Today is Flash Appreciation Day (you may have noticed a theme in our content yesterday and today). And you may be wondering: why the heck are we appreciating this guy?
The Flash is us. He is the average comic book fan. He’s not driven by vengeance. He’s not the sole survivor of another world. He’s not a cocky fighter pilot. He’s not from a hidden island. Of all of DC’s pantheon of heroes, the Flash is exactly what his audience is: a regular person, doing good because it’s the right thing to do, not because he has some other issues he’s trying to resolve. He has no greater purpose aside from just making the world a better place, and shouldn’t that be enough? Shouldn’t doing good be its own motivation?
The Flash is a gateway superhero. His powers are built in wish fulfillment, but they also offer never ending avenues of possibilities. The Flash isn’t just fast, he’s fast enough to travel through time. He doesn’t just vibrate, he can vibrate at a frequency that allows him to move between dimensions. He’s the ultimate pseudo-science character, able to do almost anything because of his abilities, yet also able to explain how everything he does is connected to his super speed.
There is no other superhero like that. Superman and Wonder Woman seem to have a random assortment of abilities, united by no one specific trait. Spider-man’s potential is limited by the spider. The Flash’s ever expanding abilities grow organically from the initial premise of a person who can run at superhuman speeds. It offers so much material for examination. Oh, and those Flash vs Superman races? Stop it. The Flash wins every time. He’s fast. It’s what he does. It’s who he is. So stop pretending that anyone, even Superman, is in the same league as him.
Then there’s the Flash’s base of operations. While the original Flash, Jay Garrick, was depicted as living in New York at first, he was soon relocated to the fictional Keystone City, a town which seemed to be located in the Midwest somewhere (the prevailing theory initially was that it was in Pennsylvania, the Keystone State). Barry Allen lived in Central City, another town presumably located in the Midwest. Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wally West took over as the Flash and patrolled the Twin Cities of Keystone and Central, connected via a bridge and, on at least one occasion, referred to as being in the states of Kansas and Missouri.
For those of us who grew up in the Midwest, this made the Flash unique. Metropolis, Gotham, and New York were nice and all, but those weren’t our realities. The big city for us was Chicago. Our skylines weren’t filled with hundreds or thousands of skyscrapers. There were large swaths of farmland and wilderness not far from our doorstep.
Jay was a college student who initially used his powers to become a college football star – not a superhero, not a famous adventurer or a movie star, but a football star, and just a college one at that. He would have been right at home in the Big 10. Peter Parker sold pictures to the big city newspaper. Clark Kent wrote for the big city newspaper. Bruce Wayne was a billionaire. So was Tony Stark. These were big time, New York City jobs. Barry Allen wasn’t even a cool, noir detective, he was a forensic scientist. Heck, Barry’s supervillains more or less unionized. The Flash was Midwestern to the core.
Just read any issue of the second volume of The Flash written by Mark Waid or Geoff Johns and you’ll see that Wally was probably the most Midwestern of the bunch. His ID was public knowledge, because why not? This was the Midwest, after all. We don’t have celebrities, not the way they do in New York and L.A. We don’t stalk famous people. We don’t think we’re better than anyone else and we don’t think anyone else is better than us. We’re united by geography and, honestly, by the fact that the coasts thumb their noses at us. Wally West was one of us, going to hockey games, working with unions, patrolling the streets of two cities in two states. Central City and Keystone embraced Wally, embraced the history of the Flash, in a way that other towns never really could for their heroes.
Which brings me to one of the most important aspects of The Flash: legacy.
I have always loved that the characters in the DCU evolved, or at least they used to. It’s what made the Earth-2 Justice Society so great: you saw characters grow up, retire, have children, and even die. Post-Crisis, DC valiantly tried to incorporate their lengthy history into a single timeline, giving us a Justice Society without the Big Three, but one that spawned generations of superheroes.
At most, we got 4 generations of superheroes at DC, but only the Flash was represented by each.
Jay Garrick was the first Flash and one of the core members of the Justice Society. Then came Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash, who would be a founding member of the Justice League. Next came Wally West, originally Kid Flash and member of the Teen Titans, who would eventually take over as the Flash, and spend time with what could be referred to as the twentysomething generation which included Nightwing, Arsenal, Tempest, and Troia. And eventually we got Bart Allen, who initially appeared as Impulse, but later became Kid Flash, and who ultimately joined the Teen Titans. Bar would even get a turn as the Flash, although the less said about that the better.
Four generations of Flashes, and the one legacy that actually had a sidekick legitimately take over for his mentor. We’ve seen all the other original Teen Titans do so at one point or another, but none of them stuck the way that Wally did. He was the first example of actual change happening in a superhero comic, change that actually mattered, that wasn’t undone just a few months later. He’s the Uncle Ben of character evolution.
And he had support. He had (eventually) Jay to turn to for help. He was forced to become a mentor to Bart. He spent much of his career as the Flash trying to live up to the legacy that Barry left behind. And he saw the Flash Family expand, with characters like Jesse Quick and Max Mercury. The Flash mythos grew, the Speed Force grew, and the Flash’s corner of the DCU went from one guy with a winged helmet to a large family, with some complex pseudo-science driving it all.
The Flash survives because he is the ultimate wish fulfillment writ large. He has a long, complex history that is a benefit, not a hindrance. He doesn’t need a reboot (even if he gets one). He doesn’t need a makeover. He is the Flash and he’s the hero we deserve, even if we don’t realize it.
Looking for more Flash Appreciation Day? Check out these other excellent sites:
Bounding Into Comics http://boundingintocomics.
The Geeked Gods http://www.thegeekedgods.com/
Graphic Policy http://graphicpolicy.
Multiversity Comics http://www.
Nothing But Comics http://nothingbutcomics.net/
Outright Geekery http://www.outrightgeekery.
Speed Force http://speedforce.org/
Flash Fans.org http://flashfans.org/