O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
My name is Bill Reed. I’m the slowest blogger alive. I’ll attempt, however, to give you a quick one today, especially considering the awesome hero within. (Archive.)
302. The Flash
No, not the cleverest of lead-ins, either. Sorry.
The Flash, however, is great. I love the beautiful simplicity of the concept: he’s fast. And he runs. That’s it. But, by God, it works. Clever writers have found many great uses for the Flash’s speed, and it’s captivated readers for decades. It also captivated me, lo those many years ago, when John Wesley Shipp put on a muscular bodysuit and zipped his way around television screens across America. I won’t lie; I adored that show, and I’ve been a Flash fan since. Like I said, the concept is simple, but great– the execution, however, is what catapults the Flash into my personal list of top ten characters.
The first Flash, Jay Garrick, was created by mad genius Gardner Fox and cool cartoonist Harry Lampert in Flash Comics #1 wayyyyyy back in 1940, which featured the original scarlet speedster catching a bullet right on the cover. The Hermes-helmeted Jay was exposed to “hard water” one day, and it gave him speed, for some reason (hey, it was the Golden Age). All he could seemingly do was move really fast, but he used it to become one of the patriarchs of the Justice Society, a role he maintains to this day, even though his heyday was 60 years ago. Heck, back in the day, he carried two ongoing titles!
The Golden Age petered out, however, and things looked bleak for superheroes. That is, until Julie Schwartz stepped in. Schwartz saw that sci-fi was the rage of the day, and decided that superheroes needed to return, this time with a scientific sheen. Gardner Fox returned, teaming with blammo Bob Kanigher and the fine, fine artist Carmine Infantino to bring the world a new Flash in 1956’s Showcase #4– the comic that ushered in the Silver Age.
Struck by lightning and doused in chemicals, police scientist Barry Allen became– the Flash! Using his mastery of speed, he defeated bizarre rogues and protected the citizens of Central City, all the while trying to romance ladyfriend Iris West as boring ol’ Barry. He teamed up with Jay, and found a sidekick in Wally West, a.k.a. Kid Flash, the exception to the old “lightning doesn’t strike twice” trope. Barry was a sturdy kinda guy, and some would call him boring. His life was tragic– he lost his wife to his archnemesis, but got her back just in time to sacrifice his own life to save the multiverse itself in the Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was a big death, which is why it hasn’t been overturned yet, thank God.
Out of all the Flashes, however, it’s Wally West that’s my favorite (definitely not the Beav). He became the perfect legacy hero– in fact, the only one who’s ever really succeeded in becoming his own man and inheriting the mantle of his mentor. Thanks to guys like Mike Baron, Bill Messner-Loebs, Mark Waid, Greg LaRocque, Mike Wieringo, and loads more (even Geoff Johns, I suppose!), Wally became the most fully developed superhero character of all time. He truly matured into a man, and a hero, and, hell, a husband and father. Maybe it was just the first person narration (“My name is Wally West”), but the readers really got to know Wally. Thanks to the great creators, I came to care about Wally, something I don’t usually do with characters on a page. I mean, Wally’s in my top five, up there with Ralph Dibny and Jimmy Olsen and Aquaman and, like… Batman, or Herbie, or something.
And man, Wally’s had some great moments. Thanks to Dave Campbell, I had to hunt down the issue where Wally leaps out of a plane to save a woman (F*@% YEAH!). Great stuff. And the bit in Grant Morrison’s first JLA story where the Flash gets into a race/fight around the world? Genius. The following, however, is one of the best moments from any comic ever, in the best Flash issue of all time, #91, by Waid and Ringo. It’s in the new Greatest Flash Stories volume, and you’ve seen it before if you follow this column, as it appeared in the Gaspar Saladino entry– but I feel that I must share it again, because it’s that cool. The context: Wally’s just used Johnny Quick’s speed formula, causing him to move so fast that the world is frozen around him– and he can’t turn the speed off. What does he do? He learns a life lesson, that’s what:
Oh, right, and that Impulse kid became Flash for a bit, too. But Wally’s back.
The only problem I have with the Flash is– well, Wally’s story is done. He grew up and became a great hero. Now, I applaud Mark Waid coming back and finding new things to say with Wally by making him the father of some junior heroes– but this is a Wally different from the one we came to know and love. It’s a complete Wally, and usually, in a narrative, the story ends when the protagonist undergoes a self-actualization like Wally has.
I’d introduce a brand new Flash, if I could, one not tied to the legacy, or to the Speed Force, because everything’s been said about those. I also think the Flash should go back to being a scientist– it’s a good angle, and one that hasn’t been used in quite a while. So, a modern age science hero Flash. What say you? I say “faster than a speeding universe,” baby.
Be it hard water or the Speed Force, I don’t care– the Flash? He’s the man. And his villains? I could go on and on, but the Flash has one of the greatest rogues galleries in fiction, up there with Batman, Spider-Man, and James Bond. I mean, they’re unionized! Guys like Captain Cold, Mirror Master, Trickster, Captain Boomerang, Pied Piper, Professor Zoom– even the Turtle and the Top– they’ve got excellent gimmicks, and they’re great.
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