How Do You Make A FLASH TV Series & Movie? Use the Force!

How Do You Make A FLASH TV Series & Movie? Use the Force!

The problem with the Barry Allen Flash franchise in its current carnation is that it is incredibly cheesy. It is still comes with a lot of Silver Age baggage and so it retains much of the campy comic book qualities of that era. If we want this premise to work for both small and big screen, it is going to require an overhaul.

Barry Allen is the epitome of the Silver Age of comics, yet no treatment for him has made it to the big screen. That is partly as a result of Barry not existing in the DC comic universe for quite some time and that Barry’s nephew, Wally West took the mantle of the Flash for a couple of decades. Even though effort was made to make Barry relevant, the success of it has only been moderately successful - at least when compared with that of how Hal Jordan was made popular again. Nonetheless, some retrofits needs to take place.

There are various reasons why Batman, Superman and Spider-Man have received multiple movie adaptations each and not The Flash. Let us face it; The Flash comic is somewhat cheesy. That word is about as succinct as I can put it. All comic books have their own fair share of the cheese, but The Flash needs a dose of the avant-garde. It is a strong possibility that the Flash train departing from Central City could end its journey in Cheeseville. The ride can be amazing but not its destination. So, what key areas should be focused on to make The Flash great?

Well, there are 4 principle aspects this editorial will address.
The origin of Barry Allen’s powers; The rogues; The CGI; and The Speed Force.

The Speed Force ought to be the crux of the entire movie/series.

The classic origin

The events that lead to Barry becoming The Flash are classic in every sense: Freak random incident bestows super abilities on our antagonist.

Barry Allen is a forensic scientist working for the police of Central City. One night, a bolt of lightning strikes Barry whilst he is standing alongside a shelf full of volatile chemicals. The reaction imbues him with powers including the ability to run as fast as the speed of light.

Barry Allen being struck by a bolt of lightning

Barry’s powers are as quintessential as many comic super heroes or villains. So, we can expect to see Barry receive his powers as described above. While this is fine played out in panels, what implications does it have in live-action? The whole idea of a random freak occurrence is a typical comic book shtick. Why not turn this notion on its head by implying that the bolt out of the blue is not as “accidental” as it appears. In other words, either Barry’s powers come from a sentient source deliberately choosing Barry or perhaps it is a more paradoxically derived cause without conscious thought. We must step away from the cliché.

The Rogues

Every great super hero has an equally great foil. These antagonists serve to accentuate the best qualities in our heroes and drive them to their limits. Although The Flash’s rogues gallery is somewhat diverse, many of its members are outright lame.

The Flash's rogues gallery

If you take an analytical look at the rogues, you realise that most of them are a little too absurd in concept to ever be taken as a serious villain in a movie. The emphasis here is on the word “serious” because although these characters work well in the comics, they might come off as corny in live-action. Yes, it is true that on paper least the Joker is also corny, but the Joker is very compelling albeit in a twisted and maniacal manner. In recent years, the rogues have been made more dastardly than they were in the era in which they conceived – the 1960s. Nonetheless, the vast assortment of villains who populate Flash’s rogues gallery are incredibly gimmicky in both their powers and modus operandi. Superman has Zod, Darkseid, Doomsday and Brainiac. Batman has the Joker and Ra’s al Ghul. Wonder Woman has gods such as Ares in her gallery. Hal Jordan has Sinestro and the embodiment of fear, Parallax. All these villains are powerhouses and more than equal to either Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman or Green Lantern respectively. And the best the Flash has to offer is Captain Cold. The Trickster is like a tame version of the Joker with a pg-13 sticker and some major self-doubt issues. And do I even need to elaborate on a guy called Captain Boomerang whose claim to fame is exploding boomerangs. Um…boomerangs come back.

In spite of their gimmicky nature, both Captain Cold and Mirror Master could provide a credible challenge for our crime-fighting hero. However, they do lack one factor that we have already seen in characters like the Joker, General Zod and Ra’s al Ghul. And that is one of intimidation. Any villain needs to have a weighty or substantially foreboding presence on screen, and unfortunately Captain Cold and Mirror Master fall short.

