My (Favorite) Hero: An Examination of The Flash

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.

Flash_Wally_West_0007

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.)

Rogues_00253.  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.

Flash

Looking a little rough, Scarlet Speedster!

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!

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13 comments

  1. itsthegoog

    Man, I’m not really sure how to pick just one. Spider-Man is way up there, but I’m on the outs with that right now because of what Marvel did to him recently. I love Hellboy and Usagi Yojimbo, as well as Batman. Then there’s the rabbit hole of odd ball characters like Beta Ray Bill and Adam Warlock…just too many to choose from who are all my favorite depending on my mood.

  2. Gary

    I’ve reread this post three times already, You describe what makes The Flash great so perfectly. Superman has and always will be my favorite hero. I know people consider him bland and not that interesting, but I’ve been captivated by him ever since I first started watching the Superfriends cartoon in the early 70’s. Action Comics 775 is my all time favorite issue of any book and it explains what makes Superman so great brilliantly. I’ve always liked Aquaman too. He deserves more respect. My last two favorites are probably not any anybody else’s list: Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner. Love me some Green Lantern. I’d also like to add that although I know she’s not technically a super hero, Lois Lane is one of my favorite characters. She’s strong, smart and get’s the job done.

    • The Red Menace

      Wow, thanks Gary! I’m glad you liked it. I’ll confess that I find Hal to be a bit snoozy, when he’s not destroying the entire Green Lantern Corps. Guy is an interesting choice, though – so crabby and brash!

  3. smalerie

    Yes to this post a million times! Erin, you do such a great job in explaining why The Flash is not only special to you, but also why he is unique.

    It’s hard for me to pick a favorite hero, especially when i am discovering more and more fun and/or strong characters as I discover more comics. Classic favorites include Hellboy, SailorMoon, Batman, and my first love…Super Grover. 😉 I am planning on reading some Flash stories though. So I will be keeping my eye out for recommendations.

  4. tonymcmillen

    This is totally spot on about why The Flash is great and I love the way it was written. I too came to love Flash through the Justice League cartoons. I just want to be able to eat like him and not have suffer any consequences. But all that being said, when it comes down to it, my favorite superhero will always be Batman. Sure it’s the easy answer but there’s a reason why Batman is most people’s favorite. There have been a zillion versions of him and nearly every single one has got something interesting about it. You just can’t really go wrong with such a strong archetype. All the elements combine to make him the perfect heroic myth in my mind. Sorry, Wally.

    • FlashFan

      Every version of The Flash has something great about it to but it’s just Flash has had like 0000000.1 percent of the media coverage DC gives Batman. I would also argue Flash’s villians are more interesting then Batman’s. Some great writers have really given depth to them over the years I can’t remember what comic it was but I did read one where it went into the Rogues backstories.
      The Joker is arguably the most overrated villian in comics, he has no backstory according to Joker fanboys although Moore did attempt one in The Killing Joke and his motivation switches from being in love with Bats in some comics like Arkham Asylum a serious house on a serious earth to what? Just having fun? There is no depth to the character at all.
      The best villians in Bats universe without a doubt are Two Face and Mr. Freeze.

  5. itsthegoog

    I should had said this in my first post, but the Flash is a hero that’s really growing on me. A lot is thanks to the Justice League cartoon but I have read a few Flash comics and was not disappointed, I’d like to read more. Most of my favorite DC characters are “regular” guys, Batman has no powers, Green Arrow has no powers but ironically the Flash DOES have powers yet is the most normal and down to earth out of the three of them.

    • The Red Menace

      Right! This is why, while I can’t argue with anything Tony says, I cannot have Batman as my favorite. He’s had some great writers do some great stories about him, and his world is pretty spectacular, but on a gut level of what makes someone a hero, I am going to go with the down to earth guy who loves his family every time. Batman’s so twisted by the loss of his first family that every attempt to make a new one is ruined by his obsessions. He loses sight of people in pursuit of an abstract concept, justice. Similarly, Superman’s too “other” for me to truly love – he’s a weird messiah-figure. Flash is super-powered, but he’s still very much a human with human concerns. I feel like that’s a parallel between him and Spiderman and why people pick him as a favorite so much.

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  9. FlashFan

    I know it’s been a couple of years since you wrote this but I’d thought I would reply anyway.
    It’s funny because growing up I was in love with Batman, in fact I still have many comics and figures from my collection that grew over the years and the character still holds a special place in my heart.
    However my Batman obsession ended the moment I read Crisis On Infinite Earths, those pages where Barry sacrifices himself for the universes are seared into my memory. It made me fall in love with The Flash. From that moment I consumed everything The Flash.
    I love everything about the character, mostly never giving up, The Flash’s selflessness, their powers. And I love all ages of The Flash from Jay Garrick’s golden age to the modern age.
    My favourite Flash’s are as follow:
    1) Barry Allen
    2) Jay Garrick
    3) Wally West
    4) Bart Allen

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