The Fastest Men Alive
Mankind has always been obsessed with speed. Men and women always asked how they could move faster, and even when they could, it still wasn’t enough. Speed was always a scientific concept, and very few people actually found it interesting. That all changed in 1940, when speed finally captured the minds of everyone from children to their grandparents. DC Comics introduced a new character who went on to revolutionize comics and the concept of speed forever. His name was the Flash, and he was the fastest man alive.
Jay Garrick was the first Flash. He was first created by Gardner Fox and Henry Lampert. Jay was a young scientist in Keystone City, a fictional city that was created for the purpose of building a world that was not limited to the existing elements of the real world. Jay was working at a college in a laboratory sometime between the years 1938 and 1940. He took a smoke break, but in the middle of it he accidentally knocked over a glass container filled with modified hard water. After inhaling the fumes of the liquid, Jay could suddenly run faster than regular humans.
After using his speed to save his girlfriend, Joan Williams, from a bullet that was accidentally shot at her, Jay decided to use his powers for good, so he named himself the Flash. He wore a red shirt with a yellow lightning bolt on it and a metal helmet with wings on the sides. His father had worn the helmet when he had fought in World War I, so it was a prized family heirloom. Over the years Jay learned to weaponize the helmet. Eventually it went on to become his signature item.
The Flash was a popular character throughout the 1940s. He was a founding member of the Justice Society of America, the first incarnation of the Justice League. He led other superheroes as they attempted to gain their footing in their own comic books, yet he also had his own compelling stories. Eventually that all began to fade away. After World War II ended, superheroes were no longer popular. The Flash’s comic book series ended with issue 104, but it was so abrupt that very few loose ends were tied up.
In 1956 superheroes and comic books were revived with the arrival of Barry Allen, the second Flash. Barry was given his powers after he was struck by a lightning bolt and drenched in chemicals. Just like Jay Garrick, Barry discovered that his accident had given him super speed. Barry was much faster than Jay, and his costume was different as well. Barry’s costume was a skin tight red outfit with a yellow lightning bolt positioned directly over his chest. Unlike Jay, Barry wore a mask so that his identity would remain a secret from the public. Barry was often driven to do the right thing by his memory of his mother, who had been murdered when Barry was only eleven years old.
In 1961 comic books were changed forever when DC Comics introduced the Multiverse concept. It was an idea that actually existed in real life. The Multiverse concept described the idea that there were hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of alternate universes that were similar to ours with only slight, or major, changes. This idea was introduced to comic books when Barry Allen used his super speed to vibrate his body so fast that he slipped through the cracks of reality and into an alternate universe. This universe, however, was the home of Jay Garrick.
Barry met Jay, and the two teamed up to stop several of Jay’s enemies. Barry returned to his universe, but that was not the last time he would encounter another universe. Over the years more people began to travel to his universe from their own. Some of these people were friends, and some of them were enemies. Some of these people were even evil versions of Barry who had come to kill their heroic doppelganger.
In 1959 Barry’s close friend, Iris West, introduced him to her nephew, Wally West. After an accident identical to Barry’s occurred, Wally was also given superhuman speed. With his new speed he became Kid Flash, a younger version of the Flash. He wore a costume similar to Barry’s, but over the years he changed it so that he had his own signature look. Wally eventually on to form the Teen Titans, a group of superhero teenagers. He was always a close friend of Barry’s.
In 1961 Barry and Wally used the cosmic treadmill, a treadmill that could match the Flash’s speed so that he could run on it endlessly, to travel forwards and backwards in time. Wally traveled to prehistoric ages so that he could stop an event from occurring that would allow aliens to invade Earth centuries later. Barry traveled to the year 2287 so that he could turn the aliens away and ensure that they would never invade Earth, even if Wally would have failed. Both heroes succeeded, and they returned to 1961. They used the cosmic treadmill several times to alter time.
In 1963 Barry traveled forward in time to the 25th century. This was where he met his greatest adversary, Eobard Thawne. Thawne went by several names such as the Reverse-Flash or Professor Zoom. Although Thawne’s origin has always remained a mystery to Barry, it is known that he was a huge fan of the Flash’s in the 25th century. Thawne caused an event to happen similar to Barry’s which gave Thawne his super speed. It is often noted that Thawne is much faster than even Barry himself.
