"So you see, I became the super-fast Flash on my Earth much as you became The Flash on yours!"
"I'm Wally West. Good thing. I'm the fastest man alive."The Flash
. The Scarlet Speedster. The Sultan of Speed. The Fastest Man Alive. The Speedster
Not to be confused with Adobe Flash
animation, or with The Saviour of the Universe
, this is the Super Speed
hero of The DCU
, whose legacy
stretches from The Golden Age of Comic Books
to today.The Jay Garrick Era
The Golden Age
Flash, Jay Garrick
, was, if not the first
, then the most well-known early single-power Super Hero
. Earlier heroes were either Superman-style
characters with many different abilities
, or Batman-style human vigilantes
. Jay did one thing, and he did it well: run fast.
Jay was otherwise a fairly standard Golden Age hero. His Super Hero Origin
involved a Freak Lab Accident
involving "hard water fumes".note
(Later issues retconned
this to "heavy water vapor", and later to being the result of activating a meta-gene
for which the vapor was a catalyst.) He fought a mix of racketeers, saboteurs, normal criminals with a gimmick, aliens, and super-powered villains. Jay wasn't always careful to keep a Secret Identity
, which sometimes caused problems in his relationship with his girlfriend
, Joan Williams. (In a pleasant variation from the norm, Joan was in on his secret from the beginning.)
Jay Garrick was a popular enough character to headline two series of his own, Flash Comics and All-Flash Quarterly. He also appeared in All-Star Comics as part of the Justice Society of America, and occasionally in other anthologies such as Comics Calvacade. However, as the Golden Age came to an end, Jay left with it, eventually edged out of his own book by a trio of Plucky Comic Relief
characters known as The Three Dimwits.The Barry Allen EraThe Silver Age of Comic Books
could be said to begin when its Flash, Barry Allen
, arrived on the scene. In the fourth issue of Showcase
, a try-out series for new concepts, DC Comics
brought back the idea of the Flash, but gave him a new costume, origin, and secret identity, creating the first Super Hero Legacy Character
. Sales took off, and not long thereafter, he gained his own series, picking up the numbering where the original Flash had left off.
Barry was a police scientist, one of the precursors to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
-style forensics. On a dark and stormy night
, he was working late in the lab. Just as he was standing against a rack of multicolored chemicals
, a lightning bolt
flew through the window, striking the chemicals and causing them to spill all over Barry, leaving him soaked but unharmed. As he left the lab, he found himself running at super-speed to catch up with a cab, and the Flash was born.The Flash created many of the features
of the Silver Age DCU
. In 1961, the story "Flash Of Two Worlds" was published. It featured Barry accidentally crossing the "vibration barrier" between dimensions
, and ending up in a world he dubbed "Earth-2", where Jay Garrick still lived, having retired from superheroing after marrying Joan. Thus, the first seeds of the Infinite Earths
were planted. He was also a founding member of the Justice League of America
Along the way, he developed an impressive Rogues Gallery
of enemies who commanded incredible technology that always works through a particular theme. For example, Captain Cold had advanced freezing weapons, Heat Wave's fired extreme heat
, Mirror Master's mirror based technology could do a myriad of things and Weather Wizard could control weather itself. Yet, for all this powerful tech, it's a running joke
that the vast majority of the gallery were really
unambitious with it, considering they were content to merely commit simple robberies with them
. Gorilla Grodd
with his bigger fish, er... bananas, to fry, was an exception, as were Professor Zoom
, Cobalt Blue
, and Abra Kadabra
A few years into his tenure, Barry picked up Kid Sidekick Wally West
. Wally, the nephew of Barry's fiancée and eventual wife Iris, was visiting Barry at the lab when, suddenly, the Freak Lab Accident repeated itself
, showering Wally in electrified chemicals and giving him the same powers. Barry dubbed him "Kid Flash" and let him in on the secret, taking him along on his adventures.
Barry's career lasted into The Bronze Age of Comic Books
, and took on the flavor of the era. Professor Zoom, Barry's Evil Counterpart
, killed Iris
. Barry grieved, but fell in love again, with Fiona Webb; however, on their wedding day, Zoom attacked again, and after a pitched battle, Barry snapped his neck just before he was about to kill Fiona. This led into the "Trial of Barry Allen" arc
; at the end, Barry was acquitted, it was revealed that Iris had been born in the future and saved by Applied Phlebotinum
, and they moved there together, giving the series a Happily Ever After
ending. (Well, unless you're Fiona.)
