Forget Superman or Spider-Man. The Flash might be the most important superhero of all time.
The Flash founded the Justice Society of America, the first major superhero team. The Flash brought the multiverse to comics. The Flash featured a kid sidekick taking over for his fallen mentor. And, on multiple occasions, the Flash (and Flash comics) has played a major role in universe-defining events.
Whether the man behind the mask is World War II – era hero Jay Garrick, the scientist Barry Allen, or the brash and young Wally West, Flash comics race to the future of comic book storytelling.
1. Flash #73-79 (1993)
Wally West achieved the impossible, at least by Flash comic book standards. When the second Flash Barry Allen died in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, his teen sidekick Wally West aka Kid Flash, took on the mantle and established himself as his own hero.
Written by Mark Waid, penciled by Greg LaRocque, and inked by Roy Richardson, the “Return of Barry Allen” storyline tested Wally’s mettle and established him as the greatest Flash of all. Barry has come back to life, much to the delight of Wally and the first Flash Jay Garrick. However, Barry soon rejects Wally’s methods, playing on Wally's insecurities and leaving a wound that doesn't go away, not even after learning the truth of his mentor’s resurrection. Colorist Gina Going and letterer Tim Harkins join Waid, LaRocque, and Richardson in creating a modern epic about exceeding one’s teachers.
2. Flash #95 – 100 (1994-1995)
Although Wally West became one of the rare major teen sidekicks to take on the hero’s mantle, legacy characters were nothing new. In fact, his predecessor Barry Allen was the second Flash, following in the footsteps of the original Flash Jay Garrick.
Rather than ignore the potential confusion caused by sharing superhero names, writer Waid, penciler Salvador Larroca, and inker José Marzan, Jr leans into it for the Terminal Velocity storyline. Joined by future speedster Impulse and the unaging speedster Max Mercury, Wally finds himself being subsumed by “the Speed Force,” the magical entity from which all Flashes get their power. When he learns to harness the Speed Force and retain his humanity, Wally taps into a power that he never before imagined, forever changing the face of Flash comics.
3. Flash #152 – 159 (1999-2000)
After introducing the Speed Force earlier in his run, Waid said goodbye to Flash comics (for a while, anyway) by adding another important concept to the DC Universe, Hypertime.
After Wally disappears, his fiancee Linda Park and his friend Jay Garrick meet him again in a new costume and with a worse attitude. This Wally, who goes by Walter West, comes from another reality, one of many that exist at the same time.
Co-written by Brian Augustyn, penciled by Paul Pelletier, inked by Vince Russell, colored by Tom McGraw, and lettered by Gaspar Saladino, Flash #152 might sound blase to modern superhero fans, immersed in multiverse tales. However, the Hypertime concept in that issue makes every story canon, freeing creators from the limits of strict continuity.
4. Flash #220-225 (2005)
Although it doesn’t get mentioned in the same breath as Batman or Spider-Man, the Flash has a rogues gallery to rival any other superhero. Most of the time, the Rogues — led by Captain Cold and including Heatwave, Mirror Master, and the Pied Piper — form a brotherhood of thieves, all of whom respect the Flash. But in Flash #220, tensions mount between the baddies and an all-out war ensues, with Flash caught in the middle.
Written by Geoff Johns, penciled by Howard Porter, inked by John Livesay, colored by James Sinclair, and lettered by Pat Brosseau, “The Rogue War” redefined the Flash’s relationship with his arch-enemies, making Keystone City a more dangerous place to live.
5. Flash #123 (1961)
These days, everyone and their grandmother knows about the multiverse. But back in the 1960s, ideas about alternate realities belonged to the realm of the most far-flung science fiction — the types of stories that Gardner Fox wrote for DC Comics. The multiverse gave Fox a method to bring back DC Characters not used since the end of World War II when everyone except Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman was fell to the wayside, at least until new versions of the Flash and Green Lantern came about in the late 1950s.
In Flash #123, “The Flash of Two Worlds,” Flash Barry Allen discovers that the original Flash Jay Garrick lives with other World War II-era heroes in an alternate reality called Earth-2. From that story, Fox, penciler Carmine Infantino, inker Joe Giella, colorist Carl Gafford, and letterer Saladino launched a new era for DC and Flash comics in general.