Thus, if any of Flash’s rogues are going to cut it, they are going to need a serious overhaul over and above what was already been done by Geoff Johns. In order to do this, we are going to have to drop the gimmicks. Rather, we can have a team of rogues ala “The Expendables”. Now, DC already has its version of The Expendables and it is called the Suicide Squad. This team can be assembled by Amanda Waller who needs a clandestine team to perform the dirty covert jobs such as stealing information or even assassinating a terrorist. She puts together a team of convicts, who, in exchange for a reprieve from prison, agree to go on these jobs. This works nicely for Ms Waller who can keep it all off the books so if anything goes wrong she can simply walk away. The team is comprised of:
Leonard Snart – an assassin
Sam Scudder – a thief and expert safe-cracker who can bypass any alarm system but can also break into any facility.
Digger Harkness – an ex-military ordnance and munitions expert
Jesse James – A conman and hustler

We should rather turn now our attention to the one villain who is ultimately one of the better choices to give the Flash a run for his money: The Reverse-Flash, Eobard Thawne.

The Flash and Reverse-Flash

In Eobard Thawne we have a psychotic fan from a dystopian 25th century who has modelled his persona on that of Barry Allen, The Flash.

Eobard Thawne used 25th-Century science to duplicate the Flash’s speed, then travelled back in time to meet his idol, only to discover that he was destined to be the Flash’s greatest enemy. He then set out to prove it right.[1]

One thing all of Flash’s rogues have in common that makes them interesting is that they are bastards. Recent comic book movies such as The Avengers have presented us with a sympathetic villain. But with the rogues all being bastards means we can get a villain that we love to hate. Thawne fills that criterion quite easily. Furthermore, inclusion of Reverse-Flash gives an ideal opportunity to interweave various interdependent factors into the plot that have been pivotal in The Flash comics since their inception. These include time-travel and dealing with tragedy. The Flash has long term potential involvement with the future stemming from two fronts: The future of the 25th century is an extension of Barry Allen’s world; and The Flash is a legacy-hero. Barry was not the first Flash and there are a number of people who take the mantle of The Flash after Barry. Most notably, Barry’s nephew, Wally West, who has had numerous run-ins with the Reverse-Flash and subsequently the same with Wally’s nephew, Bart Allen. Therefore, using the Reverse-Flash sets up potential for sequel movies that do not even have to feature Barry Allen.

The CGI and perspective

Hands-up if you want to see the Red-Yellow Blur. How about the Central City Blur? Nobody wants to see that. That would be a major copout if that is what we get. The CGI will need to be mind-blowing, eye-popping, jaw dropping awesome. Not simply because it is what we expect, but we want to be convinced that what we are seeing is possible. The goal here is to get rid of the cheesiness that might plague this franchise. Tacky CGI will only serve to mirror how distastefully cheesy a Flash movie or TV series could be. This then opens a fundamental point of contention: Is TV really the best medium for this franchise. The answer is yes and no, but mostly no. A TV series is a cheap and quick means to establish the character with the intention of possibly connecting him to the movie universe where he can join the ranks of the Justice League. But a movie on the other hand, gives far more potential and capacity to showcase the world of The Flash and his powers. Take Smallville for example where we got a watered-down version of super-powers; a restricted budget which had major ramifications on the quality and amount of CGI which in turn led to the down-playing of said powers; and a baddie of the week where the baddie was dilute compared to his comic book counterpart. Do any of us really want another version of the Red-Blue Blur again?

The CGI needs to be electric, and I mean that literally and figuratively. The premise is based on a man who can run much faster than sonic speeds. Forget the breaking of the sound barrier, here we have the concept of the light barrier and even time barrier. What happens when you have an object moving at such insane velocities? In the comics, Flash’s costume is friction resistant. We can pragmatically expect some friction that should manifest itself in a visually fascinating way. Electrically. It is best compared to the intriguing phenomenon that is St Elmo’s fire.

Example of St Elmo's Fire on the hull of an aeroplane

Like lightning, St. Elmo's Fire is plasma, or ionized air that emits a glow. But while lightening is the movement of electricity from a charged cloud to the ground, St. Elmo's Fire is simply sparking, something like a shot of electrons into the air. It's a corona discharge, and it occurs when there is a significant imbalance in electrical charge, causing molecules to tear apart, sometimes resulting in a slight hissing sound. When the air molecules tear apart, they emit light producing a glowing blue colour.[2]

The Flash should produce a similar result except instead of an electric blue it would be electric gold and red. Furthermore, friction should generate a considerable build up of static electricty (even though the costume is dampening the effect). The static could discharge and produce an effect much like that produced by a Tesla coil. Not only should The Flash be enveloped in an amazing to behold electric plasma, but he would also give-off small bolts of lightning.

