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TV's 'The Flash' plays a mellower sort of comics superhero.

It was a dark and stormy night. In the Central City police lab, scientist Barry Allen was taking five, reading an old comic book. It was all about a man who accidentally breathed in hard water fumes, which turned him into a scarlet-dressed speedster in a WWI doughboy helmet.

"What a character Flash was. Battling crime and injustice everywhere," Allen chuckled, just as a stray bolt of lightning crashed through a window. It knocked him into a nearby shelf, drenching Allen in a cocktail of electrified chemicals. Allen won the lottery. He was gifted with fantastic powers—he became not only The Fastest Man Alive, but the catalyst of the DC multiverse.

Grant Gustin, the latest actor to tackle the role, will be at Silicon Valley Con.

Either running to or from calamities, Gustin's Barry Allen has a different origin story: he's on a mission to find out who snuffed his mom and left his dad in prison to take the rap. What transpires on TV's The Flash is something nicely futuristic for a contemporary drama. For one thing, it's as un-self-consciously race-blind as Doctor Who. The show opposes the Marvel tendency for angst and social commentary, but it also takes a different angle from director Zack Snyder's emphasis on the emo.

One online meme put it well: Here's Iron Man wanting to punch Captain America in his perfect teeth; There's Batman wanting to knock some sense into Superman; And over here is The Flash and Supergirl, in a crossover appearance, with arms around each other's shoulders, taking a friendly snapshot.

Zack Stentz, a former Metro writer and editor, co-wrote the films Thor and X-Men: First Class. He's now the consulting producer on The Flash, where he's written several episodes.

"To be honest, I hadn't been a huge Flash fan before working on the show, aside from Barry's memorable death in Crisis on Infinite Earths," Stentz says. "But I've grown to love the character in all his incarnations since. It's his abilities, but particularly his uncomplicated decency, even in the face of personal tragedy. He's got Batman's backstory and Superman's disposition—what could be better?"

In 1956, when DC relaunched The Flash as Barry Allen and his lucky industrial accident, it was the beginning of the Silver Age for comic book publishers. This was a fiesta of primary colors, traffic-stopping covers and villainous sorcery that made The Flash's head swell like a yoga ball, making him too obese to run, or transforming him into a life-sized puppet. The word "postmodern" is thrown around a lot, and The Flash was an early player in that game. He was the first comic book hero to get the idea of becoming a comic book hero from reading a comic book.

In 1961, the editors at DC invented a solution to reconcile the 1940s tin-hatted Flash, Jay Garrick, with the Silver Age Flash and his amazing costume that squirts out of a pressurized ring. They live in parallel universes: Earth One, Earth Two, Earth Three and counting. Stories expanded upon the quantum physics of a man who can vibrate through walls or head into the future or the past, while still being harried by a weird pack of adversaries. Strangely, The Flash can almost outrun light, but he's still vulnerable to mirrors, entropic cold, boomerangs and the odd, super-intelligent gorilla.

Of the many lives of The Flash, some predecessors include The Wizard of Speed and Time, special effects man Mike Jittlov's 1979 indie film that showed how super-speed effects could be visualized on screen. On TV in the 1990s, John Wesley Shipp's Flash was opposed by Mark Hamill as the punk-rockish adversary The Trickster. Hamill was so good in the show that this role led straight to a quarter-century gig as the voice of The Joker in numerous animated works.

Just as there's an argument that voice actor Kevin Conroy was the best Batman ever, Michael Rosenbaum's voice acting on TV's animated Justice League is still one indelible way of looking at the The Flash. He was good-hearted if impulsive, not startlingly bright: he's aptly described as "The Kid" by The Bat. An all-time favorite Flash moment: Rosenbaum's hero trying, lamely, to chat up a pair of uninterested girls while carb-loading two dozen hamburgers.

The comic books foretell that the descendants of Barry Allen will be streaking through the future, for at least the next eon. As they say, it's been a hell of a run.