The scarlet speedster has made it to live action television for the second time. And it looks as though he has legs in the new brave world of small screen super heroics.
FLASH. THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE. WHEN IT COMES TO NOT SO SECRET ORIGINS, IT WAS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA THAT ALLOWED THE FLASH TO CREEP UP ON ME. In particular, as part of Grant Morrison’s sublime roster of the retooled Justice League of America almost two decades ago. But earlier in the ‘90s I probably claimed, and probably still have, a record for the most Blockbuster rentals of the 1990 Flash TV series.
That wasn’t all of its first and only season of course – it was well before the ‘Time of the Box Set’. That single VHS may well have been a TV movie pulled from multiple episodes, probably a pilot, but I distinctly remember Mark Hamill’s Trickster appearing which would place it in the latter half of costumed campery.
“A particular highlight was the incredible Flash suit“
The Flash was in many ways a ridiculous show, costing $1.6million an episode, riding on the coat-tails of Batman’s big screen breakthrough the year before and like that film nicking Danny Elfman for the score. History has been unkind. For all the missteps in its superhero antics and struggles with the special effects of the time (really, not that bad), it was an important rung on the ladder that’s brought us the complex string of comic book movies on the small and big screens today. A particular highlight was the incredible Flash suit designed by Stan Winston Studios. Sculpted and deep scarlet, it certainly looked the part – in fact remains the best representation on screen, if a little impractical and perhaps in hindsight, a little The Tick.
But in those days pre-CGI, despite some solid attempts at blending animation and special effects The Flash fell into the rut of all too human villains to begin with and all too camp villains at the end (albeit cast with some big names). Although it made one whole season, tough competition secured this Scarlet Speedster’s cancellation after one series – only to live on – Flash, Trickster and all – on the shelves of VHS in my local Blockbuster.
That show had a strong pedigree behind it, including Howard Chaykin who had and would again illustrate the comic take on the big red streak. The transition from comic talent to adaptation is a trend that’s continued, all the way to his newest television incarnation.
“The fastest man alive needs something intangible to slow him down”
There’s a purity to the character of Flash. Even more so than his JLA team-mate Big Blue, it’s the red and yellow lightning bolts, the various powers that all come distilled from something fundamentally understandable: speed. Marvel’s Quicksilver and other super-speedsters possess the same quality, but it’s not so refined, not so in your face. Recent X Man film, Days of Future Past demonstrated the joyous mischievousness of the super powered super fast.
With the Flash, part it’s partly the location, the fictionalised Central City – not a brooding, dark hotbed like Gotham, more middle of the road than perfect Metropolis. Then there’s the age, the younger superhero recently always promoted from Kid Flash. Then there’s the wonderful simply of his power: speed. And that descriptive catch line that works in sport as much as popular culture: The Fastest Man Alive.
First appearing in Flash Comics #1 in January 1940, Jay Garrick was the first incarnation of the Crimson Comet published by All-American Publications. That publisher was one of three who combined to form DC Comics. And it was DC that brought the Flash careering into the Silver Age as one if not the first of its mightiest heroes. And in his second incarnation he lost his helmet, two-piece outfit and identity. Now he was Barry Allen. Allen would go on to become the definitive version of the character, thanks to his long run through and beyond the legendary silver age. It is he who careered onto screens in 1990 and is now centre stage in The CW’s The Flash.
The foes of the Flash may not be the best known, but they are some of the best balanced.
In the comics, Barry Allen’s 30 year or so career was eventful. The Police (or latterly Forensic) scientist stuck by lightning in his lab one night and inspired into donning the garb of the Flash by his comic book hero Jay Garrick. And there it gets all a bit Multiversity, as DC is want to. During Barry’s wearing of the mantle of speed he introduced us to countless foes including Captain Cold, Weather Wizard and Professor Zoom among many more. Many of those formed the Rogues, a rather different band of super villains, delineated by their own ethics (a rather familial opposition to the Flash who would be wonderfully sent up in the recent cartoon Batman: The Brave and the Bold). The foes of the Flash may not be some of the best known, but they are some of the best balanced. The physicality and near-reality of Gorilla Grodd, the non-meta Captain Cold, and the classic bizarro spin Reverse Flash…
Barry gloriously battled on… Until his untimely and famously cowl-escaping demise during the Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985. He’d take 23 years to return.
Perhaps even worse was that he had previously he disclosed his secret identity to his girlfriend Iris by talking in his sleep. There was always something gloriously comic about the Flash. But that wasn’t the one that dragged me into the comics.
