Despite the Fastest Man Alive tag at the top of each issue, the cover depictions of the Flash himself seldom gave that impression. More often than not, Barry "Flash" Allen was illustrated with rather half-hearted speed effects, just enough to technically qualify for "super speed" status, but nothing to really make you sit up and say "WOW! THAT'S fast!" Many other covers featured Barry either standing around fretting about something or (since we are talking about Barry Allen here) dead as a doornail.
However, there were a handful of Flash covers that really showed him pouring on the super-speed, with one of my favorites being The Flash #144 (1964):
The stakes? Couldn't be higher. The Flash? Giving it his all. The story's title? Er...well, let's just say there's room for improvement there and move on, shall we?
But, man alive, look at him go! Points to illustrator Carmine Infantino (and inker Murphy Anderson) for pulling out all the stops on this one...not only for drawing the dynamic multiple images of the Flash and the accompanying five billion speed lines, but for the dramatic slow-motion explosion of the "nuclear bomb" itself. You really do get a sense that Flash is holding back a mighty atomic explosion with his speed alone.
Amping up the drama is the downtown setting, unusual for a Flash cover of this era. One of Carmine Infantino's more endearing quirks was drawing many of Flash's adventures taking place on (what appeared to be) vast, empty plains fenced in by looming, suburbanless cities (click on the thumbnail images for a larger view). In fact, this is one of the primary reasons Flash #144 succeeds where an earlier attempt of the same basic concept failed three years earlier on the cover of Flash #122. The same desperate stakes, the same determined heroism from the Flash, another atomic-powered explosive device...but with that cityscape so far in the distance, the implied threat level just doesn't come across as effectively as it did with #144's cover. The downtown setting also gave the scene an almost claustrophobic vibe, as the buildings give the illusion of further constricting Flash's movement. Lowering the camera angle to street level also helped to keep the focus on the Flash without any of the unnecessary visual information of #122's version.
Barry Allen....Fastest Man Alive? On the cover of Flash #144, you bet he was.