They have been called the Fastest Men Alive - four generations of super heroes granted the power of immeasurable speed and ability to tap into the extradimensional energy field called the Speed Force. Each hero named himself the Flash and became the forerunner of an age of champions, creating a legacy of courage and valor. In this article I'm going to give a brief history of the 4 men to bear the mantle of The Flash. I will warn you that some of the information below may not always be in line with the current continuity, but is a good starting point when learning the history of these beloved characters.
Jay was a failed college football player in the 1930s, who later became a research scientist. By accidentally inhaling the hyper-charged atoms of a radioactive liquid, Garrick gained incredible superspeed.
Dressed in a red and blue uniform, Garrick became the Flash and helped form the legendary Justice Society Of America and the wartime All-Star Squadron. He was forced into retirement during the McCarthy era in the 1950s because of super hero registration act. Garrick was placed in suspended animation by the villainous Fiddler but was rescued by Barry Allen, the second Flash. Because of his time in suspended animation, he never aged. Garrick married his girlfriend, Joan Williams, and briefly retired, but he returned to active duty with the most recent incarnation of the JSA.
Over the next few years, Jay would occasionally help out the third Flash, Wally West, when he faced threats too big for one hero to handle. He mainly took on the role of elder statesman/mentor to a younger generation of super-heroes.
Following the events of FLASHPOINT, Jay and the rest of the Golden Age heroes were all but forgotten. That is until recently when we saw the JSA make their triumphant return in the pages of JUSTICE LEAGUE.
What the future holds for this beloved character is any guess, but if rumors are to be believed, we'll be seeing Jay and the rest of the JSA sooner rather than later.
Barry Allen first appeared in Showcase #4 (October 1956), created by writer Robert Kanigher and penciler Carmine Infantino. Barry Allen was a reinvention of a previous character, Jay Garrick, called the Flash, who appeared in 1940s comic books as the character. Barry's first appearance is also regarded as the beginning of the Silver Age of comics.
Slowpoke police scientist Barry Allen idolized Jay Garrick, the super hero Flash. During a late stormy night at the police station laboratory, a bolt of lightning crashed through the window and shattered the vials of chemicals surrounding Allen. Suddenly imbued with the power to move at near lightspeed, Barry took on the name of his Golden Age idol, and, along with Green Lantern Hal Jordan and Aquaman, helped usher in the Silver Age of heroes. As the Flash, Barry was one of the founders of the Justice League of America.
He also became a mentor to a younger hero, when his girlfriend Iris’ nephew Wally West fell victim to the exact same accident that gave Barry his powers (Flash v.1 #110, 1959). It has since been speculated that Barry unconsciously caused the accident to occur through his link to the Speed Force.
Over the years Barry had fought some of the worst Rogues Central City had to offer (Captain Cold, Heat Wave, The Top, Weather Wizard, Mirror Master), but none as evil as Professor Zoom aka Reverse Flash. He had been inspired by Barr, in his native 25th century, but he quickly became obsessed and then wanted nothing more than to defeat him.
When his fiancée, Iris, was apparently slain by the Reverse-Flash, Allen killed his hated rival. After a lengthy trial, he learned that his wife, Iris, was saved from death at the hands of Professor Zoom by a "psychic transplant" in the future into another body, the Flash traveled to the 30th century to be with her. Tragically, their happiness ended when the Flash was kidnapped by the Anti-Monitor, who planned to use a giant antimatter cannon to destroy the universe. Running faster than ever before, the Flash escaped the Anti-Monitor's bonds and destroyed the cannon. Allen's body disintegrated, but his energies rocketed back in time and became the lightning bolt that shattered the chemicals that originally gave Allen his superspeed.
Barry Allen found himself alive again, unsure how or why he had been given a second chance, as minions of Darkseid began taking over the Earth (this took place in Final Crisis). He later learned that he had been brought back by his arch-enemy, the Reverse Flash, in order to destroy his legacy as a hero — and that Zoom had been tormenting him throughout his past, even responsible for murdering Barry's mother.
This revelation led to the events of FLASHPOINT, where Barry traveled back in time to save his mother. These events led to history changing and resulted in the New52 era at DC. With the timeline changed, a lot of heroes were either deaged or didnt exist in this new timeline.
Eventually we learned through the DC REBIRTH special, where Wally West returned and subsequently, DOOMSDAY CLOCK, that Dr. Manhattan was responsible for the changes in DC's history. With almost everything restored to the pre-Flashpoint timeline, DC is set to once again shake things up. If history shows us anything the Flash family will be right at the center of it all.
