Flash Personalities: The Breakdown

Four Flashes (Flash Companion cover)

A character is more than his or her code name, costume, and power set. He’s more than his civilian job, or external circumstances. A compelling character must have a personality, and similar characters must have different personalities.

I’ve tried to distill a core personality set for each of the major Flashes at DC Comics, in a way would set them apart from each other even if you put them all in the same outfit.

Jay Garrick: The Gentleman Adventurer. In his younger days as the Flash, Jay Garrick was a bit of a practical joker, toying with the criminals whose plans he foiled. He never lost his humor, but it evolved into more of a dry wit as he began to face more challenging villains and superheroics became a lifelong career. Eventually he grew into the role of elder statesman, mentoring younger heroes and serving as an example to a new generation.

Barry Allen: The Methodical Scientist. Long before he became the Flash, Barry Allen trained as a forensic scientist. His police training means he approaches super-crime as an investigator, not just a fighter, and his scientific approach allows him to come up with new and creative ways to use his speed. He discovered time travel, vibrating through objects, creating whirlwinds, and more in his time as the Flash. Barry is also a lifelong comic book fan, who maintains his collection with the same meticulous care that he uses in the crime lab.

Wally West: Living the Dream. All his life, Wally West wanted to be a super-hero like the Flash, and once he gained super-speed, he reveled in it. Barry might have felt embarrassed by things like the Flash Museum, but Wally welcomed the attention and fame.* (Exception: When Wally’s speed was killing him, he avoided everything related to it when he could.) This lends him a bit of a temper when things don’t go his way. While he doesn’t take Barry’s experimental approach to his powers, he’s quite willing to seek out experts when he needs to, incorporating knowledge and techniques from such varied sources as Max Mercury’s zen philosophy, Johnny Quick’s speed formula, and Savitar’s knowledge of the speed force.

Bart Allen: The Impulsive One. To Bart, super-speed is normal. He’s never known anything else.  Growing up in a virtual reality left him with no sense of danger. Combine the two, and you have someone acts at the speed of thought without considering consequences. When consequences do hit (Carol’s disappearance, or the death of one of his scouts), they hit him hard. He struggles to keep himself from tearing off at the speed of light, but most of the time, he just doesn’t worry about it.

How Does it Track?

It fits quite well for all the comics and cartoons up through Flashpoint. Looking at animation: For Justice League Unlimited you drop Wally’s specific fandom for the Flash, but everything else fits. For Young Justice, you actually enhance it (he deliberately recreated Barry’s origin), and you drop the VR/danger non-sense from Bart. Jay, especially, in the Flash episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

Live action shows have changed things a bit more. The Flash TV Series from 1990 offloaded a lot of the scientific approach to Tina McGee in favor of just having Barry punch people really fast, though he did retain the detective mindset. Smallville’s version of Bart Allen was a bit more mopey, and of course skipped the origin entirely, but he still had the careless attitude more typical of Bart than the other speedsters.

As for the New 52: Barry Allen is more like his old self now than he was under Geoff Johns’ pen, but Jay Garrick and Bart Allen are different enough that I gave up trying to reconcile them and just stayed with the pre-Flashpoint versions. Bart has incorporated the haunted-past element from Smallville, though it’ll be interesting to see how much that lasts after his history is explored over the next few months. And, well, there is no New 52 Wally West yet to worry about working in.

*Nightwing once speculated that Wally West deliberately draws villains’ attention to keep them focused on himself instead of the general public.

Image: Cover of The Flash Companion.

15 thoughts on “Flash Personalities: The Breakdown

  1. Steven

    Awesome job. If this were a homework assignment I’d give you an A+. I think you should give New 52 Jay Garrick a chance, though. Earth 2 is still in its early stages so there’s plenty of room for character growth.

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      I’m not saying there’s a problem with New 52 Jay Garrick, just that he’s different enough that I can’t fit him into the same description.

      Reply
  2. veronicadiall

    ‘Barry Allen is more like his old self now than he was under Geoff Johns’ pen’

    Interesting analysis. I actually find it to be the exact opposite. I found that the Geoff Johns interpretation of the character hues far more closer to the original character written by Robert Kanigher and Cary Bates. Than the current New 52 Barry Allen portrayed by the current writing team of Buccellato and Manapul. Kanigher & Bates wrote Barry like a thoughtful, intelligent and adult man. Almost like Bruce Wayne without the massive ego.

