So in Part 1 of our discussion on the Flash family, we discussed Jay Garrick, Barry Allen and Wally West. We also chatted about Jesse Quick and other folks who’ve operated as the Flash for a short time. In a previous piece on the JLA of the 853rd century, we discussed John Fox, a Flash of the future. But we haven’t talked about the other facets of this legacy. Namely, those who represent the future generations of speedsters.
Soon before marrying his fiancee Iris, Barry Allen met the lady’s teenage nephew Wally West, president and sole member of the Flash Fan Club of Blue Valley, Nebraska. As impossible as it seemed, Wally wound up suffering an identical accident to what happened to Barry, gaining his own super-speed. Years later, readers learned that Barry himself had unknowingly caused this, ensuring he would have a trained successor when he died years later. Wally became his protege. Though he wanted to be called “Speedy,” that name was already used by Green Arrow’s sidekick, so Wally was labeled “Kid Flash” by the media. He became a founding member of the original Teen Titans and a formidable hero in his own right, making Barry and Iris Allen both very proud. During the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Barry was forced to run beyond the speed of light to save all reality. In doing so, time warped around him and he wound up unintentionally sending some of his power backwards in time towards Wally, thus explaining the coincidence of their origins. Before he died, Barry had ensured that he would have a successor with years worth of training, ready to take on the mantle of the Flash.
Some time after Wally West had become the third Flash, he met his time-traveling cousin Bart Allen, grandson of Barry Allen. Having been born with super-speed that caused rapid aging, Bart was raised in virtual reality so his brain’s development could keep up with his body. He was then brought to the modern-day where Wally was able to stabilize his powers and his aging. Due to being brought up in a simulated reality where he was never in danger, Bart didn’t understand consequence and tended to act without any thought. A remark made by Batman inspired Wally to call Bart “Impulse.”
After a couple of years, Bart decided to become more serious and became the new Kid Flash. Wally wound up having a couple of kids of his own, whose powers initially manifested as non-speed abilities. Later on, Wally’s daughter Iris “Irey” West got her powers stabilized and became a speedster just like Daddy. Almost immediately afterward, she adopted the Impulse identity for herself.
Got it? Good. Now let’s take a look at these kids!
WALLY WEST – THE ORIGINAL KID FLASH
Wallace “Wally” West was the first Kid Flash. When he was introduced in The Flash #110 (1959), he could be described in one word: unoriginal. Not only was his origin a carbon copy of Barry Allen’s fantastic and seemingly one-of-a-kind accident, but his first costume was just a shrunken version of Barry’s uniform.
Literally, Kid Flash was just that. People make fun of Robin as a boy sidekick, but at least Robin had his own look and identity. He was never “Batman, Jr.” or “Lil’ Batman.” Poor Wally. What’s worse, when some artists drew Wally they would make him look a little too old and provide him nothing to give the readers a sense of scale, causing some to confuse him with Barry. And understandably so.
THE CLASSIC KID FLASH
In The Flash #135 (1963), Barry and Wally were investigating some alien weapons that had been left lying around in order to help fight off an invasion. Wally surprised Barry when the older hero was examining one such machine and suddenly a strange thing happened: energy traveled from the machine, through Barry and then zapped Wally. The boy was unharmed, but his costume was completely altered now.
Barry realized that the machine was some kind of matter re-arranger and had reacted to Barry’s recent thoughts that Wally needed his own distinctive look, taking an image from the back of his mind and making it real. It’s a strange, roundabout way of getting a new costume, but it worked and Wally’s new look was great. In fact, many comic book creators have argued that it is a better design than Barry’s own uniform.
This is a great look. It still says “Flash” to us, but you’re definitely not confusing him with Barry anymore. Even if all you saw was his chest symbol, you’d know which one belonged to Wally and which one belonged to his uncle. The exposed hair gives a sense of youth. And the fact that his shirt is bright yellow immediately implies that this is a sunnier character than Barry, which is definitely true. Barry was a good guy and occasionally made a joke, but he took his job as both as a CSI and a superhero very seriously and would often adopt a no-nonsense attitude. But Wally was a jokester. He picked up some science from hanging around Barry and hearing all his “Flash Facts,” but he was someone who often chose to improvise plans (later on he got more serious, yes, but that was towards the end of his Kid Flash career).
Wally, of course, gave up the Kid Flash costume when he became the third Flash, following the death of his uncle Barry. But during the crossover Sins of Youth, he and various other heroes wound up having their ages altered in some way. Wally wound up a boy on the verge of adolescence and his costume changed with him. This was a new version of the old Kid Flash style. The chest symbol now has a white circle behind it like Barry’s logo and Wally’s got goggles attached to his mask.
