Running Down a Dream1 of 12
The Flash is speeding his way back onto the CW for his own show’s sixth season this week - and heading toward the Arrowverse TV crossover to end all TV crossovers: “Crisis on Infinite Earths.”
So we figured that considering Barry Allen’s role in the comic book Crisis (spoiler: he’s incredibly important), now would be as good a time as any to countdown the top ten greatest Flash stories of all time.
10. Human Race ( Morrison/Millar/Ryan/Mhan, The Flash vol. 2 #136-141)2 of 12
For years, The Flash was a title that could explore and introduce some of the zaniest concepts in the DC Universe. (I mean, we’re talking about a book that originated the Cosmic Treadmill.) And no modern creators have taken that ball and run with it the way Mark Millar and Grant Morrison did in “Human Race.”
This arc finds Wally taking on a group of intergalactic gamblers who make speedsters race for the fate of their planets. Barry ends up having to race his imaginary friend, and all of the chaos and odd spectacle worthy of Flash’s Golden Age roots and the writing team’s pedigree is put on display.
9. Rogue War (Johns/Porter, The Flash vol. 2 #1/2, #220-225)3 of 12
Geoff Johns is a great student of the DC Universe, and “Rogue War” is an excellent example of that.
The story features Wally West’s rogues gallery facing off against each other because Captain Cold is upset that some of his former villainous allies have seemingly gone good. Eventually we learn that Barry may have rehabbed one of the rogues with Zatanna’s powers, who then in turn mind-controlled the other rogues.
It sounds a little headache-inducing, but it’s a fun way for Johns to show off the power sets of the various members of the Rogues as well as set the stage for a Zoom and Professor Zoom team-up. Of course, there is time travel mischief, but Johns ultimately uses this of this arc (and his run) to reflect on family - like so many great Flash stories before.
8. Terminal Velocity (Waid/Various Artists, The Flash vol. 2 #95-100)4 of 12
When it comes to the concept of “legacy” in superhero comic books, few characters embody that theme like the Flash. Almost more than any other family of characters, DC’s speedsters are allowed to grow and change in ways that we don’t often see from Batman and Superman or the characters that populate their world.
“Terminal Velocity” explores that concept as Wally West manipulates his friends to prevent the death of his girlfriend in the future - but in doing so, he gets lost in the Speed Force, with seemingly no chance of survival.
Wally is often seen as a counterpoint to Barry Allen but this arc allows longtime writer Mark Waid to show how Wally relates to other speedster characters like Jesse Quick and Impulse - further helping readers understand what speed and, more importantly, family, are in the DCU.
7. The Death of Iris Allen (Bates/Saviuk, The Flash vol. 1 #275-284)5 of 12
As comic book history has progressed, just about every superhero has dipped their toes in darker waters and the Flash is no exception.
Taking over his title for the better part of a year, “The Death of Iris Allen” would have Barry Allen investigating the murder of his wife - and in doing so it would be the event that most defined him.
Without Iris, Barry becomes depressed and desperate, trying just about anything to bring her back. And as his desperation mounts, the Reverse Flash is revealed as Iris’ killer, entrenching him as the greatest threat to Barry and his family.
The legacy of this story extends to the present where it has served as inspiration for some of the direction of the CW’s Flash television show.
6. Nobody Dies (Messner-Loebs/LaRoque, The Flash vol. 2 #54)6 of 12
Wally West is probably the most beloved legacy hero in DC’s stable. And while he had plenty of highlights as a teen operating with the Titans as Kid Flash, it took him a little while to establish himself a legitimate adult hero in the minds of fans.
“Nobody Dies” offers a treatise on Wally’s approach to crime fighting. He may be brash, impulsive and a little snarky, but even when facing impossible odds, he’s going to step up and do the right thing. In this case, he dives out of a plane to save a flight attendant who is falling to his doom. The only problem is that Wally doesn’t have any way to stop their fall either.
William Messner-Loebs and Greg LaRoque do a great job putting us in Wally’s shoes as he careens toward the ground, unsure if he’s actually done anything to help or just doomed them both.
In the end it all works out, as these things tend to. As Wally says early in the issue, “Nobody dies. That’s a rule.”
