If you've ever gotten stuck behind someone going 50 mph in the fast lane or stymied by a slow walker in a narrow hallway, you might feel a sliver of the pain all of us here at the Eat Your Comics HQ have been subject to this past week. Has it only been a week? It's felt like far longer. The problem is the EYC intern. She's a slow talker. Worse, she's a rambling slow talker. On top of that, she's an extrovert, so she'll gladly spend three hours telling you a story with no point to it that anyone else in the world would be able to share in fifteen minutes. What I wouldn't give for her to take classes from the Micro Machine Man to learn how to speak more quickly, but she's probably give him an aneurysm.
We've previously talked about the various character's who've taken on the mantle of The Flash throughout the years, specifically which of them is the fastest, but we've never suggested the best way to get to know the character, or characters as the case may be. Let's just get right to it. The Flash isn't one to waste any time, so why should we?
Since you've already mentioned it, let's start with Rebirth. In the continual cycle of retcon and continuity-shattering events, DC has recently come out on the side of rebirth, so they went for the subtle route and title it, Rebirth. This wouldn't really be the best place to start because of a lot of the ongoing story deals with the re-inclusion of Wally West into the world after being absent for 10 years—trapped in the Speed Force in the comics, but really caused by the writer's being so excited to have Barry Allen back they left Wally on the shelf for a bit.
Oddly, this is not the first Rebirth for the Flash. The Flash: Rebirth is a six-issue run that details Barry Allen's return from wherever he went during the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Written by Geoff Johns and illustrated by Ethan Van Sciver, it delves into the deep history of the Flash even as it sets up a new continuity with Barry back in the red and yellow. Following directly out of this limited series is The Dastardly Death of the Rogues, with Barry solving the ongoing murders of his rogue's gallery.
Moving backward in time, we're still with Johns as the writer. The Flash #164–176 (vol. 2) has Wally West as the titular character breaking through space and time to reach a parallel Earth where there is no Speed Force and no heroes. Without any heroes to help him, he turns to the rogues that so often battled him to get him back home.
Previous to this is a short stint of Grant Morrison and Mark Millar at the speedster's helm. Issues #130–141 includes a now-classic tale of the Flash representing Earth in a cosmic footrace. It also includes a storyline about a lifeforce-eating super suit and a run-in with Mirror Master that threatens to Benjamin Button everyone Wally cares about.
This—backwardly—leads us to Mark Waid's incredible run. He was not the first to write Wally West as the Flash, but he was the author who gave him his footing and made him one of the most iconic DC characters. Without Waid, Barry Allen probably would have returned sometime after the last Nirvana album instead of effectively being dead for nearly twenty-four years. Wally West became a more flawed hero, though much more powerful through an expansion of the in-universe laws governing the Speed Force.
When you talk about characters that are broken because they are so powerful, the Flash is right up there with Superman because the writers can make him do anything and just say “Because, Speed Force,” and this is Mark Waid's doing. This is not entirely bad; it makes for great stories and a much more sci-fi/fantasy feel to the stories than when Barry Allen wore the costume.
Issues #62–65 retell Wally West's origins as a speedster. Terminal Velocity is classic Waid Flash; it expands the characters by deepening the relationship between Wally and his fellow speedsters, but not before threatening those very relationships. Probably the best story of this very long era is The Return of Barry Allen, in which not is all as it seems. Not only does this tale introduce Professor Zoom, it establishes Wally West as hero some consider to be the quintessential Flash.
The Flash: Archives, Volume 1 gathers the first stories with Barry Allen, which officially mark the start of the Silver Age, the rebirth of comics as superhero tales that brought about many of the Marvel hits but also ushered in new generations of heroes across the board. Heroes like the Flash and the Green Lantern, formally the characters Jay Garrick and Alan Scott but reborn as Barry Allen and Hal Jordan. This collection of story not only lays the groundwork for everything to come, it includes the art of Carmine Infantino and the words of John Broome, both legends. Even if you can't appreciate the slower pace of storytelling and more standardized page layout, you can appreciate the groundbreaking work of issues like “Flash of Two Worlds,” which introduced the idea of the multiverse. This is in The Flash: Archives, Volume 3.
This should give you plenty to read up on. If you ever get bored of reading, you can also catch up on The Flash TV show.
Bonus Trivia: Before the Silver Age of comics there was the Golden Age of comics, which was ushered in with the publication of Action Comics #1, which was the first Superman story. This term was term was coined by Richard A. Lupoff, a sci-fi and mystery author. He used it in an article titled “Re-Birth,” which just goes to show there are no new titles under the sun.