Back With A Flash
The Flash has long been one of my favorite superheroes. He’s got a cool costume and an amazingly versatile superpower that allows him to pass through walls, run across water, and even travel through time. His colorful gallery of foes is unusual in that they behave as a sort of tradesmen’s association of villainy. (They even share a tailor!)
I was a fan of the short-lived live-action TV series from 1990 starring John Wesley Shipp as the speedster and the delicious Amanda Pays as his scientific sidekick Tina McGee.
While it was clearly influenced by Tim Burton’s Batman–as well as Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy–CBS executives were skittish about going full comic-book. That’s why in early episodes the Flash found himself in decidedly one-sided conflicts against garden-variety gangsters. Eventually the network came around and the show began to introduce the Flash’s “rogues,” including a pretty decent Captain Cold and a rather dire Mirror Master played by…David Cassidy?
Then there was Mark Hamill’s career-reviving pair of appearances as the maniacal Trickster, which served as a dry run for his iconic turn as the voice of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series.
Flash-forward a quarter century, and there’s a new Scarlet Speedster in Central City. From the producers of Arrow, the CW’s take on fellow DC hero Green Arrow, this rebooted Flash TV show is an enormously satisfying slice of Silver Age comics heroics.
Obviously, the creative team were also fans of the John Wesley Shipp series. Not only have they taken the inevitable step of hiring Shipp to play the Flash’s dad, they’ve brought back Amanda Pays as Tina McGee and Mark Hamill as the Trickster.
And yet, there are two big differences between the shows. One is that the special effects are–not unexpectedly–far superior. The original did well with 1990 effects technology, though the switch to a green screen background made it easy to tell when the Flash was about to shift into superspeed. The current incarnation takes full advantage of modern FX tech, enabling the Flash to run up walls, create vortices of air, and vibrate through solid objects.
The other difference is that the producers have fully embraced the comic-bookness of the concept. Not only have there been the usual shoutouts to obscure DC comics characters (Ralph Dibney, Simon Stagg, etc.), but over the course of this first season they’ve introduced recognizable versions of most of the classic “rogues,” including Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Weather Wizard, Rainbow Raider, Golden Glider, Pied Piper…and freakin’ Gorilla Grodd. In 1990, we got David Cassidy and some mirrors; in 2015 there’s a giant, telepathic gorilla on network TV.
And of course, there’s also the season-long story arc featuring Tom Cavanaugh as futuristic nemesis Eobard Thawne, aka the Reverse-Flash. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to hear the name Eobard Thawne on a live-action TV show, much less spoken by the guy who used to play a bowling alley lawyer.
Tomorrow night is the season finale, in which the Flash races through time to save his mother and, quite possibly, to muck up his own reality.
Next year promises even more superhero fan service, with a Supergirl series starring the adorable Melissa Benoist, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, in which “time master” Rip Hunter recruits a team of heroes and villains to combat immortal archfoe Vandal Savage.