A Tesla Coil in action

But wait. The CGI rollercoaster does not stop there. The Flash offers an opportunity for an optical tour de force and it can do so from 2 break-neck perspectives. Firstly, from the perspective of an outside stationary viewer. Secondly and more importantly, from Barry’s perspective and hence the perspective of the audience in 3D magnificence.

In a scene from the movie Megamind, Metro Man uses Flash-like speed moving about Metro City whilst he contemplates quitting being a superhero. What was a day for Metro Man was nothing more than a blink of an eye in actual time. The scene shows Metro City’s citizens frozen like statues in time as Metro Man super speeds past them because they are moving much slower compared to him. As amusing as that scene is, it is not what a person moving at super speeds would experience. In all probability, The Flash would experience a Doppler effect with people, lampposts, cars, buildings, trees and any object he runs past. That means objects would appear to stretch or compress depending on his proximity.

A lot of people were not happy with the first person perspective employed in The Amazing Spider-Man. Even so, the first-person technique could lend itself admirably in depicting how The Flash experiences the world. Imagine what the world around us might look like from the perspective of the Scarlet Speedster. We, the audience, would be onboard the Flash rollercoaster with Barry as we share the rush of seeing the world and its sights and sounds at such a prodigious pace.

Now…to the crux of this article: How do you make a movie about the Fastest Man Alive? How do you explain how and why Barry Allen receives his powers? How do you build an entire plot on the premise of a guy who can run really really fast. How do you involve time-travel? How do you bring in a villain from the future?

You use the Force. The Speed Force, that is. It is the answer to everything.

The Speed Force

What exactly is the Speed Force? We live in a 3-dimensional universe. Thanks to Albert Einstein, we also think of time as a dimension. We can allude that there are many dimensions, none of which we can see or interact with.

I am going to use Star Trek as an analogy to try and explain what the Speed Force is. In Star Trek: Generations, Captain James T Kirk heroically saves the Enterprise 1701B as it is caught in a powerful gravimetric field emanating from the trailing edge of an energy ribbon. He apparently dies in the process of being pulled into the energy ribbon. We learn later on in the movie that Kirk is in fact alive and well inside the ribbon which is called the Nexus.

The Nexus is an extradimensional realm in which one's thoughts and desires shape reality. Inside the Nexus, time has no meaning, allowing one to visit any time and any place that one can imagine. The entrance to the Nexus was a violent temporal energy ribbon. [3]

Outside view of the Nexus from Star Trek: Generations

Another correlation using Star Trek involves the wormhole – or Einstein-Rosen Bridge - in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9). This show revolved around a space station situated near the event horizon of a stable wormhole. The wormhole allowed for immediate travel to the Gamma Quadrant which is situated thousands of light ways away from the Alpha Quadrant where Starfleet is based. The Prophets, or wormhole aliens as they were often referred to, are non-corporeal extra-dimensional entities who reside inside the wormhole. The prophets have no concept of linear time for inside the wormhole the past is the present, the present the future and the future is the past and so on.

Einstein implied that time is an illusion when he said that there is no distinction between the past, present and future. There is only the now. Everything that has happened and is happening, even the Big Bang, are all happening at once. All moments of time are like frames in a film reel. The illusion is that we experience is linear time.

The Speed Force is similar to the Nexus and the DS9 wormhole where time is not linear. It is a higher dimension. Superstring theory even purports that there up to 10 dimensions (and time the 11th).

The Speed Force is vaguely defined in the comics. The science and physics behind it have never really been explained. Later comics go so far to indicate that Barry Allen himself is the source of the Speed Force. Nevertheless, the Speed Force is going to need to be extensively elaborated upon otherwise it becomes a concept akin to the rogues: A gimmick.