The Speed Force has always been an important component of the Flash’s history. The Speed Force was created by Barry the first time he ran using his super speed. The Speed Force was a dimension that contained all of the speed in every single universe. It could only be accessed by people like Barry who had inhuman speed. As long as the Speed Force exists and remains intact, meaning it still exists as one whole dimension, speedsters, as super fast beings are called, will be able to run at their above average speeds.
Eventually Barry married Iris West. She learned that he was the Flash on the same day, but she never revealed his secret to anyone. Throughout their marriage the couple faced many challenges that directly involved the Flash. The couple overcame each challenge, but finally they could not fight it any longer. Eventually Thawne, in an extreme act of terrorism and evil, came to destroy Barry’s life. To do this he would not have to kill Barry, but in turn he would have to kill his wife.
Thawne disguised himself at a costume party that Barry and Iris were attending. He lured the couple away, and he knocked Barry out. Iris ran for help, but she became lost in the mansion that the party was being held in. Thawne found her and vibrated his hand so quickly that he could put his hand in Iris’s head. He solidified it just enough that Iris’s brain was destroyed, killing her instantly.
Barry was emotionally crippled after his wife’s death. Throughout his remaining years as
the Flash he traveled through time so that he could find Thawne and get revenge for the death of his wife. Finally the two met again when Thawne came to kill Barry’s new fiance, Fiona Webb. Deciding that he would no longer allow Thawne to terrorize him, Barry broke his enemy's neck, killing him. Barry was put on trial for Thawne’s murder, but he was not found guilty. Along his journey to find Thawne, Barry discovered that Iris was actually from the 30th century. She had been sent to the 20th century so that she could live safely from the Flash’s enemies in the 30th century. Barry abandoned Fiona, and he traveled to the 30th century to live with his wife.
In 1985 DC Comics realized that they had created too many alternate universes to manage. They eventually decided to destroy all of them except for one. In a conflict known as the Crisis on Infinite Earths, a being known as the Anti-Monitor began to destroy the different universes. He merged many of them together so that he could destroy them all at once, but his destructive machine that did this for him was destroyed by Barry. Barry had left the 30th century to fight in the crisis, but he had been captured by the Anti-Monitor.
Barry escaped the Anti-Monitor, and he went to the machine that the Anti-Monitor had been using to destroy the alternate universes. He ran around it at an extreme speed, but in doing so he began to physically collapse. His speed was thrown into the Speed Force where it remained for over 20 years. Barry’s death left a lasting impact on the DC universe, especially its readers. His death was a complete surprise, and it took a long time for the DC universe to recover from it.
In his absence Barry was replaced by his nephew Wally West. Wally chose to become the new Flash as soon as he learned of Barry’s death. Wally struggled as the Flash from the start. Although he brought the character into a darker and more mature age, he also opened up many personal storylines. Wally struggled with money for a very long time. He eventually won millions of dollars in a lottery, but he somehow blew it all away. After this he struggled with his mental state, something that eventually caused him to lose access to his powers. For a while the world was without a Flash, but with the arrival of a new threat similar to Thawne, Wally overcame his problems and regained his powers.
This new threat was named Zoom, although his true identity was Hunter Zolomon, a close friend of Wally’s. Zolomon was paralyzed in an accident, but after he tried to use the cosmic treadmill to go back in time and prevent the accident, he caused an explosion that gave him use of his legs again and freedom from the flow of time. Taking up the name Zoom, he could move through time as fast as he wanted, making him even faster than even Barry ever was. Zoom attacked Wally first because he blamed him for the accident. Wally managed to fight off Zoom once, but he didn’t stay away for long.
During Zoom’s absence, Wally married Linda Park. She became pregnant with twins, and the two happily awaited her due date. Unfortunately, it was during her pregnancy that Zoom chose to return. This time Zoom’s goal was to make Wally become a better hero, so he started to target everyone that Wally was close to. Wally managed to protect most of his friends and family, but Zoom eventually came for Wally’s wife. Instead of attacking her himself, Zoom sent a shockwave at her. It struck her, killing her unborn twins.