Unfortunately, happy endings don't last long in comics
, and soon, Barry returned, warning the heroes of the Crisis on Infinite Earths
. He was kidnapped by the Anti-Monitor, the Crisis Big Bad
, but sacrificed himself
in order to save the universe from the Anti-Monitor's anti-matter cannon, running so fast that he disappeared from reality itself.
Now, not long before, Wally West had developed a disease that would kill him if he used his powers. During Crisis
, he was cured by an energy blast, and after angsting about it for a while, decided to carry on Barry's legacy by becoming the new Flash
, which led into the rebooted Flash
series.The Wally West Era
The early issues showed Wally as someone who was young, irresponsible, and not quite ready for the role of an A-list Super Hero
. He was egotistical and womanizing, though it was obvious that he used this to cover up emotional problems. This was the version that the DCAU
Flash was based on.
As the series went on, Wally matured. His speed, which had been limited to about the speed of sound after Crisis
, started increasing. He became good friends with the woman who would later be his steady love interest, reporter Linda Park. Subverting There Are No Therapists
, he actually got therapy. His Secret Identity
Then Mark Waid
came on the series, and things really
Wally was increasingly linked to the Flash legacy, and it to him. He started fighting Barry's old villains. Jay popped up more often. Iris returned from the future, with a new speedster in tow; Bart Allen
, a.k.a. Impulse, Barry's grandson, who had inherited his speed, but had no sense of personal danger or responsibility after being raised in virtual reality
. (He originally could not slow down
and could only interact with a world that worked at computer speeds; he was later taught to shift gears.) Barry seemed to return, but it was really a complex delusion of a time-travelling Professor Zoom.
Finally, the thing that would forever after define the Flash legacy showed up: the Speed Force. After a trip through time, Wally began to transform into energy. Max Mercury, a Golden Age
speedster, showed up, explaining that Wally had touched a quasi-mystical dimension, "beyond the speed of light", that was the source of all speedsters' powers
. Max became The Obi-Wan
to Wally and later, to Bart. Wally was eventually sucked in, but managed to come out the other side due to the power of his love
About this time, other speedsters became regular guest stars, often en masse, forming Wally's "Cyclone Rangers" or "The Academy of Speed", including Wally, Jay, Bart, Max Mercury, and Jesse Quick.
Bart spun off into his own, light-hearted
. Meanwhile, Wally and Linda got ready to tie the knot. As had become de rigeur
for a Flash wedding, something horrible happened
, with Linda kidnapped by Abra Kadabra and apparently erased from existence. Without The Power of Love
to anchor him, Wally apparently disappeared into the Speed Force.
He was replaced by a Darker and Edgier
Flash; a mysterious figure who was trusted by the few people who knew his identity (initially he never took his mask off on panel
). "Dark Flash" was eventually revealed
as an Alternate Universe
Wally from a world in which Linda had been killed. Eventually, the "real" Wally and Linda returned, Linda having been trapped in Dark Flash's universe and The Power of Love
having brought Wally there.
After Waid left the book, Geoff Johns
took it in a new direction; Linda's unborn twins were killed by Wally's Evil Counterpart
, the new Zoom, and Wally subsequently got the Spectre to wipe everyone's memory
of the Flash's secret identity, including his own. Gradually, first Wally then other heroes, then Linda learned the truth. Eventually Wally was able to Set Right What Once Went Wrong
and use Zoom's own Time Travel
powers to restore the twins. Bart, meanwhile, moved from Impulse to the new Kid Flash in the pages of Teen Titans
In the Crisis Crossover Infinite Crisis
, Wally attempted to trap Superboy-Prime in the Speed Force, and took Linda and the twins to a peaceful planet the Flashes had been visiting since Jay's time.The Bart Allen Era
In the wake of Infinite Crisis
, the Speed Force was apparently inaccessible. One Year Later
, Bart Allen managed to connect to it again, and became the Flash. He had a brief career before being killed by a team-up
of all the Flash's rogues, under the orders of his Evil Twin
, Inertia.The Wally West Era again
Wally West and Mark Waid both returned to the book. The twins had a Plot-Relevant Age-Up
, and Wally and Linda were teaching them how to use their (erratic and only vaguely speed-related) powers. Meanwhile, Jay remained a mentor
and was one of the leaders of the Justice Society of America
.Barry and Bart Return
Barry Allen returned from the Speed Force during Final Crisis
. The cause of his return and his place in the DCU are being explored in the miniseries The Flash: Rebirth
