Let’s face it. Many new fans of The Flash were most likely introduced to the character with the CW show. Even if you weren’t, the concepts presented in the television show—at least the first two or three season—are a good place to get to know The Flash and more specifically Barry Allen.
Your uncle Geekly may have grown up leaning more Marvel than DC, but he dabbles with DC Comics. This week I hope to show you where to beginning reading The Flash comic books, starting with an emphasis on stories that may look and sound familiar for CW fans and moving toward other great tales of the Scarlet Speedster.
Flash Rebirth (written by Geoff Johns/art by Ethan Van Sciver; 2009)
Barry Allen returned to the DC Universe after years of being thought dead with Flash Rebirth. Readers are treated to an updated origin story, the history of the Speedforce, and Professor Zoom’s backstory.
It also happens to be the chief inspiration of the CW show as writer Geoff Johns is also one of the show’s producers. Rebirth is a great place to start for any new Flash reader and fantastic for The Flash TV fans.
Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues (written by Geoff Johns/art by Various; 2010)
This entry is a little off when compared to the rest of the ones on this list. Bear with me, and I promise that it makes sense as a starter Flash story.
The Dastardly Death of the Rogues gives new readers a crash-course on the time-jumping nature of The Flash. Yes, characters often go back and forth through time to varying effect and this time it’s a future rogue warning Barry of another rogue’s plans for domination. And this is the first way the story turns odd.
Barry is also accused of killing rogues in the future and may have to answer for his future crimes—I smell a Minority Report—but it’s the focus of Barry as a CSI that has this story make the list. Previous Flash tales cast Barry Allen as a forensic scientist or cop but few capture Barry’s job aside superheroing like this one.
Flashpoint (written by Geoff Johns/art by Andy Kubert; 2011)
If you haven’t noticed, you’re going to see a lot of Geoff Johns’ work here because he defined The Flash of the 2000s and continues to do so with the TV show. Like the title before it on this list, Flashpoint has a character time travel. This time it’s Barry Allen going back in time to save his mother from being murdered.
The consequences are dire as the DC Universe is flipped upside down. It’d take a lot of time to explain everything that happened, but her are some highlights: Bruce Wayne dies instead of his parents and his parents become Batman and The Joker, Captain Cold is Central City’s greatest hero, the Justice League was never established, and Superman doesn’t exist. All this because Barry wanted to save his mom. Flashpoint does a great job of showing why a hero can’t be selfish. It’s also one of the watershed crossover events in recent DC Comics history and reshaped the comic giant’s status quo for the publisher’s 2011 relaunch, the New 52.
Flash New 52 Volumes 1-3 (story and art by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato; 2011-2014)
The artwork here is amazing. No other artist captures the feel and look of The Flash running at top speed than Manapul. Barry Allen gets reintroduced here—so it’s another good place to get started for fans of the TV show—and most of his greatest enemies make an appearance in the first few volumes. You’ll meet plenty of the rogues and get to know Gorilla Grodd, too.
Crisis on Infinite Earths (written by Marv Wolfman/art by George Perez; 1985-1986)
This one’s a big one. The Flash isn’t the main character, but he factors into this crossover event and the odd thing is that Crisis on Infinite Earths was conceived to get rid of the multiverse, which is something The Flash instigated.
It’s a must read for anyone who wants to know more about Barry Allen as a character, because he makes the ultimate sacrifice. In an iconic scene, he literally runs himself to death and becomes one with the Speedforce. New readers could say spoilers were in order, but even being armed with that knowledge won’t prepare you for watching happen. This is Barry showing how and why he’s a hero.
The Flash Chronicles Volume 1 (written by various/art by various; 1956-1959)
I’m going with a collection of older comics here because it’s nice to see where everything began. Barry Allen’s Flash harkened comic book’s Silver Age. If it wasn’t for Barry streaking across the page, DC may not have ever brought back other great heroes from its Golden Age and Marvel may have never gotten back into the superhero business. These stories had to make the list and fortunately, the first several years are collected in a single volume of The Flash Chronicles.
All these stories hold a special place in comic history, but here are some highlights:
Showcase #4 marks Barry Allen’s first appearance and the first instance of the ongoing gag where Iris complains that Barry is always late because he moves so slowly.
Flash #110 Iris’s nephew Wally West happens to be The Flash’s biggest fan, and this happens to be his first appearance.
Flash #123 is where the multiverse is first introduced when Barry inadvertently travels to a parallel Earth and teams up with his Golden Age counterpart Jay Garrick. It’s a simple team-up story here, but the multiverse is an essential part of many Flash stories.
Flash #139 showcases The Flash’s greatest foe Eobard Thawne (aka Professor Zoom/Reverse Flash). Thawne goes down quickly in this story, but he’ll be a thorn in Barry’s side for many decades.
The Flash by Mark Waid Book One (written by Mark Waid/art by Greg LaRocque; 1987)
I’ve focused primarily on Barry Allen up to this point, so it’s time to talk about Wally West as The Flash. Waid does an excellent job of showing how the two Flashes differ. Wally doesn’t take to the Speedforce like his predecessor. He’s as scared of his powers as he is the enemies he fights. This book reads like The Flash: Year One.
Readers will also see Barry as he trains his protégé—much like he does in the TV show—and catch a glimpse of one of DC’s greatest friendships.
The Flash: The Return of Barry Allen (written by Mark Waid/art by Greg LaRocque; 1996)
Oddly enough, Waid does more to establish Wally as the Flash by having Barry Allen return from the dead. Comic book characters return from the dead more often than my dog poops on the floor—which is to say every other day—but Waid finds a way to turn this trope on its ear. I won’t explain how he does it here, but it’s well worth the read and an excellent case study on how to subvert a reader’s expectation.
The Flash: Dead Heat (written by Mark Waid/art by Oscar Jimenez; 2000)
No Flash story tackles the Speedforce, delves into the Flash’s sci-fi roots and explores the numerous characters who have ever had super speed than Dead Heat. A “God of Speed,” “Speed Ninjas” and all other manner of speedsters make their way in this story. It does a lot to set up the Flash’s mythos. It’s also a lot of fun.
The Flash: Blitz (written by Geoff Johns/art by Scott Kolins; 2003)
Even though several of the Flash’s rogues make an appearance, Blitz is the definitive Professor Zoom story. Wally is completely outclassed, but Zoom’s speed isn’t his greatest threat. Zoom doesn’t hesitate to put Wally’s family and friends in danger to get to him. If fans of The Flash TV show liked the twisted and menacing nature of the main antagonists in seasons 1 and 2, you owe it to yourself to read Blitz.
I think that covers it for Barry and Wally as The Flash. There are other versions of the character—not the least of which is the Golden Age’s Jay Garrick—but that may have to wait for another time. If you don’t agree with any of my selections, feel free to challenge me to a race or you could leave a comment.