Humanity has often had a fascination with velocity. In 1940, during the Golden Age of Comics, Jay Garrick was introduced as a new hero called the Flash, a “modern day Mercury.” A college student who accidentally inhaled a mixture of experimental chemicals, Jay woke up with incredible speed. As a superhero, he became a founding member of the Justice Society of America, history’s first superhero team.
In 1956, the Silver Age of Comics began when DC Comics rebooted the story of the Flash. Now the Scarlet Speedster was not a college student but was a CSI named Barry Allen. One night, Barry was working in his lab when a lightning bolt struck the chemical rack in front of him, dousing him in a bath of now electrified chemicals and granting him powers identical (and superior) to Jay Garrick. Barry became the Flash and helped found the Justice League. During one of his adventures, Barry travelled to a parallel universe and met Jay Garrick, leading to a team-up between these heroes, Flashes of two worlds.
Years later, Barry was gone and his mantle passed onto his nephew and former sidekick Wally West. Now, in recent times, Barry is back in the driver’s seat and Jay Garrick has been reimagined as a young man just starting his heroic career rather than an elder hero who’s been around since before World War II. Over the years, these different Flash heroes have worn different suits. Let’s take a look, shall we?
When Jay Garrick was introduced in January of 1940, most superhero costumes were not as skin-tight as is the norm today. In fact, many of the costumes during this era had an off-the-rack look, resembling something that could be cobbled together by raiding a thrift shop or the storage room of a theatre.Jay fits into this category. The boots are a bit fancy, but the rest of the outfit seems to just be blue jeans and a red mock turtleneck that he’s stitched lightning bolts onto. This design would be pretty easy and “realistic” to pull off in a live-action medium, but is still colorful enough to serve as a costume. The big lightning bolt on Jay’s shirt is simple yet also striking (pardon the pun) and memorable. I think the lightning bolts on the side of the pants are a bit much and evidently others thought so too, since these were quickly dropped from the suit.
The truly outlandish elements in this design are the loose, winged boots and the winged helmet. But these small touches serve a design purpose. Jay was introduced as a "modern-day Mercury" and was sometimes called the Sultan of Speed. The helmet makes that idea very clear and the boots underscore the comparison to Hermes, acting as a modern equivalent of winged sandals from Greek and Roman myths.
In some of his early comics, Jay would frighten criminals by throwing a metal lightning-bolt shaped spear at super-speed, referring to it as his calling card. This was later dropped and later writers had Jay use his hat as a throwing weapon, tossing it at super-speed like a discus, one that moved so quickly it cut through gun barrels. Decades later, it was said the helmet had sentimental meaning as well, as Jay’s father had worn it during World War I. When he decided to become a hero, he took the old helmet as a way of remembering his father, painting it silver and adding wings.Originally, Jay’s lightning bolt symbol was drawn similar to Barry Allen’s later symbol, hanging in the middle of the shirt. But it quickly became the practice to extend the lightning bolt to the belt. I think this later design looks better with the kind of shirt he’s wearing and it helps distinguish him from the symbol that everyone has come to associate with Barry.
Now some of you might be asking, did Jay have a secret identity? After all, he’s not masked. Well, the answer is yes, he did. Although we the readers saw Jay’s face clearly, we were told that the hero used his powers to vibrate his face at a subtle frequency, making his features appear as a blur to anyone he encountered. Some stories said that this also affected his voice, giving it a deeper and almost echoing quality when he was operating as a superhero. Clever trick.In one adventure, we had a flashback to World War II and learned that Jay had done a few missions for the U.S. military. During these operations, he wore a version of his outfit that resembled a more typical military uniform.
Not that it’s a bad costume at all. Really, I’m just not sure about that helmet. That could just be me, though.
Jay’s Garrick original adventures stopped by the early 1950s. Then the Silver Age of Comics began when a DC rebooted old superhero concepts, creating a new continuity. It began with Barry Allen, the new Flash.
BARRY ALLENMany historians consider Barry Allen to be the first superhero of the Silver Age of Comics. Debuting in 1956, the idea was to keep the Flash name, elements of the outfit, and the powers but to redefine everything else. This was to be a Flash for the new, modern reader, a character whose adventures would be less about common criminals and gangsters and more about fantastic, high-level sci-fi. Jay Garrick and his adventures weren’t erased, they just took place in a parallel universe (similar to how J.J. Abrams later explained his Star Trek reboot).
Barry has a great outfit. It’s immediately recognizable and has great symbolic value. The lightning motif is a clever reference to Barry’s origin, making it a much stronger symbol for him than it was for Jay. Jay had a lightning bolt on the shirt, but the main idea you got from his costume was that he was Mercury. Here, there’s only a small hint at Mercury with the wings on his cowl. The stronger impression is that Barry is connected with lightning, which in his case is the literal origin of his abilities. And that’s a great symbol since lightning not only implies speed but also power. Barry’s a formidable opponent, not just someone who can outrun you.