    Buccellato and Manapul’s Barry/Flash comes across like a Peter Parker/Spiderman knock off. Completely lacking in the depth and maturity of original incarnation. I really don’t like it at all.

    Reply
    1. Mack Nathan, Flash Neighbor!

      I’m actually enjoying the New 52 version of him. When you think about it, Flash is sort of DC’s Spiderman. I think going about this route would be easiest to adapt to other mediums, where a super speedster would need to be a little “bolder”, for a lack of a better word.

      Reply
  3. KoderKev

    Great read, I was just tweeting something today about Barry being detail oriented and having a legal mind, which sort of makes him unique in comics. He has the odd combination of having powers and being a cop, which I love, especially when it puts him in difficult situations.

    I never read much of Wally’s run (pun intended) but loved his JL and JLU personality. You can’t go wrong with Michael Rosenbaum as his voice either. As an older reader, Wally is the true Kid Flash to me, not Bart.

    And as for Jay, I miss his “elder mentor” incarnation, either as the Earth 2 Flash or the JSA of Earth 1 Flash, he was a good role model for all Flashes.

    As for Buccellato and Manapul’s Barry Allen, keep in mind this is early in his career since they have backed up the timeline. He will become more sure of himself as time goes on, I’m sure. But the first 2 years of the new 52 he was still finding out the extent of his powers.

    Reply
    1. Kelson Post author

      I know they keep saying that it’s early in his career, but Barry had already been the Flash for five years as of issue #1. The first arc of Justice League took place five years before the launch of the rest of the line.

      Reply
  4. MisterNefarious

    Cool read, man. I dig it.
    I think part of the reason I like New 52 Flash so much is it feels so much like they melded Barry and Wally together.
    I like that he’s a bit playful and jokey when he’s in the mask (like Spiderman, as a previous poster said), but I love that he has that analytical side and still gets to explore his powers.

    Hopefully the next creative team spends more time with Barry and his CSI side, as well as fleshes out his relationship with Patty (felt like it got lost a lot in the Reverse Flash arc)

    Reply
      1. veronicadiall

        ‘As for Patty, ehh. I want Iris back.

        -Agreed. Apart from the fact that I like Iris better. I don’t like Patty at all. I don’t know if it’s intentional or due to the poor writing skills of Buccellato and Manapul, but I don’t find her to be a very nice person. She comes across as the prototypical clingy insecure girlfriend who is threatened by and mean to other women.

        While I do want to see Barry and Iris together, I can live with Barry dating other women until the (enevitable) time that DC decides that they will pair Barry and Iris. But I would rather see Barry with a more confident woman, and that women is not Patty

        Reply
        1. Mack Nathan, Flash Neighbor!

          I always thought that DC should’ve better used Flash and Zatanna having feelings for each other during the Silver Age Justice League. That would’ve made for an interesting relationship.

          Reply
  5. Chris G

    Those are great descriptions, although I never knew Jay as anything other than the elder stateman. It makes sense Barry was the man who trained to do good as a normal man, a thinking man, who then became Flash. Compare that with Wally who grew up as a superhero and had been one since his early teen years. Wally as Flash is like the hero veteran, embracing his Flash identity more than those who have done the dual identity thing, and as such, he’s more in the “I’m a superhero” mindset 24/7 whereas Barry alternates between cop/investigator and superhero. Bart is very much in the speedster mindset, but he doesn’t have the experience and the honed intuition that Wally follows.

    Reply
  6. TheFlash1990

    @ Chris G,

    I always saw Barry as the Flash with a personal life and Wally as the one who was a full time superhero, I always liked Barry better for that reason since he lead both lives but always found Wally interesting too because he was public (for just the opposite reason) – which made sense for him since he’d been a superhero since he was a kid so that IS his life in a sense, while Barry didn’t get his powers until he was an adult in his early/mid twenties, so naturally he has more of a personal life to draw from so it makes sense for it to be a bigger part of his stories.

    Reply
    1. Chris G

      That works, as I’m discovering the personal/superhero balance with Barry’s life in the New52 Flash book. Wally has a personal life, his family just happens to have super speed, his childhood friends are the Titans, and his co-workers are the Justice League.

      Reply

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