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By Thomas Wheeler

The fastest man alive should give himself a new nickname -- most elusive action figure of 2009. This was not an easy figure to find.

Mattel is in the habit of splitting the case assortments on their DC Universe Classics figures. The first "split", as it were, seemed to include Big Barda, Captain Cold, Flash, and Kid Flash. The second "split" brought in Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and "Ocean Warrior" Aquaman, as well as carrying over Captain Cold. This doesn't include throwing in a few figures from previous assortments. Let's not make this more complicated than it already is.

Between the popularity of these figures, and the (in my opinion) somewhat scattershot distribution between Wal-Mart, Toys "R" Us, and especially Target, which hasn't even caught up to this assortment yet, it was getting frustrating. It didn't help matters when I did an online store search, and at least one online retailer was noting that it was sold out of even the pre-orders on the Flash. Okay, the guy's a pretty major player in the DC Universe, but wow!

The Flash, as a character, has had an interesting history. He was one of the first "guest-stars" on the Super Friends animated series, which focused on Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. During the earliest seasons, only three other established characters -- Flash, Green Arrow, and Plastic Man, turned up.

Somewhat curiously, Flash was never made by Mego, the primary action figure manufacturer of the 1970's. Apparently he was planned, along with Green Lantern and several others, but they never got around to him. He was also never part of the 1960's Captain Action line. When the Super Powers line came along in the 1980's, Flash was one of the first figures released. To the best of my knowledge, this may have been the first Flash action figure.

The Flash, and his Golden Age counterpart, were the first to breach the dimensional walls of their respective universes between Earth-1 and Earth-2, and established the basic parameters of the Multiverse, leading to eventual annual team-ups between the Justice League and the Justice Society.

And, in an ironic twist on that, it was the Flash who gave his life during the Crisis on Infinite Earths to stop the Anti-Monitor from using his weapon to destroy the remaining Earths.

Interestingly enough, the best-known Flash, Barry Allen, has, as of this writing, just made a comeback, as a result of events in the Final Crisis mini-series, and being played out in the Flash: Rebirth mini-series. Ever since the Crisis, the Flash has been Wally West, formerly Kid Flash. And of all the classic heroes -- Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, Oliver Queen as Green Arrow -- Barry's taken the longest time to make a comeback. But he's back, and the figure in the DC Universe Classics collection is specifically listed as Barry Allen.

Let's take a further look at this character:

The character first appeared in Showcase #4 (Oct. 1956), created by writers Robert Kanigher and John Broome and penciler Carmine Infantino. His death in 1985 removed the character from the regular DC lineup for 23 years. His return to regular comics occurred in 2008 within the pages of Grant Morrison's Final Crisis limited series.

Barry Allen is a police scientist (his job title was changed to a forensic scientist in The Flash: Iron Heights one-shot) with a reputation for being very slow, deliberate, and frequently late, which frustrates his fiancee, Iris West.

One night, as he is preparing to leave work, a lightning bolt shatters a case full of chemicals and spills them all over Allen. As a result, Allen finds that he can run extremely fast and has matching reflexes. He dons a set of red tights sporting a lightning bolt, dubs himself the Flash (after his childhood comic book hero, Jay Garrick), and becomes Central City's resident costumed crimefighter.

Central City University professor Ira West (Iris' adoptive father) designed Allen's uniform and the ring which stores it while Allen is in his civilian identity. The ring can eject the compressed clothing when Allen needs it and suck it back in with the aid of a special gas that shrinks the suit.

In addition, Allen invented the cosmic treadmill, a device that allowed for precise time-travel and was used in many stories.

Allen was so well liked that nearly all speedsters that come after him are constantly compared to him. Batman once said "Barry is the kind of man that I would've hoped to become if my parents hadn't been murdered".

As presented in Justice League of America #9, when the Earth is infiltrated by alien warriors sent to conquer the planet, some of the world's greatest heroes join forces -- Allen is one of them. While the superheroes individually defeat most of the invaders, they fall prey to a single alien and only by working together are they able to defeat the warrior. Afterwards the heroes decide to found the Justice League of America.

During the years, he is depicted as feeling attracted to Black Canary and Zatanna, but he never pursues a relationship because he feels his real love is Iris West. Allen also becomes good friends with Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), which would later be the subject of the limited series Flash and Green Lantern: The Brave and the Bold.

In Flash # 123 – "Flash of Two Worlds," – Allen is transported to Earth-Two where he meets Jay Garrick, the original Flash in DC Continuity; it is revealed that Jay Garrick's adventures were captured in comic book form on Earth-One. This storyline initiated DC's multiverse and was continued in issues of Flash and in team-ups between the Justice League of America of Earth-One and the Justice Society of America of Earth-Two.

In the classic story from Flash # 179 – "The Flash - Fact or Fiction?" – Allen is thrown into the universe eventually called Earth Prime, a representation of "our" universe, where he seeks the aid of the Flash comic book's editor Julius Schwartz to build a cosmic treadmill so that he can return home.