“It was a great shot in the arm after the general entropy that had settled in”
The run that really defined the Flash’s irresistible simplicity came on the back of one of Comicdom’s all time heroes. He was Grant Morrison, that was the Justice League of America and the new speedster was Wally West. A former and the first Kid Flash and new Fastest Man Alive following Barry Allen’s demise. Morrison, as is his general genius in the comic form, distilled Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the pages of JLA. It was a simplified roster, telling new and old stories in gigantic fashion. With freshly re-conscripted premier recruits, the storylines had to be epic and world if not galaxy threatening. It was a great shot in the arm after the general entropy that had settled into the Justice League titles for some time.
These giant storylines set the premier roster of DC side on a level to spar with Jack Kirby’s New Gods. With Howard Porter’s epic art, his stories powered through time and space creating mythic storylines and some of the best interpretations of DC’s main roster there has ever been. He had able help from Mark Millar, Mark Waid and other legendary writers, leaving a legacy of 125 issues over the next nine years (give or take some extravagantly numbered extras). And buzzing in and out from the very start, one of the youngest and newest (just pipped by a fresh Green Lantern), was Wally West’s Flash.
And a few short years after the super team returned, Geoff Johns became a regular writer on The Flash’s solo comic book and things wouldn’t be quite the same again. For five years, between Flash 164 and 225 Johns redefined the character. The Speedster may not have been Barry Allen, but John’s tenure ranks as one of the high-points. It simply redefined the simplistic adventure of what this mainstream comic character could do. Storylines such as Rogues, Crossfire and Blitz recreated and revisited some of the Comet’s classic foes, all the pinning it in the domestic familiarity of Central City.
Previous writers, including Mark Waid had explored and expanded on this incarnation of the fastest man on Earth. But Johns brought the Rogues to the fore, made much of the Flash’s fictional city and married West off to Linda Park. Of the Rogues, alongside classic foes, Johns crafted great Grodd stories and developed Zoom, a new version of the hitherto Reverse Flash. Wrapped up in the family that Central City housed Zoom was an effective fall from friend to deranged foe. The balance was exactly right, fast-paced, action packed, family and domestically driven and showed the speed force family in bright primary colours.
“Something incredible is happening in Central City – and I’m going to write about it” – Iris West, The Flash, Going Rogue
No not the long-awaited return of Barry Allen to the comics but the speedster’s glorious return to the small screen. This Fall, in an arena packed with superheroes, it’s none other than Barry Allen who’s bouncing on the back of twin show Arrow’s success, a fair call given that he’s back in the red spandex of the comics in The New 52.
And unsurprisingly and reassuringly Geoff Johns, now Chief Creative Officer at DC, who has helped steer the show onto TV. There are facets taken from throughout the Flash’s history, nicely mangled into a factional universe with rules laid down by Arrow. Fortunately, the Flash brings the opportunity for an enlarged canvas of super powers and by episode four, having already met the Weather Wizard, an extraordinarily dispatched Simon Stagg and passed a damaged cage brilliantly marked Grodd, Captain Cold appears to start recruiting for the Rogues.
The Flash television show may place fast and loose with the hero’s origins as it sees fit, but plays to those same simplistic strengths.
All the time, while batman and Superman remain off limits there is huge potential for the world of DC to unfold in this brave new universe. Aside from the Rogues and link ups with Arrow, there’s the missing presumed dead Ronnie who has Firestorm written all over him…
“Like the gods of old” – Simon Stagg, The Flash, Fastest Man Alive
In fact, there may be no other DC show with such a strong canvas to work in. Star Labs makes not just the central hub for the Flash’s own Scooby gang, but a meta-human prison with a dark secret in the form of unknown quantity Dr Harrison Wells. Five or seven episodes in (depending where you’re watching), the show continues to deliver, thanks to a likeable cast, great mix of pathos and comedy and a good eye for some set-pieces. It’s even a relief that villains aren’t being wiped out right, left and centre.
But of course, away from the lab and his Rogues, the real crux for the fastest man alive has to be the webs that surround him. Complicated family ties, a family of speedsters, the complexity of the speed force – these are all important components of the comic incarnation. The fastest man alive needs something intangible to slow him down. From the mystery of the homicidal Reverse Flash Barry surely saw during his mother’s murder, through the welcome police procedural, to the unrequited love of the intriguingly named Iris West… It’s clear that this show’s no different.