The debut CW’s The Flash tonight will introduce a whole new generation of fans to the world of Barry Allen, aka the fastest man alive, the Flash. After first appearing in the comics in 1956, Allen has had one of the most storied careers in superhero comics history, filled with quirky sci-fi fun, tragedy, sacrifice, rebirth and good old-fashioned comic book action.
As a primer for The Flash’s premiere, here are 10 essential Barry Allen stories. These comics cover all the basics for the character – key first appearances and events, and defining moments that have helped make Barry such a popular hero for nearly 60 years.
1. Showcase #4
The comic book that many industry historians cite as the beginning of the Silver Age, marks the very first appearance of Barry Allen – a police scientist who is doused with chemicals that are then struck by lightening, giving him unfathomable super speed.
The Robert Kanigher/Carmine Infantino creative team demonstrate Barry’s special powers in a number of clever ways. In one scene, Barry is able to catch a plate of dropped food at a diner, and on the very next page he’s able to see a speeding bullet as if its in stop-motion, allowing him to save his girlfriend, Iris West, from being shot.
Showcase #4 also marks the first instance of the ongoing gag where Iris complains that Barry is always late because he moves so slowly. Get it? Because he's secretly the fastest man alive...
2. Flash #110
A key member of the Flash supporting cast is introduced in this issue in Wally West, the nephew of Barry’s girlfriend, Iris. Wally is one of the biggest Flash fans out there, so Iris invites Barry over to help arrange a meet-up between the youngster and the hero (at this point, Iris is not aware of her boyfriend’s alter ego).
Of course, history repeats itself as Wally is doused with chemicals and hit by lightening, similar to what transpired to Barry in his origin story. That results in Wally being transformed into Kid Flash. Wally’s adventures would be followed as “B” stories in the main Flash series. However, the character would eventually graduate to the major leagues when he assumes his idol’s identity as the Flash after Barry’s death in Crisis on the Infinite Earths.
3. Flash #123
One of the most famous single issues in DC Comics history, Flash #123, aka, “Flash of Two Worlds,” introduces the concept of the multiverse, as Barry inadvertently travels to a parallel Earth where he teams up with his Golden Age counterpart, Jay Garrick.
While “Flash of Two Worlds” presents a simple team-up story of the two heroes against the Fiddler, the comic would prove to be extraordinarily influential, as DC published future team-ups with its Silver Age Justice League heroes, and its Golden Age contingent, dubbed the Justice Society of America. DC attempted to streamline its universe in the mid-1980s with its Crisis on the Infinite Earths event, but has since resurrected the Multiverse in crossovers like 52 and Flashpoint.
4. Flash #139
The first appearance of arguably the Flash’s greatest adversary, Eobard Thawne, aka Professor Zoom/Reverse Flash. Thawne arrives in Central City to torment Barry from the 25th century. Per the comic’s story, he finds a capsule containing Allen’s Flash costume and then uses a machine to gain Allen’s speed energy powers.
While Barry succeeds in stopping Thawne fairly easily in his first appearance, the villain would go on to cause Allen and his loved ones a lot of pain and anguish in future years. Thawne kills Iris – temporarily destroying Barry’s life in the process – and then later appears to die at Allen’s hand, which leads directly into the “Trial of the Flash” storyline. Thawne would appear sporadically in the comics for the next 25 years until he was formally resurrected by Geoff Johns in the Flash: Rebirth miniseries.
5. Flash #155
Six of the Flash’s deadliest foes put their heads together to mark the Silver Age introduction of the supervillain stable, the Rogues (just don’t let them hear you refer to them as supervillains – they call themselves "Rogues" as a point of pride).
Led by Captain Cold, Flash’s Rogues don’t necessarily carry the name recognition or clout of the villains who regularly square off against Batman or Superman, but they’re an eclectic bunch filled with colorful costumes and quirky powers, making for some Silver Age fun. The first iteration of the group consists of Cold, Mirror Master, the Top, Heat Wave, Captain Boomerang and Piped Piper, with the highly intelligent ape-creature Gorilla Grodd pulling the group’s strings. Like other villain supergroups, the Rogues membership would change over the years, but the assemblage, as featured here, is arguably the most famous.