5. Blitz (Johns/Kolins, The Flash vol. 2 #192-200)7 of 12
There’s a tendency for comic creators to want to recreate stories that they’ve read and put a new spin on them. With “Blitz,” it’s clear that Geoff Johns had “The Death of Iris Allen” in mind - but the takes things a step further.
In “Blitz,” Wally West refuses Hunter Zolomon’s request to change the timestream, setting Zolomon on the path to become Zoom - a time-manipulating speedster who seems to be faster than anyone readers had ever seen before.
Johns’ knowledge of past stories enables him to bait readers into thinking that Zoom would kill Linda, thereby getting revenge on Wally, echoing what happened to Barry and rendering Wally’s one rule moot. But Johns does the unexpected and lets Linda live, injuring her badly enough that she miscarries the two children with whom she was pregnant.
It’s a brutal turn of events for Wally and Linda that firmly establishes Zoom as a major threat. And while the miscarriage would eventually be reversed, the story still stands as a major moment for Wally West.
4. Born to Run (Waid/LaRoque, The Flash vol. 2 #62-65)8 of 12
“Born to Run” essentially acts as a “Year One” story for Wally West. Mark Waid recounts and recontextualizes Wally’s origins and helps readers understand how the kind of whiny kid from the Teen Titans evolved into a true hero.
The arc gives readers a better understanding of how the Speed Force works for Wally compared to Barry but Waid is mostly interested in building the character up so that Wally can continue the legacy of the Flash but also write his own story for future speedsters to draw strength from. “Born to Run” is an all-time Flash story Waid is deft at showing Wally making the jump to being worthy of the Flash mantle.
3. The Flash of Two Worlds (Fox/Infantino, The Flash vol. 1 #123)9 of 12
Crisis On Infinite Earths, Secret Wars, Spider-Verse and countless more tales of multiversal mishaps and machinations would not exist without the work of Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino in “”The Flash of Two Worlds.”
While some of the storytelling amount to little more than some Silver Age shenanigans, the story introduced the very idea of a Multiverse populated with different versions of the characters readers knew and loved. This at the time unheard of comic book concept enabled DC to bring back many Golden Age heroes and bring them face-to-face with their contemporary incarnations.
“The Flash of Two Worlds” was unprecedented in its era and remains a classic that brought all new possibilities to comic book storytelling.
2. A Flash of Lightning (Wolfman/Perez, Crisis on Infinite Earths #8)10 of 12
“Have to keep running... no matter how much it hurts...”
Crisis on Infinite Earths packed in its fair share of heroic moments, but arguably none was greater than Barry Allen’s sacrifice on the precipice of what seemed to be imminent defeat at the hands of the Anti-Monitor.
Yeah, in modern stories superhero deaths can be a cheap plot device - but with Marv Wolfman and George Perez at the height of their powers, not only is this an all-time Barry Allen Flash moment, it’s a highwater mark for impactful storytelling in event comics.
As Barry runs, his life flashes before his eyes, and the panel borders seem like they’re closing in on him as his mind races with thoughts of his friends and family. The word balloons visually crowd him out of existence before he withers into his last words: “We must save the world.”
The Flash was gone but he single-handedly turned the tide. The heroes of the DC Universe would fulfill his last wish. The DCU was built on hope and he was able to give it to them.
1. The Return of Barry Allen (Waid/LaRoque, The Flash vol. 2 #74-79)11 of 12
Wally West has always had a lot to prove as one of DC’s most visible legacy heroes and “The Return of Barry Allen” further established him as a worthy heir to the Scarlet Speedster title.
Mark Waid crafts a story in which Barry returns - but he seems a little bit different. Wally and readers would come to learn that this Barry is in fact, Professor Zoom aka the Reverse-Flash who has gone so far as to make himself look like Barry Allen. Wally asks other speedsters for help taking Reverse-Flash down, but eventually has to step up and defeat him alone.
It might seem a little on-the-nose to see Wally confront his legacy in such a direct way, but superhero comics thrive on making those sorts of conflicts tangible. With this story, Waid and artist Greg LaRoque are able to definitively complete the baton pass from Barry to Wally.
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