Since the dawn of the Silver Age, legacy characters have been a staple of superhero fiction, and having a new character step into a well loved role can open up new opportunities for writers and artists to tell different kinds of stories. In The Replacements, we’ll look back at the notable and not-so-notable heroes and villains to assume some of the most iconic mantles in the superhero genre.
More than most, the mantle of The Flash is defined by legacy and by family. Jay Garrick wore the name proudly through the Golden Age, but it was a successor stepping in that kicked off the Silver Age and revitalized superhero comics on the whole. This week we look at the men and women to ride the lightning as The Flash.
The Flash (Barry Allen)
Created by Robert Kanigher & Carmine Infantino (Showcase #4)
Barry Allen was a studious lab technician who was doused by chemicals when a lightning bolt struck his lab, and came out the other end with super speed powers. Taking the name The Flash from the comic book hero of his youth, Barry became a costumed superhero in Central City.
Barry would go on to marry his sweetheart Iris West and take her nephew Wally under his wing when he gained similar powers. Iris was later killed by Professor Zoom, and when the villain threatened to do the same to Barry’s new love, The Flash crossed the line and took his rival’s life.
Barry heroically and tragically sacrificed his life to save what remained of the multiverse from the Anti-Monitor, and ran so fast that he became one with the Speed Force. Although gone, his presence loomed large over his family and friends, and he would occasionally return via time travel shenanigans to help his nephew in times of great need.
Barry returned for good during Darkseid’s assault on the Earth, but later discovered it was his old enemy Professor Zoom that brought him back as part of a plot to ruin his life and legacy. The Reverse Flash also killed Barry’s mother and framed his father, and when Barry tried to undo this he unwittingly set into motion the events that would lead to the universe reshaping into what we know as The New 52.
The Flash (Wallace West)
Created by John Broome & Carmine Infantino (The Flash #110)
Wally West was a teenager from Blue Valley, Idaho, who had a tumultuous relationship with his parents but always looked forward to visiting his aunt Iris in Central City. On one such trip, he was accidentally caught up in an identical accident to the one that created The Flash and gained similar powers, becoming Kid Flash.
When Barry Allen died, Wally West stepped into the costume and became the new Flash to honor his uncle’s legacy. At first Wally struggled to escape his uncle’s shadow and found that his fear of being better held him back as a hero, until he was able to let go of that fear and achieve his full potential.
As The Flash, Wally West unlocked the secrets of The Speed Force along with mentors such as Jay Garrick, Johnny Quick and Max Mercury. He cemented his place as his uncle’s equal and watched over both Central City and Keystone City, protecting them from threats such as The Rogues, Gorilla Grodd, and his own Reverse Flash.
Wally would marry reporter Linda Park and together they had twins, whom they named Iris and Jai. When Barry changed the shape of the universe following Flashpoint, Wally was lost --- seemingly forever --- until he fought to make his way back and found himself younger and unremembered, but still a Flash through and through.
Jesse Quick (Jesse Chambers)
Created by Len Strazewski & Mike Parobeck (Justice Society of America #1)
Jesse Chambers was the daughter of speedster Johnny Quick and Justice Society of America member Liberty Belle, and from a young age her father encouraged her to unlock his mathematical speed formula so she could be a hero too. She instead pursued academia, but found her way into a new incarnation of the Justice Society as Jesse Quick shortly after graduating.
Jesse was recruited by The Flash family to help teach Bart Allen the ways of the Speed Force, although her family prefers to believe in the scientific explanation that goes along with her father’s equation. Wally West passed on the mantle of The Flash to Jesse when it appeared he may not return from an upcoming mission, but Jesse was hurt to find he did it to try and make Bart take his future more seriously.
Jesse's father later died in battle with the villain Savitar, and she fell out with Wally over his manipulation of her and what she saw as his hogging of the Speed Force. Wally chose her to take his place in a new Titans group in an attempt to heal their rift, and she later gave up her connection to the Speed Force to help Wally in his battle with Zoom.
Jesse became the new Liberty Belle and rejoined the Justice Society, where she met her future husband, Hourman. She later returned to the Jesse Quick identity after rejoining The Flash family and became a member of the Justice League of America before the start of The New 52.
The Flash (John Fox)
Created by Mark Waid & Mike Parobeck (The Flash Special #1)
John Fox was a historian for the National Academy of Science in Central City in the 27th century who was sent back in time to recruit one of the three Flashes to stop the villain Manfred Mota from terrorising the 28th century. Though his efforts were unsuccessful, he himself gained super-speed from his experience in the timestream and he was able to defeat Mota himself.
He set himself up as The Flash of his era, but was soon made redundant when his government introduced the robots known as Speed Metal. When Wally West arrived in his time, Fox travelled back in Wally’s stead to briefly take his place as The Flash of the 20th century and later teamed up with Wally to defeat Abra Kadabra.
Speed Metal followed John Fox back to the 20th century and charged him with breaking time law, so in order to hide from them he decided to set up in another era. He journeyed all the way to the 853rd century where he joined the Justice Legion A as The Flash of that time.
The Flash (Walter West)
Created by Mark Waid & Paul Pelletier (The Flash #150)
Walter West was The Flash from a divergent timeline as a result of Hypertime. He was unable to save his Linda Park from the clutches of Kobra and her death drove him to become a much darker and brooding hero, often referred to colloquially as The Dark Flash.
When Wally West-Prime was thought lost in The Speed Force, he had actually crossed into Walter West’s timeline, while The Dark Flash arrived in the Prime Timeline. He took on the role of Central City’s protector as The Flash, but kept his identity secret while working from a base located underneath The Flash Museum.
The two Wally Wests teamed up to take on Abra Kadabra, Professor Zoom and a new villain known as The Replicant, but the Justice League arrived to inform them that Walter’s presence was causing a rift in Hypertime. Relucatantly leaving the friends and relationships he’d built in the Prime Timeline, he headed into Hypertime to try and find his world, first landing in a world where superheroes only exist in the pages of comic books.
Kid Flash (Bart Allen)
Created by Mark Waid & Mike Wieringo (The Flash #92)
Bart Allen was the son of Don Allen of the Tornado Twins and Meloni Thawne, a descendent of Professor Zoom. When Bart was born, his connection to the Speed Force caused him to age at a rapid rate, so he was raised in virtual reality until he had to flee with his grandmother Iris West back to the 21st century.
Wally West was able to cure Bart of his condition, but an entire life spent in a simulation caused Bart to have no concept of danger, which meant he would rush into situations without considering the consequences. This garnered him the superhero codename Impulse, and he frequently clashed with Wally West, who was ostensibly his mentor, though that role was filled much better later on by Max Mercury.
Following Max’s death at the hands of The Rival, Bart went to live with Jay and Joan Garrick and joined the new incarnation of the Teen Titans as Kid Flash. During the events of Infinite Crisis, the Flashes trapped Superboy Prime in the Speed Force, but when he escaped Bart was sent out after him and came back several years older as the new Flash, a role that was short lived as his evil doppelganger Intertia manipulated The Rogues into killing him.
Bart was resurrected by Brainiac 5 of the Legion of Super-Heroes and returned to combat the Legion of Super Villains before returning to his home time. During the Flashpoint, Bart merged with the Speed Force and became the White Flash in order to give his uncle the speed necessary to fix the timeline.
Also important to note, as Bart Allen is my favorite character; the Bart Allen that showed up in The New 52 was actually a war criminal named Bar-Torr hiding out in the past under an assumed name. Presumably Bart Allen is still in the Speed Force and can return some day, just as Wally West has, but there are a lot Kid Flashes at the moment.