The logo does give him a stronger connection to Barry rather than making it seem as if he’s wearing a reverse of Jay Garrick’s original shirt. I’m fine with it. The goggles would seem to be practical considering the speeds he’s traveling at and the way they make his eyes seem bigger also underline his youth. Nice touch.
You know, you’d think that a cartoon would have no reason to screw up a hero’s costume. We understand that what looks good on a comic page may not look good (or be possible) in a live-action medium. But with cartoons, you figure it should be a seamless transition. But sometimes that’s not practical because you need to simplify a few things.
And sometimes, animators toss the costume out the window and just do their own thing. When Filmation did a Teen Titans cartoon, Wally got his red-hair turned black AND got this strange variation on his comic book costume. This is… lame. Just lame. It looks as if he’s wearing a long-sleeved onesie and there’s no design sense here beyond the single, lonely lightning bolt on his chest.
The live-action series Smallville has been adapting Superman’s younger years, before he became Earth’s greatest hero. One episode advertised that it would bring us a younger version of the Flash. What we got was a version of Bart Allen who was a super-speed thief and operated by the aliases of “Jay Garrick,” “Barry Allen” and “Wally West.” After meeting Clark Kent and later Green Arrow, Bart began to turn his life around and started working as an agent of Green Arrow’s makeshift Justice League.
And this was his costume. To be fair, Smallville was still strictly operating by its no costume rule (something that only Green Arrow seemed to dodge), but that doesn’t change the fact that this is TOO off-the-rack. It’s just a funky hoodie. It’s a little too fancy to be something the kid just threw on, but it’s not interesting enough to be even a plain clothes style of costume. I’m actually surprised they didn’t just stick a lightning bolt on a mock turtle neck and put him in blue jeans. Worked for Jay Garrick.
When Kid Flash appeared in the Teen Titans animated series, he was pretty true to what folks knew in the comics. But a later cartoon decided to tweak things again.
In the new Young Justice series, Wally has goggles that fit over the mask and a simpler lightning bolt, much like the adult animated version of him wore in the Justice League cartoon. I’ve no problem with the goggles or lightning bolt, but the cute of the trousers and the look of the shirt aren’t working for me. I would’ve liked a lightning belt design. And with the padding and seams on Wally, this almost looks like body armor a motorcyclist would wear. I tend to not like my speedsters wearing anything that gives a sense of weight.
In one short story, a version of Wally in a possible future displayed him as becoming an energy being, having given up his humanity to embrace a stronger connection to the Speed Force. And interestingly, his new form looked a lot like his Kid Flash costume but with the colors reversed. Still a nice design and now the red acts as a contrast to his lightning aura.
BART ALLEN – A KID OUT OF TIME
Before he died, Barry had spent a month in a version of the 30th century, living happily with his wife Iris Allen. By the time he left to fight in the Crisis on Infinite Earths and sacrifice his life to save all reality, Iris was already pregnant with twins. These kids Donald and Dawn became the Tornado Twins of the 30th century. Then Don Allen had a son named Bart, whom we finally met in Flash vol. 2 #92 (1994) when he arrived from the future to get Wally’s help in stabilizing his powers. This was the outfit he wore when we first met him.
Right after Wally helped the kid, Bart encountered other superheroes and believed at first that there was a law stating that anyone with powers had to wear a disguise. With the mask added, our Impulse costume is now complete. Bart did not consider himself Kid Flash nor did he want to train under Wally by any means. This suit wisely lets us know that. It’s not a Kid Flash costume and it doesn’t look like Flash, Jr. There’s a lightning motif, yes, but the colors are different and there’s no familiar chest symbol.
The Flashes have always worn costumes that are simple but recognizable. Barry’s really just wearing a red bodysuit with a couple of decorative hems and a symbol. Jay wore a fancy t-shirt, helmet and blue jeans. Bart follows this model. The most decorative part of it is really the mask and what worked for Kid Flash (exposed hair) works for Bart. Bart has the strange quality of possessing yellow eyes, so the goggles are a good way of disguising such a distinguishing feature. It does seem strange to have a red borderline around a red lightning bolt on the shirt, but it’s not a big enough deal to make or break this outfit.
During the crossover Sins of Youth, Bart was turned into an adult. The only real change to his costume was that the mask was now a full cowl, covering his head. This tells us that Bart is grown up, but it seems weird that nothing else about the costume has changed. Now the costume just seems “off” somehow.