Jay could look rather silly at times with those enormous wings on his helmet and the ones on his boots. But with Barry, the wings are more subtle. You could almost miss the ones on his boots since they blend in with the yellow (or gold) color. The height and fit of the boots also make them seem more appropriate than Jay’s loose fitting ones.
More noticeable are the wings on Barry's cowl. They hint at Mercury/Hermes without becoming a dominant element. They wings also serve a practical function as they're actually a police scanner. As a CSI, Barry was naturally interested in helping his brothers and sisters in the police whenever he could. The wings also serve as a radio for contacting certain people, such as his friends in the JLA.
Of course, the wings still aren’t entirely practical. But it’s a comic book about a guy who can run faster than sound, fights criminals from the far future, and occasionally hangs out with talking gorillas that live in a secret city in Africa. I think we can forgive him on the mask.Another thing that just made this costume very cool was how Barry stored it. Since he was often surrounded by police officers, the last thing he wanted to do was just wear his superhero uniform beneath his shirt and slacks. So Barry developed a special chemical treatment that would shrink his costume to a size so small he was actually able to fit it into a hollow ring he wore (decorated by a lightning bolt).
When Barry needed to go into action, he popped the ring open and a spring inside pushed the costume out. Exposure to air caused the specially-treated uniform to expand to full size and Barry would then change into his secret identity faster than the human eye could see. That’s just so wacky, you gotta love it!
Unlike Jay, Barry Allen had a sidekick. After suffering a near identical accident (which Barry later discovered was his own fault), young Wally West (nephew of Barry’s girlfriend Iris) gained identical abilities. Wally became Kid Flash. At first he wore an identical copy of Barry’s suit. Later on, an encounter with a strange alien device rearranged the molecules of Wally’s suit, giving him a new costume based on a design Barry had imagined recently.
So Wally got his own distinctive costume, one that some creators have argued was actually a better looking design than what Barry was wearing. As Kid Flash, Wally became a founding member of the Teen Titans and a formidable hero in his own right.After the death of his uncle Barry during Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986, Wally West took up the mantle of the Flash, becoming the first sidekick to fulfill the unspoken promise that they will one day succeed their heroic mentor. When the new Flash series began the next year, Wally wore the same suit as Barry. While artists in other comics drew the costume as identical to Barry's, Flash series artist Jackson "Butch" Guice was pretty consistent in drawing a different lightning bolt emblem within Wally's own comic. This emblem seems to be a flopped version of Barry’s.
It’s one small change, but I honestly don’t like it. The angle of this lightning bolt just makes it seem less dynamic to me than Barry’s symbol. Maybe I’m crazy, but this emblem doesn’t convey the same power to me. To be fair, a few artists drew Barry with this symbol on occasion as well, but that didn't last long. The classic lightning bolt design is just too strong.
Around this time, the Flash made his live-action debut in a CBS television series starring John Wesley Shipp. Shipp played Barry Allen with a slightly altered costume, one that had red boots, an altered belt design, and a mask that covered his nose, giving him a slightly more sinister look.Back in the comics, Wally got a new costume himself. The belt was now identical to the one seen in the live-action TV show. The material of this costume was meant to be reflective and a darker shade of red. The mask now had blank eye-lenses similar to what Batman uses. And the symbol was returned to the classic Barry style. This suit paid tribute to Barry while giving Wally a look of his own. It became fairly standard for many artists to draw his gold earpieces as simple triangles rather than wings, marking another difference between him and Barry.
After brushing against the Speed Force and increasing his connection to its energies during the crossover Zero Hour, Wally returned home in Flash vol. 2 #95 and noticed that he now trailed energy when he ran. The energy was said to be a side effect of the Speed Force contact and a sign that he had a stronger connection to it now. His quality of trailing lightning in his wake was later given to Barry and Jay in their own stories.During the storyline “Terminal Velocity,” Wally considered choosing a successor to his role. He told his allies that he had selected Jesse Quick, daughter of the Golden Age heroes Johnny Quick (a speedster) and Liberty Belle (who had great strength). For a few issues, Jesse wore her own version of the Flash costume, which incorporated her own style at the time of wearing goggles and a jacket.
Jesse only wore this Flash suit for a few issues before Wally turned out to not be in any immediate danger of dying. She returned to her Jesse Quick identity, later becoming the new Liberty Belle for a while.Not long after he gained a stronger connection to the Speed Force, Wally was injured enough that he couldn’t run for a while, even with the enhanced healing that speedsters get. He had Jay fill in for a few days but then a situation came up where Wally had to step in. Wally was able to focus speed energy into a tangible form that wrapped around his body. This Speed Force suit propped him up and allowed him to run again.