In time, he married his girlfriend Iris, who learned of his double identity because Allen talked in his sleep. She kept his secret, and eventually, he revealed his identity to her of his own free will. Iris was eventually revealed to have been sent as a child from the 30th century and adopted.

In the 1980s, Flash's life begins to collapse. Iris is murdered by Professor Zoom (a supervillain from the 25th century who had long loved her and been jealous of Allen), and when Allen prepares to marry another woman, Zoom tries the same trick again. Allen stops him, killing Zoom in the process by breaking his neck.

Placed on trial for murder in connection with Zoom's death, Allen is eventually acquitted, and learns that Iris's spirit has in fact been taken to the 30th century, where she is given a new body.

Following the trial, Allen retires and joins Iris in the 30th century. However, after only a few weeks of happiness, the Crisis on Infinite Earths intervenes, and Allen is captured by the Anti-Monitor and brought to 1986; according to the Anti-Monitor, the Flash was the only being capable of travelling to other universes at will, so the Anti-Monitor couldn't allow him to stay free. Allen escapes and foils the Anti-Monitor's plan to destroy the Earth, but dies in the process.

It has been said that Allen travels back through time and becomes the very same lightning bolt that gives him his powers, but later it is also strongly implied that the soul of Barry resides in the Speed Force, the mystical source and Valhalla open to all dead speedsters, and from which the living ones draw their amazing powers. After Allen's death, Wally West, his nephew and sidekick (known as Kid Flash), takes up the mantle of the Flash.

In April 2008, the special DC Universe #0 issue features an unnamed narrator who initially associates himself with "everything". As the story progresses, he begins to recall his past and association with Justice League members, particularly Hal Jordan and Superman. The lettering in which he speaks to the reader is yellow on backgrounds that are initially black. As the story moves forward, the background slowly begins turning red. In the final pages, the narration boxes feature a yellow lightning bolt. On the final page, the moon appears in front of a red sky, as a yellow lightning bolt strikes diagonally in front of it creating the logo of the Flash. The title of the story is revealed to be "Let There Be Lightning."

A New York Daily News story released on the same day proclaims that Barry Allen has returned to life, with issue co-writer Geoff Johns stating, "When the greatest evil comes back to the DC Universe, the greatest hero needed to return." He appears in proper DC continuity in Final Crisis #2. On the 2nd to last page, Jay Garrick and Wally West feel vibrations to which Jay remarks, "Wally, don't you recognize those vibrations? It can't be... Not after all these years... Not after all this time." On the final page, Barry Allen is seen in hot pursuit of the bullet which kills Orion, outrunning the Black Racer and yelling out to Jay and Wally to "Run!"

During Final Crisis #3, Jay Garrick speaks to Barry's wife, Iris, and tells her that her husband is truly alive. Meanwhile, Wally and Barry run a few weeks into the future. When they come to rest, Wally asks Barry if it is really him. Lamenting on Orion's death, which he was unable to stop, Barry wonders why he is now alive after being dead for so long.

Writer Geoff Johns and artist Ethan Van Sciver are creating a five-issue mini-series bringing Barry Allen back to a leading role in the DC Universe as the Flash. When asked what Flashes would appear in the series, Johns and Van Sciver said, "All of them."

As to his powers and abilities, Barry Allen is capable of running faster than the speed of light. In Flash #150, "straining every muscle," he ran at ten times the speed of light. However, when he pushed himself further (during the Crisis on Infinite Earths) he appeared to waste away as he was converted into pure energy, traveled back in time, and was revealed in Crisis #12 to be the very bolt of lightning that gave him his powers. This was later retconned in The Flash: Rebirth #1, where Barry stated that he "ran into the Speed Force."

Barry Allen possesses abilities that Jay Garrick and Wally West have not always been able to duplicate, most notably the ability to "vibrate" in such a way as to pass through solid matter (Wally could do this in his teen years, though after "Crisis on Infinite Earths" this ability was lost). Allen regularly engaged in time travel using the Cosmic Treadmill device, and was able to "vibrate" between dimensions as well. Barry is unique among Flashes and most characters in the DC Universe in that he has complete control over every molecule in his body.

Apparently Barry Allen even ran right into the Marvel Universe one time. He appeared in the Marvel comic book series "Quasar" has the Marvel Universe speedsters facing off in a competition set up by a cosmic being called the Runner. The contest is a race from the Earth to the Moon. During the race, a surge of energy hits the track, leaving a being with blonde hair and dressed in the remains of a red outfit with yellow boots. This being has no memory, but an enormous desire to run. He goes on to win the race, passing Marvel speedsters such as Quicksilver and Speed Demon in the process. When asked what his name is, the man replies, "I don't know... Buried Alien, or something like that." When asked how it felt to be the fastest man alive, he replied, "It feels... right!" The racer goes on to take the name Fast-Forward, disappearing into the universe in an attempt to help Makkari, who is stuck at hyper speed.

