The Flash is a name of a fictional comic book superhero from the DC Comics universe. Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert, the original Flash first appeared in Flash Comics #1 (January 1940).
Nicknamed the Scarlet Speedster and the "Crimson Comet" all incarnations of the Flash possess "super-speed", which includes the ability to run and move extremely fast, use superhuman reflexes and seemingly violate certain laws of physics. Thus far, four different characters—each of whom somehow gained the power of "super-speed"—have assumed the identity of the Flash: Jay Garrick (1940–present), Barry Allen (1956–1985, 2008–present), Wally West (1986–2006, 2007–2012), and Bart Allen (2006–2007, 2009–present). Before Wally and Bart's ascension to the mantle of the Flash, they were both Flash protégés under the same name Kid Flash (Bart was also known as (Impulse.)
The second incarnation of the Flash, Barry Allen, is generally considered the first hero of the Silver Age of comic books and the superhero has remained one of DC's most popular ever since. Each version of the Flash has been a key member of at least one of DC's premier teams: the Justice Society of America, the Justice League, and the Teen Titans. Wally West has recently rejoined the Justice League, and Barry Allen recently returned to life in the pages of Final Crisis.
The Flashes have often been close friends with the various men who have been the Green Lantern; the most notable friendships have been forged between Jay Garrick and Alan Scott (the Golden Age Green Lantern), Barry Allen and Hal Jordan (the Silver Age Green Lantern) and Wally West and Kyle Rayner (the modern Green Lantern), Wally and John Stewart in the Justice League cartoons, as well as Jordan's friendship with West.
The Flash first appeared in the Golden Age Flash Comics #1 (Jan. 1940), from All-American Publications, one of three companies that would eventually merge to form DC Comics. Created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert, this Flash was Luis Llerena, a college student who gained his speed through the inhalation of hard water vapors. When re-introduced in the 1960s Garrick's origin was modified slightly, gaining his powers through exposure to heavy water.
In 1956, DC Comics successfully revived superheroes, ushering in what became known as the Silver Age of comic books. Rather than bringing back the same Golden Age heroes, DC rethought them as new characters for the modern age. The Flash was the first revival, in the aptly named tryout comic book Showcase #4 (Oct. 1956).
This new Flash was Barry Allen, a police scientist who gained super-speed when bathed by chemicals after a shelf of them was struck by lightning. He adopted the name The Flash after reading a comic book featuring the Golden Age Flash. After several more appearances in Showcase, Allen's character was given his own title, The Flash, the first issue of which was #105 (resuming where Flash Comics had left off).
The Silver Age Flash proved popular enough that several other Golden Age heroes were revived in new incarnations (Green Lantern). A new superhero team, the Justice League of America, was also created, with the Flash as a main, charter member.
Barry Allen's title also introduced a much-imitated plot device into superhero comics when it was revealed that Garrick and Allen existed on fictional parallel worlds. Their powers allowed them to cross the dimensional boundary between worlds, and the men became good friends. Flash of Two Worlds (The Flash (vol. 1) #123) was the first crossover in which a Golden Age character met a Silver Age character. Soon, there were crossovers between the entire Justice League and the Justice Society; their respective teams began an annual get-together which endured from the early 1960s until the mid-1980s.
Allen's adventures continued in his own title until the advent of Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Flash ended as a series with issue #350. Allen's life had become considerably confused in the early 1980s, and DC elected to end his adventures and pass the mantle on to another character. Allen died heroically in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (1985). Thanks to his ability to travel through time, he would continue to appear occasionally in the years to come. In 2009, Barry Allen made a full fledged return to the DCU-proper in The Flash: Rebirth, a six-issue miniseries by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver.
The third Flash was Wally West, introduced in The Flash (vol. 1) #110 (Dec. 1959) as Kid Flash. West, Allen's nephew by marriage, gained the Flash's powers through an accident identical to Allen's. Adopting the identity of Kid Flash, he maintained membership in the Teen Titans for years. Following Allen's death, West adopted the Flash identity in Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 and was given his own series, beginning with The Flash (vol. 2) #1 in 1987. Many issues began with the catchphrase: "My name is Wally West. I'm the fastest man alive."
While several other individuals have used the name Flash, these have lived either on other parallel worlds, or in the future. Garrick, Allen and West are the best-known exemplars of the identity.
Jason Peter "Jay" Garrick was a college student in 1938 who accidentally inhaled heavy water vapors after falling asleep in his laboratory where he had been working. As a result, he found that he could run at superhuman speed and had similarly fast reflexes. After a brief career as a college football star, he donned a red shirt with a lightning bolt and a stylized metal helmet with wings (based on images of the Greek deity Hermes), and began to fight crime as the Flash. His first case involved battling the "Faultless Four", a group of blackmailers. Jay kept his identity secret for years without a mask by continually vibrating his body while in public so that any photograph of his face would be blurred. Although originally from Earth-Two, he was incorporated into the history of New Earth following the Crisis on Infinite Earths and is still active as the Flash operating out of Keystone City. He is a member of the Justice Society.
Bartholomew Henry "Barry" Allen is a police scientist who has a reputation for being very slow, deliberate, and frequently late, which frustrated his fiancée, Iris West. One night, as he was preparing to leave work, a lightning bolt shattered a case full of chemicals and spilled them all over Allen. As a result, Allen found that he could run extremely fast and had matching reflexes. He donned a set of red tights sporting a lightning bolt (reminiscent of the original Fawcett Comics Captain Marvel), dubbed himself the Flash (after his childhood hero, Jay Garrick), and became a crimefighter active in Central City. In his civilian identity, he stores the costume compressed in a special ring via the use of a special gas that could compress cloth fibers to a very small fraction of their normal size.
Wallace Rudolph "Wally" West is the nephew of Iris West and of Barry Allen by marriage, and was introduced in The Flash (vol. 1) #110 (1959). When West was about ten years old, he was visiting his uncle's police laboratory, and the freak accident that gave Allen his powers repeated itself, bathing West in electrically charged chemicals. Now possessing the same powers as his uncle, West donned a copy of his uncle's outfit and became the young crime fighter Kid Flash. After the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths where Barry Allen was killed, Wally took over as the fastest man alive. Following the events of Infinite Crisis, Wally, his wife Linda, and their twins left Earth for an unknown dimension.