Created through the combined efforts of Julius Schwartz, Robert Kanigher, Carmen Infantino & John Broome, Central City resident and police scientist Barry Allen was working one day in his lab when a lightning bolt fortuitously strikes a shelf full of chemicals, splashing them all over Barry. Grateful that he was unharmed, he cleans up and heads for home relatively unfazed. That is, until things start to get a little strange. Over the course of the next several hours, several events indicate that his accident was effecting him more than he had initially thought and through a series of common events – which included dodging an errant bullet – he quickly percieves that he is able to move inhumanly fast. The lightning and chemical bath, had granted him super-speed. At the point of this life changing realization he humbly asks himself ‘what more can I do to help’ and with that he decides to take up the mantle of a comic book hero he admired (and who he’d find out was more real than he could then know), The Golden-Age Flash. So, with Showcase #4, and that introductory story entitled “Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt!” the Flash ushered in a new era for comics – or as Paul Kupperburg once put it – he was the ‘defining event of the super-hero resurgence’ in the Silver-Age and as such he holds a special place in the history of the medium. From him came a new blitz of interest, a dramatic rise in readership, and DC knew that the age of super-heroes was back. Following his lead, DC re-tooled other prominent characters and successfully reintroduced readers to new versions of Hawkman, Green Lantern, the Atom, and a variation on the successful Justice Society of America with a new Justice League.
But I didn’t know any of this when I was young, I just knew that I wanted to be like the Flash, and that if I couldn’t have super-speed that I’d have to settle for trying to run awful fast while pretending to move at unfathomable speeds. Barry Allen had the first power that I really wanted and if I couldn’t replicate his level of speed, then I could certainly have fun trying. Obviously I never quite hit that level (dang it!) but the Flash was one of the coolest characters around and the one I likely identified most with for years. Later I’d obtain that great Super Powers figure that made a running motion when you pressed the arms together and it was off to the races where the imaginary Super Friends/Powers adventures were concerned. As for the comics, Barry Allen is well known for making what is arguably comics greatest sacrifice, when during the Anti-Monitor’s cosmic rampage in the pages of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry is able to thwart his scheme of destroying worlds with a powerful antimatter cannon, buying time for Earth’s heroes to save the Earth and Multi-verse.
“Everything that’s ever mattered to me…everything that’s ever been important…the lives of everyone on Earth and throughout our universe…in the present, and in the future…that’s what I’m fighting for now!”
That heroic action led to his ‘death’ and as the Crisis came to a close Barry’s nephew, Wally West a.k.a. Kid Flash, took up the mantle and has been trying (rather successfully in recent years) to live up to Barry’s legacy. For over twenty years this has been the case and I have to admit I’ve grown pretty fond of good ‘ol Wally in that time, but I’ve always hoped that Barry Allen would return one day and finally – finally – DC has decided to bring him back and he’s getting the “Rebirth” treatment from none other than Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver, authors of Green Lantern’s own fantastic “Rebirth” event. Reaction to the news has ranged from jubilant excitement to utter disapproval, but as far as I’m concerned this is the most exciting thing to happen in the DCU in the 20 years. Barry was a hero through and through, it was just in his nature to help others, and while so many fans have preferred the conflicted anti-hero in the last 2 decades, by and large that’s not what I’m interested in reading about and I have to believe that it’s a theme that has played itself to death. So many clamor for something different, and really, what’s more original these days than a hero that does the right thing because it’s the right thing. Who’d a thunk it!? Seriously, a hero that is simply a hero for goodness’ sake is by far the exception these days — and a true original, sad as that may be. The world could use a straight-shooter like Barry Allen. We need another honest to goodness hero.
Welcome back old friend!
(Incidentally, while making the Marvel list I noted that there is a small group of characters that lay claim to having one of the coolest looking costumes in comics, and the costume they created for the Flash has few, if any, equals IMHO. From the scarlet color contrasted by the yellow, to the cowl, boots, gloves, and lightning bolt on the chest it just doesn’t get any slicker and the creators involved – a story unto itself – hit gold with its creation.)