Jason Peter Garrick is a college student prior to 1940 (later retconned to 1938) who accidentally inhales hard water vapors after falling asleep in his laboratory where he had been working (later stories would change this to heavy water vapors). As a result, he finds that he can run at superhuman speed and has similarly fast reflexes (retcons imply the inhalation simply activated a latent metagene). After a brief career as a college football star, he dons a red shirt with a lightning bolt and a stylized metal helmet with wings (based on images of the Roman God, Mercury) and begins to fight crime as the Flash. The helmet belonged to Jay's father, Joseph, who fought during World War I. He has been seen using the helmet as a weapon/type of shield, as seen in Infinite Crisis. He has also used it to beam of light at Eclipso.
His first case involves battling the Faultless Four, a group of blackmailers. In the early stories, it seems to be widely known that Garrick was the Flash. Later stories would show him as having his identity secret, and that he was able to maintain it without the use of a mask by constantly "vibrating" his features, making him hard to recognize or clearly photograph. The effectiveness of this is debatable, as he later blamed his lack of a mask for Joan (his girlfriend) deducing his true identity.
Barry AllenBarry Allen is a police scientist (his job title was changed to a forensic scientist in The Flash: Iron Heights one-shot) with a reputation for being very slow, deliberate, and frequently late, which frustrates his fiancee, Iris West. One night, as he is preparing to leave work, a lightning bolt shatters a case of chemicals and spills them all over Allen. As a result, Allen finds that he can run extremely fast and has matching reflexes. He dons a set of red tights sporting a lightning bolt, dubs himself the Flash, (after his childhood comic book hero, Jay Garrick), and becomes Central City's resident costumed crimefighter. Central City University professor Ira West (Iris' adoptive father) designed Allen's costume (reminiscent of the Fawcett Captain Marvel) and the ring which stores it while Allen is in his civilian identity. The ring can eject the compressed clothing when Allen needs it and suck it back in with the aid of a special gas that shrinks the suit. In addition, Allen invented the cosmic treadmill, a device that allowed for precise time travel and was used in many stories. Allen was so well liked that nearly all speedsters that come after him are constantly compared to him. Batman once said "Barry is the kind of man that I would've hoped to become if my parents hadn't been murdered."
After his death act in Crisis on Infinite Earths, according to Secret Origins Annual #2 (1988), Barry Allen turns into a lightning bolt, goes back in time, becoming the lightning bolt that hit his lab, splashing his past-self with chemicals and tranforming him into the Flash.
In the Flash: Rebirth miniseries, it is revealed that Flash's mother was murdered when he was a child, and his father was arrested for the crime (this is pointedly contrary to the original, pre-Crisis Barry Allen stories, in which both his parents appear alive). Flash describes this as, "the only one open case I left behind."
It was soon later revealed that, during an encounter with the recently-returned Professor Zoom, Zoom revealed that everything horrible that happened to Barry's life, including the murder of Barry's mother, was caused because of Zoom.
Later, Barry chases after Zoom, and is joined by Wally, who tells Barry to push as hard as he can to break the time barrier. Doing so, they reach Thawne, becoming the lightning bolt that turns Barry into the Flash as they are able to stop Zoom from killing Iris.
Wally West was introduced in The Flash #110 (1959). The character was the nephew of the existing Flash character's girlfriend and later wife, Iris West. During a visit to the Central City police laboratory where Barry Allen worked, the freak accident that gave Allen his powers repeated itself, bathing West in electrically-charged chemicals. Now possessing the same powers as The Flash, West donned a smaller sized copy of Barry Allen's Flash outfit and became the young crimefighter Kid Flash.
This costume was later altered (in The Flash (vol. 1) #135 (1963)) to one that would make him more visually distinctive. The original red was replaced with a costume that was primarily yellow with red leggings, gloves, and ear-pieces.
In addition to his apperances within the Flash title, the character was used as a member of the newly created Teen Titans. Sometime later, Wally contracted a mysterious disease: the more he used his speed powers, the faster his body would die. Wally subsequently retired from his hero role.
During the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry gave his life to save the Earth. Initially unaware of this, Wally was coaxed by Jay Garrick into assisting the heroes against the Anti-Monitor's forces. During the final battle with the Anti-Monitor, Wally was struck by a blast of anti-matter energy, which put his disease into remission. In the aftermath of the conflict, Wally took on his fallen mentor's costume and identity.
The decision by DC Comics' editorial staff to radically change their fictional universe saw a number of changes to the status quo of the character. Wally West became a less powerful new Flash than his predecessor. For example, instead of being able to reach the speed of light, he could run just faster than that of sound (Crisis on Infinite Earths, issue 12 1985). Also, the character had to eat vast quantities of food to maintain his metabolism.
Those changes were quickly followed up and 1987 saw the publication of a new Flash comic, initially written by Mike Baron. These stories focused not only on the Flash's superhero exploits, but the state of Wally's wealth. West won a lottery, bought a large mansion, and became something of a playboy. The character's finances and luck continued to ebb and wane until Flash (vol. 2) #62, when his playboy ways ended and his fortunes stabilized.
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