6. Flash #54 (1991)
Written by William Messner-Loebs, penciled by Greg LaRocque, and inked by José Marzan, Jr., 1991’s Flash #54 has a simple, expressive title: “Nobody Dies.”
The story begins with Flash declaring that under his watch, nobody dies. That principle gets put to the test later in the story when terrorists hijack a plane that he’s riding. When a woman gets sucked out through a hole in the fuselage, the Flash must find a way to keep her alive without any ground on which to run, testing his courage and his heroism. With colors by Glenn Whitmore and letters by Tim Harkins, Flash #54 serves as one of the best single-issue stories in DC Comics history.
7. Flash #62 – 65 (1992)
Mark Waid began his groundbreaking run on The Flash by starting from scratch. “Born to Run” from Flash #62 – 65 — written by Waid, penciled by LaRocque, inked by Marzan, Jr., colored by Whitmore, and lettered by Harkins — retells the first year in the career of Wally West.
Growing up idolizing his uncle Barry Allen, Wally got the chance to fight alongside him as Kid Flash, after he experienced an accident like Barry’s. More than retelling and streamlining Wally’s first year, “Born to Run” serves as a statement of purpose for Waid’s run, setting the humble beginnings from which Wally will become the greatest speedster to ever live.
8. Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985 – 1986)
The multiverse came to the DC Universe with Flash #123. So when DC editors decided that their universe had grown too convoluted and wanted to streamline everything on a single, rebooted world, the Flash had to die.
Written by Marv Wolfman and penciled by George Perez, Crisis on Infinite Earths functions better as a massive exposition piece than it does a story. That said, a great mini-arc occurs in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8, inked by Jerry Ordway, colored by Anthony Tollin, and lettered by John Costanza. Barry stands alone against the Anti-Monitor, using his superspeed against his universe-destroying machines. Barry manages to dismantle the machine, but at the cost of his own life, dissipating into pure energy and leaving behind a legacy for his nephew Wally West to continue.
9. Flash #197 – 200 (2003)
Barry Allen’s arch-enemy Professor Zoom the Reverse Flash, a scientist from the future who makes himself into the Flash’s greatest nemesis.
Wally West’s arch-enemy came in the form of FBI profiler Hunter Zolomon, who uses his superspeed to inflict suffering on the Flash, hoping it will inspire him to become a greater hero. Zoom puts his theory to the test in the “Blitz” storyline, in which he attacks Wally’s pregnant wife Linda.
Written by Geoff Johns, penciled by Scott Kolins, inked by Doug Hazlewood, colored by James Sinclair, and lettered by Ken Lopez, Flash #197 – 200 may veer a bit dark for some Flash comics fans, but it also affirms Wally’s heroism.
10. Flash #231 – 237 (2007-2008)
For three decades, Wally West enjoyed that rarest of qualities in superhero fiction: actual change and character growth. He went from uncertain kid sidekick to brash young hero to powerful adventurer and empathetic adult. Then DC decided to throw that away, moving Wally and his family out of the main universe and aging up Bart Allen, the kid formally known as Impulse, and making him the new Flash.
That mistake shook the faith of many Flash comics readers, so when DC wanted to reverse course and win back their affection, they brought back the best: Mark Waid returned to write Wally again, this time as the father of superpowered twins. Working with artist Daniel Acuña and letterer Pat Brosseau, Waid gives Wally grounded family adventures, without ever sacrificing the character’s tremendous power.
11. Flash #165 (1966)
In becoming a family man, Wally West followed in the footsteps of his mentor Barry Allen, who became one of the first married superheroes in comics history.
marriage of Barry Allen and Iris West occurred in Flash #165, written by John Broome, penciled by Carmine Infantino, and inked by Joe Giella. As a Flash story, Flash #165 couldn’t tell a simple wedding plot. Instead, the story involves the nuptials getting interrupted by a man who identifies himself as the real Barry Allen. In fact, the interloper is Professor Zoom, who has made himself look identical to Barry, heightening his obsession with the hero and his family.