So, how's the figure? Extremely impressive. The Flash is one of those decently prominent characters that -- okay, he's not Batman or Superman, so he doesn't turn up everywhere. This probably explains why the figure has been so popular. That and the fact that Mattel did such a good job with him.

The Flash's costume has long been regarded as one of the major classics in the super-hero world. It's simple, but effective. Flash's costume is a red bodysuit with yellow boots. Flash wears a mask that covers everything except his eyes, and around his nose and mouth. There are two yellow Mercury-like wings near the ears of the mask, wings which are also duplicated on the sides of the boots.

Flash's insignia is a yellow lightning bolt over a white circle. It's the perfect size on this figure. The DC Infinite Heroes version made this just a little to big in my opinion.

The only other markings on the costume are yellow lightning bolts at the top of the gloves, and around the waist. I've always been of the opinion that this was more decoration than a practical belt. And the design in this instance is clearly reflective of the Barry Allen version of the Flash. The Wally West version was very slightly different, especially with the "belt".

The painted detail around the face is very well done. A good flesh tone around the eyes, and for the lower face, and very intricately painted eyes including whites, blue irises, black pupils, a white light reflection dot, and black outlines.

It's on the face where one should pay the closest attention to the paint job. I saw a few Flashes, indeed it was one of the reasons I passed up the first one I saw, where the flesh tone paint was applied a little too thickly, giving poor Barry something of an unpleasant-looking skin condition. However, of the Flashes that I have seen since then, the problems have been minimal to none.

Of course the figure is superbly articulated. Mattel, and their contracted sculptors, the Four Horsemen, have created a superb body design that is used for a majority of their male super-heroes, with occasional additional compatible parts designed for individual use, which in this case includes the head, obviously, as well as the boots.

The boots are worth noting since they seem a little thicker than average, but also because Mattel even paid attention to the bottoms of the feet. Flash's boots have always been treaded -- no doubt an advantage when you're running at several times the speed of light. Mattel's been very good about this sort of detailing. Kid Flash's boots are similarly treaded. Of course, if you want to see some seriously weird bottoms-of-the-feet, check out Mister Miracle. Gotta love those Kirby design elements.

Flash is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. It is to the distinct credit of the sculptors that the body looks as good as it does with all of this articulation. The upper arm swivels and the mid-torso articulation are especially effectively done.

And it's to Mattel's credit and growing watchfulness over quality control that the figure is assembled properly, and doesn't have any parts that are too loose or stuck tight. This was a problem with the early assortments of this line, and dating back even to the previous line, DC Super-Heroes. With the growing popularity of this line since its transition away from the Batman-Superman-centric "Super-Heroes" line into the more expansive "Universe Classics" line, I'm pleased to see a growing attention to quality, and a growing reduction of assembly and articulation problems.

Flash's articulation is fairly evident even in the package. He is posed, not surprisingly, in a running position. But someone in the package design department decided to have a little fun with the Flash. The plastic "bubble" into which he is placed has "speed lines" sculpted into it, flowing behind the figure, as if to make him look even more like he's in motion, even in the package. Cute touch.

Although the Flash is part of the series featuring Atom-Smasher as the "Collect and Connect" figure, he doesn't actually come with a body part for this figure. This is probably just as well, given how scarce and difficult the Flash is to find. Hard enough rounding up the Scarlet Speedster. If you're trying to collect the parts needed for Atom-Smasher, who needs the double hassle?

Fortunately, Atom-Smasher can be completed by purchasing the other six figures in the assortment, all of whom -- Kid Flash, Big Barda, Ocean Warrior Aquaman, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Flash's "Rogue's Gallery" enemy, Captain Cold -- definitely have my recommendation.

Flash comes instead with a little display base. One might assume this is so he can be displayed in a running position, with one leg up, and not topple over.

So what's my final word here? Hey, the Flash is one of DC's best-known characters, well-liked, well-respected, and definitely a classic. This is an immensely cool and extremely impressive figure of him, quite probably the best ever. My only complaint about it has been its elusiveness, which perhaps isn't all that surprising given how well-known the character is.

Mattel is re-releasing some of the "better-knowns" in subsequent assortments with slightly revised packaging, listed as the "World's Greatest Super-Heroes" -- which is in its own way a nice little nod to Mego -- and lacking the "body part" to whichever Collect-and-Connect figure was part of the assortment the figure originally came with. Hardly a major issue. I have little doubt that The Flash will be part of some such future offering, so if you really can't find him as part of Series 7 -- much as Barry Allen returned to the DC Universe, I am confident that The Flash will be back.

And whether you get him sooner, or get him later, the DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of THE FLASH most definitely has my highest recommendation!