Happy Birthday…


Not many people know this but today, 4th June, is an anniversary.

DC Comics have been going around lately celebrating certain character’s 80th Anniversaries but I bet they haven’t even thought of this one. Then again, it’s not exactly a memorable number of years, since it’s only the 59th.

People, I refer you to the legendary, seminal, invaluable The Flash 123, the classic story “Flash of Two Worlds”.

Many of you will already be ahead of me, but for the others: Barry Allen, aka The Flash, puts on a show of superspeed stunts to entertain the children of the Central City Orphanage. He ends the show with his version of the Indian Rope-trick which causes him to vanish and reappear outside of town. and town is different when he gets back.

That’s because Barry Allen has become the first person to penetrate the vibrational barrier and find himself in another, parallel world. One in which he is in Keystone City, one in which the Flash is the retired hero Jay Garrick, whose adventures filled Flash Comics and All-Flash throughout the 1940s.

He has landed upon what will become known as Earth-2. The Multiverse is born, and the number of stories that derive from this one moment is incalculable.

What leads me to say that today is the Multiverse’s 59th birthday? Go to your copy of “Flash of Two Worlds” and turn to the panel where Barry-Flash, fearing he’s dropped through a timewarp, stops off at a newstand to check the date of the paper. Its the Keystone City Herald, not the Central City Picture-News, the moment at which Barry realises he’s in a parallel world.

And look at the date of the newspaper: 4th June 1961.

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…

The Fall Season: The Flash


This is the one I’ve been most looking forward to seeing return. The Flash‘s first season was the unexpected hit among the superhero shows, mainly for its air of fun, and underlying lightness of touch among all the grim’n’gritty series focusing on the oh-so-serious and dark elements of costumes and powers.

In fact, I understand that, whereas the week 8 crossover between The Flash and its parent vehicle, Arrow, was intended as support for the newbie, by the time it hit the screens it was Arrow that needed the crossover appeal: outside of the crossover, Arrow‘s best rated episode didn’t get neat The Flash‘s worst.

So, good things to look forward to, and even better things on the card if season 2’s underlying arc is to involve Earth-2: the appearance of Jay Garrick’s winged helmet in the season finale was not just an easter egg for us D veterans.

But what of the cliffhanger that we were left with at the end of season 1? After a whirlwind flashback covering the whole season, we jumped straight to a perfect world: Flash and Firestorm take down Captain Cold and Heat Wave, everybody’s happy in STAR labs until we see Eddie Thawne and Harrison Wells… No, the reality is a deserted, dilapidated STAR labs and Barry alone.

It seems that for the past six months, the Flash has been pushing everybody away and trying to go it alone. Eddie and Wells are still dead. Caitlin’s quit and gone to work for Mercury Labs. Cisco is Joe’s science expert on the Anti-Metahuman squad. And Barry’s being very stubborn.

It’s quite understandable: he didn’t get to undo his Mom’s death, his Dad is still unjustly in prison for it – but it’s not until the carefully delayed flashback to the save from the Singularity that we see the real reason. Central City is holding Flash Day to celebrate the man who saved the City, but Barry knows that he only did so much, and that the true hero was Firestorm. Except that when Firestorm split, only Victor Gerber emerged, not Ronnie Raymond. Ronnie’s dead, and Barry won’t let any of his other friends face that risk.

Of course the episode is dedicated to reversing that decision and restoring the basic set-up for the next 22 episodes. This is accomplished around the menace of Atom-Smasher, aka Al Rothstein, a chunky, radiation-sucking gentleman with the power to expand his size and weight. Team Flash comes up with the solution of overloading his radiation absorbing capacities, though this doesn’t merely neutralise Rothstein, it kills him.

His dying words are to say that he was trying to kill The Flash at the behest of Zoom, who had promised to send him home. Who Zoom is was not explained, though we ancient comic book fogies know full well that the other name for Flash-foe Professor Zoom is… the Reverse-Flash (though since Geoff Johns is all over this series, it’s bound to be his revised version of Zoom: if you hear the name of Hunter Zolomon being bandied about…)

Nor was any detail given of where Rothstein calls home beyond, ‘You wouldn’t believe me.’ Oh, but I would: try Earth-2…

But there was still a surprisingly emotional moment to come. Barry receives a kind of living Will from the late Harrison Wells that he’s resistant to watching until Caitlin volunteers to share the pain. The late Doctor woofles a bit before telling Barry to erase the tape up to here: he then launches into a full confession for the murder of Nora Alllen. Barry’s dad is set free.

It’s a joyous moment, as well as an end to an overbearing plot that Johns introduced into the comics, and which I’ve always felt was totally inimical to the world of the Flash. To have that lifted was a great blessing on all levels, though the show then made its great mistep: no sooner is Henry Allen free than he’s buggering off out of Central City to parts far away from the son who has missed growing up with a father and whose greatest wish has just been realised. And why? Because having Henry around will stifle Barry’s growth as the Flash.

