You know him as the Scarlet Speedster, the Fastest Man Alive, and probably a whole host of other superlatives. That’s right, we’re talking about the Flash. We’ve mined through his many iterations and pulled what we consider to be essential reading for the character.

We’ve gone back to the Golden Age for Jay Garrick and the Silver Age for a jog with Barry Allen. This list will probably be at least a bit controversial, we’re well aware. So what we hope to accomplish here is to give you a sampling of all the flavors in the Flash mythos from heart-wrenching to gut-busting. Lace up your shoes, and let’s get going!

FLASHPOINT by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert

The Flash

While the New 52 might be contentious amongst comic book fans, most agree that what started it, FLASHPOINT, gave readers a lot to look forward to. It begins as such: Barry Allen goes back in time to stop the murder of his mother from ever happening. However, things aren’t as Barry would’ve hoped as his reality has been replaced by one besieged with betrayal, tragedy, and war. Needless to say, this wasn’t one of Barry’s shining moments.

What makes this book stand out, though, is that this is a large-scale story about the Flash. It highlights his importance. Scope aside, the magic of this story is that it cuts right to the heart of Barry Allen’s character. In FLASHPOINT, Geoff Johns crafted a strikingly intimate story amidst the backdrop of the post-apocalyptic future. It never dives into mawkishness, though; just the opposite, in fact. What FLASHPOINT does best is that it addresses Barry’s tragic origins. In doing so it develops him past them to create a new, more refined motivation. It’s the perfect set-up for the New 52. Now whether it capitalized on it… that’s for another article.

THE FLASH (1987-2009) #134 — A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE FLASH by Mark Millar, Grant Morrison, and Paul Ryan

The Flash

As with many superheroes, the Flash is a mantle. It’s an identity that belongs to no one specific character. Sure, we talk a lot about Barry Allen (for good reason), but there have been Scarlet Speedsters before him and there will continue to be after him. One such character, the original, is Jay Garrick, a character who’s frequently overlooked despite his many contributions. Jay Garrick, in addition to being a straight shooter and a real stand-up guy, also founded the Justice Society of America (JSA). He’s the classic, quintessential superhero with the war-time ideals and convictions of a firm morality. However, given his Golden Age origins, an era known for somewhat dinky storylines, his contributions to the mythos gets downplayed. One such story that doesn’t forget about our gilded hero is A DAY IN THE LIFE OF THE FLASH.

Written by prolific comics writer Grant Morrison, it tells the story of Jay, subbing in for a recuperating Wally West and visiting him, Nightwing, and other friends all while also battling the classic Flash enemy, Captain Cold. It’s not a landmark book by any means, but it’s a solid story by a great writer who manages to capture the essence of Jay’s character without getting too sentimental.

So why is this our pick for Jay? Because it lets you see, regardless of his nostalgic origins, why he’s still such an important part of the Flash mythos.

FLASH OF TWO WORLDS by Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino, and Julius Schwartz

The Flash

For new readers, comic book continuity can be a confusing thing to get a grasp of. What seems like a simple pen and ink drawing in one instance can warp into a complex tableau when you scratch the surface a little. Contributing to the confusion is the multiverse concept which originated in, you guessed it, FLASH OF TWO WORLDS. It’s a simple concept: what would happen if two Flashes, Barry Allen and Jay Garrick, somehow interacted with one another? This is the story that created the multiverse, which led to CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, which changed the face of comics forever. FLASH OF TWO WORLDS is a humble story; it didn’t set out to alter the status quo. Through the moxie of its creators, though, it did and it’s because of this that it winds up here as an essential read.

THE FLASH: REBIRTH by Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver

The Flash

Not to be confused with the most recent 2016 Rebirth run on the character, THE FLASH: REBIRTH served as Barry Allen’s long-awaited resurrection. You may be thinking by this point, “Why so many Barry Allen titles?” Put simply, many of the Flash’s best stories have been about Barry. Yet THE FLASH: REBIRTH isn’t just on this list for providing a good plot or a landmark event. What Geoff Johns did here was find what makes Barry tick. Johns understands the character on a fundamental level and, as a result, made a compelling case for his resurrection.

THE FLASH AND GREEN LANTERN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD by Mark Waid, Tom Peyer, Tom Grindberg, Barry Kitson, and Dick Giordano

Flash

Everyone loves a good buddy cop story, right? Well has DC got one for you! Hal Jordan is brash, lively, and more than a little reckless as the Green Lantern. Barry Allen is, by contrast, modest and a bit more by the books. They’re total opposites but, in spite of their differences, they manage to be the best of friends and a killer crime-fighting duo to boot! It’s not often that the Flash gets to shine when not in his own book, but here Barry Allen has the perfect wild card to play off of. With Hal there to keep things crazy, Barry’s character gets a new dimension. It’s fun, it’s refreshing, and it’s one of DC’s best duos this side of Batman and Robin.

