Four Color Television - The Flash: Comics vs. Show Comparisons

Another week and another comparison article where we ask the question: “Just how much like the comic book version of The Flash is the CW TV series The Flash?”  When we looked Arrow we saw a series that is vastly different than its four color source material, and with Legends of Tomorrow we looked at a show that really doesn’t have a direct comic book source. The expectation would be that, as we saw with Arrow before it, The Flash would differ greatly from the comics as it charted its own course.  That is, however, not the case.  Of the four current CWTV series, The Flash is the most faithful to its incredibly dense source material.   We’ll start by exploring the three main characters who have gone by the name The Flash, and as promised I will finally reveal which of them truly is The Fastest Man Alive.


Crime-lab technician Barry Allen is actually the second Flash, having been introduced in 1956 in what was a complete revamp of the 1940’s concept featuring original Flash Jay Garrick.  Conceived by Julius Schwartz the new Flash series shifted the focus of the character and his adventures to a more science fiction concept that thrilled readers and ushered in what comic fans now call The Silver Age of comics.  Barry was a bit of a square, boring, Dudley-Do-Right kind of guy who obeyed the law and never went outside of the lines and then one day while he was working late in the Central City Police Department’s Crime Laboratory a bolt of lightning crashed through the window and electrified Barry – the charge throwing him into a shelf of chemicals the spilled onto his body.  The combination of the electric charge and the chemicals gave Barry Allen the gift of incredible speed and allowed him to become the protector of Central City as The Flash.  Hiding his secret identity from his on again off again girlfriend Iris, Barry fought crime in Central City as The Flash; solved crimes by day as a CSI; and was a founding member of the Justice League.  In a duplication of the same accident that had made him The Flash, Iris’ young nephew was gifted with the same speed related powers and became Flash’s sidekick Kid Flash.  The two speedsters found a way to cross the barrier between alternate dimensions and discovered an infinite number of alternate Earths and the two would cross back and forth between worlds often in their adventures – often visiting Earth 2 the home of another Flash named Jay Garrick.  After jumping around alternate Earths Barry discovered The Cosmic Treadmill that allowed him to travel back and forth through time as well, this is when he finally discovered his greatest villain Eobard Thawne: The Reverse Flash.  Lovable stick in the mud Barry tried to settle down with girlfriend Iris, only to have her murdered by Reverse Flash.  Years later, finding love again, Eobard returned to kill Barry’s fiancé forcing Barry to do the one thing he swore he would never do: Murder the Reverse Flash.  Flash is placed on trial, but ultimately is exonerated and through some time travel shenanigans discovers that Iris is still very much alive – the two retire to the 30th Century where they have some superbabies and all is well.  Eventually all of time and space are jeopardized by the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline and Barry comes out of retirement to save the day – ultimately running so fast that he vanished completely. (10 years or so in continuity time, but over 20 in publishing time.) Ultimately Barry returned and had to contend once more with Eobard Thawne who intended to fundamentally change who The Flash is by going back in time and killing Barry’s mother/framing Barry’s father for the crime.  Flash’s attempt to repair the damage to this resulted in a splinter timeline and ultimately a complete relaunch of the DC Universe where Barry Allen’s Flash had a new and different origin.  


This new Barry Allen became a CSI because he was obsessed with solving the mystery of his mother’s murder, he became obsessed with the unexplained and one night in his lab while studying his mother’s case he was struck by lightning and became The Flash.  The new origin ironically takes the old stiff shirt Barry and reimagines him as a perennial nice guy who is charming and quite likeable, even if he is prone to the occasional brood when he decides to take the whole world on his shoulders.  This rebooted origin is the version the television Flash is based on, and it follows the formula to a tee.  Grant Gustin’s Barry is very much the New 52 version of the character but without being blond.  Even the New 52 Barry isn’t quite cool enough to be the central figure in a TV show, so the writers did bring over some elements from Wally West into Barry’s character.  Grant’s Barry is more prone to the Wally West sarcasm than Barry’s stoicism – and the amalgamation creates a character who is forged from the best parts of two Flashes; (Barry West or Wally Allen if you will) the result being a superior version of the character who is grounded heavily in his four color origins.


