crisis, the Speed Force vanished, taking with it all the speedsters save Jay Garrick. Bart returned, four years older, and for a year claimed that he was depowered from the event. However, the Speed Force had not disappeared completely, but had been absorbed into Bart's body; essentially, he now contained all of the Speed Force. Bart's costume is Barry Allen's cloned Flash suit in the form of Wally West's suit. Bart Allen was recently killed by the Rogues in the 13th and final issue of The Flash: Fastest Man Alive.
The father of Sela Allen, his wife and daughter were captured by Cobalt Blue. He was forced to watch his wife die and his daughter become crippled. As he and Max Mercury killed Cobalt Blue, a child took the gem and killed Allen. This Flash was one of the two destined Flashes to be killed by Cobalt Blue (Eobard Thawne).
Sela Allen is an ordinary human in the 23rd century until Cobalt Blue steals electrical impulses away from her, causing her to become as slow to the world as the world is to the Flash. Hoping to restore her, her father takes her into the Speed Force. When her father is killed, she appears as a living manifestation of the Speed Force, able to lend speed to various people and objects but unable to physically interact with the world.
When Manfred Mota resurfaced in 27th century, John Fox, a tachyon scientist, traveled back in time to gain aid from the three Flashes who had defeated Manfred before. He failed to make contact but the time travel left him with superspeed. He used a combination of various previous Flash costumes to create his own costume. After defeating Mota he was sidelined by the invention of speed metal. He began searching the timestream for a time where he could belong, briefly replacing a time-displaced Wally West in the 20th century before finally settled in the year 85,265 where he joined the Justice Legion. In issue #2 of the 2007 Booster Gold series, there is a panel depicting Dr. Thirteen's group breaking the fourth wall by complaining about the Architects' only using popular "fellows" in new comics, John Fox was mentioned by name.
Blaine and his son lived on the colony world of Petrus in the 28th century. In an attempt to end the Allen blood line, Cobalt Blue injected Allen's son Jace with a virus. Lacking superspeed, Jace was unable to shake off the virus. In despair, Blaine took his son to the Speed Force in the hopes that it would accept him. It took Blaine instead, and gave superspeed to Jace so that he could shake off the sickness.
Jace Allen gained superspeed when his father brought him into the Speed Force to attempt to cure him of a virus injected into his body by Cobalt Blue in an attempt to end the Allen bloodline. In memory of his father, Jace took up the mantle of the Flash and continued the feud against Cobalt Blue.
After an alien creature invaded Earth, a history buff named Kryad traveled back in time from the 98th Century to acquire a GL power ring. He failed, so he tried to capture The Flash's speed instead. After being beaten by Barry Allen (The Flash #309,May 1982), he went back further in time and used the chemicals from the clothes Barry Allen was wearing when he gained his powers. Kryad gave his life to defeat the alien creature.
In the final issue of 52, a new Multiverse is revealed, originally consisting of 52 identical realities. Among the parallel realities shown is one designated "Earth-2". As a result of Mister Mind "eating" aspects of this reality, it takes on visual aspects similar to the pre-Crisis Earth-2, including the Flash among other Justice Society of America characters. The names of the characters and the team are not mentioned in the panel in which they appear, but the Flash is visually similar to the Jay Garrick Flash. Based on comments by Grant Morrison, this alternate universe is not the pre-Crisis Earth-2.
A variant of the Flash - a superfast college student named Mary Maxwell - was seen in the Elseworld book Just Imagine Stan Lee Creating The Flash.
Rei made his only appearance in Legends of the DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths.
In Superman & Batman: Generations 2, three different Flashes appear: Wally West as Kid Flash in 1964, Wally's cousin Carrie as Kid Flash in 1986 and Jay West, the son of Wally and his wife Magda as the fifth Flash in 2008.
However, when Barry Allen pushed himself further (while imploding the Anti-Monitor's chief weapon during the Crisis on Infinite Earths) he appeared to waste away as he was converted into pure kinetic energy, traveled back in time, and was revealed to be the very bolt of lightning that gave him his powers. He could run on thick snow clouds. Most unusual was Allen's complete control of his molecules, allowing him to vibrate through solid matter and, on one occasion when transformed into a mirror, "melt" himself and reform as a human to defeat his foe, the Mirror Master.
Wally West has said more than once that Barry Allen was the Flash most experienced with time travel. However, Wally has been shown to have a connection to the Speed Force, an extra-dimensional energy source, which provides his powers and gives him several other abilities. While all speedsters are powered by the force, West mainlines the power from the force itself and cannot be cut off from the source, unlike the others. He can use the Speed Force to create a costume for himself, and can either impart his high velocities to other people and objects already in motion or steal the velocity they possess. Jay Garrick also possesses this ability to some degree; he stole speed from Black Adam in order to defeat the villainous Johnny Sorrow, and he has threatened to steal Bart Allen's (formerly Impulse and Kid Flash, and for a short while the Flash) speed on at least one occasion when he was misbehaving. West can vibrate through objects; in the past, West would cause whatever he vibrated through to explode, but has recently shown an ability to avoid this side effect. Although not nearly as precise as Allen when he used his cosmic treadmill, West has shown to be able to traverse time and dimensions with his own powers, like Allen in Showcase #4 in 1956. However, Wally now accelerates to the point that he is skirting the very edge of the Speed Force dimension, and can traverse along the timestream to specific points as they become visible, much like watching a movie in fast forward or reverse (however, he must have a particular speedster's vibratory signature to search for and lock onto, or be very familiar with the vibration of that time period). He is the only speedster to survive a Light Speed run; all others have either died or been absorbed into the speed force.