Soon after joining the newly formed Teen Titans in 2003, Bart decided to get a bit more serious and adopted this new costume. This greatly resembles the Sins of Youth look that Wally briefly sported. But now we’ve added a red border to the chest symbol and the trousers are now cut to emulate a lightning design as well, similar to Wally’s later Flash costumes. The gloves are also now cut to have a lightning shape to them.
The one thing I don’t like about this is the shape of the boot. They look a bit too garish and too cumbersome for a speedster. And the fact that they look so thick and heavy seems anti-thetical to a character who’s swift on his feet. I don’t mind the Flashes wearing footwear with serious treads for all their running, but these look like ski boots.
During the mini-series The Flash: Rebirth, Bart wore boots that were a classic, streamlined style. This now is a great suit. But the changes didn’t stop there.
In the crossover Blackest Night, Bart was corrupted by a Black Lantern ring and went a little evil. There’s not much to say about this outfit. It’s the standard Black Lantern design just tweaked a bit with a Kid Flash mask. But when Bart was freed from the control of the Black Lantern ring, his Kid Flash costume had strangely altered yet again.
Bart’s new take on things was replaced by the classic Kid Flash costume, though the boots were now larger and had an angular cut to them. This suit still works and is fine on a retro level, though my preference is still the one he wore right before this. I liked the white circle behind the chest symbol and the lightning-shaped belt. But hey, that’s just me.
Strangely, when Bart has appeared in other comics post-Blackest Night, he’s back in his Rebirth costume. Maybe he changed back. Maybe DC needs to let their artists know what’s happening in other books. Don’t know.
IRIS “IREY” WEST – THE NEXT GENERATION
Wally had two kids, Jai and Iris (called “Irey” to distinguish her from Wally’s aunt Iris Allen). When they used their powers to fight evil and have adventures, the two wore jumpsuits that weren’t very Flash-like beyond having a lightning bolt belt and had kind of a boring color scheme (orange and white, yellow and white).
The kids also had a hard time dealing with how their bodies were seemingly rejecting their abilities. At one point, Irey rapidly aged and wound up with this Flash-like outfit. The design isn’t bad, but yellow on top of a different shade of yellow is fairly boring to me.
Later on, the erratic powers were apparently fixed. Jai lost his connection to the Speed Force, whereas Irey’s abilities stabilized. During The Flash: Rebirth, little Irey West also got a new costume along with Bart. Since she enjoyed acting on her own and rushing into things, she decided to label herself as the new Impulse.
And holy crap, is she adorable or what? Just look at her! With those little lightning barrettes? So cute! And the new golden border going down the shirt’s lightning is a nice touch. A red lightning bolt bordered by red always seemed unnecessary to me.
AN IRIS OF ANOTHER WORLD
Although I have a Kingdom Come piece in the works, it’s going to focus only on the major players in that famous mini-series/reality. So why don’t we take this opportunity to look at one of its minor characters who wound up becoming fairly popular? Despite having no dialogue or major role in the Kingdom Come mini-series, this version of Iris West created by Mark Waid and Alex Ross became popular enough to appear in various other DC comics over the years, more so than the KC version of her father, so it’d be wrong to ignore her. And since her introduction was published while Bart Allen was still Impulse, she was, for a while, the second Kid Flash.
This girl has a really interesting look. On first glance, yeah it’s got elements of the basic Kid Flash look. The exposed hair, the classic colors. But if you look at it, this red-head version of Iris has also taken a few elements from Jay Garrick. The lightning bolts down the thighs, the chest symbol leading down to connect to the waist, the cute little boots.
The jacket is another thing to notice. It gives her a sort of off-the-rack appeal like Jay. But the fact that it has a decorative red hemline keeps it in the context of “costume” rather than something she just threw on over a costume. She’s not as sleek as her father was in his uniform, but she does look rather good.
Hey, that’s it! We’re done with Part 2. Come back Friday for Part 3 and we’ll talk about Reverse-Flashes, Rival Flashes, Black Flashes, oh my! Until next time, folks, this is Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
Alan Kistler writes the comic book history/fashion column Agent of S.T.Y.L.E. He is an actor and freelance writer living in New York who has been recognized by Warner Bros. Films and major media/news outlets as a comic book historian. He is also the creator/host of the web-show “Crazy Sexy Geeks: The Series.” He knows entirely too much about the history of comics, Star Trek, Doctor Who, time travel, and vampires that don’t sparkle.