The Flash has been around in one form or another since 1940, making him one of the most enduring heroes in comics. Quite a few men have taken up, given up and then retaken up the Flash’s red-and-yellow cowl since his first appearance. But while each Flash has his own distinct personality and crimefighting style, they all share a more lighthearted outlook on life, at least compared with some of their angstier contemporaries. They have certainly suffered through more than their share of tragedy, but their response to catastrophic events generally involves pressing on and staying positive, not becoming a lonesome, brooding creature of the night. As such, some people may not expect the assorted Flashes to have a dark side. And yet here we are.
Yup — despite his reputation as one of the nicest heroes in comic books, the Fastest Man Alive can be selfish, vindictive and even downright sadistic when he puts his mind to it. And with so many Flashes running around, you can bet there are plenty of examples of the Scarlet Speedster getting a little too gung-ho about the fight for truth, justice and et cetera. Let’s take a look at some of their most egregious overreactions.
15. THIS IS LEGAL, RIGHT?
Like many Silver Age heroes, the Flash could occasionally be a little overzealous when it came to subduing his villains. In one Silver Age tale, Barry Allen is pretty sure that circus acrobat James Jesse is secretly the Trickster, a new villain who earlier robbed an airplane. He just needs to find definitive proof of Jesse’s criminal activity. Before he does that, though, the Flash gets a bit of exercise.
Specifically, he grabs Jesse by the scruff of the neck and violently shakes him around. This way, Jesse will stay quiet and not cause any trouble while the Flash figures out if he’s actually the person he’s looking for. We admit we’re not legal experts, but beating up a guy who might be guilty doesn’t seem right somehow. Maybe due process hasn’t been invented yet?
14. WORST PEP TALK EVER
In Flash #26, Iris finds out that Barry is the Flash and that he’s purposely kept that information from her for years. She is understandably shaken, much to Barry’s dismay. To make things worse, Barry and Iris’ children from the future are currently laying waste to Central City. And then Zoom shows up to say that Barry is just as big a jerk in every other universe. Not once has he ever trusted Iris with his secret and he’ll be a terrible father, but don’t fret! Zoom knows a place Barry can go where he won’t hurt anyone ever again.
For some reason, Barry believes the murderous supervillain and lets Zoom trap him in the Anti-Speed Force, presumably because that’s easier than facing up to his mistakes, apologizing to those he hurt and putting actual effort into making things right.
13. THE TRUE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS
Many Christmas stories feature a selfish character who needs to learn the true spirit of the season. In Justice League: Unlimited #28, Wally West fills that role most thoroughly. The issue begins with Clayface and his minions trying to rob a department store. Batman has devised a plan to safely arrest Clayface. But this plan doesn’t unfold quickly enough for the Crimson Comet, who jumps the gun on attacking Clayface and inadvertently allows one of the henchmen to get away.
When Batman rightfully chews him out for this and tasks him with tracking down the henchman, Wally balks. It’s Christmas Eve, and he wanted to finish the fight with Clayface as fast as possible so he could run out and buy a new gaming system… for himself. Fortunately, a timely visit from the Phantom Stranger puts Flash in his place.
12. POLITICAL MANEUVERINGS
In Flash #53, someone kidnaps Jimmy Olsen and demands a man named Hector Esquelito in return for Olsen’s life. The problem. Esquelito is a dictator, and also he’s dead. The Flash speed-runs to Esquelito’s country, San Felipe, to investigate. He discovers that not only is Esquelito alive, he is living comfortably on the CIA’s dime. It turns out that America funded his dictatorship and continues to support him now so he won’t rat them out.
The Flash certainly doesn’t want Esquelito to get away with his crimes. Is there a way to punish him that won’t destabilize international politics? We never find out, because Wally decides to kidnap Esquelito and leave him wandering New York in his underwear. How do you think the CIA reacted to this? Or the people of San Felipe, when they found out America is responsible for the years they suffered under Esquelito’s brutal regime?
