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Thursday, April 23, 2009

To Better Know A Hero: Flash

Real Name: Barry Allen

First Appearance
: Showcase #4 October 1956

Nicknames and Aliases: The Scarlet Speedster, Fastest Man Alive.

Powers and Abilities: Super-speed, including the ability to run up walls and over the water, to create powerful updrafts of air by running in a circle, and to vibrate his molecules at such a speed as to pass through solid matter and the walls separating different realities. And yes, he's faster than Superman.

Weaknesses and Achilles’ Heels: Punctuality

Gadgets and Accessories: The Cosmic Treadmill allows Flash to travel through time and into other dimensions; his entire costume can be compressed to fit inside his ring for storage.

Friends and Allies: Iris Allen West, his wife; Kid Flash (Wally West), his nephew and sidekick; Bart Allen (Impulse/Kid Flash), his grandson; Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), his best friend; Jay Garrick (the Flash of Earth-2); the Justice League of America; the Justice Society of America.

Foes and Antagonists: The Reverse-Flash, Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, Mirror Master, Heat Wave, the Weather Wizard, the Trickster, Pied Piper, the Top, Gorilla Grodd.

Movies and Appearances: Barry Allen was the Flash featured in the Super Friends cartoons. He was also the Flash in the short-lived live action show from the early 90s, played by John Wesley Shipp. "Barry Allen" was one of the alias used by Frank Abignale (Leonardo DiCaprio) in the film "Catch Me If You Can."

One-Sentence Origin: When a lightening bolt strikes his lab, police scientist Barry Allen is doused in chemicals that transform him into the Flash, the fastest man alive!

Memorable Moment
: Crisis On Infinite Earths #8 1986: Captured by the Anti-Monitor, Flash escapes and sacrifices his life to save the remaining universes in the "multiverse" and all their inhabitants.

Fun Fact: In Flash of Two Worlds (The Flash (vol. 1) #123) Barry Allen met the star of DC's Golden Age Flash comic, Jay Garrick, establishing for the first time that the Golden Age heroes existed on a parallel Earth-2, giving birth to the DC multiverse.

Teebore’s Take: The first appearance of Barry Allen as the Flash in Showcase #4 is considered by most comic fans and historians as the start of the Silver Age. Barry later planted the seeds of the DC multiverse by meeting his Golden Age counterpart. When DC decided to prune that multiverse, Barry died in the process, which seems fitting.

Because I started reading comics post-1986 (after Barry's death) Flash has always been Wally West, who took over the Flash mantle after Barry's death, to me. I've always thought of Barry less as a character and more as a martyr and a thematic representation of DC's history: the herald of the Silver Age who died when DC made a conscious decision to move away from the style of storytelling that had defined that era for them (even if, as a kid, Flash I was most familiar with thanks to cartoons and whatnot was Barry).

Barry's death also established a theme almost exclusive to DC's comics, a unique element of their characters I find captivating: legacy, that of one hero training another to someday take over for or otherwise honor an existing hero. No "family" of characters illuminates this more than the Flash family: Barry mentored a sidekick, his nephew Wally, who after Barry's death "graduated" from being Kid Flash and became Flash in his own right. Wally, in turn, eventually mentored his own Kid Flash, Barry's grandson Bart, and so on.

Which is all my long-winded way of saying I don't "get" the recent resurrection of Barry Allen as the Flash. While I don't care enough to cry out for the blood of the creators responsible for the resurrection, I don't see the need to bring the character back. Even by Silver Age standards, and amongst some of his most fervent fans, Barry, as a character, was considered fairly dull, a straight-forward do-gooder that put on the visually stunning Flash costume and got involved in zany Silver Age adventures. His most defining character trait, beyond the virtues shared by all heroes of that age, seems to be the running gag of how, despite being the fastest man alive, he was constantly late for dates with Iris. Flash was a great character; Barry himself was fairly lackluster and undefined. Barry passed on while the Flash continued.

All of which makes it seem as though Barry works better dead than alive, as a martyr and an important part of the Flash legacy, than as a character in his own right. Hopefully, the resurrected Barry Allen will show us why he deserved to come back.

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