6. Superman #199
This 1967 story from Jim Shooter and Curt Swan attempted to answer one of the comic book universe’s most fantastical questions: who’s faster? Superman or the Flash?
In traditional Silver Age fashion, the fastest man alive and the man who is faster than speeding bullet attempt to answer this question as gentleman – the race would benefit the United Nations. Of course that doesn’t stop a couple of criminals from trying to steal all of the event’s earnings.
The Flash vs. Superman storyline was so successful, it spawned a number of sequels – and even past and future Flashes, Jay Garrick and Wally West would take their turns racing against the Man of Steel. A 1990 issue of Adventures of Superman would pay homage to the classic Carmine Infantino Superman #199 cover.
7. “The Death of Iris Allen” (Flash #275-284)
Allen’s darkest hour. In Flash #275, Barry’s wife, Iris, is murdered by his arch nemesis Professor Zoom when Zoom vibrates his hand into her head. Barry is absolutely tortured and traumatized by Iris’s death and even gets into a brawl with the Justice League after he asks Hal Jordan to use his power ring to restore Iris to life. Barry then contemplates retirement before thinking better of it.
Even after the initial shock of Iris’s death wears off, Barry continues to be haunted by what happened to her. A few years later he is put on trial for murdering Zoom, who he believed was going to kill Allen’s then-fiancé, Fiona Webb.
Iris would eventually be resurrected because she comes from the future, and she and Barry are reunited in her timeline after his death in the following issue...
8. Crisis on the Infinite Earth #8
Allen’s finest hour. In this company-changing crossover, Allen sacrifices his life to save the Multiverse from certain destruction. In what may be the mini’s greatest scene, the Flash, who is being held captive by the Anti-Monitor, uses the speed force to destroy the anti-matter canon. In the process, the Flash disintegrates into nothing and assumedly dies – one of the most heroic deaths in the medium’s history.
Crisis writer Marv Wolfman he left a very well-hidden loophole that would allow a future creator to resurrect Allen. Still, that moment didn’t come until more than 20 years later as part of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis event. In the interim, Allen was replaced by his nephew, Wally West.
9. Flash: Rebirth
This six-issue miniseries celebrates Allen’s return to the DC Universe after a more than 20-year absence (he was officially resurrected during Grant Morrison's Final Crisis mini). Geoff Johns, who had scripted a similar Rebirth series with Hal Jordan/Green Lantern a few years earlier, demonstrates his strong grasp on Allen and his supporting cast, writing a comic that is both pensive and hopeful. Allen is initially reluctant to be welcomed by his fellow superheroes as a conquering hero – in many ways reflecting how many readers had come to accept and enjoy Barry’s post-Crisis replacement, Wally West.
Rebirth also brings back the classic Flash villain Professor Eobard “Zoom” Thawne, who uses his powers from the future to shift Barry into reverse and negate his memories. Thawne also gives credence to claims that he is Allen’s greatest adversary when he boasts about being responsible for every tragedy in the Flash’s life, including the murder of his mother and the frame-up of his father.
By the end of the story, it takes three generations of Flashes – Barry, Wally and Jay Garrick (Golden Age) – to defeat Zoom.
In DC’s final event before the New 52 reboot in 2011, Geoff Johns puts the spotlight on Allen, who wakes up in an alternate timeline where he’s lost his Flash powers, Thomas Wayne is alive and is Batman, and Superman is a prisoner of the government. Flash eventually regains his powers and via the power of the cosmic treadmill, unites DC’s Veritgo and Wildstorm timelines under one banner, thereby creating the New 52 universe.
Meanwhile, elements of Flashpoint are already apparently being mined for the Flash television series. The character Blackout, who is first introduced in the series, is expected to appear in an episode, while others associated with the show suggested the miniseries could be adapted down the road.