A while back, in my original Three Things post, I mentioned that Starman is one of my favorite comics series of all time. While that’s certainly true, and it hasn’t really been topped, at least in terms of superhero comics, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Jack Knight is my favorite hero. He’s up there, easily in the top five, but when it comes to super-powered do-gooders, my heart belongs to the fastest man alive, The Flash.
Why him? My first exposure to the character was on the Justice League Animated Series – technically the Wally West Flash, although he’s actually a bit of an amalgamation between Wally and Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash. Wally in the cartoon is a bit cocky and at times goofy – but he’s also deeply funny, thoughtful about how he uses his powers, and is the true heart of the team. Wally is a hero, ultimately, because he wants to help people, in the purest way possible. As I got into the character through the show, I started reading some of the comics – mostly Geoff Johns’ run, which also focuses on Wally. At the same time I did some research into the character because that’s how I am – when I like something, I want to know all about it. Since reading 70+ years of comics seemed a bit excessive, this is where living in the age of the internet comes in handy – Wikipedia and the various DC sites are enormously helpful to learning the backstories of characters with that much history. As I learned more, I realized that while Wally might be my favorite Flash, all of the speedsters, from Jay Garrick through Barry Allen and on to Bart Allen, have qualities that I love. So here they are, in no particular order:
1. The Powers: For those of you who don’t know, while I am not particularly fast, I am a pretty serious runner. So that alone attracts me to the idea of a hero whose base level power is going really, really fast. But what I like about the Flash is that he’s not limited to just running around – he’s not just a messenger boy for more powerful heroes. Someone who can easily break the sound barrier can also: whip up tornados, vibrate through a wall, and move quickly enough to be invisible. It’s fun to see writers actually think about the science behind what the Flash can do – what the extent and limits of super speed really are.
2. He’s a man of the people: This directly relates to the depiction of Wally, but I suspect that it holds true for the other Flashes to some extent as well. While Batman is a millionaire and Superman is nearly a god, Wally’s alter-ego is – a mechanic. He’s a police mechanic, which gives him direct access to learning what crimes are going on in Keystone City, but it’s still a pretty basic, hard-working job that regular folks have. He’s also compassionate and interested in the daily lives of others – he has a surprising number of friends who are former adversaries, folks whose lives he’s helped turn around. This clip from the Justice League Unlimited episode “Flash and Substance” pretty much sums it all up:
(Actually, try to track down the whole episode if you can. It’s everything I love about The Flash in general and Wally specifically all rolled up in one great cartoon.)
3. His Villains: Speaking of his adversaries, the Flash has one of the greatest rogues’ galleries in comics. They’re so great, in fact, that they’re called “The Rogues.” Sure, Batman and Superman’s villains have more name recognition – far more average joes know who Lex Luthor is than say, Captain Cold or Mirror Master. But what I like about the Rogues is that in banding together, they provide a sort of twisted mirror the Flash’s own tightly-knit family. They’re not good men, but they have a code and set of rules that they all abide by, including helping each other when they can. Additionally, most of their powers and abilities come from amazing technological breakthroughs, rather than innate powers, which has led to some interesting explorations of what makes a man a villain – is he born that way? Is it simply opportunity – that make the books a fun read.
4. His Family: A common feature of superheros is a tragic, orphaned past – Superman is the last son of Krypton, Batman’s parents are murdered before his eyes, Wonder Woman has a rather complicated relationship with her mother. The Flashes, on the other hand, have a families – wives, children, aunts and uncles. They ARE family – Barry is Wally’s uncle, Bart is Barry’s grandson (from the future, for reasons far too complicated to go into here.) The mantle of Flash isn’t a sad, solo burden, but instead a legacy that reaches back throughout the history of comics and makes the character richer and great for it. In many ways the Flash embodies the history of comics – the creation of Barry Allen officially marks the start of the Silver Age.
5. His Creator: I’ve recently become obsessed with Gardner Fox, the man who created the Flash – as well as Hawkman, the original Starman and Sandman – he’s even responsible for Batman’s utility belt! Unlike, say, Stan Lee, Fox didn’t re-create an entire universe with his work, so he isn’t exactly a household name, but the man is responsible for nearly 4,000 comics stories during his lifetime. He created both the Justice Society of America and the Justice League of America, as well as writing many of the Batman stories that helped to define the character in the Silver Age, including creating the modern Batgirl. Along with all of his comics work, the man wrote under a variety of pseudonyms, writing hundreds of pulpy paperbacks in a variety of genres, including risque James Bond spoofs. He’s not totally forgotten – Green Lantern Guy Gardner was named in part for him. Fox is just one of the fascinating characters from the real life history of comics, but one for whom I have a real affection.
So that’s it in a nutshell – why my heart belongs to the man in the red suit! Who’s your favorite super hero and why? Tell me all about it in the comments!