With all the DC movie updates we got last week, the news that writer/producer Greg Berlanti might direct The Flash movie kind of got swept up in the current. However, when that news did drop, we got an interesting reaction from many of our Screen Rant readers: a number of them didn’t feel like The Flash movie had anything to offer.
After reading so many comments claiming that The Flash is a lame character, I just had to write a response. In my opinion, the sentiment that The Flash movie will have little depth or complexity to it couldn’t be more wrong. So let’s discuss: what will The Flash be about?
WHICH FLASH ARE WE TALKING?
First of all, we need to establish which Flash we’re talking about. The Flash has had more incarnations and copy-cat versions (some with multiple incarnations of the their own) than just about any other character in comic book history. We previously discussed which Flash is best for the movie; check out that discussion and weigh in if you’d like.
On the current Flash Family tree there is:
- Jay Garrick (Golden Age Flash)
- Barry Allen (Silver Age Flash)
- Wally West (Kid Flash/Modern Age Flash)
- Bart Allen (Impulse/Kid Flash #2)
- Max Mercury (Quicksilver)
- Johnny Chambers (Johnny Quick)
- Jesse Chambers (Jesse Quick)
If you’re not familiar with The Flash comic book, time travel is a big part of the character’s mythology (his speed powers help him transcend both space and time), so there are actually even more variations of the character. The names I listed are what I would call the “primary speedsters” of the DC Universe; technically speaking, any one of the characters who have carried the Flash mantle (Garrick, Allen, West) are viable candidates for the forthcoming movie.
Just some of The Flash Family
Comic book writer Geoff Johns has been in charge of The Flash comic book since 2000, and was also responsible for writing up a treatment for the movie, which he turned in to DC/Warner Bros. sometime in the Spring/Summer of ’09. When I asked Johns about his Flash treatment at Comic Con last year, this was his response:
“We’re caught up in a world that’s obsessed with speed these days. Texting, faster downloading… We’re always looking for ways to speed things up, it can be hard to slow ourselves down.”
Other comments made during that panel led me to believe that Johns’ treatment for the film had Silver Age Flash (and fan-favorite) Barry Allen at its center – which would make sense, since it was Johns’ reverence for Barry Allen that led him to resurrect the character more than two decades after his comic book demise (a record death length for a comic book hero, BTW).
THE NEW MYTHOLOGY
Since resurrecting Barry Allen, Geoff Johns has done a major overhaul to the mythology of of The Flash – much the same way he did when he took over writing duties on Green Lantern. With both books, Johns managed to sweep away the increasingly absurd/cynical storylines that came with the 90s era, while still preserving the core values that have made Hal Jordan and Barry Allen enduring icons. Johns also took the prudent step of revising (not erasing) those campy sci-fi origin stories of the 40s/50s era, giving them more logical and weighted narrative dimensions.
In the case of The Flash, Barry Allen was originally portrayed as a forensic scientist working with the Central City police. One night while preparing to leave work, a mysterious bolt of lighting strikes a case of chemicals Allen is working with, spilling them on him and imbuing him with the ability to run at super speed.
That must’ve been a great origin story back in the day, but it’s a pretty thin premise for today’s savvy comic book audiences. Johns has updated Allen’s origin, adding a brilliant backstory where Barry’s mother was murdered when he was young and his father was arrested as the prime suspect. It was the need to prove “what really happened” regarding his mother’s death that drove Barry into forensic science in the first place. In Johns’ revision, Barry is essentially a cop trying outrun the one injustice that forever plagues – and just like that, we have a strong foundation for a complex and interesting super hero protagonist.
The Flash caught up in The Speed Force
Over the years it’s been revealed in the pages of Flash comics that there is a (sentient?) ‘Speed Force’ at work in the universe, which occasionally empowers individuals with the ability to move so fast that they can literally breach the limits of time and space. In the Geoff Johns era, Barry Allen has been brought into the epicenter of this Speed Force mystery and it has (for better or worse) become a central theme of his story. However, that same Speed Force storyline comes with the burden of a lot of time travel logistics.