12. Flash #790-796 (2023)
By 2023, not only have Barry Allen, Bart Allen, Wally West, and Jay Garrick all returned from the dead, but other speedsters have joined the Flash family, such as futuristic Flash Jess Chambers and Avery Ho, the Flash of China.
Rather than try to trim down the Flash comics roster and lose some favorites, writer Jeremy Adams and artist Roger Cruz take advantage of the multiples for stories such as “The One-Minute War,” published in Flash #790-796. Inked by Matt Banning and Wellington Diaz, colored by Luis Guerrero, and lettered by Rob Leigh, Flash #790 and the following issues require all of the Flashes to do battle with an alien race, who threatens to destroy the Earth in under 60 seconds.
13. Flash #155 (1965)
Readers today sometimes scoff at the cardboard personality Barry Allen had during the Silver Age of comics, but that criticism misses the point. For all the flat characterization of the time, Silver Age Flash comics featured unparalleled imagination, especially when penciled by Carmine Infantino.
Written by John Broome, penciled by Infantino, and inked by Joe Giella, Flash #155 shows off the best of the era, with the first team-up of Flash’s Rogues. Left alone against Captain Cold, Heatwave, and more, Barry must use his powers in interesting ways, much to the delight of readers who couldn’t care less about his internal character conflicts.
14. Showcase Comics #4 (1956)
The brainchild of DC editor Julius Schwartz, Showcase Comics #4 changed the world. After the boom that followed the introduction of Superman in 1938, World War II ended and the genre lost its readership, forcing most publishers to abandon superheroes. TV and radio allowed Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman to stick around, but others — including the Flash and Green Lantern — went by the wayside.
That changed with Showcase #4, written by Robert Kanigher, penciled by Infantino, inked by Joe Kubert, and lettered by Gaspar Saladino. The issue introduced Barry Allen, a mild-mannered scientist who gets doused with chemicals and struck by lightning, gaining the powers of the Flash.
This (kind of) science-based premise matched the interest in sci-fi of the era, making superheroes cool again. In the years that followed, Schwartz introduced more reimagined heroes, including Green Lantern and the Atom, and Stan Lee followed suit, launching the first Marvel heroes, the Fantastic Four.
15. Superman #199 (1967)
Since 1938, readers have associated superspeed with Superman, a man faster than a speeding locomotive. But people call the Flash “the fastest man alive.” So who is faster?
Writer Jim Shooter and artist Curt Swan, along with inker George Klein, seek to answer that question with Superman #199. To raise support for the UN, the Flash and Superman agree to race one another, dealing with a number of smaller emergencies along the way. The issue comes to an inconclusive answer, but it sets the stage for a reoccurring trope of the duo racing each other, something that gets recreated in the live-action Justice League movie.
16. Flash #47-50 (2018)
Despite all of the love Wally garnered as the Flash, some still preferred Barry Allen. So when Barry came back to life in 2009’s Final Crisis #8, Wally got pushed aside, first to just second string status, and then erased altogether in the New 52 reboot that followed the Flashpoint storyline (more on that in a minute).
However, no one can keep a good hero down and Wally made his way back to the fore, leading to 2018’s Flash War in Flash #47-50. Whatever its vainglorious title might promise, Flash War featured very little war and more wrestling with ideas about legacy and heroism. Writer Joshua Williamson, artist Howard Porter, and letterer Steve Wands show why the Universe needs more than one Flash, even if it ends with Wally regaining his place as the greatest speedster.
17. Flash #179 (1968)
As already shown, the Flash played a key role in establishing the multiverse when Barry Allen visited Earth-2. But in Flash #179, writer Cary Bates, penciler Ross Andru, and inker Mike Esposito go even further by sending Barry to Earth-Prime, better known as the real world.
“The Flash — Fact or Fiction?” takes Barry to the real world, where he visits the DC offices and meets Julius Schwartz and other creators. Although quaint by the standards of meta-fictional tales that followed, Flash #179 proves once again the character’s ability to push storytelling boundaries and move the genre forward.