11. FAIR WEATHER FRIENDS
When the Rogues murder his fellow Flash, Bart Allen, Wally West dives right off the deep end. For starters, he turns on the Pied Piper, a reformed Rogue that Wally befriended years ago. Wally has even defended Piper against murder charges before. But now, he doesn’t give Piper a chance to share his side of the story until after he roughs him up. Even after Wally finds evidence suggesting Piper and his fellow ex-Rogue, the Trickster, aren’t guilty, he refuses to trust his old friend and effectively imprisons him at Zatanna’s house.
This distrust leads Piper and Trickster to run away. Ultimately, Trickster is killed and Piper has to drag his corpse through a desert. Look, Wally, we get that losing someone close to you must be traumatizing. But fixing it so your friend ends up as traumatized as you is not a good coping mechanism!
10. A SNAP DECISION
Professor Zoom has tormented the Flash for so long that we’re kind of surprised it took until 1983, 20 years after Zoom’s first appearance, for the Flash to just kill him already. It happens in Flash #324, when Barry Allen breaks his archenemy’s neck. And given how fast Barry can make decisions thanks to his superspeed, it seems unlikely that he didn’t know exactly what he was doing. So what caused the Monarch of Motion to finally, well, snap?
Years earlier, Professor Zoom murdered Barry’s wife Iris. After a period of mourning, Barry is able to move on from Iris’ death. He even falls in love with another woman, Fiona Webb. They come within a hair’s breadth of the altar when Zoom intrudes, determined to destroy Barry’s new chance at happiness. To save Fiona from sharing Iris’ fate, the Flash kills Professor Zoom.
9. LIKE UNCLE, LIKE NEPHEW
In Identity Crisis, Wally learns some difficult truths about his beloved Uncle Barry. Wally spent his entire childhood worshiping the Flash as a shining beacon of heroism who could do no wrong. It came as a severe shock when he finds out his predecessor wasn’t as perfect as he thought. According to Green Arrow, Barry Allen is at least partially responsible for mindwiping multiple people, most notably the villains Doctor Light and the Top, and the hero Batman.
Wally is understandably horrified by these revelations. Or rather, it would be understandable, if Wally himself hadn’t resorted to the same dubious methods of fixing his problems. Less than a year before Identity Crisis, Wally had the Spectre delete his secret identity from the minds of everyone on the planet.
8. FAST FINGERS
The Flash appears on Smallville in the form of Bart Allen, a reckless teen who believes his powers give him the right to steal whatever he wants. At first, what Bart wants is just enough money to keep a roof over his head. But when he sees how local billionaire Lex Luthor lives, Bart decides to step up his game. Much to the annoyance of Clark Kent, who has spent the entire episode trying to convince him to reform, Bart steals a rare manuscript from the Luthor mansion.
Clark tracks Bart down, rescuing him when his fence gets the jump on him. How does Bart repay Clark for this? By whipping out a box of Kryptonite he swiped from the Kent farm. Even after Clark tells Bart that the Kryptonite will kill him, it takes Bart a minute to decide to close the box and not murder his new friend.
7. YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN
The Flash spends a good chunk of Crisis on Infinite Earths suffering psychological torture at the hands of Psycho-Pirate, the Anti-Monitor’s semi-willing minion. After breaking free, Barry convinces/forces Psycho-Pirate to help him stop Anti-Monitor’s schemes. Psycho-Pirate does everything Barry tells him to, mostly out of fear but also because he believes the Flash will protect him from the Anti-Monitor in exchange for his help.
But when Psycho-Pirate asks for Barry to take him to safety, the Flash punches him in the face and runs off, leaving Psycho-Pirate at the mercy of an all-powerful megalomaniac who has wiped thousands of universes out of existence. In fairness, Barry was a bit busy trying to save the universe, and the contempt he shows for Psycho-Pirate isn’t entirely unjustified. Nevertheless, his complete lack of regard for Psycho-Pirate’s life seems a little out of character for one of DC’s most agreeable heroes.