For example: that fateful lighting bolt that struck Barry Allen and gave him his powers? Well, without going too far into The Flash’s history with time-travel (no pun), let’s just say it has been proposed that the lighting bolt was Barry Allen himself, using the Speed Force to set his own destiny in motion. See what I mean about the burden of time-travel? It’s a tricky device to shape a cinematic origin story around…
“THE GUY WHO RUNS REALLY FAST”
The biggest complaint people seem to have about The Flash movie is that it will essentially be about ‘a guy who just runs really fast.’ Aside from some cool bullet-time-style action sequences, people don’t see how there can be sufficient dramatic weight for a feature-length Flash movie.
Well, we’ve already established that there is a great starting block to launch from – Barry Allen as a cop trying to “outrun” injustice. In that context, The Flash’s super-speed really becomes a metaphor for one man’s desire to right a wrong that was done to him; if Barry can be everywhere at once, fighting crime, he can stop the kind of thing that scarred him from scarring anybody else. Like the incarnation of The Flash we saw in Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come graphic novel, the scarlet speedster can be a one-man army for justice, provided he never slows down.
But never slowing down causes its own problems in life (as Geoff Johns stated) – namely the inability to form relationships or find love (Barry’s longtime lover/wife Iris West is sure to be a part of the movie). Starting to see where the makings of a good dramatic Flash movie might be found?
Barry and Iris
Of course, spending a whole movie exploring one man’s super-speedy quest to right injustice isn’t enough without a good villain to interrupt his efforts. And this is another area where The Flash is facing an uphill battle in the eyes of the average movie goer.
People know that Superman has a Lex Luthor. Batman has the Joker. But what about The Flash? Who is Barry Allen’s nemesis? Well, I’ll tell you: it’s the nefarious NOBODY KNOWS.
Comic book fanboys are familiar with names like Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, Mirror Master, The Trickster, Weather Wizard, Shade or Gorilla Grodd. However, if you’ve never read a Flash comic, those rogues I mentioned might come across as cheap B-movie knockoffs of other super heroes/villains – or in Grodd’s case, an invention too absurd for a sensible movie plot (a telepathic gorilla from gorilla world?).
The Flash Rogues
The Flash movie needs a good villain. My advice? Why stray from the golden road currently being paved by Geoff Johns? Why not go with Professor Zoom, a.k.a. Eobard Thawne, a.k.a the second villain to wear the mantle of “The Reverse-Flash.”
In the comics, Thawne started out as a guy from waaaay in the future (The 25th Century) whose obsession with the present-day Flash led him to copy his powers. During one of his many sprints through time, Barry Allen discovered Professor Zoom and defeated him, which created a bitter rivalry between the two. Over the course of that rivalry, Zoom has inflicted serious tragedy upon Barry’s life and even forced Barry to cross a line that no hero should (I won’t SPOIL the details for you).
During the Geoff Johns era, Professor Zoom has grown to be the primary villain of The Flash comic. We’ve learned that Zoom has always been striking at Barry and his descendants, up and down the timeline. As a potential movie villain, Zoom can do everything Barry can do; he can go anywhere Barry can go and has totally opposing goals, spreading crime and murder as fast as Barry can prevent them.
In terms of the emotional narrative of Barry Allen – a man trying to outrun injustice – Zoom would be the most effective rogue to have onscreen, in my opinion. If need be, Zoom’s origin could certainly be revised and changed from its time travel roots (which may be the best route to go, avoiding all the time-jumping madness).
That’s it for me: I’ve laid down a good foundation for a Flash movie and even sprinkled in some seeds that will hopefully get you thinking. Should the movie steer clear of time-travel? It would be easier, sure – but then, being able to outrun the limits of time and space are part of The Flash’s powers, so… it’s a tough call to make.
The logistical details still need to be worked out, but there is certainly enough there for an interesting take on an engaging character. Remember guys and gals: once upon a time, long ago, nobody thought that Iron Man would be interesting enough to carry an entire movie…
Artwork Sources: Ethan van Sciver (hat tip to Speed Force), Michael Turner, Ken Lashley, Scott Kollins, Andy Kubert & Jonathan Passow,