FLASH: TERMINAL VELOCITY by Mark Waid, Salvador Larroca, Carlos Pacheco, Mark Wieringo, Oscar Jimenez, José Marzan Jr., and Sergio Borjas

The Flash

If you want a solid story that encapsulates much of Wally West, look no further than FLASH: TERMINAL VELOCITY. Wally, after seeing a bleak future, travels back to observe the events that molded him. That and to, you know, train a whole host of speedsters to change the future. This story stands out not just because it gives you a look at Wally’s character. It also introduces you to the concept of the Flash Family, something intrinsic to the Flash mythos. Plus, like so many other great Flash plots, it centers around time as both a physical and theoretical entity.

TRIAL OF THE FLASH by Cary Bates, Joey Cavalieri, and Carmine Infantino

The Flash

Yes, the Flash does have an archenemy and he so creatively refers to himself as the Reverse-Flash. He’s fast (crazy fast), smart (unbelievably so), and also enormously creative with his powers. He’s Flash, but evil. TRIAL OF THE FLASH finds the two locked in a heated, breakneck battle that ends in the villain’s death. Don’t worry, I didn’t spoil anything major, I swear! Soon after, Barry Allen finds himself arrested for murder, the Rogues come looking for revenge, and a new villain arises like none the Flash has ever seen.

Cary Bates really packs it all into this break-neck adventure and that’s what makes this such an essential read. It’s got the Rogues, Reverse-Flash, and some good ol’ fashioned crime drama to keep things saucy.

THE FLASH Volume 1: Move Forward by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato

Flash

The New 52 was largely unpopular, for sure. Still, there are some solid works to come out of it, even if they’re few and far between. Thankfully, THE FLASH was one such title. Thanks to Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato, Barry Allen got a new look and direction (literally). The art is sharp and crackles, and the writing is well-paced and exciting. Thanks to the company-wide revamp, the Flash has never felt fresher. Truly, if you want to get into the modern-day Flash, MOVE FORWARD is the book to start with.

As a bonus, much of the new slate of DC films are being made with the New 52 in mind. So if you want some hints as to what Ezra Miller’s Flash might be like, look no further.

CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS by Marv Wolfman and George Perez

Flash

While not strictly about the Flash, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS shouldn’t be overlooked. As it did for many characters, it changed the Flash comics going forward. In this mega-crossover event, the first of its kind, a wicked inter-dimensional being, the Anti-Monitor, attempted to consume all the Earths of the DC multiverse. Of course, never satiated, he soon turned his sights on all of reality itself. Every character of the DC Universe, big and small, plays a role in this story, but Barry Allen’s is unique. Removed from the action, the Anti-Monitor has captured him for his incredible Speed Force abilities.

Eventually, it’s his sacrifice that turns the tide in favor of our costumed heroes. However, CRISIS, unlike many event books to follow, had real, legitimate stakes. It wouldn’t be for another twenty years that we would see Barry Allen don the crimson and gold suit again. This made way for Wally West to assume the Flash mantle. It might not be all about the Flash. Yet, for how much it impacted the character’s individual story, CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS is a critical tale that no Flash list should be without.

THE FLASH: BORN TO RUN by Mark Waid, Tom Peyer, and Greg Larocque

Flash

Sometimes superheroes (and their writers) get a little lost in self-seriousness. It often works for Batman as his crusade is about battling his demons. The responsibility of protectorship isn’t such a burden for everyone, though. One such hero is Flash, namely, Wally West. Growing up as his hero’s protégé, Wally’s childhood days were filled with awe and adventure. Yet all that changes when Barry Allen dies and Wally must take up the Flash mantle.

THE FLASH: BORN TO RUN follows Wally as he reminisces about those early days he spent as Kid Flash. It explores the full range of his emotions from his days as a childhood hero to his time of succession. So it’s worthy of this list because it highlights the pull of being a superhero without forgetting all that it gives to them as well. Wally loves being a hero. Through all of the drama and tragedy, humor and joy still manage to shine through. It’s something very emblematic of the Flash. As such, no essential reading list would be complete without BORN TO RUN.

Get Going!

It’s never going to be an easy task condensing decades of history into a small list, especially when it’s about a character as known and beloved as the Flash. Still, we’re confident that the handful of stories we’ve chosen here are a solid foundation before diving deeper. There’s still a lot to get into, more than any list could account for but, with this, you should be able to start in the right direction.

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