, written by Geoff Johns. Bart came back from the dead and got plot-relevant de
-aged in Legion of 3 Worlds
As of the end of Blackest Night
, the DC Universe was left with the unprecedented scenario of all four
Flashes alive and well. Whilst the fandom hoped the writers would take full advantage, the opportunity was never capitalised on, with the Flash series focusing on Barry & barely featuring Wally, Bart or Jay during the 12 issues of the series. And then Flashpoint
happened.Post-Flashpoint/The New 52Flashpoint
saw Barry waking up in a radically different world, and without his powers due to the Speed Force never being created. As the story went on, Barry managed to recreate the Speed Force & teamed up with this world's Batman to restore the damage to the timeline. In the final issue of the story, Zoom reveals that it was Barry, not him, who caused the alterations to the timeline by trying to stop the murder of Barry's mother at his hand
However, thanks to three
timelines merging, not everything is the same
— Whilst Barry is still the Flash, he's no longer married to Iris & is now in a relationship with Patty Spivot; and whilst Kid Flash is still around & Bart is still in the suit, it's unclear if he's still related to Barry. However, Wally's time as Kid Flash & the Flash has been erased from history, with it eventually being revealed after 2 years that Wally was never even born
. As for Jay Garrick, the event also re-established Earth 2
, making Jay once again Barry's Alternate Universe
counterpart.In Other Media
In TV, Barry Allen got his own series in The Flash
. He also appeared in Superfriends
. Wally showed up as the Flash in Justice League
(after an un-named Flash made a guest appearance on Superman: The Animated Series
), and as Kid Flash in Teen Titans
and Young Justice
. Bart appeared in Smallville
, as the Flash in his first appearance and as Impulse in his later ones. Wally will be appearing in the upcoming Justice League of America
movie, with a Flash
movie positioned as a Spin-Off
. Jay Garrick appeared for the first time in animation in Batman: The Brave and the Bold
, and for the first time in live-action in a cameo in the ninth season of Smallville
. Wally is Flash in the DC Super Friends
short. Barry appears as Flash in Justice League: The New Frontier
and Justice League: Doom
, though in the latter, he is, confusingly, played by Wally's DCAU voice actor, and alongside the rest of that canon's actors.
All four Flashes have been on-screen together twice in Young Justice,
during Bart's introduction in the Season Two episode "Bloodlines", and in the series finale "Endgame", which are the only times all the Flashes have been seen together.
Barry Allen has been a playable character in DC fighting games like Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
and Injustice: Gods Among Us
For one of the best Flash sites on the Internet, see Flash: Those Who Ride The Lightning
.Other versionsTangent Comics
Flash was a young girl called Lia Nelson who was composed of light.
of the Flash exists in the Just Imagine
series. This version of the Flash is a college girl called Mary Maxwell who gains super speed after her father attempts to save her from a life-threatening disease that slowly drained her energy, by injecting her with hummingbird DNA.
DC even has two Funny Animal
versions of the Flash:
- The first was the Terrific Whatzit, a Golden Age comics character who's a turtle. TW had a power set similar to Johnny Quick's (super-speed, some flying ability) plus super-strength; he wore a costume similar to Jay Garrick's. Later stories showed he lived on the parallel world of Earth-C, and was the uncle of the Zoo Crew's speedster Fastback.
- The second was the Crash, a member of the JLA (Just'a Lotta Animals) of Earth-C-Minus. The Crash was his world's version of the Flash (the Silver Age version), and thus had the same costume and powers as the Flash. In a variation on Barry Allen's backstory as well as the story "The Flash of Two Worlds," it's revealed that the Crash as a child had read his world's "fictional" comics about (Earth-C's) Terrific Whatzit.
The Flash provides examples of the following tropes:Preston:
(complete with hearts over his head
- An Ice Suit: Captain Cold.
- Impossibly Compact Folding: The Flash's ring holds his entire outfit inside.
- In the Blood: Subversions below.
- Irony: Being the Fastest Man Alive somehow doesn't stop Barry Allen from repeatedly being late.
- It Began with a Twist of Fate: Jay Garrick, the original Flash gets his superpowers when he falls asleep in a lab, accidentally drops a bottle to the floor, and inhales the vapors thus released. Barry Allen, the next Flash, originally got his powers from a similar lab accident, though this was later retconned so that the origin of his powers is his time-traveling future self.
