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Written by 3:43 am Comic Guide

How did the Flash get his powers in DC Comics?



The Flash is one of the most iconic Superheroes in DC Comics, best known for his super-speed powers. But how exactly did the Flash obtain his lightning-fast abilities? The origin story differs slightly depending on which version of the Flash we’re talking about, but some key events paved the way for the Flash’s extraordinary powers.

What Was the Accident That Gave the Flash His Powers?

The Flash first appeared in 1940, when college student Jay Garrick accidentally inhaled heavy water vapors after falling asleep in his laboratory where he had been working late one night. These strange fumes gave him his speed abilities. Jay reported feeling dizzy and disoriented after the accident. He discovered his powers the next day when he was able to run at superhuman speeds to catch a football, surprising himself and his friends.

Over the years, the backstory has been tweaked and built upon to shape the Flash origin story as we know it today. The major turning point came when police scientist Barry Allen was working late one night and a lightning bolt struck a shelf of chemicals which spilled on him, giving him the power of super speed. This updated version brought the story into the atomic era and added electricity as a new catalyst for the transformation.
This freak lab accident has become the seminal event tied to gaining the Flash’s metahuman abilities. While different versions of the Flash have emerged over the decades in DC Comics, the majority have origins tracing back to some sort of electric/chemical reaction, whether that‘s lightning striking chemicals or an explosion at a particle accelerator releasing exotic energies.

Why Was Barry Allen Present at S.T.A.R. Labs During the Accident?

Flash Version Occupation Location of Accident
Jay Garrick College Student On campus lab
Barry Allen Police Scientist S.T.A.R. Labs
Wally West Teenager Barry Allen’s Lab

As a young police scientist, Barry had long been fascinated by the research being conducted at S.T.A.R. Labs in Central City. He had applied for a tour of the facility years prior but was denied due to security concerns.

When he heard that the lab was opening its doors to the public to view the particle accelerator unveiling, he jumped at the rare opportunity. Barry was visiting late one night to watch the cutting-edge particle accelerator being turned on. However, the particle accelerator malfunctioned, causing an explosion that released exotic energies.

This blast wave combined with the lightning storm raging outside to create the exact circumstances for Barry to have electricity-charged chemicals spilled directly onto him. Thus, Barry gained access to the Speed Force and became the fastest man alive.

How Has the Story Been Adapted Into Other Media?

While comics have formed the backbone of the Flash’s origins, the story has been adapted into various media over the decades. Live-action and animated TV shows and movies have brought unique twists to the classic story.

The core aspects of the accident generally remain the same – lab accident plus electricity/chemicals – but small tweaks to characters and settings update the Flash’s origins for new generations of fans across different types of media. 
  • For example, the 1990 TV series sticks close to Barry Allen becoming the Flash after a lab accident involving lightning. In the current hit CW TV show The Flash, the particle accelerator explosion creates other meta-humans besides Barry, leading to allies and enemies with a wide array of abilities.
Meanwhile, the animated Justice League movie shows police scientist Barry gaining his powers when he’s struck by lightning while working on a case outdoors, eschewing the lab accident altogether for a bold new take.

What Are the Differences Between the Origins of Jay Garrick and Barry Allen?

The first Flash, Jay Garrick, gained his abilities by inhaling heavy water vapors in his campus lab after working late one night. This established the concept of a freak accident bestowing powers. Jay reported feeling dizzy and disoriented after the accident.

He discovered his powers the next day when he was able to run at superhuman speeds to catch a football, surprising himself and his friends. Barry Allen, who debuted in the Silver Age of comics in 1956, followed this idea but brought the origin into the atomic era.
Barry was doused by electrically charged chemicals from a shelf hit by lightning in a police lab. This updated the science behind the origin and added electricity as a new catalyst. Whereas Jay Garrick was a college student, Barry Allen worked as a police scientist, tying the powers to forensic science themes.
The iconic imagery of a lab accident has defined the Flash’s origins since Barry’s first appearance. Both accidents were improbable, but Barry’s built upon Jay’s with additional symbolism and meaning for a new generation.

How Did Other Flashes Such as Wally West Gain Speed Powers?

Wally West is Barry Allen‘s nephew who becomes the third Flash. In his original origin story, Wally gained a connection to the Speed Force when Barry brought him to his lab and replicated the accident that had granted him his powers.

This passing of the torch established a mentor/sidekick dynamic and suggested the abilities could be recreated under the right circumstances. Later, Wally became the Flash after Barry died saving the universe in the iconic Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline. Other Flashes such as Bart Allen (Barry’s grandson) have origins tying back to Barry’s accident in some way.

For example, Bart gains his powers due to his grandfather‘s altered DNA being passed down genetically. Even when not directly struck by lightning or exposed to chemicals, the other Flashes inherit powers that trace back to that original event for Barry.


Part of what makes the Flash such an appealing hero is the sense that his powers could have happened to anybody. The idea that a random lab mishap could grant someone extraordinary abilities adds relatability and wonder to the Flash mythos.

The accident also connected his civilian identity as a scientist to the powers that stemmed from science gone awry. Over many decades, various retellings have put unique spins while preserving the iconic image of an electrified lab accident that transformed a man into the impossible – the fastest man alive! This sense of wonder and imagination is what has kept Flash fans entertained for over 75 years.