Full disclosure: Wally West is MY Flash, the one I grew up with.  If you read any of the 90’s Flash comics, or watched the Justice League Unlimited TV series – Wally is the Flash you experienced.  Unlike Barry, who is all talk, Wally West actually IS The Fastest Man Alive.  He’s also marginally more confusing that Barry, particularly as regards the fact that there are two Wally West’s.

The original Wally West started off as Barry Allen’s sidekick Kid Flash, he received his powers when his aunt Iris allowed him to visit her boyfriend Barry in his crime lab and he had an accident identical to the one that created The Flash.  Wally was one of the founding members of the Teen Titans, but found that his speed powers were killing him and had to be incredibly cautious about his usage of speed. Following Barry’s death in Crisis on Infinite Earths a now cured Wally became the third man to take on the mantle of The Flash.  Initially Wally’s Flash was less powerful than Barry, and the character went through a strange period where he went public with his superhero identity; dated models; and won the lottery.  In 1990 writer Mark Waid took over the writing duties of The Flash and launched the golden era of Wally West’s tenure as The Flash.  He redesigned his suit, discovered that he was in fact vastly more powerful than Barry and finally came into his own.  It was Wally West who first discovered the mysterious Speed Force that served as the source of a Speedster’s power; Wally who first discovered that a Speedster could share or even steal speed from others; Wally who faced the dangerous speed god Savitar; Wally who could travel through time without the need of a “cosmic treadmill.”  Wally maintained his relationships with his former Titans teammates, even as he replaced Barry on the Justice League, and Wally found love with Linda Park – a television reporter who Wally called his lightning rod, the one thing that could always draw him home.  The two married and had two children, and then Barry came back.  When Barry returned and Thawne changed the timeline, the new timeline that formed as a result was similar to the original timeline except for a very important omission: Wally West no longer existed.

The second Wally West was also Iris West’s nephew, but rather than being the son of her brother Rudy this other Wally was the son of her other brother Daniel (also a speedster who took on the mantle of Reverse Flash.)  A version of the Flash from a point in time 20 years in the future has decided the best way to fix the problems with his timeline is to go back and kill threats to the future, and along his way he intends to restore the life of his friend Wally West who died fifteen years earlier. When he arrived at the point where Wally died future Flash decided he would now kill The Flash and replace him to cement the changes to the timeline, as Barry died Wally absorbed a part of the speed force and learned that Barry had been The Flash.  Future Flash decided to go back even further and replace the Flash of the present, years before the death of Wally – but a future version of Wally West has run back to stop him.  Barry and Wally stop future Flash and Wally sacrifices himself to repair the damage to the speed force, which releases a lightning bolt that strikes the present teenaged version of the character and gives him the power to become Kid Flash.

The original Wally West had been trapped in the Speed Force, unable to return to our timeline until he finally found himself encountering his friends as a ghostly apparition – begging any of them to remember him so that he could regain a foothold in reality.  All seemed lost, even his lightning rod Linda could not remember him, and then he encountered Barry.  On seeing the ghostly form of Wally, Barry reached out and grabbed him – pulling him out of the Speed Force and back into the world as he tearfully lamented that he had forgotten his best friend.  Now both Wally Wests exist in the comics at the same time; the elder Wally taking on a new costume but still working as The Flash and the younger Wally officially taking on the mantle of Kid Flash.

Wally West on the TV series is neither the son of Rudy West nor of Daniel West, he is the son of Detective Joe West which makes him Iris West’s brother and not her nephew.  This version of Wally is an amalgamation of the two Wally’s, he is youthful and brash like Wally II – but charming and dedicated like Wally I.  Season Two introduced us to him as the long lost son of Joe, and he did not receive his powers until season three when he was gifted with his powers via the villain known as Savitar.  In Season Four it looks like we’ll see the TV version of Wally step out of Barry’s shadow and embrace his own destiny.