On several occasions, the Flash has been shown in various races against Superman to determine which one is faster (or as part of a mutual effort to thwart some type of threat); these races, however, often resulted in ties because of outside circumstances.(In Adventures of Superman # 463 The Flash does beat Superman in a race). Speedsters may at times use the ability to speed-read at incredible rates and in doing so, process vast amounts of information. Whatever knowledge they acquire in this manner is usually temporary (Bart Allen seems to be the exception, though in earlier years, Max Mercury believed that Bart's speed learning would not stick).
Flashes and other super-speedsters also have the ability to speak to one another at a highly accelerated rate. This is often done to have private conversations in front of non-fast people (as when Flash speaks to Superman about his ability to serve both the Titans and the JLA in The Titans #2). Speed-talking is also sometimes used for comedic effect where Flash becomes so excited that he begins talking faster and faster until his words become a jumble of noise (Wally West once became so surprised that he generated a small sonic boom with his voice).
The comics and characters have been nominated for and won several awards over the years, including:
Throughout his 60 year history, the Flash has appeared in numerous media. The Flash has been included in multiple animated features, such as Superfriends and Justice League, as well as his own live action television series, and some guest star appearances on Smallville. There are numerous video games that feature the character.
In the Challenge of the Superfriends Series which ran from 1978-1979, he appears in every episode and has spoken lines in only twelve out of the sixteen episodes of the series. He also had two arch enemies from the Legion of Doom, Captain Cold and Gorilla Grodd.
The Flash also appeared for one season (1990-1991) on the CBS network starring double-Emmy Award winner John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen. Produced by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, the series was a mild amalgamation of the Barry Allen and Wally West versions of the comics in that the female lead was Tina McGee (portrayed by Amanda Pays) and Wally's need for large amounts of food after expending so much energy running all over Central City was transferred to Barry. After his lightning-induced chemical accident, Barry got into crime fighting after the death of his police officer brother, Jay; it is presumed that Jay was named for the original comic book Flash Jay Garrick. A handful of the Scarlet Speedster's rogues gallery made guest appearances throughout the series: Captain Cold (Michael Champion) ("Captain Cold"), Mirror Master (David Cassidy) ("Done With Mirrors"), and the Trickster (Mark Hamill) ("The Trickster" and "Trial of the Trickster"). The Flash also fought a clone of himself who wore a blue costume.
A few episodes were written by comics legend Howard Chaykin and the TV costume was designed by Dave Stevens (The Rocketeer). While a critical success and vigorously backed by the network, the series had the dubious distinction of being aired against ratings powerhouses The Cosby Show on NBC and FOX's The Simpsons. If that wasn't enough, the FLASH was preempted by Christmas specials and the Desert Storm war in Iraq and constantly moved all over the schedule that it couldn't find its audience and thus cancelled after its first and only season. Warner Brothers released the series in a 6-disc DVD box set on January 10, 2006.
The Flash was recently announced as a playable character in the Mortal Kombat and DC Comics crossover game "Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe". The first official render for The Flash was released to the public on Monday July 7th, 2008. It is not known yet at this point which incarnation of the Flash's true identity is actually featured in the game, since the time-line and setting of the game does not actually reflect the established continuity of either universe. His special moves thus far demonstrated in trailers for the game show many similarities to Mortal Kombat character Kabal.
Like Batman, the Flash has a reputation for having fought a distinctive and memorable rogues gallery of supervillains. In the Flash's case, some of these villains have adopted the term "Flash's Rogues Gallery" as an official title, and insist on being called "Rogues" rather than "supervillains" or similar names. At times, various combinations of the Rogues have banded together in order to commit crimes or take revenge on the Flash, usually under the leadership of Captain Cold.
The Rogues are known for their communal style relationship, hanging out together and operating under a pretty strict moral code, sometimes brutally enforced by Captain Cold. Such "rules" include "no drugs" and, except in very dire situations or on unique occasions, "no killing".
Considering the blue collar nature of the Flash's Rogues, more than a few have protested the inclusion of Professor Zoom and Abra Kadabra, often labeling them psychotic, as time travel generally works against their crimes and, at least in the original Zoom's case, they found him dangerous and all-too willing to kill.
In contrast, several new Flash villains have been considered Rogues, including Murmur, Double Down, and Peekaboo, but they play second fiddle to new incarnations of Captain Boomerang, Zoom, Mirror Master, and Inertia (a variation on Reverse Flash, clone of Impulse)