The Fastest Man Alive

Chaos in Print

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m sure that, this is a lot closer to what my friend expected when he wanted me to write an article about why I thought Batman was cool.

The year was 1990. Hollywood was expecting that there’d be this explosion of comic book movies, with Batman having been the big hit the year before. But, it didn’t quite explode…it just kind of fizzled. It was enough, though, to produce the TV show I was sitting down to watch. At the end of the 2-hour pilot, I was completely in love. The show lasted only one year, but I was able to catch every episode of The Flash.

When it comes to my favourite superheroes of the DC universe, the Flash is a close to second to Batman. My first exposure was through the 1990 TV show. John Wesley Shipp, who went on to much greater acclaim on Dawson’s Creek, played Barry Allen. Allen came from a family of cops, and he was kind of the black sheep of the family because he was a scientist. And, even though he went into forensic science with the Central City Police Department, he was chided by his father for not being “a real cop.” Barry always lived in the shadow of his big brother Jay, a highly-decorated beat cop.

But then, one night, as Barry Allen was working in the lab, there was an accident. A bolt of lightening came crashing through the skylight and struck a rack of chemicals. The electrified chemical brew covered Barry from head-to-toe, and when he regained consciousness, he had gained the power of super-speed. And, when Jay is murdered by a ruthless biker gang, Barry learns that with great power comes great responsibility, and he becomes the Flash. I was just enthralled.

For those who don’t know, let me give you a bit of the bio of the Flash. The Flash is what I like to call a “mantle superhero,” in that the name and the costume and the powers have been passed down from generation to generation. The original Flash was Jay Garrick, aka “the Golden Age Flash.” He inhaled the fumes from heavy water, and that gave him super-speed. He’s one of the few superheroes who actually lived to a ripe old age, and he serves as a mentor among superheroes now. Well, and then there was some time-warp nonsense, and he’s young and fighting crime again or something like that.

The “Silver Age Flash” is Barry Allen. His comic book origin was pretty close to what you saw in the TV show. In the comic, he didn’t have a big brother who was ruthlessly murdered. Instead, he was a big admirer of the Golden Age Flash, and decided to become a hero also named the Flash. Barry Allen is notable in that he was the first married superhero. His wife, Iris, was a major supporting character. In the comics, Allen made the ultimate sacrifice to end the Crisis on Infinite Earths. (Well, it was eventually revealed that all those who have super-speed as a power draw their power from an other dimensional energy dubbed “the Speed Force,” and Allen didn’t die, he became “one with the Force.”) And that paved the way for….

Wally West, the Modern Age Flash. Wally West is the nephew of Barry Allen and, when his uncle was giving him a tour of the police forensic lab, the accident that gave Barry his powers was accidentally re-created, thus giving Wally super-speed! At this point, Barry revealed his true identity to Wally, and Wally West became “Kid Flash,” the Flash’s sidekick. When Barry died as part of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wally West decided to ditch his Kid Flash persona and become the Flash, as a way of honouring his uncle and keeping the Flash alive.

Wally West is, perhaps, the incarnation I’m most familiar with. That’s the one you see on the Justice League cartoon. And, in my research, I learned that, even though it was Barry Allen we saw on the live-action TV show, it was Wally West’s personality they imbued him with. And it’s that personality that drew me to the character.

See, a lot of superheroes these days tend to be angst-ridden. I mean, we’ve got Batman, who constantly broods. We’ve got Spider-Man, feeling his powers to be a burden. Everyone laments or regrets what they have. But not the Flash. The Flash is a guy who loves his powers. When he straps on his boots and goes out to fight crime, he gets a rush. When he makes a wisecrack after he defeats his foes, it’s all natural to the character. The Flash has become that one thing that’s a rarity in comics these days: he’s a superhero who loves his job.

If you were suddenly given superpowers, wouldn’t you fun with them? Or would you just kind of sit around going, “Oh, shit! Now I have to save the world!” The Flash is the only hero these days who has the ability to have fun with his powers. I’m certain that that’s what most of us would be like. I’m still kind of old school. When I open up a comic book, I want to see a guy with a sense of adventure enjoying what he does. And that’s the Flash.

Oh, perhaps, it’s just simply a nostalgia…that feeling I got when I was 13-years old, and I’d sit down to enjoy the adventures of the Fastest Man Alive. That show…stirred the imagination.

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