Brace yourself Flash fans: season 4 of The Flash just premiered, and DC Comics just announced the upcoming event Flash War, which will finally settle the ultimate debate: who is the better Flash? A common thread of both the comics and television show, the second Flash Barry Allen was arguably upstaged for the better part of 20 years when he died in the groundbreaking classic Crisis on Infinite Earths and was replaced by his protege, Wally West. As The Flash, Wally’s ushered in a new generation of creators and stories and cemented The Flash as one of the greatest heroes of the DC Comics pantheon.
Though several have donned the mantle of the Scarlet Speedster, Barry and Wally are who the argument always comes down to. Since Barry’s return in Final Crisis, fans have been clamoring to see the two truly stacked up and determine who the best Flash really is, but haven’t had a chance. Now that Wally has returned to the DC Universe proper with the events of “Rebirth,” its time to put it all on the line once and for all. Straighten your wingtips, because we’ve got all the arguments laid out to help you decide: who is the better Flash?
16 WALLY IS FASTER THAN BARRY
When Wally took over for Barry following Crisis on Infinite Earths, the running story had to do with Wally’s much slower speed. Sometime before, Wally had retired from heroics because of an illness which was killing him. During Crisis, Wally was struck by a blast from the Anti-Monitor which stabilized his powers but left him running much slower. After years of topping out at the speed of sound, Wally realized during the landmark story “The Return of Barry Allen” that his speed issue was psychosomatic.
Terrified by the prospect of replacing Barry as The Flash, Wally had subconsciously blocked himself from running faster so that he wouldn’t be better. It was during his fight with Barry’s rival Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash, that Wally came to terms with this and broke past his own mental block. Wally only grew faster, eventually breaking the speed of light.
15 BARRY MADE THE ULTIMATE SACRIFICE
You can’t possibly sell short Barry’s classic sacrifice. Crisis on Infinite Earths saw the evil Anti-Monitor point an anti-matter cannon at the Earth, ready, willing and able to destroy the planet as part of his scheme to destroy the Multiverse. To save his friends, Barry trapped the cannon inside a speed vortex and paid the ultimate price.
The death of Barry Allen has long been one of the most classic and recognizable moments in comics: Barry dashing around the cannon, his body slowly disintegrating as he ran, quickly caught the eye of fans. Barry’s sacrifice was one of the first on such a scale in comics, a hero sacrificing everything so the fight could continue in a massive crossover event. Plenty of others followed in his stead, but Barry set the pace.
14 WALLY WAS THE FIRST TO SURVIVE THE SPEED FORCE
Once he surpassed his fears of replacing Barry, Wally West quickly grew as The Flash. With 1995’s The Flash #100, though, Wally yet again moved the goalposts back and did something no other Speedster had done. Sometime beforehand, Wally had learned of the Speed Force, a sort of Valhalla for the speedsters of the DC Universe and where they all go when they die.
Wally’s body was changing under the strain of his enhanced speed, and he was risking being lost into the Speed Force. Wally was forced to push himself to save Linda, and seemingly was trapped in the Speed Force, but their connection was strong enough for Wally to return. After his jaunt into the Speed Force, he was a changed Flash with a host of new skills and a much faster top speed, a connection no Flash before him had.
13 BARRY SET THE STANDARD
The original Flash? Not really, that honor goes to Jay Garrick, who donned his father’s World War II helmet after inhaling “heavy vapors” during a smoke break and gaining super speed. But you can’t deny that when you think about The Flash, the image conjured is that of Barry Allen. He was, after all, the de facto Scarlet Speedster when DC retooled many of its characters at the dawn of the Silver Age.
Barry’s new costume -- a sleek, red bodysuit -- not only stood out, but was ahead of its time. Even runners weren’t wearing spandex in 1956. The added focus on science and the practical applications on it set a standard for Flash stories that persists to this day, creating a hero who wasn’t just fantastic, but also grounded and real. Wally carried on much of this legacy, but you can’t deny that Barry Allen defined what The Flash really is.
12 WALLY DEFIED DEATH ITSELF
One of Wally’s most iconic stories, “The Black Flash” defined what death actually meant for a speedster. The visage of death for those who are tied to the Speed Force, the Black Flash emerges to claim a speedster when it’s time for them to die. But Wally was running late, and the Black Flash instead took Linda by mistake.
