The Flash, whose non-superhero persona is Barry Allen, was introduced to comic book fans in 1956. He’s the fastest man alive and has been one of the most popular comic book characters for six decades.
Comic book characters lead complex lives that weave different characters, alter egos, villains, and universes together. Picking up and reading a random comic can be similar to picking up a book that’s missing its first several chapters: It’s possible to enjoy the writing and maybe, eventually, understand the story, but without a comprehensive look at the events that led to a character’s development, you’ll never really understand the character. It’s like trying to understand someone in real life: Can you really do it without walking in their shoes over the course of a lifetime? Truly understanding a character like the Flash requires you to read multiple issues of comics and travel back in time to learn more about how the Flash got his powers and what influences his actions today.
If you’d like to learn more about the Flash, but you aren’t sure where to begin, this list includes several issues that are not only the most popular but also the most illuminating for telling the Flash’s story. It also explains the various incarnations of the Flash and how he got to where he is today.
There are spoiler alerts on the list, so if you’re hoping to enjoy the development of the Flash’s story fresh and without knowledge of what led to the modern-day Flash, you can follow the links without reading the synopses of the issues.
The list begins with the Flash’s first ever appearance and carries on through more modern issues where the Flash is still alive and fighting crime—albeit it as another incarnation of himself. These 10 issues will be the best way to understand the Flash without reading every issue he’s in—unless you want to read them all!
This issue includes the first appearance of Barry Allen and explains how Allen became the Flash. Allen worked as a police scientist and encountered an incident that left him covered in chemicals that are struck by lightning. The fallout was that Allen developed the superpower of speed and the issue demonstrates a variety of ways Allen uses his new-found power.
This issue introduces the Flash’s girlfriend’s nephew, Wally West. West is a big fan of the Flash and his aunt wants Allen to introduce him to his hero—but is not yet aware the hero is actually her boyfriend. West encounters the same fate as his hero, leaving him with the same powers. SPOILER ALERT: eventually becomes the Flash himself in later episodes.
This issue, entitled Flash of Two Worlds, introduces the multiverse concept. In it, the Flash travels to a parallel Earth and teams up with Jay Garrick. The two battle the Fiddler villain. The issue is one of the most influential in comic book history, as it pairs together superheroes from both the Silver and Golden Age: a technique that has become the norm over the years in comic book series.
This issue introduced the villain that arguably has the most influence on the Flash: Eobard Thawne or Professor Zoom/Reverse Flash. The professor travels back in time from the 25th century and utilizes a machine to gain the same powers as Allen. Throughout Allen’s existence, the professor causes many problems, including the death of at least one of his loved ones.
This issue includes a conglomerate of supervillains working together against the Flash. It’s the first time this sort of “stable” appears in comic book writing. The group calls itself the Rogues and is led by Captain Cold and also included in its original form Mirror Master, the Top, Heat Wave, Captain Boomerang and Piped Piper, and Gorilla Grodd.
This issue pits the Flash and Superman “against” one another to determine who is faster. A race is arranged, the proceeds of which will benefit the United Nations. Villains attempt to steal the money earned from the event and the superheroes stop them. Future issues with the Flash’s other alter egos also include races against Superman, but this was the original version.
The Death of Iris Allen
This issue focuses on the loss of the Flash’s wife, Iris Allen. Iris is murdered by Professor Zoom and the loss leads the Flash into a dark period in his life. He battles his Justice League peers over bringing Iris back to life and considers retiring from his superhero work. Years later, the details of Iris’s death still haunt Allen, and he eventually faces criminal charges for the murder of Professor Zoom. SPOILER ALERT: Iris eventually comes back to life and the two are reunited when Allen dies and another character assumes the role of the Flash.
Crisis on the Infinite Earth #8
This issue marks one of the Flash’s greatest accomplishments against a supervillain. Allen dies saving the Multiverse from Anti-Monitor who is threatening the comic world with an anti-matter cannon. Allen is disintegrated and the flash is replaced by Allen’s nephew Wally West.
This is the first issue in a miniseries that brings Allen back to the DC Universe following a 20-year absence after his death. In the story, Allen is reluctant to return because he knows how well his nephew Wally has been accepted by both the universe members and its fans. In the issue, Professor Zoom also returns and claims to be responsible for the deaths of Allen’s mother, as well as the framing of his father. The miniseries ends with all three versions of the Flash teaming up to defeat Professor Zoom.
In this issue, Allen wakes up in an alternate timeline without any of his Flash superpowers. The issue also includes appearances by Batman and Superman and ultimately establishes a new universe.