Years later during the Rogue War, a gang war between the Flash’s enemies, Zoom returned to kill Wally while he was preoccupied with the war. When Zoom returned, Wally borrowed the speed of Jay Garrick so that he could fight Zoom. Zoom led Wally back in time to the same day that Wally’s unborn babies had been killed. Enraged by Zoom’s plan, Wally traveled farther back in time to find Barry and ask him for help in his battle against Zoom. Zoom used the same idea, and he sought out help from Reverse-Flash.
When all four speedsters time-traveled to the day when Wally and Linda’s babies were killed, a large battle broke out. Neither side was gaining an upper hand over the other, but eventually Zoom formed a plan to defeat Wally. Zoom brought Linda to the battle where he planned to kill her babies once again so that Wally could watch it happen. However, this time Wally saved the babies, and he and Barry managed to trap Zoom and Reverse-Flash in the timestream. Barry returned to his timeline, and Wally returned to his where Linda had suddenly become nine months pregnant with the very same babies that had been killed years before. Linda gave birth to the twins, and they grew up healthy and safe. Wally never encountered Zoom again during his career as the Flash.
In 2008, during the Final Crisis, an event similar to the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry Allen returned. After breaking free from the time stream and the speed force he joined forces with Jay Garrick and Wally. They helped the rest of the DC universe in stopping the Final Crisis. Barry returned to Iris, who had left the 30th century years before. The two were reunited briefly before Barry’s worst enemy returned.
In the “Rebirth” storyline Barry was attempting to adjust to the world around him. It had changed greatly in the years since his death, but the Flash was seen as a hero. Wally and Barry were both loved by the world, but Wally chose to let Barry become the true Flash once again. Wally still worked as the Flash as well, but he fought less often than Barry. Wally spent more and more time with his family, and eventually it was only Barry who fought crime as the Flash.
Around the same time of Barry’s return, Thawne also returned. He attacked Barry and his family, but Thawne decided to go back into the past and kill Iris before she had even begun to date Barry. In the past, Thawne threw a lightning bolt shaped spear at Iris, but Barry stopped it in time. Iris kept the spear, and Thawne was captured by Barry and Jay. They stripped Thawne of his powers, and he disappeared for three years. Barry discovered that it was Thawne who had murdered Barry’s mother when he was a child, and Barry was finally able to close the police case.
Three years later Barry made the mistake of running backward in time and preventing his mother from ever being killed. This changed the timeline drastically, mainly because Thawne returned with his speed and took this opportunity to change the timeline as well. Barry lost his speed after he saved his mother, and he never married Iris in the new timeline either. Thawne changed many events that shook the DC universe. He changed the timeline so that Bruce Wayne’s father became Batman instead of his son, and Superman became a captive of the government instead of a hero.
Barry found Thomas Wayne in the new timeline, and together they got Barry his speed back. They traveled to Europe where a nuclear war was being fought. They joined forces with other superheroes, and they fought against Thawne’s legion of villains. At the end of the battle, Thawne appeared to Barry and told him what had happened. Barry was stunned to learn that he had caused all of this because he had lost his memory when the timeline changed. Thawne beat Barry to a point where he was near death, but Thomas Wayne killed Thawne instead. Barry ran into the timestream, and he stopped himself from changing the timeline.
Barry’s mistakes in the timeline ended up changing the timeline once again. Everything almost returned to normal, except many events were set back. Barry and Iris had never even met, but his mother was still dead. Bruce Wayne was Batman again, but he had only just begun his career as the crimefighter. It took Barry a couple of years, but he eventually learned that the timeline had been changed. The only other person who knew about this was Thawne, who had returned from the dead once again. Thawne could only do this because he had time traveled so much that his body was no longer vulnerable to the change of time. No matter how many times Thawne was killed, he could always return over a period of time.
Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West were three of the first speedsters to ever exist. Jay was the only one who could not access the speed force, and he could also not travel through time. However, he has always been a mentor to Barry and Wally, helping them each in his own way. Although Jay was much slower than both Barry and Wally, the three fought together as partners as often as they could. Together they were the fastest men alive, and by using their powers for good, they were able to create one, whole, true Flash.