Initially distraught, Wally bounced back when The Black Flash came for him again and proved his chops by outracing Death itself. Wally raced to the end of time, where death was meaningless and the Black Flash ceased to exist. He then dashed back in time to pluck Linda from the moment before her death to bring her back. Barry did some amazing things, but he never managed to singlehandedly stop death itself.
11 EVEN BATMAN RESPECTS BARRY
To say Batman’s relationship with the DC Universe is tumultuous would be an understatement. Even his supposed best friend, Superman, will admit they disagree more than they agree and that their relationship is based on a mutual trust more than anything. But Batman does have one person he respects: Barry Allen.
Before he was a superhero, Barry was a CSI and a scientist. Over the years, Barry and Batman have bonded over their mutual appreciation for detective work. The relationship was punctuated in The New 52 and DC Rebirth era of stories, which had Batman outright admit his respect for Barry, a relationship that no one else in the DC Universe can own up to. Wally, by comparison, was a JLA member for years, but always seemed to be on the outskirts of the team, hanging on by the team’s respect for Barry rather than for his own merits.
10 WALLY REDEEMED THE ROGUES (SORT OF)
Barry was a steadfast force of justice, fighting constantly against the Rogues. But Wally changed that relationship, arguably for the best. Wally formed a sort of camaraderie with the Rogues, notably Pied Piper. Piper had reformed himself by the time Wally came along and was one of his closest allies for some time.
The Rogues and Wally had something of an agreement, and Wally typically lets them be so long as nobody dies. This didn’t just result in fewer scuffles, but the Rogues would occasionally find themselves allied with Wally instead of fighting against him. This relationship was more strained in later years, especially following the events of “Rogue War.” And unfortunately, it completely went away when Barry returned and refused to give the Rogues any slack.
9 BARRY IS THE MOST CULTURALLY RELEVANT
Barry Allen is THE Flash. More so than Jay, Bart, Wally, anyone. When Hollywood makes a new Flash property, it’s almost always Barry. Even when The Flash came to television in 1991, John Wesley Shipp’s character was explicitly named Barry, though he was something of an amalgam of the two characters. Aside from animated appearances, the de facto Hollywood Flash is always Barry Allen.
Though most fans today grew up with Wally, Barry has remained the standard for the character for decades, even as Wally wore the costume. Death only made Barry a more important aspect of the Flash mythos, his demise making him an important character even in absence. It’s notable that in instances where future Flashes are shown, they’re rarely carrying on Wally’s legacy and instead carrying on Barry’s.
8 WALLY SURVIVED THE FLASHPOINT
Flashpoint was an important DC Comics story, regardless of how you feel about the repercussions. Having destroyed the timeline when Barry tried to go back in time to save his mother, the DC Universe was changed completely, opening the door for a rebooted DC Comics and The New 52, but Wally played a major role in fixing a lot of the problems with The New 52.
With DC Rebirth, we learned that it wasn’t Barry, but some other mysterious force (heavily implied to be Watchmen’s Doctor Manhattan) who had actually stolen 10 years of time from everyone. We learned this when Wally returned, having been trapped in the Speed Force. It seems Wally, despite losing 10 years like everyone else, was the sole member of the pre-Flashpoint universe to survive the transition. Even Superman wasn’t able to do that, only making his way through because of the Convergence event.
7 BARRY FOUNDED THE JUSTICE LEAGUE
It doesn’t matter what iteration you’re looking at; when the Justice League is founded, Barry Allen is there. Pre-Crisis, Post-Crisis, New 52, Barry as The Flash is depicted as one of the League’s most important members, functioning as the team’s heart and soul and holding the team together as a unit during the critical early days of their formation.
Barry left a lasting legacy as a founding JLA member. While Wally would keep up this legacy, joining a variety of iterations of the League during his tenure as The Flash, it was never quite the same. Much like with Nightwing, these heroes were around Wally growing up and still thought of him as Barry’s protege. While Wally was accepted and respected as a member of the League, it always felt like his acceptance was largely hinged on his relationship to Barry, despite the fact that he’d more than proven himself.