- Japanese Ranguage: The Trope Namer, believe it or not.
- Kid Sidekick: Kid Flash; Impulse was a subversion of this until Didio struck and he was turned into a pod person.
- Legacy Character: And legacy characters for legacy characters of legacy characters... One of Mark Waid's last big story arcs called Chain Lightning reveled that there is a long line of Flashes after the ones we know about pass on. And just as many villains named Cobalt Blue.
- Let's You and Him Fight: Averted with Barry and Jay's first meeting in The Flash of Two Worlds. Barry looks up Jay's address in the phone book, goes to meet him, introduces himself, tells his life story, and the two get along famously. They then team up to capture the bad guys with no clash of egos at all.
- The Lifestream: The Speed Force is often portrayed as this.
- Living Memory
- Barry Allen, via Time Travel!
- Eobard Thawne (Professor Zoom) as well, in the Story Arc The Return Of Barry Allen.
- Living Statue: Jay Garrick briefly becomes one thanks to a chemical formula invented by a fellow scientist and stolen by a criminal.
- The Masquerade Will Kill Your Dating Life: Subverted with Jay Garrick. His girlfriend Joan knows he's the Flash from early on, and even helps him out from time to time.
- Meet Your Early Installment Weirdness: "The Flash of Two Worlds", where Silver Age Flash Barry meets Golden Age Flash Jay in an interdimensional mishap. The major success of this Silver Age story lead right into the annual JLA/JSA crossovers throughout the pre-Crisis era.
- Mundane Utility: Well, if you had super-speed, you'd probably use it to get the shopping done too.
- Mutant: Jay Garrick is the only Flash capable of any Super Speed without tapping into the Speed Force since he's a metahuman as well. Modern stories have set his "natural" top speed at only the speed of sound, with faster speeds requiring energy from the speed force. However, in his original Golden Age series and as recently as a 1991 Justice Society mini-series, Jay could hit the speed of light on his own. On at least one occasion he went faster than light in order to time travel.
- Myth Arc: "The Flash is to time what Green Lantern is to space", says Geoff Johns.
- Never Hurt an Innocent: Much of the Flash's Rogues Gallery is like this... most of the time.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero
- Played with. Peek-a-Boo is an anti-villain, forced out of her job, and abandoning her education and her future to take care of her father. Her powers involve her unintentionally teleporting and accidentally destroying things. Her last ditch effort to save her father is to steal an organ he needs for a transplant, but the Flash (Wally) stops her and she is arrested. After that she is labeled a rogue and ostracized forever, originally hoping to be a hero, but after all that ends up being a villain instead. In the end Wally was the one who pushed her down this path, but as Wolfe points out she broke the law, and the organ recipient would have died if it hadn't been for him.
- The Flashpoint timeline, and subsequent New 52 reboot, can largely be attributed to Barry trying to save his mother from dying when he was a kid.
- Noble Demon: The Rogues. They not only have a code of conduct, but don't allow people to take up another Rogue's identity if the current holder is still alive and don't grant membership just because you've taken up the mantle of a deceased Rogue. In fact, they've been shown to outright stop in the middle of a crime wave because of an unrelated death with ties to the superhero community, have walked away from at least one Villain Team-Up because they weren't interested in taking over the world, and will defend Central City alongside the Flash if need be.
Captain Cold: [Owen. The Rogues don't kill women & children.
- Not-So-Harmless Villain: Eobard Thawne a.k.a. Professor Zoom has both his superpowers and his Ax-Craziness ramped up considerably in The Flash: Rebirth.
- Older and Wiser: Max Mercury and Jay take this role in regards to the other speedsters.
- One Steve Limit: A notable exception.
- Since 1976, when Jay Garrick began being featured on a regular basis again, there's usually been two Flashes active at any one time, both of them using the Flash name. During the period following Final Crisis up to Flashpoint, this increased to three active Flashes, with two of them in similar costumes. Following the New 52 reboot, it became a lot easier to identify them — Whilst DC gradually reintroduced a second & third Flash, they weren't in the the primary DC Universe & can easily identified as the "Flash of Earth 2/Justice League 3000".
- This, fittingly, extends to their Evil Counterparts too, but it's not as complicated — whilst there are three Reverse-Flashes, the first & second have the alternate names Professor Zoom & Zoom respectively.
- Intentionally avoided by the Rogues. Though roughly half of them qualify as a Legacy Character, they make it a rule to never have two members with the same title. They still have Captains Cold & Boomerang, however.
