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Flash-Facts: Barry Allen

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Continuing Broken Frontier’s exploration of the Flash legacy, we come to Jay Garrick’s sucessor, Barry Allen.  Anyone who is even a casual fan of DC Comics right now has likely at least passingly familiar with the second Flash.  Additionally, my collegue, Tony Ingram, has already covered the major milestones in Barry’s life, so for this outing, we’ll be exploring how this Flash came to his near-mythical significance.

Kicking off the Silver AgeThe debut of Barry Allen in Showcase #4 (October 1956) kicked off the superhero revival that would come to be known as the Silver Age.  Setting the stage for the re-invention of characters such as Green Lantern, Hawkman, Atom and coutless others, this new Flash also was a forerunner in establishing the concept of a shared universe.  Barry and his contemporaries followed suit of Jay and his Justcie Society, with the formation of the Justice League of America (The Brave and the Bold #28, February 1960).  Linking the genesis of Barry’s superero career to that of the Golden Age Flash meant that the fledgling Silver Age DC Universe of characters already had a built-in backstory. 

At least a glimmer of this is reflected in the launch of Barry’s own ongoing title, The Flash, which resumed the numbering of Jay Garrick’s series from a decade earlier (Garrick last appeared in The Flash #104, February 1949, while Barry was featured in issue #105, February 1959).  Jay’s existence remained somewhat incidental during the first two years of the Silver Age Flash’s run, but with the establishment of the “Earth-2” concept in The Flash #123 (September 1961), the Golden Age heroes were ushered in as a significant element in the past, present and, ultimately, futures of the DC Universe of heroes.  For the immediate time being, the creation of a literary bridge between the Silver Age “Earth-1” and the Golden Age “Earth-2” literally opened an entirely new dimension of storytelling opportunities to the writers and editors of all the DC Comics titles.

 A Bright Future

Once The Flash led the way to the possibility of alternate realities in the DC Universe, Jay Garrick’s Earth-2 was joined by a near infinite number of imitators.  One of these alternate Earths, which was also discovered by Barry Allen (The Flash #179, May 1968), Earth-Prime, played a significant part in the stories of all the Flashes – as well as the DC Multiverse as a whole.  This Earth-Prime reality, although only occasionally visted by the Flash and his allies, was our own “real world” which would, ironically, eventually give birth to a fictional character that would help chart the destiny of every character named “The Flash.”

       

In many ways, The Flash was the quintessential superhero of the 1960s, embracing and in many cases, evolving some very well-trod superhero conventions;  Barry naturally had the obligatory teenaged sidekick (Wally West, The Flash #110, December 1959/January 1960) who unlike many of his contemporaries, actually graduated to succeed his mentor; In Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash, Barry gained the “dark reflection” rival (The Flash #139, September 1963); there was the love interest, Iris West, who Barry wed (The Flash #165, November 1966), making him one of the first married leading superheroes; Barry also gathered an impressive arrary of colorful foes, an ecclectic group rivalled only by Batman’s army of memorable enemies.  Unique to this batch however, was their willingness to “team-up”, forming what would become a loose group affiliation known as “The Rogues” (first appearing collectively in The Flash #130, August 1962).

Tragedy

Throughout the 1970s however, The Flash began to falter.  Contrasted to the wave of darker heroes beginning to rise and explosion of new genre titles, what once was a progressive character became rather bland.  In a move that was very unconvetional for the time, Iris Allen was murdered (in The Flash #275, July 1979), an event that actually DID redefine the status quo for the duration of The Flash’s run.  Further to the point, when Barry finally squared off with the true killer, Professor Zoom the Reverse-Flash, the usually very heroic character made a very human choice, abandonning his foe to “certain” death.

When the two rivals next clashed, with Barry’s new fiancee’s life hanging in the balance, the editorial team at DC made a bold choice.  Albeit accidentally, Barry Allen killed the Reverse-Flash (The Flash #324, August 1983), a final effort to make the man the kick-started the Silver Age stand out once again.  The extended arc of The Flash standing trial for the murder of Zoom was ultimately bogged down by “soap opera-esque” plot contrivances, including plastic surgery to hide Barry’s identity, Iris Allen returning from the dead and a great deal of melodrama.  The comic that launched a new era of superhero comics stumbled across the finish line with The Flash #350 (October 1985), with Barry and Iris retiring to live happily ever after in the future.

       

DC editorial used the cancellation of The Flash to dovetail into their company-wide realignment in Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986).  In a rather shrewd corporate move, Barry Allen returned from the future to become the second major casualty of the series, laying down his life in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (November 1985).  Quite suddenly, a character that comparatively few people cared about suddenly produced one of the most poignant moments in modern comic history.  Just as the creation of Barry Allen had kicked off one new era of comics, so too did his death.

Life After Death 

So significant was the death of Barry Allen, that it was elevated to a near untouchable status.  His presence was felt throughout the run of the new Flash comics (beginning June 1987, starring Wally West as the new Flash), but as for the character himself – it was considered near sacred territory.  The time travel nature of Barry’s final days did allow some room to fill in “missing tales” such as in the pages of  Legionnaires Annual #3 (1996, in which he encountered his time-lost granddaughter), The Flash #148-150 (1999, Wally West fought to ensure Barry survived to make his journey back in time to his final fate), Impulse #86-87 (July/August 2002, in which he briefly teams with his grandson), Flash #200 (September 2003, in which promises Wally he will return to aid him 3 times), Flash #224-225 (2005, in which, through time travel, the two Flashes team-up to battle two different Reverse-Flashes),  and even Marvel Comics’ Quasar (#17 and #58, 1990 and 1994 – the first of which is a rather touching tribute to a character from a rival company).

Most relevant to the events currently transpiring at DC, was the revelation that after his death, Barry Allen’s spirit transcended to a sort of nirvana for super-speedsters – the Speed Force.  In The Flash #150 (July 1999), readers see a brief glance of Barry in his afterlife.  In the pages of Infinite Crisis #4 (February 2006, and further fleshed out in The Flash: The Fastest Man Alive #6, January 2007), Barry finally reached beyond the Speed Force, to aid Wally and the rest of the DC heroes in a battle against the insane lone survivor of Earth-Prime.

       

Following the events of Infinite Crisis, the ownership of the Flash legacy has been in a state of flux.  With each twist and swerve, it seemed one contender was added to the race, while another removed.  Even so, it proved to be a controversial surprise when Barry Allen actually physically returned to life in the pages of DC Universe #0 (June 2008, although the last page reveal was spoiled by an interview released earlier in the day by the New York Daily News) and Final Crisis #2 (August 2008).  The question that remains, even after the debut issues of The Flash: Rebirth (June 2009) – does Barry Allen still have the legs to lead the DC Universe into a new era?

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Comments

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jun 10, 2009 at 4:29pm

    Another nice piece Fletch. Ah yes "Buried Alien" in QUASAR. One of Mark Gruenwald's more self-indulgent moments but still fun.

  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Jun 10, 2009 at 4:57pm

    Barry also appeared in a Vertigo miniseries, The Thessaliad, after his death. Thessaly the witch encounters a blond-haired man at an afterlife cafe who can't recall his real name...."Barry or Alan or something ordinary like that." For a dead guy, he sure got around.

  • Fletch Adams

    Fletch Adams Jun 11, 2009 at 1:08pm

    Write a message?

  • Fletch Adams

    Fletch Adams Jun 11, 2009 at 1:10pm

    Thanks guys...I missed that Vertigo one - but now that you mention it, something about that rings a bell (waaaaay back in the dusty archieves of my mind)

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