18. Flash #105 (1959)
After the wild success of Showcase #4, the Flash jumped to his own book, which picked up the numbering of the Jay Garrick Flash comics series.
Flash #105 starts with a bang, introducing the Mirror Master, one of the Flash’s most enduring villains. Writer John Broome, artist Carmine Infantino, inker Joe Giella, and letterer Gaspar Saladino use the issue as something of a statement of purpose, promising more high-concept sci-fi stories and superhero action, a promise they’ll pay off in spades.
19. Flash #1 (1987)
Where Barry began his ongoing series with a blast of optimism, Wally began his tenure with the weight of expectation on his shoulders.
1987’s Flash #1, written by Mike Baron and penciled by Jackson Guice, tries to connect the past to the present as Wally’s former teammates in the Teen Titans throw him a 20th birthday party. However, the event just solidifies the feeling of disconnection he experiences, especially when he goes up against Vandal Savage, the undying enemy of the original Flash, Jay Garrick.
Along with inker Larry Mahlstedt, colorist Carl Gafford, and letterer Steve Haynie, Baron, and Guice set Wally on the first awkward steps that will lead to his becoming one of the greatest superheroes of all time.
20. All-Star Comics #3 (1940)
In his first adventures, the original Flash Jay Garrick failed to capture the attention enjoyed by his contemporaries Superman and Batman. That began to change with 1940’s All-Star Comics #3, in which Jay helped found the first superhero team of all time, the Justice Society of America.
Written by Gardner Fox and drawn by Everett E. Hibbard, the Justice Society origin story featured several DC heroes, including Green Lantern, Hourman, and the Spectre. However, even as many of these others come and go, Flash remained a constant, establishing a key place in the DC Universe that grows with importance over time.
21. Flash #275 (1979)
For most of his existence, imagination and over-the-top adventure fueled Barry Allen more than personal tragedy. That change started not when Geoff Johns took over the character in the late 2000s and gave him a dour origin story, but rather with Flash #275, written by Cary Bates, penciled by Alex Saviuk, inked by Frank Chiaramonte, colored by Gene D’Angelo, and lettered by Todd Klein.
The issue begins with a party and ends in tragedy with the death of Barry’s wife Iris. Later issues will reverse the death, but the event still puts Barry on a downward slope, a series of bad events that continue through his sacrifice in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
22. Flash #225 (1974)
Both revised versions of Golden Age characters, the Flash Barry Allen and the Green Lantern Hal Jordan formed a fast friendship, one that only grew when Green Lantern lost his solo title and became a back-up character in Flash comics.
Written by Bates, penciled by Irv Novick, and inked by Dick Giordano, Flash #225 puts that friendship to the test when Professor Zoom frames Green Lantern in the future and manipulates the Flash into helping him. Although the story has traces of the grittiness that comes to define the Bronze Age of comics, it still has enough Silver Age fun to remind readers why they fell in love with the characters in the first place.
23. Flash Comics #1 (1940)
Few readers of 1940 would have predicted such an illustrious future for the Flash. Working with artist Harry Lampert, the great writer Gardner Fox has a fun idea for Jay Garrick, a man who gains superspeed after exposure to hard water experiments.
But Flash Comics #1 also features a few other heroes, including mainstays Johnny Thunder and Hawkman. That said, Flash managed to grow an audience even then, getting 104 issues of his own book before fading with most other superheroes in the years following World War II.
24. Flashpoint (2011)
Viewers who only know the Flash from TV and movies may be surprised to learn that the Flashpoint storyline, in which Barry Allen changes reality after going back in time to prevent his mother’s murder, first appeared very recently.
Moreover, Flashpoint led to a major reboot of the DC Universe, the short-lived and controversial “New 52” continuity. That massive exposure distracts from the fact that Flashpoint, by itself, tells a pretty solid tale about a hero reconciling with his amazing powers and his limitations. Had writer Geoff Johns — working with penciler Andy Kubert, inker Sandra Hope, colorist Alex Sinclair, and letterer Nick J. Napolitano — told a contained Barry Allen story, as they first intended, Flashpoint would be better respected.