I mentioned above that we should push aside the classic origin i.e. the freak bolt of lightning that gives Barry his powers. Instead, I suggested that Barry’s “accident” was actually either deliberate or paradoxical. The Speed Force can be used to describe both conditions: First, it is aware and sentient and has chosen Barry Allen and other members of his family to become speedsters because either it knows of their ultimate fates or it is indeed fate itself. Second, it is a tool that gives Barry his powers via means of a paradoxical entwinement.

I advocated that Eobard Thawne, The Reverse-Flash, be the villain. His origin can pretty much be as it is the comics but partly combined with that of Hunter Zolomon who became the Reverse-Flash to Wally West’s Flash: It is the 25th century and Thawne is a scientist with expertise on the Speed Force. He is a great admirer of The Flash of the 21st century, so much so that he has surgically modelled his physical appearance on that of his hero, Barry Allen. Thawne knows much of Barry Allen’s history. When a series of tragedies befall Thawne because of his admiration for Barry, he decides to access the Speed Force so that he can travel back to prevent the tragedies. He uses 25th century technology to reveal the Speed Force which, as soon as he makes contact with it, grants him the same abilities as The Flash. He uses his new powers to try and prevent the tragedies but is unable to do so. He realises that if he never held Barry in such high esteem, the tragedies would not have happened and that the only course of action is to kill Barry Allen. He travels back in time to when Barry was a boy, but ultimately ends up murdering Barry’s mother before he has a chance to kill Barry. Witnesses mistake the murderer for Barry’s father who is then convicted of the crime. Thawne knows Barry works late hours at the police forensic lab in Central City and makes that his next murder attempt. Thawne is unable to kill Barry and instead the attempt culminates in the instant when Barry himself is exposed to the Speed Force and gains super powers.

Eobard Thawne, the Reverse-Flash

The movie or TV series does not need to follow the scenario described above. But the point is is that it is similar to the Grandfather Paradox where the past cannot be changed.

Side note: The Grandfather Paradox points out that time travel to the past is not possible, but for the purposes of a TV series or movie, let us rather go with the hypothesis that even if time travel were possible, the past cannot be changed).

With The Flash having the ability to move at such incredible speed, we wonder as to how he can do so without violating the laws of physics. For example, if The Flash were to run at supersonic speeds he would generate a sonic boom which would cause a lot of collateral damage as soon as he sped through an urban environment. Broken windows and annoying car alarms would be the order of the day. Furthermore, the shockwave of the sonic boom could even be sufficient to kill people as The Flash runs past them. It would not be practical on Barry’s part to cause such destruction every time he runs, nor would it be for a movie or TV series to constantly have to show it. Therefore, we have to use the Speed Force as an explanation as a self-containing environmental suit of sorts that not only protects Barry from the laws of physics but also prevents the use of his powers at supersonic levels from causing damage to anything outside of his immediate periphery. In other words, it provides a dampening effect.

A movie or TV series has to make a big deal of the Speed Force. It gives Barry his powers, protects him, negates the effects of inertia (such as sonic booms) and allows for time travel. The whole time travel aspect can be a bit passé but it is very synonymous with The Flash. It is a factor that cannot be ignored. Geoff Johns stated: The Green Lantern is to space as The Flash is to time.

The Speed Force is therefore the ideal means to exposition and it can do so in more than one way: Instead of the movie commencing in a customary fashion at the beginning of the story, it can actually do so from the middle or even the end – imagine the opening scene with Barry already running inside the Speed Force. We hear a voiceover as crucial frames of his memories zip by as he accelerates along a never-ending corridor of warped light.

The Flash running inside the Speed Force

However, a Flash series or franchise with the Speed Force in the forefront need not be relegated to super speed and time travel. What Barry does for a living and his desire for justice are fundamental driving forces. Barry Allen, the forensic technician, is slow - he works in a fast-paced environment where his police colleagues are always desperate to close cases quickly. His longing to solve his mother’s murder can even be an overlying story arc. The tone of the series or movie should be slightly edgy but also somewhat light-hearted. It has to convey a sense of light since even with terrible tragedy our hero, like Batman, is able to rise above it.

[1] Hperborea: Flash Reversals
[2]How Stuff Works
[3]Memory Alpha: Prophet
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Member Since 9/3/2009
Filed Under "The Flash" 9/23/2013
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