SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for The Flash #49 by Joshua Williamson, Howard Porter, Hi-Fi and Steve Wands, on sale now.
While the conflict at the heart of “Flash War” is the most personal it can be, as Wally West tries to free his missing children from the Speed Force while Barry Allen attempts to stop him from making the same mistakes he did, there was always the promise that it would answer the age-old question: Which Flash is faster?
This week’s penultimate instalment finally settled the matter once and for all (well, sort of), as Barry chases Wally in an attempt to stop him. The stakes couldn’t be higher; if Barry wins then Wally might never see his kids again, but if Wally wins he could destroy the laws of physics as we know them. There can only be one winner, and the matter is resolved definitively in the pages of The Flash #49 as one Flash is victorious while another one falls behind in defeat.
The Fastest Man Alive
The comparison between The Flashes has always been contentious, among both fans and the Flash Family themselves. Historically, Jay Garrick could only run as fast as the speed of sound but that was without access to the Speed Force; with it, he was significantly faster, though his age did affect his top speed in later years. Barry Allen was always the benchmark for speed during his tenure as The Flash, and when Wally West took over as The Flash following Barry’s death in Crisis on Infinite Earths, he found himself running much slower than he did when he was Kid Flash, unable to break past his uncle's top speed.
It was eventually determined that Wally was scared of eclipsing his uncle and devaluing his sacrifice, but when Eobard Thawne returned to the present day he was forced to find a way to increase his top speed to combat the villain. With the help of Johnny Quick’s speed formula and the sage advice of Max Mercury, Wally was able to come close but it was only when he accepted that by carrying on Barry’s legacy, he was honoring his uncle and not replacing him. He was able to defeat Eobard Thawne by proving to be the more worthy successor, and became the newest Fastest Man Alive.
Historically, the fastest Fastest Man Alive was Bart Allen during his short-lived tenure as The Flash in the appropriately named The Flash: Fastest Man Alive. During the Infinite Crisis, the four Flashes teamed up to run Superboy Prime into the Speed Force, but the Kryptonian villain was able to break out of it and return his campaign of terror. Bart Allen followed him back, having aged to adulthood and now contained the power of the Speed Force within himself. As he stored the Speed Force internally, he could access it like his own internal combustion engine, allowing him to reach speeds neither Barry nor Wally could never reach, but it was also more volatile and dangerous than ever before. Eventually, when Bart was murdered by Inertia and The Rogues, the Speed Force was freed from his body, which allowed Wally West and his family to return home after their own sabbatical in an alien dimension.
There have been faster speedsters than Bary, but usually only in alternate timelines or possible futures. John Fox — The Flash of the 27th century who later settled down in the 853rd — could likely at least match Bart’s top speeds and would have to in order to keep up with his allies in Justice Legion A. The fastest Flash is likely the Wally West of Kingdom Come, who had become so fast that he had transcended his physical body and was portrayed as an ever-moving blur keeping the streets of his city safe from crime, like a guardian angel who was everywhere at once.