The most important character in the DC Universe isn't Batman or Superman - it's The Flash
It isn't even really a matter of opinion-sure, personal taste will dictate how much you enjoy any given Flash story, but the character's importance is about as objective as you can get in comic books. It was The Flash that comics creators used to introduce or popularize a number of ideas that are now integral to the DC Universe, and comics as a whole. It's quite possible to chart the history of DC Comics, and to a lesser extent, mainstream superhero comics, using the Flash as a measuring stick.The Flash made his debut in January of 1940, the third of DC's most recognizable characters to be created in the Golden Age of comics, coming after Batman but just before Green Lantern. He was also an entirely different character than the one you might know from the current main "Flash" comic being published by DC, on the CW TV series, or the upcoming movie set to star Ezra Miller. Those are all about another Flash-Barry Allen. We'll get to him in a moment. Advertisement
The first reboot in comics
In 1956, DC Comics did something crazy: they introduced an entirely new Flash in their variety book "Showcase," issue #4. Created by writers Robert Kanigher and John Broome with legendary artist Carmine Infantino, this new Flash was Barry Allen, a police scientist who gained his powers after getting doused by chemicals that were struck by lightning. This is where the Flash most people are familiar with began, iconic red suit and all.
Make sense? Good. Here's where things get crazy.
Flash meets Flash
When Barry Allen took over as the Flash, he was originally intended to replace Jay Garrick entirely. After his first appearance in "Showcase" was deemed a success and he was placed in his own book "The Flash," the new series picked up where the Jay Garrick-starring "Flash Comics" left off-with issue #105.Funny story, though-Jay Garrick wasn't entirely wiped from existence. Instead, he was a comic book character that Barry Allen read, a character that Allen would name himself after. Advertisement
And then they meet.
In the seminal story "The Flash of Two Worlds" by Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino, Barry Allen, as The Flash, is demonstrating his powers at a community event when he does something he's never done before, and vibrates straight out of our universe, and into another - Earth-2 where his comic book hero, Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, is real (along with the Golden Age versions of all of DC's characters). That story, which took place in "Flash" #123, marked the birth of the DC multiverse, and - to use an old comics cliche - nothing would ever be the same again.
What does this have to do with The Flash? Everything. Barry Allen plays a crucial role in "Crisis," one that leads to his heroic death at the beginning of the miniseries' final act. It's a bit of a poetic, if not tragic, end for the character: the hero whose origin marked the start of the Silver Age would die at its end.In doing so, his story would solidify the one thing that most differentiates DC from its chief competitor, Marvel. Advertisement
It's all about legacy
During the first few years of Barry Allen's tenure as The Flash, DC introduced a teenaged sidekick for the Scarlet Speedster: Wally West, AKA Kid Flash. At the end of "Crisis on Infinite Earths," West would take on the mantle of his former mentor, to become the Flash of the Modern Age of Comics in DC's Post-Crisis universe.Once again, The Flash was ground zero for another comic book first: the sidekick that inherited the mantle of his mentor. The graduation of Wally West was a huge comics landmark, the canonization of what's still perceived as a cornerstone of the DC Universe: legacy. Its heroes are ideas, larger than life and bigger than any one person. They're all symbols proudly carried by multiple people across generations - and sometimes all at once. Families form around them, bearing Superman's shield or Batman's signature Bat symbol like coats of arms, noble banners in a mythic tapestry going back more than 75 years. Advertisement
This sort of noble heroism that inspires followers and family is something that's a huge part of these characters' DNA, but it struggles to make it to the big screen. The superhero movie zeitgeist on the whole - and the DC movie esthetic in particular - favors a certain hard-edged grimness at odds with all that. The utter bigness and limitless fun inherent to most of DC's pantheon of heroes has yet to be faithfully portrayed on film, and it's a shame.
Which brings us back to "The Flash." While it's not entirely without fault, the CW's "Flash" series is bridging this gap, bringing a sense of unbridled joy and heroism to the small-screen adventures of Barry Allen. It is a complete breath of fresh air, and totally embraces it's often-campy comic book roots where other superhero adaptations would have played them down. Its first season concluded in a way that every superhero story should end: with the feeling that anything can happen next.It's been a long time since a live-action superhero story has been able to pull that off so effortlessly. Once again, The Flash has heralded a watershed moment for comic books. Advertisement
Run, Barry, run.
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