That’s definitely a comic book moment: stupid, implausible, based on specious reasoning, a clueless expedient towards trying to recreate the status quo after game-changing incidents.

So, we and the vast majority of Team Flash are now back where they were, which is to be both expected and welcomed. There are still tweaks to be ironed out: as Tom Cavanagh is staying with the show, either Harrison Wells has left a whole parcel of living Wills or else something ingenious is up someone’s sleeve (hopefully).

Nevertheless, it’s all good. STAR Labs is fully intruder-proofed: no-one’s just walking in here unannounced anymore. Except for the guy who does. He’s hear with a warning: Team Flash’s Earth is in danger. The guy’s name is Jay Garrick.

And he’s the Flash of Earth-2…

Uncollected Thoughts: The Flash


DC may be trailing Marvel irrecoverably in establishing a Cinematic Universe, but they’re in better health when it comes to bringing theit characters to TV. Arrow, which has been steadily entertaining and far more reliable than the erratic Agents of Shield, has started its third season with the confidence to kill a very popular leadng character in its first episode, whilst also sparing time for a mini-crossover with DC’s second attempt to create a series centred upon The Flash. And, unlike its predecessor, twenty-five years ago, and like but unlike Arrow, this Flash works and works wonderfully well.

You see, the thing about the Flash in the comics, the Barry Allen version that ran from 1956 to 1985 and was revived in 2008, was that it was Fun! with a capital F. When your superpower is the utterly primal one of Speed, of being able to run *fast!*, how could it be otherwise? Blessed with one of the best origins ever – a lightning bolt on a stormy night shatters a rack of chemicals, spilling an unpredictable, incalculable mix of electrified chemicals over Barry Allen and granting his Superspeed – Barry was not driven by trauma, guilt, revenge or anything. He had this wow power, he’d worshipped the comic book Flash as a kid, he could do what he almost wanted to do and help people.

That’s what this new series gets right, immediately and gloriously. Barry’s speed is fun, and he loves running. That’s why it’s going to work.

Of course, there’s one more vitally important aspect to this. One of the major reasons the 1990 Flash didn’t work was the special effects. And the budget, but mainly the special effects. Speed is incredibly difficult to make convincing onscreen: wasn’t the only part of the SFX in Christopher Reeve’s first Superman that looked ludicrous the bit where young Clerk outraces a speeding locomotive?

The 1990 Flash was a victim of effects too ineffective that nevertheless swallowed up too much of the show’s budget, giving it no chance to compete on other levels. Though the two episodes starring Mark Hamill having a whale of a time going OTT as The Trickster (complete with costumed sidekick Prank, in the extremely nice shape of Corinne Bohrer in the second) showed what could be done, the series stood little chance of convincing.

Twenty four years later, CGI is much more effective, though the close-ups on Grant Gustin when he’s actually running do still mar the illusion. Still and all, on the first episode alone, this looks like it can cut it.

It’s a good pilot. Central City is less a character in this than Arrow‘s Starling City, but much more of the action takes place in daylight. There’s an essential lightness overall that contrasts very well with Arrow‘s tension, and whilst the latter started with Oliver Queen alone in on the secret of the Hood, The Flash goes to the opposite extreme with a whole team of scientists knowing Barry Allen’s secret identity, not to mention his surrogate father, Detective Joe West. That’s the direction the series looks to be taking: The Flash is an out in the open hero, welcomed by his city.

As for Flash mythology, there’s plenty of it to see. We have the Weather Wizard in the pilot, a torn apart cage with the nameplate Grodd, Iris West as Barry’s virtual sister, and Detective Eddie Thawne as the guy she loves. And we’ve the promise that the EMP that created Barry’s powers also did lots of supery things to lots of metahumans, offering the promise of fun to c0me!

My only reservation about the series is that as Geoff Johns – a very influential writer at DC, with whose work I do not entirely get along – involved, we have to have Barry’s reboot 2008 origin in which Barry is driven by the trauma of his mother being killed and his father convited and imprisoned for her murder: Barry is convinced hie Dad is innocent and determined to one day prove it.

On the one hand, it’s a nice way to involve John Wesley Shipp, the 1990 Flash, as Henry Allen, but on the other the story’s crap, and the flashback we were shown of it makes far too little effort to conceal the inevitability of it being the Reverse-Flash (aka Eobard – or maybe Eddie? – Thawne…) having travelled back in time. If we’re going to have to suffer with this, could we at least have this washed out in the first season, please?

What intrigues me more is the ending to the pilot. During the pisode, Barry spends nine months in a coma, as established in season 2 of Arrow. He wakes to find himself being studied in the remnants of Star Labs, where the particle accelerator malfunctioned, causing the lightning. The small team studying him is led by genius scientist Harrison Wells, who life has been ruined by the particle accelerator incident. He has lost his company, his friends, his reputation, and is confined to a wheelchair for life. Aiding the Flash is an obvious way to repay and rehabilitate.

Except that, in the closing seconds, he manouevres his electric wheelchair into a concealed room, stands up and walks towards a lone console.

I am seriously looking forward to finding more out about this.