Until very recently, The Flash was a popular comic book character predominantly unknown to mainstream Film and Television audiences. However, this was inevitably something that was due to change sooner or later. Any enthusiastic comic reader will tell you that they always knew Warner Bros. would utilize the scarlet speedster eventually. But to be honest, common sense and sound logic would also bring you to the same conclusion given the sheer popularity (and lucrative nature) of superheroes at present.
But let’s not forget, there are only so many times that you can watch Thomas and Martha Wayne get murdered before you begin to crave more. So, like Iron Man, Captain America and even Green Arrow before him, The Flash has now been placed at the forefront of pop culture and media entertainment. Considering the character has a vast range of abilities, story lines, incarnations and over seventy-five years’ worth of history, it still seems strange that it has taken this long.
Nevertheless, we’re grateful that Jay Garrick, Barry Allen and Wally West are now beginning to get some much-needed exposure on both Film and Television. This feature will explore the character’s ironically slow journey from page to screen, beginning with the prematurely cancelled 1990 Television series and concluding with Ezra Miller’s big screen debut. Now, run Barry run! And check out the Flash in Film and television.
Please beware of spoilers!
The Flash (1990 – 1991)
While Superman enjoyed a huge amount of media exposure throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties, it wasn’t until Tim Burton’s Batman became a success that Warner Bros began to explore alternative DC Comics characters. As a result, they developed a television series based on The Flash starring daytime soap opera star John Wesley Shipp. Although the costume looks slightly ridiculous today, it is worth remembering that at the time it was incredibly pricey and was actually built by Stan Winston studios.
In an attempt to replicate the same formula of Burton’s gothic superhero masterpiece, CBS hired Danny Elfman to score the show’s title theme. Unfortunately, the series only lasted one season for a total of twenty two episodes before being cancelled the following year. While this series clearly had potential and it’s always a shame to see cancellations happen, The Flash was evidently long before its time.
On the plus side, John Wesley Shipp now portrays both Barry Allen’s father and an alternate version of the Flash on the current television series that began in 2014. The show has also incorporated Mark Hamill as the Trickster (a role he originally played in 1990) and established that the original series is part of the multiverse. Not bad for a twenty six year old television show that never made it past its first season.
Justice League and various other animated appearances (2001 – present)
If you’re someone who grew up in the late nineties/early noughties and watched a lot of cartoons, there’s a pretty good chance that your first exposure to The Flash came from the 2001 Justice League animated series. Although the character has frequently appeared in animated movies and video games since, it was this series (and its sequel) which was the first to capture the essence of the character so effectively.
Strangely enough, the voice actor most well known for bringing the Flash to life in animated form is also the man most well known for portraying Superman’s arch-nemesis. That’s right, the most iconic voice of the scarlet speedster is in fact Michael Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum portrayed Lex Luthor for seven seasons on the CW’s Smallville, before leaving to pursue other projects (but returning for a small role in the series finale). He voiced The Flash for over five years on Justice League, while also making two guest appearances as a younger version of the character on Teen Titans.
Since then a variety of different incarnations of the Flash have appeared in animated form across a multitude of shows and films. In fact, quite a few different actors have leant their vocals to the character including Neil Patrick Harris, Justin Chambers and Christopher Gorham. Each of these stars have given their own unique take on the character, but it was Rosenbaum’s pitch-perfect humour, optimism and energy that helped craft the Flash as we know him today.
Smallville (2004 – 2010)
Following on from the doomed debut outing of Barry Allen and his speedy alter ego, the character was then squandered once again in a failed attempt to create a Justice League of America series (played by unknown actor Kenny Johnston). Fortunately, this disastrous pilot never saw the light of day and audiences were never subjected to 80 minutes of embarrassment that even the Joker would struggle to laugh at.
Consequently, the Flash was then left on the shelf again for another seven years before making his next live action appearance. This then came in the form of a slightly different iteration of the character, rather than the traditional Barry Allen that fans are most familiar with. In order to mirror Clark Kent’s inexperienced, pre-Superman adolescence, a younger version of The Flash was utilized. Bart Allen (AKA Kid Flash) appeared as a guest star for three episodes over the course of six years.
Bart was initially introduced as a charmingly arrogant thief (with passing references made to Jay Garrick, Barry Allen and Wally West), before learning from the error of his ways and joining the Green Arrow’s pre-Justice League team. The character was played by up and coming actor Kyle Gallner, who has since gone on to appear in A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Walking Dead. Although we were only treated to a precious few appearances from Kid Flash, the frequent use of time travel, parallel earths and alternate realities on the current series can always give us hope of one day seeing Gallner’s version re-appear.
The Flash (2014 – present)
The CW’s current incarnation of The Flash is undoubtedly the most recognized and renowned version of the character. Grant Gustin’s fantastic combination of innocence, charm, wit and charisma has now made the scarlet speedster into a household name. Not only has the former Glee star managed to secure a permanent place in the hearts of fans, but he has also impressed critics and earned unanimous praise from his co-stars.
After the gritty, rebooted Arrow was a huge success for the CW, the network rapidly began to explore options for potential spin-off shows. Naturally, eyes quickly (no pun intended) turned to the Flash as a fresh superhero who had yet to be faithfully adapted in live action for 21st century audiences. This was also a golden opportunity to expand Arrow‘s grounded universe into the realm of fantasy and sci-fi, which is exactly what happened.
The Flash was initially intended to receive a back-door pilot within the last quarter of Arrow’s second season. However, producers were reportedly so impressed with Gustin’s two-part debut that they decided to go straight ahead with a traditional pilot episode. Flashforward two years later and the series has outperformed its predecessor in virtually every way. With Gustin’s star continually on the rise and The Flash increasingly gaining momentum, fans don’t need the speed force to see that the show definitely has a bright future ahead of it.
The DCEU Flash (2015 and beyond)
Now here’s where things get a little bit complicated. Warner Bros are notoriously strict in regards to DC characters being used in both television and film simultaneously. For example, Arrow has been made to write characters out of the series on multiple occasions due to Warner’s desire to utilize them on the big screen. This is the same reason that Batman will never be allowed to appear on any of the CW show’s that inhabit the Arrowverse.
Conversely, there are also a number of characters that do share both mediums such as Superman and yep, you guessed it…The Flash. This makes things a little confusing in regards to which heroes and villains are able to occupy both the big and small screen. However, regardless of this issue there is currently a cinematic incarnation of the Flash that has already made his big screen debut.
Ezra Miller has made two cameo appearances this year in both Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (where he actually popped up twice) and Suicide Squad. He will make his first feature length appearance in next year’s Justice League before his own solo movie in 2018. It’s difficult to judge the big screen version of Barry Allen so far. But, based on the very limited screen time Miller has had things are looking very promising. One thing’s for sure though, Miller is going to have an uphill struggle competing with Gustin’s beloved television version. Especially as a number of stars from the hit series have already expressed their strong disappointment with the characters re-casting.
Either way, fans of The fastest man alive should be pleased that one of the greatest superheroes every created is finally receiving his due. If Ezra Miller can do enough faithfully interpret the character, while also distinguishing himself from the TV incarnation, then there are definitely going to be some spoiled Flash fans out there.
The Flash season 3 premieres this October. You can also check out more DC-related features every day this week!
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