(Ok, there's not really been 3 earlier ones, but you might pay more attention if you think this is an established article…)
Welcome to the first, hopefully, in a series of articles focusing on a particular character or team and my suggested trade paperback reading for them. Bear in mind this is only my opinion on the character. Your mileage may vary.
First up… The Flash
Wally West, Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, John Fox, Iris West. Many people have worn the lightning across their chest, making it one of the most enduring heroic legacies in comics. Some have been related by blood, others by marriage, but they all share one thing in common: For a time, they were the Fastest Man Alive! Well one or two have been women, but you get the idea…
I plan on picking 3 trades that, for me at least, really encapsulate what the Flash is about, so that anyone who has never read the Flash can walk away and know just what makes the Flash special.
1) The Flash: Blitz
Wally West has it all: a beautiful wife who is pregnant with their first child, twins no less, adoration of the masses, a group of friends who are always there for him, the love and support of one of his predecessors, access to the world's greatest clubhouse and some pretty awesome superpowers. He has it all.
Until one man decides that Wally isn't a good enough hero, that he hasn't experienced sufficient loss, that he needs to suffer more so that he will try harder to save other people. That man is Wally's friend and confidante Hunter Zolomon. Hunter was crippled in an attack by Gorilla Grodd and asked Wally to use the Cosmic Treadmill to alter time and save him from the injury. Wally refused saying that it would be an abuse of the ability. Angry at his friend, Hunter used the treadmill himself and unwittingly gave himself time-based speed powers. Taking the name Zoom in honour of an earlier Flash villain, he began a campaign to break Wally West down and build him back up again.
Wally's appeal lies in the fact that he is a regular guy behind the powers. He likes watching sport, he doesn't get on with his cousin Bart, he has a life away from the mask that doesn't involve being a millionaire, Pulitzer prize winning journalist or global diplomat.
And Zoom decides to take it all away…
Blitz shows you what kind of hero Wally is. He has to stop his once-friend and beat his own inner demons at the guilt of Hunter's injury. But can the Flash deal with the cruellest blow of all? Read Blitz and find out.
Geoff Johns wrote arguably his masterpiece story arc for the book here and Scott Kolins delivers amazingly detailed artwork. Both of them can hold this volume up as one of their finest works.
As a boy Wally West started running and never looked back. He ran from his parents, he ran from school, he ran from everything. Then he met his aunt's geeky fiancée and wished he was meeting the Flash instead. Lightning strikes twice and Wally becomes Kid Flash.
Born to Run follows Wally through his less than happy childhood and the receipt of his powers. You see just why he turned out like he did, why he's a good man, despite fate almost conspiring to crush and twist his spirit.
Few heroic origins go back to the character's childhood. Normally we meet the hero or heroine about a week before they receive their powers or abilities. Here Mark Waid showed us that Wally has been a hero his whole life, one way or another, and that the outfit doesn't make the man; The man makes the outfit.
I realise that, technically, this is two books, but they are pretty much consecutive and the creative teams remain the same.
Before Wally West was the Flash, another noble soul patrolled the streets of Keystone and Central City. Barry Allen, Police scientist. Today, he's been resurrected (Don't get me started on that…) and back working for the side of the angels as a CSI.
Barry gained his powers in a lab accident, the precursor to the similar accident that granted Wally his powers years later. When Barry became the Flash he had no idea that he had equally fantastical peers coming to terms with their powers at the same time. When he meets the other founding members of the JLA, his character really takes flight.
For all of his ways being seen as boring and dull by many, he serves as a foil for the hotshot daredevil pilot wielding an emerald wishing ring from space. Hal and Barry's friendship became on of the most enduring in comic history and continues to this day, echoed in Wally West and Kyle Rayner's friendship in the JLA.
These two volumes show Barry at his best, whether he's working in a team to defeat alien geneticists, or with his friend to fight another silver-age bad guy who wants to steal an armoured car's money.
Yes, he seems a little old fashioned by today's standards, but he's supposed to be! He's a hero from a simpler, more innocent time where the only motivation for fighting crime was because you could. He had no dark secret, no sinister past. He had superpowers and he knew he could make a difference.
I hope you've either decided to go read some Flash stuff, or at least got some new talking points on the character. Next time I'll look at Batman, and the three graphic novels or trade paperbacks I'd recommend.