A later battle against the villain Mirror Master caused Wally’s Speed Force suit to change. It now looked like Barry’s costume again, but with Wally’s distinctive belt design (and with artists still usually drawing his ear pieces more simplistically). Some liked this change, some didn’t. Some felt that Wally’s mask looked cooler when it was more similar to Batman’s. Some felt it made him look too mysterious when he was a friendly hero who, at that time, didn’t even have a secret identity.
One very cool thing about Wally’s Speed Force suit was that he would condense it into the shape of a ring and then when he needed to go into action, its energies would expand around him at will. Again, this pays tribute to Barry but still shows us that Wally is his own hero racing down his own path in life rather than treading over old ground.At different points, Wally has worn alternate looks. He had a Jay Garrick style suit during a dream/virtual reality adventure with the Justice League. He had a black and red suit when he served on the black ops group Justice League elite. He had an altered version of the classic red threads during another Justice League adventure. But fairly quickly, he always returned to what he considered his classic style.
Later on, Barry Allen returned to life and resumed his place as the Flash. Wally wasn’t about to go back to being Kid Flash and Barry had no problem with the world having more than one super-speed hero called the Flash. So later on, Wally got a distinctive look.In the popular animated Superman series of the 1990s, and the Justice League cartoon series that followed, Wally was featured as the only Flash character. He wore a similar costume to his classic style, except that the lightning bolt was slightly simpler and emblazoned in a yellow-bordered disc rather than a plain white disc.
This look was borrowed by the comics many years later and became Wally’s new costume now that Barry Allen was back. Wally’s mask was also altered, bringing back the blank eye lenses and having it slope down over the nose similar to how John Wesley Shipp’s mask was designed. His suit was also given a darker, almost maroon shade of red to help distinguish him from Barry, especially if the two were standing next to each other.
THE NEW 52In 2011, DC Comics rebooted much of its continuity. Wally West is curiously absent in the new continuity. Barry Allen is once again the Flash, have never died, and has only been a superhero for about five years. His origin of being a CSI who suffered an accident with chemicals and lightning remains intact.
In the new continuity, known as the “new 52” since DC released 52 new monthly titles, Barry Allen wears an altered version of his classic look. This costume is made of several pieces that shoot out of his ring and merge around his body, the ring itself becoming his chest symbol. The suit has many seams that light up with energy as Barry runs at high speed. The boots are also now more realistic, with visible padding and construction.The boots aren’t bad and I like the chinstrap. The new take on the ring is pretty cool. But personally, I think this costume gets a little too busy with all those glowing seams. The Flash should seem more sleek, in my opinion.
Jay Garrick has also been rebooted. In the 1960s, DC had Barry and Jay meet by explaining that Jay and his Golden Age contemporaries lived on a parallel world called Earth 2. DC has now rebooted this idea and in the new series Earth 2, readers are seeing a parallel universe where Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman have all died during an invasion of Earth. Five years later, new modern heroes emerge, starting with Jay Garrick.
In the new continuity, Jay doesn’t get his powers from a lab accident. The dying god Mercury grants him the speed of a god, complete with a costume that magically appears from nowhere.This outfit is a whole new take on Jay’s look while keeping the same basic elements. We’ve got the blue trousers, red shirt, extended lightning bolt, silver helmet. But it’s all definitely updated. This is most definitely a costume now, not a shirt and blue jeans that have been thrown together.
The gloves are a nice touch for someone trying to maintain a secret identity (fingerprints can definitely make it more difficult to do that). The braces are a nice addition that, along with the boots, keeps Jay from looking as if he’s wearing a body stocking. The chinstrap makes sense in keeping that helmet on, especially at high speeds.
If there’s a basic criticism I have with this outfit, it’s that it’s too realistic. If Jay is given his power from a literal god, then I’d imagine his costume that magically appears around him doesn’t need to have visible zippers, padding and sports style soles on the boots. I don’t think the shield over the eyes is necessary. If Jay’s body has been altered to not burn up from friction at high speeds, I don’t see his eyes being in much danger. If anything, since Mercury has given him his powers, I’d think you would enhance his resemblance to the famous god.
And that concludes our look at the heroes who’ve taken the identity of the Flash, fastest man alive. We’ve only got one more Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. article left. Until next time, this is Alan Kistler, signing off.[Alan Sizzler Kistler is an actor and writer who regularly jumps between New York City and Los Angeles. He is the author of The Unofficial Batman Trivia Challenge, The Unofficial Spider-Man Trivia Challenge and The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook. He believes Isaac Asimov should be required reading in schools and misses seeing Stephanie Brown in comic books.]
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