The nephew of Barry Allen, the second Flash, Wally first appeared in Flash #110 (1959), which also showed his transformation into Kid Flash. When visiting his uncle's laboratory it was a bolt of lightning shattered a rack of chemicals in the room, that gave him his powers, much like Barry. Under the mantle of Kid Flash, Wally was depicted as a teenage sidekick to his uncle and a founding member of the Teen Titans,with the first Robin, Aqualad, Speedy, and Wonder Girl . After Barry's death in Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, Wally took on the role of the Flash from 1986 to 2009
Under writer Mark Waid , Wally discovered his link to the Speed Force, an energy source that gives all speedsters their power. Tapping into the force made Wally the fastest Flash of them all, able to run at the speed of light. He became one of the founders of the most powerful incarnation of the JLA, West has garnered a lethal Rogues Gallery as the champion of Keystone City.
Unlike most of his contemporaries The Flash revealed his secret identity to the world and, after several failed romances, fell in love with and married reporter Linda Park. After a battle with the villain Zoom ended in the miscarriage of their unborn twins, West asked the Spectre to remove all memories of his identity from the public consciousness - including Linda - to protect those he loved from the dangers he continues to face as the Fastest Man Alive.
But under the guidance of Geoff Johns, Wally became one of the greatest heroes the DCU has ever seen. After sacrificing himself in INFINITE CRISIS, Bart Allen who at the time was Kid Flash, became the new Flash. Wally, Linda and the twins returned when seven members of the future team, the Legion of Super-Heroes, traveled back in time to resurrect someone using 31st-Century technology called lightning rods. The Legion appears to have been recovering someone else, but Wally was “riding the lightning,” and brought his entire family back.
It wasn't until the events of FINAL CRISIS & FLASH: REBIRTH, tat we saw the return of Barry. Which led to the events of FLASHPOINT where Wally seemingly disappeared in this new timeline. Eventually Wally West is reintroduced to DC continuity in a DC Rebirth story. The story reveals that following the Flashpoint event, Wally was lost in the Speed Force for 10 years. While trapped, he came to realize that Barry had not been responsible for the mutation of the New Earth universe into Prime Earth but that an unknown entity had used Barry's time travelling as an opportunity to fundamentally alter reality.During the events of DOOMSDAY CLOCK we would learn that the entity responsible was Dr. Manhattan from the Watchmen Universe.
But that wouldn't be the last heartbreaking thing for Wally to endure, he learned of his missing children during the events of "Flash War" and would later be responsible for a horrific accident during the evnts of HEROES IN CRISIS..
Following the events of FLASH FORWARD, Wally made a deal with Tempus Fuginaut to save the lives of his children. He now has the abilities of Dr. Manhattan and is set to play an integral role of the next DC event starting in May's GENERATION ZERO.
Bart was born in the 30th century to Meloni Thawne and Don Allen, and is part of a complex family tree of heroes and villains. His father, Don, is one of the Tornado Twins and his paternal grandfather is Barry Allen, the second Flash. His paternal grandmother, Iris West Allen, is also the adoptive aunt of the first Kid Flash, Wally West (Bart's cousin). Additionally, Bart is the first cousin of XS, a Legionaire and daughter of Dawn Allen. On his mother's side, he is a descendant of supervillains Professor Zoom and Cobalt Blue as well as the half-brother of Owen Mercer, the second Captain Boomerang. In addition to these relatives, he had a supervillain clone known as Inertia.
He was featured as the lead character in Impulse (1995–2002) and was mentored by Max Mercury. He spent many years under Max's tutelage and really turned into on of the most beloved characters in the DCU. During those years he was aslo a founding member of Young Justice with Robin (Time Drake) and Superboy (Conner Kent).
He was later taken in by the original Flash, Jay Garrick and his wife Joan. Not long after, Bart took on the costume of Kid Flash, spending time with the Teen Titans. Bart disappeared during Infinite Crisis and reappeared four years older, taking up the mantle of the Flash until he was killed by the Rogues. Restored to life by the Legion of Super-Heroes, Bart was once again the fastest teen alive.
Once again, the events of FLASHPOINT were not kind to the Flash Family. Bart was a completely different character in New52, with no ties to the Allen family. It was until the current Rebirth era that Bart would make his return. There is still some mystery about how he came back and where he was during those years. He's currently spending most of his time with the newly returned Young Justice and seemingly remmbers his past life. What this means going forward is anyones guess, but it sure is great to have him back.
While the Flash Family consists of many speedsters these are the 4 that have bared the mantle of The Flash. If there's one thing that has always been consistent is the legacy aspect, so you can be sure that someone will once again take up the mantle, it's only a matter of time.