Jay Garrick, the first hero to call himself the Flash, debuted in Flash Comics #1. Like many debuts, it’s filled with moments that will strike many readers as uncharacteristic in retrospect. For example, Jay is in love with a fellow student, Joan Williams, whom he later marries. But Joan is an insufferable snob who makes it clear that she won’t love Jay unless and until he becomes a football star.
Not long after this encounter, Jay gets his powers. What’s the first thing he does? Use his superspeed to score a whole lot of touchdowns, all to impress an extremely shallow young woman who would probably dump him the first time he gets injured on the field. Somehow, the referee allows this instead of booting him out of the game.
5. LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE (SORT OF)
In the Flashpoint event, Barry Allen wakes up one day to discover that the world isn’t quite how he remembers it. One of the biggest changes is that he has no superspeed, and no one has ever heard of the Flash. He quickly realizes that he has somehow stumbled into an alternate version of reality. To change it back, he will need to regain his superspeed. But how can he do that? He acquired his powers in a once-in-a-lifetime accident.
Barry, scientific genius extraordinaire, comes up with the bright idea to recreate the exact set of circumstances under which he first became the Flash. He rigs up an electric chair surrounded by the same chemicals that gave him his powers and zaps himself. Shockingly, this plan works… on the second try. On the first try, Barry just set himself on fire.
4. BARRY KNOWS BEST
Almost every hero has fallen into this trap at least once. Worried that his crimefighting activities will endanger his girlfriend, our hero elects to keep his alter ego secret from her. This way, he hopes, his girlfriend will stay safe from supervillain attacks. Even though her constantly being subjected to supervillain attacks is what prompted him to make this decision in the first place. Wait, how is this plan supposed to work again?
In both the 2014 TV series and the comics, Barry fails Iris West, the love of his life, by failing to treat her like an intelligent adult with the ability and the right to make her own decisions. Neither TV Iris nor Comics Iris is amused when they find out about Barry’s lies.
3. HOLD THAT POSE
When Wally finds out that the speedster Inertia is responsible for Bart Allen’s death, he is rightfully furious. He is so furious, in fact, that he decides to forget he’s a hero and dish out a disproportionate retribution worse than death. He uses his powers to slow Inertia to such an extent that a mere blink takes him one hundred years. But there’s an even more insidious aspect to Wally’s actions.
While Inertia’s body may be immobile, his brain still works at normal speed. In other words, not only is he stuck as a living statue, he is aware of every single second of his imprisonment. And as icing on the cake, the Flash sticks Inertia’s frozen body in the Flash Museum, directly across from a statue of Bart. Yikes.
2. STUCK ON REPEAT
The Flash sure can mete out some extreme punishments when he want to. In Flash #200, Professor Zoom, after failing to convince Wally West to change the past so that his father-in-law isn’t killed and Zoom isn’t shot in the leg, tries to change history himself. It doesn’t quite go according to plan — Zoom ends up opening holes in time itself.
Wally defeats Zoom by shoving his head through one of these rifts. This puts him in a coma in which he has to watch what’s happening on the other side of the rift forever. What’s happening on the other side of the rift, you ask? The day Zoom and his father-in-law were shot. So not only is Zoom stuck in a coma indefinitely, he gets to spend that time watching his father-in-law’s death on an endless loop, all thanks to the Flash.
1. IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME
Despite the trauma of his mother’s murder, Barry Allen grew into a good person with many friends and a loving family. But one day, he feels extra sad and throws his entire life out the window to go back in time and save his mom. Even after he realizes this is not a good plan and tries to fix things, he learns too late that actions have consequences. People who didn’t have powers before now do, complicating and even ruining untold lives, and his best friend’s brother is dead. Whoops.
And it’s not like Barry had no idea messing with time would have repercussions; a previous jaunt through the timestream caused a major change in one of his villain’s personalities. Still, things could have been worse. In the comic book version of this event, Barry’s meddling caused a global war between Aquaman and Wonder Woman that killed millions.
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