The Flash: A 1960 comic book cover. Artist: Carmine Infantino.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: DC Comics
First Appeared: 1956
Creators: Julius Schwartz and Carmine Infantino
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By 1956, superheroes had been out of vogue in comics for over a decade. It had been five years since the last, faltering appearance of The Flash, even as a lingering remnant, part of The Justice Society of America. But the Powers That Be at DC Comics thought the character might go over with a new …

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… generation of readers. Julius Schwartz accepted the job of editing it, but only on condition that he be allowed to change it from the ground up.

At that time, DC was publishing a comic called Showcase, which had highlighted different adventure characters in each issue — Firefighters in one, Frogmen (no relation) in another. The idea was to test new concepts, and see if the public liked them before committing the publisher to an ongoing series. The new Flash, who debuted in the fourth issue (Sept-Oct 1956), was Showcase's first success.

In the opening story, police scientist Barry Allen suffered a freak accident — a lightning bolt struck a shelf of lab chemicals, bathing him in an unduplicatable mixture. Afterward, he found himself able to perceive things as if they were occurring in slow motion, and to move incredibly fast. Remembering an old comic book series he'd enjoyed, he fashioned himself a skin-tight suit and launched a crime-fighting career as The Flash.

Over the next couple of years, the character appeared three more times in Showcase. After that, he was moved out into a comic of his own, the first issue of which (#105 — it continued the numbering from the old Flash Comics) was dated March, 1959. Sleek, beautiful art by Carmine Infantino, illustrating stories by John Broome and occasionally Gardner Fox (who had created the original Flash) ensured the comic's success. Later that year, a new version of Green Lantern appeared in Showcase, and the superhero revival was on.

In 1960, a new version of the Justice Society, dubbed Justice League of America, debuted, and The Flash joined Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman and several others as a charter member. In '61, the way was paved for a full-scale revival of DC's 1940s characters in their original forms, when the story "Flash of Two Worlds" (now considered a classic by comics aficionados) established that they were alive and well in a parallel world. The 1940s Flash, Jay Garrick, became a frequent guest star in his younger counterpart's comic. And the new Flash picked up a couple of other superhero supporting characters — The Elongated Man, who could stretch like the old Plastic Man; and Kid Flash, a teenage super-speedster.

As the 1960s wore on, and Marvel Comics began to out-sell DC, the latter tended to adopt Marvel-like characteristics — sometimes to their detriment. The Flash, in particular, came to be treated like a soap opera, and the trend accelerated after Broome and Infantino left the series, in 1967. First, he married his long-time sweetheart, Iris West. Then, it was revealed that everything he knew about Iris was wrong — she was really a time traveller from the future. Then she was killed off. Then the same villain who had killed her (Professor Zoom, aka Reverse Flash) interfered with his next romance. By the early 1980s, he was on trial for murdering Zoom, in one of the most tediously drawn-out storylines in comics history. By then, even the return of Infantino couldn't save the series. When, in Crisis on Infinite Earths #8 (December, 1985), The Flash himself got whacked, it was widely regarded as a mercy killing.

Death did not, however, prevent his having progeny. A few years later, The Tornado Twins, who turned out to be his and Iris's time-displaced children Don and Dawn Allen, became active with The Legion of Super Heroes. Still later, Don turned out to have a son, Bart, who got displaced back to the proper century and became the superhero Impulse.

Nor did death stand in the way of his becoming a TV star. In 1990, the Barry Allen version of The Flash became a broadcast network series, with John Wesley Shipp in the title role. It ran two seasons, then continued in a couple of made-for-TV movies, without ever even mentioning that in comic books, the character had been dead half a decade.

Today, there is a third Flash running around in DC comics — Kid Flash grew up; and when his mentor died, took the "Flash" name for himself. And so it goes …


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