As of this year, Barry Allen and Wally West have been running in and out of the Speed Force (and across time itself) as The Flash for 60 years. Despite these decades spent in DC's Universe, fans still have to ask: which of these two two monarchs of motion TRULY reigns supreme as 'The Fastest Man Alive'?
Even today, one can consume a recent TV episode or comic book that gives two completely different answers to the question. And while the DC Comics lore is fairly clear about the differing speeds of Barry Allen and Wally West, the screen hasn't been as straightforward on the matter for fans who favor a watch over a read. Each speedster is sure to have their favorite, or their own choice as 'the true Flash' for their generation. But when it comes to speed, it's time to set the record straight.
Wally West took Cartoon Network by storm in 2001, with his comedic performance by Michael Rosenbaum in the Justice League television series, in which he was dubbed the fastest man alive. The wise-cracking Flash continued to be the go-to version of the hero through the series’ continuation, Justice League Unlimited. Live-action programs stories on the other hand have favored Barry Allen as DC's ultimate speedster. Within the DCEU it's Ezra Miller in the part, with Grant Gustin’s version of the same character arriving on The CW.
With all this whiplash between the two as main characters in differing series, it's easy for fans of DC’s television series to assume that the two versions of the beloved character have equal powers, given that they share the same title. This, however, is false: within the comic book universe, Wally West is the fastest Flash to ever fill the role. This will sound peculiar to fans of the Young Justice universe in particular, in which the sidekick dynamic between Flash and Kid Flash has always acknowledged the difference. Wally West’s slowness, after all, led to one of the most tragic moments of the show’s second season.
In the climactic finale, a Magnetic Field Disruptor threatened to destroy Earth, with the only solution requiring all three speedsters--The Flash, Kid Flash, and Impulse--to run in the opposite direction of the soon-to-be vortex’s energy flow. Kid Flash (Wally West) entered the action last, and it was immediately noticed that the Flash and Impulse were far faster than Wally, whom they were consistently lapping. This difference in pace led to Wally West's death, as he absorbed all of the energy siphoning off of the vortex. He might have been the final boost of speed needed to save the world, but his comparative slowness killed him.
But in the reality outlined within the pages of the comic universe, this never would have happened. Wally West has been confirmed by DC Comics, and by Barry Allen personally, to be the true 'Fastest Man Alive.' Most recently The Flash comic writer Joshua Williamson confirmed that Wally West has always been the fastest Flash, largely due to his deep connection with the Speed Force (we’ll get to this factor soon enough). But that hasn't always been the case. When DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths miniseries (published from 1985–1986) showed Barry Allen sacrifice his life to save Earth, then-Kid Flash Wally West took up the mantle as a tribute. Though he nabbed Barry’s title, Wally didn’t nab equal speed.
In Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 it's confirmed that Wally can hardly run faster than the speed of sound, whereas Barry could reach the speed of light (for reference, the speed of light is 900,000 times faster than the speed of sound). Differences in Wally’s metabolism are further explained in Issue #12 of the series, providing another roadblock that ranks Wally behind Barry due to his constant need for food to keep pace. Finally, in 1993 Wally was pushed past Barry’s record speed in The Flash #79, out of fear.
When the Reverse-Flash boasted that he could reach Barry’s speed, while Wally hadn’t been able to since Barry’s death, he stated his intention to usurp Barry's role as the 'true' Flash instead of Wally. This traumatic experience pushed Wally to Barry’s speed, and eventually past it. In the process, Wally also gained a range of new abilities (stealing speed, and the ability to heal others) that Barry had never experienced. Wally’s top speed remains true even after the famous reboot of the DC Comics universe in 2011, with the New 52--and through to the 2019 Rebirth. Even if it also wrote him out of existence (briefly).
In fact, this post-2011 era of Wally West brings us even more clarification on one of the final, solidifying factors of Wally’s position above Barry in the battle of the speedsters: The mysterious and all-powerful Speed Force.
Unlike his fellow speedsters, Wally West does not experience passing, temporary connections to the Speed Force that almost all DC speedsters draw upon. Wally is directly connected to the Speed Force, giving him a constant source of speed that also grants him the aforementioned slew of new, special abilities. This makes sense, as the Rebirth launch confirmed that Wally lived inside of the Speed Force for a decade after the events of Barry's reality-rewriting-Flashpoint. Though Barry Allen created the Speed Force, he will never have the direct, mainline connection that Wally has. The connection that Wally deeply trusts, and with which he feels an incomparable spiritual connection that grants him joy. This is what consistently positions Wally over Barry in terms of raw, Speed-Force-granted velocity.
Since writer Mark Waid drilled down into the mythology of the Speed Force in the 1990s, there have been at least five separate comics that confirm Wally’s besting of Barry. This includes Waid’s The Flash: Chain Lightning, 2017’s first volume of Titans (“The Return of Wally West”), Titans #7, The Flash #49 (2016), and The Flash #50: Flash War. In Chain Lightning, Wally himself declares that he is faster than Barry. But on the plus side, the most recent issues confirm that Superman is painfully slower than both Flashes.
While Wally West is officially faster than Barry Allen, both iterations of the Flash offer unique storylines that draw fans to each, for different reasons. There is truly no Flash that can be officially crowned “the best,” but we can at least declare one the fastest. All hail Wally West, The Fastest Flash Alive.
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