Welcome to Opening Panel, a series where we tell you the best place to start with franchise comics. The Flash has returned to TV with his fourth season. If you still can’t get enough Flash, we’ve got you covered.
In 1992, a writer named Mark Waid took over the Flash comic and produced THE defining run of the character.
Wally West had been the Flash for years after the death of Barry Allen, but it was only here that he started to come into his own as the Flash. Much of Barry’s characterization in the series was taken from Waid’s Wally. Waid also wrote the marriage of Wally West and Linda Park, maturing Wally further and providing more humanity.
Volume two includes the story The Return of Barry Allen which, in addition to being one of the greatest Flash stories of all time, is the basis for much of the show’s version of Reverse-Flash. Waid wrote from 1992 to 1997 as the regular writer and then again from 1998 to 2000. It is currently being reprinted digitally and physically.
At the same time Waid was writing Flash, comic’s high shaman Grant Morrison (The Invisibles, Animal Man) was writing JLA. Waid and Morrison decided to trade titles, or so the story goes. Morrison brought his protégé Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, The Secret Service) with him. Millar would later split from Morrison and be the source of numerous Hollywood blockbusters.
The comics are weird and far out but never seem too far off from Waid’s run around it on either side. The stories are pure Morrison on the macro scale, but at the personal level, they read like a Millar book. Not quite developed, but you can see the roots planting. Morrison leaves the final three issues, leaving Millar to write those on his own. While kind of a forgotten run, it’s fun and has some really cool Flash moments. Available in digital and paperback.
Future DC head honcho Geoff Johns took over after Waid’s second run. Wally and Linda expect and then deal with the death of their children. (It turns out alright though.)
Johns spent much time on the Flash’s villains, building on the characterization Waid gave them. Johns wrote them as credible threats and interesting characters. The culmination of his tenure was a giant Rogues War. This series is available in paperback as well as digitally.
Johns returned to the title in 2011 with Flash: Rebirth, reconnecting Barry Allen to his legacy and the outside world. Johns wrote the ongoing series launching out of that. Barry Allen, now a man out of time, struggles to connect to his family. They’ve lived years without him, but time catches up to him as he’s confronted with The Reverse-Rogues, an alternate version of himself and the return of his greatest enemy.
The series culminates in Flashpoint, a massive reality changing event, loosely adapted in the show. The first story arc, drawn by Francis Manapul (Trinity, Superboy), is solid, but the series seems to lose traction as Flashpoint seems to come a bit earlier than initially planned.
Johns is DC’s Chief Creative Officer and an executive producer on the show, so it’s not surprising that elements from his runs are central points of the show. Chances are if you like the show, you’ll like these books.
The New 52: Buccellato/Manapul
The end of Flashpoint rebooted the DC Universe, launching a new Flash series with it. Barry is now the only Flash. He was never married to Iris West and begins dating coworker Patty Spivot. Other changes are clear, the Rogues now have powers, there’s a new Reverse-Flash, and Wally West never existed.
Manapul stayed on after Johns left. Writer Brian Buccellato (Injustice, Detective Comics) took over. They work stupendously together. Manapul fires on all cylinders. He’s much more creative with layouts and use of art to create sound effects.
There are a few volumes of New 52 Flash after Buccellato and Manapul leave, but they’re kind of retreads of older Waid stories. They do introduce a new TV-influenced Wally West and bring back the original Reverse-Flash, but they’re otherwise entirely skippable.
Not to be confused with Geoff John’s The Flash Rebirth, Rebirth was an initiative to bring back what made DC’s heroes iconic. It started with DC Universe Rebirth before launching DC’s all new series. The return of the original Wally West sets into motion events that seemingly undo parts of the Flashpoint reboot. Flash and Batman set out to solve the mystery of whatever damaged the timeline enough to erase him in the first place.
The Flash by Joshua Williamson (Birthright) is an excellent comic and Running Scared is an instant classic. However, the book is deeply entrenched in the larger Rebirth/Doomsday Clock story. The return of the original Wally and restoration of pre-Flashpoint timeline are ongoing plots. There’s a crossover with Batman, The Button, which focuses heavily on Flashpoint and elements from Watchmen.
I’d be remiss not to mention The Flash: Season Zero. A series released to tie-into the TV series, which makes it a great one to read for fans of the show – in theory. Overseen by Andrew Kreisberg, one of the show’s executive producers, it’s just fine. It’s not super meaty or heady, you don’t have to be involved. It doesn’t quite line up in the show’s continuity, but if you’d like something that looks and “sounds” like the show, this is a solid choice. It’s not bad, but it’s certainly not the best book on this list.