Who’s the best Flash? The greatest ever? For a name that brings with it the reputation of fastest man alive, this mantle hasn’t actually experienced that much turnover in all the decades since FLASH COMICS #1 hit spinner racks. Barry Allen has, of course, returned just recently, but Wally West’s total tenure still isn’t actually that much shorter than his. It’s even a bit of trip to get my mind around Barry’s comeback, since he was dead and gone and Wally was the Flash, for sure, since the very year I was born. The scarlet speedsters’ legacy is a little unique amongst the major heroes’ in this respect, because the answer to who’s the best Flash isn’t as clear cut as it is for, say, Green Lantern or Captain America. Actually, once you start comparing and contrasting all the Flashes to figure that out, you’ll also start noticing that this family of the fast is unique in a lot of ways.
Between Johnny Quick, Jesse Quick, Max Mercury and XS, there are too many names to cover all the speedsters, so I'll keep it to the Flashes. Though, maybe I'm then remiss for not including Flash Gordon or Flash Thompson here? == TEASER ==
The uniqueness starts with Jay who, between all the retcons he's undergone, has always been more like a local hero than a super one. He first used his super-speed to be a star college football player and, when he did turn to crime fighting, he handled small potato threats like blackmailers and then didn’t even bother trying to keep a secret identity. Look at his costume. Without the flair of the helmet and the winged boots, It’s really not too far from being just a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. He's thus looked a little out-of-place whenever he's tagged along for the really far-out, metaphysical threats that heroes of later generations have taken on. In a lot of ways, he's almost like a weekend warrior whose hobby would be taken and turned into a profession by his successors.
Barry's debut marked the dawn of the Silver Age and, out of all the DC heroes who were active then, he's really the most emblematic of the era. Hal Jordan and Ollie Queen may have gone through dark periods, but Barry's noble character has never been compromised. Actually, he’s probably the most well-adjusted hero out of the whole pantheon. Where Superman went through 60 odd years of courtship with Lois Lane before making it official and Batman's had one volatile love affair after another, Barry married Iris West only a few years after his debut and established a family legacy that's repeatedly been shown to survive well into the future. Often stressed to be a simple Midwestern guy doing right for simple reasons, Barry is very much a rock of stability (even as he's moving constantly.)
The unusual streak continues with Wally, one of the few major heroes I can think of who's gone through a measurable arc over his career. Like a child actor, he started off as a chipper sidekick, turned into a bit of a jerk as a young man (after he gained the mantle post-CRISIS) and then went on to grow in both power and character as an adult. He was the one who discovered the Speed Force and he was the one who tapped into it to ratchet his abilities up higher than anybody really could've imagined. I was almost going to include him twice on this list by spotlighting the Dark Flash, Wallace West - - his grizzled alternate future doppleganger who briefly replaced him during one of his deaths.
The theme of acceleration goes hand-and-hand with all of this, so it’s probably appropriate that the fourth Flash’s career would seem very much like a fast-forwarded recreation of the third's. He went from Impulse/Kid Flash to actual Flash rather quickly, by comparison, and had a brief (only 13 issues long!) run with the mantle before, well, running into his own demise. Did he get a fair shake? It’s hard to say. I’ll confess to finding him more appealing as a bratty junior speedster with a short attention span over a more mature adult, but that could've changed with time. Considering we have five Green Lanterns flying around, I'm sure he'll another shot eventually.
Another Flash to buck convention, John’s a future successor who wasn’t just part of a one-off story - - he’s shown up repeatedly and become an established part of the mythos. What's more, his already-crazy origin in the 27 century got a wilder twist in DC ONE MILLION when he ran ahead to the even-farther future of the 853rd century. While he’s got a cool, spacy costume and a shock of gray that makes him (pun intended) a bit of silver fox, the de facto future Flash is probably the least likable of this bunch (or the one with the biggest personality problems to surmount, at least.) A violator of time travel law, his career actually began out of jealously as he tried to steal Wally’s life.
Who deserves the mantle of being the best Flash and why?