Jay Garrick was the original Flash first published in 1940.  A student at Midwestern University, Jay was a chemistry student working on a project to purify hard water when an accident exposed him to chemical fumes that put him in a week long coma from which he awoke with powers of great speed.  Jay was a founding member of the Justice Society of American and fought in World War II, one day another man arrived in town claiming to be The Flash and Jay confronted him to discover that he was a speedster named Barry Allen who came from an alternate Earth.  Together the two Flashes explored the vast multiverse they had discovered, until the Crisis on Infinite Earths destroyed all of the Earths but one.  In the rewritten continuity of one Earth, Jay still fought in World War II but was placed with all the residents of Keystone City in suspended animation shortly after WWII – the mysteriously hidden city was found by Barry Allen and reawakened.  Jay took on the role of mentor to Barry and ultimately to Wally West as well, and with his wife Joan he became a sort of father figure to the entire Flash family.  After the events of Flashpoint Jay was erased from reality just like Wally was, but thus far Jay has been unsuccessful at returning to the timeline, despite a recent attempt to reach out to Barry while he was in the Speed Force.

After a great teaser where Jay Garrick’s infamous winged helmet fell out of the Speed Force and spooked Eobard Thawne, we were introduced to Jay Garrick in Season Two of The Flash as played by Teddy Sears, and it was almost an entire season before we discovered that he was really Hunter Zoloman posing as Jay and not the real Jay himself.  The origin this version of Jay described is exactly like his comic counterpart, and his costume was a brilliant update of Jay’s classic costume.  Eventually we learn of Zoloman’s treachery and discover that the real Jay has a very familiar face.

The television version of Jay is played by John Wesley Shipp, who originated the role of Barry Allen in the 1990 Flash TV Series.  In that earlier series his performance was considered to be much closer to a hybridization of the earnestness of Jay Garrick and the fun-loving humor of Wally West, and thus far his Jay Garrick is no different.  We do not yet know much about his origin or his family, but this version of Jay is thus far VERY similar to the comic version of Jay.


One of the most successful elements of The Flash TV series was the way it created a support team for The Flash based out of S.T.A.R. Labs.  Rather than create a character whole cloth as the 1990 series had done with the character of Tina McGee, the series decided to repurpose some lower tier characters from the comics.  First up was the character of Francisco Ramon, whom we know on the show as the brilliant scientist and engineer played by Carlos Valdes, the man responsible for making all of Barry’s cool tech.  In the second season Cisco develops metahuman powers that allow him to feel the vibrations of the multiverse, and as those powers grow he discovers that he can use his “vibes” to get visions of things and places by touching objects associated with them.  He’s a geeky and lovable character who quickly becomes TV Barry’s best friend, and an audience favorite.  Cisco is the backbone of Team Flash, but you would hardly recognize his comic version.  When he became aware that the Justice League was looking for new members, gang leader and expert break dancer Francisco Ramon decided to give up his life of crime and try to join the League as the superhero known as Vibe.  While Cisco and Vibe both have the same powers, the characters themselves couldn't be more different if they tried.  The comic version is a street level character with a chip on his shoulder, while the TV version is a quick-witted and kind hearted friend.

Now we turn our sights to Caitlin Snow, the brilliant Bio-engineer hired by Dr. Harrison Wells to assist in the process of creating the S.T.A.R. Labs particle accelerator, the job where she would meet her fiancé Ronnie Raymond.  Ronnie disappeared in the particle accelerator explosion, and Caitlin began to wall of her emotions, and it was joining Team Flash that allowed her to step out of the cold place she had put herself in, Catlin discovered she was a metahuman with the power to manipulate cold and she began to fear she would become a monstrous killer, a fate she is still fighting against at present even as she wields the powers of Killer Frost.   In the comics, Caitlin Snow is the third Killer Frost – a villain that was created in the pages of the Firestorm comic ( a fact the series honored by placing Caitlin in a relationship with original Firestorm Ronnie Raymond.)  Comics Caitlin was also a brilliant S.T.A.R. Labs scientist who became fascinated with the research Dr. Louise Lincoln (the 2nd Killer Frost) had been doing on an engine that could subvert the second law of thermodynamics to create perpetual motion.  Agents of H.I.V.E attempted to steal her prototype engine and threw her inside of it to kill her, instead it turned her into an ice creature who can steal life sustaining heat by sucking it out of others like a heat vampire.  Neither Caitlin wants to be Killer Frost, but TV Caitlin is certainly having an easier time preventing herself from going on a murderous rampage.

So that is our look at Team Flash, if you have questions about any other Flash characters ask them in the comics below.

Next Week: Shapeshifting Alien Matrix vs. The Last Daughter of Krypton; Jimmy “Turtle Boy” Olsen vs. James “Guardian” Olsen. It’s Supergirl vs Supergirl!

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