6 WALLY DIDN’T LOBOTOMIZE HIS ENEMIES
These days, Identity Crisis is largely remembered for how it changed up the history of Ralph and Sue Dibny and Teen Titans villain Doctor Light. But it is easy to forget that a major chunk of the story also impacted Barry, who readers were shocked to learn had not only voted in approval of the mind wipe of Doctor Light and Batman, but had done it again later on.
The Top was a Flash villain who found out Barry’s secret identity, torturing him and everyone he loved. Barry convinced Zatanna to cast her spell one more time, but to change The Top’s personality so that he was a hero! The Top eventually went mad as his inherent nature conflicted with Zatanna’s spell. The Top was implied to have changed the Rogues using his abilities, being responsible for their reformation, and ultimately died at the hands of Captain Cold.
5 BARRY SAVED THE DAY WITH SCIENCE
Wally was no slouch, but Barry was a certifiable genius. It wasn’t just the application of scientific concepts, it was the creation of gadgetry to help him as The Flash. Upon his debut, Barry had already created a costume that stored itself in a ring. It was learned in later issues that Barry even made every League member a costume ring with an emergency costume, though none of them were fast enough to utilize it.
It doesn’t stop there, though. When Barry found out he could travel through time and universes, he created the Cosmic Treadmill, which helped stabilize his vibrations. His costume was a unique invention as well, created with a costume-making kit and fluid passed on after his death to Wally. Wally wasn’t able to replicate this though and had to rely on a STAR Labs-built suit instead.
4 WALLY PUT FAMILY FIRST - EVEN BEFORE THE FLASH
Barry and Iris have long been treated as the classic couple, especially with Iris’ revelation at one time that she was actually a time-traveler from the future. It’s easy to forget, though, that they had a weird relationship. Barry wasn’t sure if he should tell Iris his secret and didn’t let her know that he was The Flash until they’d been married for a year (though Iris actually found out on their wedding night).
Wally technically didn’t have these hang-ups with anyone, as he made his identity public as The Flash to preserve Barry’s legacy. But he did get the opportunity eventually when his identity was erased from the public consciousness by The Spectre. Wally and Linda forgot about his time as The Flash as well, but as soon as he found out, Wally told Linda despite being terrified of her reaction.
3 BARRY WAS AN IDEAL MENTOR
Barry’s naturally more patient demeanor made him an excellent mentor to others. Obviously, he left an imprint on Wally, who he practically raised as Kid Flash when he got his super speed. His mentorship of Wally inspired him to become one of the world’s most respected heroes as time went on, a testament to his inspiring nature.
But by comparison, Wally was a much harsher person and poorer mentor. Tasked with serving as a mentor to Bart Allen when he first arrived from the future, Wally instead alienated Impulse by naming Jesse Quick as his successor, manipulating both of them in a misguided attempt to inspire Bart. Both stayed on the outs with Wally for a while, but he never found himself as quite the mentor to others that Barry was to him.
2 WALLY IS MORE THAN JUST A SPEEDSTER
Wally was the fastest man alive by a wide margin as The Flash, but he was more than just a speedster. When he touched the Speed Force and came back, the connection was greater than anyone before or after, allowing him to do some amazing things. Barry had the ability to steal speed, slowing objects to a crawl, and after merging with his alternate Earth counterpart Walter, he was able to also lend his speed.
It was more than that, though. Wally solved his costume woes by making a suit out of solid Speed Force and was able to travel through time unaided with pinpoint accuracy. Though whether Barry or Wally is faster has remained nebulous at best, Wally’s host of abilities he obtained through his Speed Force connection makes him a Flash who was more than just a Speedster.
1 BARRY CONTROLS HIS SPEED LIKE NO ONE ELSE
Barry didn’t have the Speed Force, so naturally, he wasn’t able to have access to the same abilities Wally did. But he made up for it with the simple applications of science and physics knowledge to his existing powers. Barry did some amazing things with “just” the ability to run at super speed, all by applying his real-world knowledge.
Barry was able to vibrate through solid objects with precise control over every molecule of his body, a skill that allowed him to outrace Superman on numerous occasions by phasing through objects the Man of Steel had to run around. By maintaining a steady velocity, he could run vertically up buildings or across the surface of water. Barry was a Speedster, but calling him just a Speedster is a huge disservice to the mastery over his powers he demonstrated.
Who is YOUR favorite Flash? Think we should have included Bart or Jay? Let us know in the comments!