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The Flash Through The Ages: How The Speedster Impacted Pop Culture

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The Flash

The final season of CW’s The Flash came to an end recently after 9 seasons. At the same time, the first live-action solo film of the character, The Flash (2023) is about to hit theatres. It is safe to suggest that there is no superhero right now who is as talked about as the Scarlet Speedster. But why exactly has Flash endured decades and continued to be such a legendary character? Let’s dig deep.

The Flash In Popular Media

Being one of the most popular and iconic comic book characters in the medium, it is no wonder that Flash has moved out of comic book pages and is frequently portrayed on small and big screens alike. The first instance was the Super Friends animated show which ran between the 1970s and 80s. The Flash (1990-91) was the first live-action adaptation of the Scarlet Speedster, portrayed by John Wesley Shipp. Though the show was canceled after just one season, Flash found a more prominent spot in the DC Animated Universe (DCAU). It was the first time Wally West was portrayed as Flash on screen and appeared in numerous DCAU shows like Justice League and Teen Titans. In most of these shows, he was voiced by Michael Rosenbaum.

L-R: John Wesley Shipp, Grant Gustin, Ezra Miller

After a decade of staying out of the limelight (with few cameo appearances), Flash made a grand return in the 2010s. In 2013, Barry Allen – played by Grant Gustin – first appeared in the CW’s Arrow, eventually getting its own solo show, The Flash (2014 – 2023). In 2014, Flash appeared as part of the animated Lego Movie (2014). Then, in 2016, fans got their first-ever live-action adaptation of the character, as Ezra Miller started portraying Flash in the DCEU (starting with a post-credits scene in Superman v Batman). With two successful, concurrent portrayals of the character – both in TV and films – Flash soon surged to be one of the most talked-about comic book characters in pop culture.

The Lasting Impact of The Flash

How Flash Changed Comics

The Flash is cool – there is no doubt about it. Having speed as a superpower will do that for you; check out ExpressVPN’s guide to The Flash to understand just how fast he is. But what’s the coolest, REAL WORLD thing you could do as a comic book character? That’s a short list, but starting a whole age of comics is definitely up there.

In 1938, when Superman first graced the pages, it ushered in the Golden Age of comics. But by the late 1940s, the interest in superhero comics was dying. In 1956, DC published Showcase #4, introducing the first new superhero character in over half a decade. While it bore the familiar name of ‘The Flash’, this was Barry Allen – a whole new character with similar powers but an entirely different personality and story. The success of this new Flash revived the comic book industry and ushered in the Silver Age of comics.

Flash of Two Worlds

Today, ‘multiverse’ is the hot new thing in superhero movies. MCU’s Phase 4 and 5 played heavily on it, while the upcoming The Flash movie also revolves around it. But, it would not be wrong to say that without Flash, there will not be any multiverse.

As mentioned above, Jay Garrick was the first one to have the mantle of ‘The Flash’. Barry Allen was introduced as the new Flash in 1956, finding instant success. But in 1961, DC did something unprecedented. In Flash Of Two Worlds (1961), Barry Allen meets Jay Garrick – establishing that there was more than one reality and ushering in the Multiverse era in comics. Flash was also a part of another defining moment of DC. In Crisis Of Infinite Earths (1985), Barry Allen sacrifices himself to erase the multiverse and converge it into a single reality.

The Legacy Of Flash Outside DC

Anyone can be the star of their own show – but you truly know your legacy when others acknowledge it. The Flash has been one of the few comic book characters to truly pass that test. After Barry Allen’s apparent demise in ‘Crisis..’, even Marvel – DC’s main rival – paid tribute to the speedster in Quasar Vol 1 (1990). In Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can (2002), Leonardo Di Caprio’s character uses the alias Barry Allen to escape the FBI agent played by Tom Hanks. Numerous shows, from The Big Bang Theory to Lost, have shown characters fans of the superhero.

The Flash family (along with his arch-nemesis, Reverse-Flash)

What Makes The Flash so iconic?

The DC Universe is home to a plethora of powerful, complex, and cool-looking characters. So it is valid to wonder: how exactly has Flash managed to find its own iconic footing in a company of giants?

The Flash Represents Purity And Hope: Sure, the ‘S’ in Superman might stand for ‘hope’. But the Scarlet Speedster represents optimism nearly as well as the Man of Steel. Flash’s childhood has not been a bed of roses; he had to witness the murder of his mother and grow up without his jailed father. But despite this, Flash has managed to always be upbeat and optimistic in his endeavors. Not to mention, there’s the purity he exudes as a superhero. Barry Allen did not become a superhero for revenge, or some misguided sense of justice, or the fun of it, or because he had no other choice. He is a superhero because saving and helping people is all that he wants. The Flash lives his life one day at a time – and each day is dedicated to helping humanity.

The Fun Superhero: The DC Universe certainly has much darker undertones than the Marvel Universe. The books are written for a mature audience, so violence, deaths, and other tragedies are in abundance. Aimdt this, Flash serves as a breath of fresh air. While the Wally West iteration is certainly goofier, both West and Allen serve as the quintessential ‘fun guy’ of the Justice League. The goofiness of the character has certainly made him so much more endearing to the audience.

The Iconic Power: Speed has always been one of the most fascinating superpowers one could think of. The sheer potential of what you could do with it is limitless. But no character has ever embodied speed as well as The Flash. Almost all comic book publications have tried to create their own speedsters (like Quicksilver in Marvel and A-Train in The Boys), but all paled in comparison. The way Flash has portrayed the power of speed is what makes him so popular and dope as a hero.

As the cool kids say, “Run, Barry, Run” – to your nearest theatres to watch The Flash.

A Wizard with a Pen. Covering news and profiles since 2016. Keen interest in Entertainment, Tech, and Art.

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