- Personality Powers
- Subverted with Jay and Barry, who are generally slow and methodical.
- Played mostly straight with Wally, and taken right to the extreme with Impulse!Bart, who'd just run blindly into everything.
- Barry, since coming back to life, has been significantly more like Bart and Wally, which is noted by Hal Jordan during Blackest Night.
- Plot Tumor: The Speed Force has so many applications and created so many allies and threats to the Flash that it has quickly become central to the Flash mythos.
- Power Degeneration: Wally's powers were killing him for awhile, bringing his powers down to more reasonable levels. You know, not exceeding the mass of the universe while running, stuff like that.
- Racing The Train: In one issue, Wally realizes that while he was fighting a supercriminal, his girlfriend was taking a train and leaving town. He then proceeds to run down the train, climb on board, and asks her to stay.
- Rainbow Motif: Rainbow Raider
- Rapid Fire Fisticuffs: A fun and useful application of Super Speed powers. The best example probably being in Justice League Unlimited where Wally slams all the Brainiac out of Lex Luthor.
- Required Secondary Powers: All the Flashes have an invisible aura around their bodies that protects them from air friction, inertia, etc, as they move at high speed. And that's just the beginning. Look at what they can do with the Speed Force, and try to figure out how their powers work
- Rogues Gallery: The main Rogues Gallery actually call themselves that. In some continuities, they even have dental.
- Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: At "A hair's breadth short of the speed of light", Flash saves a population of 532,000 from a nuclear explosion by carrying them one or two at a time to a hill 35 miles away and does this all in 0.00001 microseconds. If you do the math, the result is much faster than the speed of light. Thirteen trillion times, to be precise.
- Serial Killer: Murmur, one of the unashamedly murderous rogues, hates the sound of speech and goes about cutting peoples' tongues out, including his own.
- Sidekick Graduations Stick: Wally was the most successful example. His run as the Flash lasted for over 20 years, he was a founding member of more than half-a-dozen teams, and a regular guest star in many other series. (Fun Flash Fact: Wally's series, Flash Vol. 2, ran to issue 247. Barry's run in Flash Vol. 1 was from 105 to 350, only 246 issues.) After Flashpoint and The New 52, however, Wally no longer exists. His graduation stuck so hard they had to reboot the universe to un-stick it.
- Snap to the Side: His rogues' gallery pretty much has to learn this to avoid whiplash.
- Split Personality: Rose and Thorn, one of Jay's adversaries. The mild and sweet and blonde Rose transforms into the super-powered criminal the Thorn. Rose is aware of the Thorn, but believes her to be her sister rather than an alternate personality, though Thorn is fully aware of who she is. Oddly enough, Alan Scott later marries Rose, unaware of her split personality, and she becomes the mother of Jade and Obsidian.
- Story Breaker Power: As his maximum speed climbs to the upper levels of insanity, he actually starts to run into a lot of the same problems as Superman. How does anything challenge someone who can think and react thousands of times faster than even the fastest person? Writers have repeatedly commented that an intelligently written speedster on the Flash's level should be completely unbeatable.
- Strong Family Resemblance: Bart gets a great deal of his mannerisms and appearance from his mother, right down to the crazy hairstyle!
- Super Family Team: The Garricks.
- Super Reflexes: They all have them, as an obvious requirement to traveling that fast. They also tend to lose them whenever the writers want a Flash to do something like, say, get stabbed by Deathstroke.
- Super Speed: Obviously. Flash-type speedsters are the fastest beings in the universe, full stop. Of course, running at superluminal speed doesn't come without risks; the faster you run, the higher the chance there is at being absorbed by/merging with the Speed Force, which is why they tend to keep to "normal" supersonic speeds (~Mach 10 or so).
- Swiss Army Superpower: The Speed Force grants Flash-type speedsters an amazing amount of powers...
- Photographic Memory: Only Bart has the true, "permanent" form; the others can only retain it temporarily.
- Healing Factor: Barry is nigh-unkillable at the peak of his powers, being able to remain conscious and deliberately reassemble himself molecule by molecule even if he's been disintegrated. In other words, he has "complete control over his molecules," as mentioned every third comic or so back in The Silver Age of Comic Books, and is thus capable of reversing pretty much any sort of attempte to induce Power Incontinence on him. Considering the things he can undo with this power, mere regeneration is simple. One has to assume that this ability is what's kept Jay Garrick hale and hearty for a man who's nearly a century old.
