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The Flash (Part 3)

By Eric S Brown
In Showcase # 4, the Flash returned to DC Comics. The character was re-
booted entirely for this 1956 re-launch. Jay Garrick was replaced by Barry Allen, and
gone were the winged helmet, lack of a mask, and the casual attire Garrick wore. In its
place, Barry donned the full body red speed suit which is still worn by the Flash and
instantly recognizable to readers today. Writers Robert Kanigher and John Broome, along
with the famous penciler Carmine Infantino, also re-imagined the hero’s origin and
upgraded his powers with their new take on the series.
Barry Allen started out as an average man working as a police scientist in
Central City, One night, while working late, he was struck by lightning and bathed in a
wide array of chemicals from a shelf his lab which toppled onto to him. He awoke to find
himself capable of obtaining superhuman speed and had the heightened reflexes to
survive traveling at them. At first he was described as being able to move at the speed of
thought but as the series progressed, he became able to move much, much faster. By issue
# 150, Barry was moving at over ten times the speed of light. According to Einstein, the
speed of light can’t be broken. However, Barry’s powers came from an energy field
called “Speed Force”, which allows Barry to thumb his nose as Einstein and reach speeds
that are almost unimaginable, even for the world of comics. Breaking the light barrier
was a common occurrence for Barry and he could break the time barrier as well. Even
that wasn’t enough. The Flash’s powers kept growing. Barry’s creators gave him
complete control over every molecule composing his body, and he exhibited abilities
beyond those of any speedster who wore the mantle of the Flash after his “death” in the
mid-1980s. He could vibrate his very atoms to the point where he could not only move
through solid matter but also shift himself to other times and dimensions at will when his
powers were at their peak.
The Flash and his powers weren’t the only things changed in this new take
on the character: his foes changed as well. Gangs and mobsters weren’t Barry’s primary
enemies, as they had been Jay Garrick’s. Barry fought super villains just like Batman and
Superman. A huge, extensive gallery of these enemies where created during Barry’s run
as the Flash, including the likes of Abra Kadabra, Gorilla Grodd, The Turtle, Captain
Boomerang, and the infamous Captain Cold. These villains were capable of giving a
Barry a real fight, and were often highly developed and popular characters themselves.
Abra Kadabra, for example, was a man from the future who used technology so advanced
that it appeared as if it were magic. The Turtle fed on speed and was able to drain the
Flash of his powers for a limited time. Gorilla Grodd was not only an intelligent, and
highly evolved, super strong gorilla but also a powerful telepath. Leading the pack,
Captain Cold was the best developed and most popular rogue to face off against the
Flash. He started life as normal crook imprisoned by the Flash who swore vengeance.
When he got of out of jail, he stole cutting edge “cyclotron” based technology and
created his cold gun. His gun did far more than just create ice. It also created inertial
fields of low molecular motion that slowed the Flash down. Leonard Snart (aka Captain
Cold) was driven by three things: a desire for money, a lust for women, and a need to
“show up” Barry Allen. Snart’s past was a tragic one. He came from an abusive, poverty
stricken family, and this led to his rather gray take on the world and its morals. Leonard is
personally neither purely good or evil. Indeed, he has even teamed up with the Flash in
times of great need. When he took over leadership of the Flash’s Rogue Gallery in
Central City, he fined the other rogues by docking their cuts for the use of senseless
violence, and laid down a no drug policy among them that he strictly enforced. He is the
most popular, and best known, of Flash’s rogues today and I personally believe the
character has been given such depth that he could support his own ongoing title. With
titles like Salvation Run and Rogues’ Revenge, it’s already been shown that readers will
buy a book centered on the Rogues with the Cold leading them even if the Flash never
appears in the book.
In addition to super villains, Barry’s run as the Scarlet Speedster
introduced a few foes tired directly to the Flash family and Mythos itself such as Eobard
Thawne, better known as Professor Zoom (aka The Reverse Flash). Zoom made his first
appearance in issue # 139 and continued to plague Barry Allen as his most powerful
nemesis, until his death many years later in issue # 323.
Barry Allen’s time as the Flash was filled with tragedy as well as triumphs.
Barry’s romantic life a mess. He and Iris West struggled with an on and off again
relationship, never fully working out their differences to make it work. Barry was
depicted as having feelings for many women during his “off” times with Iris including
fellow super heroes such as Black Canary and Zatanna. When Barry and Iris finally did
work things out, and were in the process of getting married, Zoom arrived and murdered
Iris, sending Barry plunging into despair. Years later, when Barry was finally ready to
give marriage a second shot with the latest woman in his life, Zoom showed up again and
attempted to murder the bride. This time however, it was Zoom bit the dust at Barry’s
hands. Justified or not, the murder of Zoom destroyed The Flash’s reputation as a hero,
and he was arrested to stand trial for his crime of passion. ,The series ended with Barry
being acquitted for his crimes and discovering that Iris West was still alive. Apparently,
she too had been from the future and her spirit had returned there to a new body upon her
“death”. Barry sought her out and they were married. He gave up his life as a hero and
retired to the future with her but their happiness was short lived. DC’s epic Crisis on
Infinite Earths was kicking off, and the event’s main villain-- a god like being called the
Anti-monitor -- takes Barry down in the future and kidnaps him. Being one of the few, if
not the only, DC hero capable of moving from Earth to Earth across the DC multi-verse
at will, the Flash was simply too dangerous to the Anti-monitor to be left at large. There
is no happy ending for Barry Allen. Instead he died while saving the DC universe from
total destruction. After his death in 1986, Wally West (known then as Kid Flash) took up
the mantle of the Flash and began a series of his own with a new issue # 1 in 1987.
As of now, it has been revealed through the events of Infinite Crisis and
Final Crisis that Barry Allen didn’t die in the normal sense but rather merged with the
Speed Force itself. His ability to move through time and dimensions allowed him to take
a “break” in his famous “death run” from Crisis on Infinite Earths before his actual death
occurs. He will be returning to DC Comics this April in a mini-series entitled Flash:
Rebirth which will establish him once more as DC’s main Flash. Barry will likely be
more determined than ever to try to help people with his speed before he is forced to
return to his “death run” and die, this time for good.
Death remains in Barry Allen’s future, and one that cannot be averted at
least if DC intends to keep its history intact, but at least for the time being he is back to
protect not only Central City but the world. How the other heroes and villains of the DCU
will react to Barry’s return will certainly be interesting to watch and there is the potential
present for Flash fans to see some of the best speedster stories written in years.