- Super Strength
- Infinite Mass Punch: explained by the Theory of Relativity. Though a literal infinite mass punch is only possible for them due to the Speed Force and their aura's allowing them to ignore inertia and any nitpicky "Laws of Physics" that would get in the way. His target, on the other hand, had super speed that didn't derive from the Speed Force, and thus felt every bit of the effects of a ballistic path from South Dakota to the Serengeti.
- In The Silver Age of Comic Books, Barry Allen occasionally karate-chopped his way through concrete and steel with a single blow. Being able to move his hand at near-light speed made it pretty easy; what was amazing was that the impact didn't shatter his own bones.
- Speed Lend/Steal (from The Other Wiki): Perhaps his most versatile new power; because the Speed Force governed all motion, Wally could rob objects of their kinetic energy, motion, or momentum — for example, bullets in flight or turning a supervillain into a statue — and use the energy to accelerate himself even faster. He could similarly lend speed to inanimate objects or allies, enabling them to temporarily travel nearly as fast as himself. Bart Allen's future self is shown to also have this ability in the Teen Titans "Titans Tomorrow" story arc.
- Speed control: if you think you can move that fast, you can.
- Hammer Space Constructs
- Flight (Johnny and Jesse Quick only)
- DCAU!Flash tried that in the Justice League Unlimited episode "I Am Legion". Good enough to not die from a high altitude fall, but maneuverability is less than stellar. Wally also used a similar method once in the regular comics to save a flight attendant who had — again — fallen from a plane.
- An ability Bart would do anything to get. One would wonder why when his current abilities are much more useful; probably representative of his free-spirited personality.
- Speed scouts: Impulse gained the ability to create Speed Force clones of himself in the Dark Tomorrow story arc (#73-75); they have his personality, and he also absorbs their memories once they're done. One of them was killed during the Our Worlds at War crossover, and the psychic backlash sent him into a coma; he was eventually forced to use them again during World Without Young Justice. This ability is apparently now forgotten since we don't see it after that, or Bart is still reluctant to use them.
- Negate Anti-Life Equation... somehow. That was probably more Power of Love than anything to do with the speed force. Considering what we learn later on (assuming it one of the things they selectively kept) about Piper's powers, it could partially be acquired immunity.
- Self-molecular control
- Generally used for intangibility and phasing.
- The most dangerous use? Literal disintegration. As in, atoms scattered all over with no hope of reassembling them. Both Bart and Wally have threatened to use this, but haven't actually done so.
- Oh yeah, and using itself as a inter-dimensional prison.
- Taking Over the Town: This was Blacksmith's plan for taking over Central and Keystone Cities. She had Murmur and Mirror Master attack radio stations and reprogram their antennas to broadcast a mirror shield around the twin cities to prevent anyone from coming in or getting out.
- Talking in Your Sleep: Iris finds out about Barry's dual identity this way◊ on their wedding night, but keeps it to herself until Barry finally decides to 'fess up on their first anniversary.
- Tangled Family Tree: Because of the whole time-travel schtick and Bart's ancestry.
- Tornado Move: The Flash does this all the time. He usually uses it to shield others from harm, but he once froze a battalion of demons just with the icy winds.
- Tron Lines: Post-Flashpoint, Barry's costume now has these. They light up when he's running◊, but when he's standing still or walking, they're black seams, barely visible.
- Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: The Flash vs. Superman races, which, most of the time, would end in a tie. Wally West, the then-current Flash, beat Superman by a slim margin in the first Post Crisis race between the two, on the basis that Supes is unused to running much as compared to the easier flying option, while that's what Flash does all the time. As the writer pointed out, it would be kind of lame if Flash weren't the best at his only power.
As of the Flash Rebirth mini-series, all of the races between the two are only close because the Flash let them be close. When Barry Allen really wants to outrun Superman, The Man of Steel might as well be standing still compared to The Fastest Man Alive.
Barry: You can't stop me.
Superman: I've raced you before, Barry. I even won some of those races.
Barry: Those were for charity, Clark.
(Barry runs off, leaving Superman standing in his wake)
- It was necessary to do this due to all the retcons that had happened since the last time Barry and Superman raced. Pre Crisis Superman really was nearly as fast as Barry and his superior stamina and strength gave him an edge (Barry was able to compensate by vibrating through obstacles Superman had to run around.) However, Post Crisis, Superman has been considerably slower and with Barry's return they had to explain why the races were close.