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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Panel Vision - 8 Speedsters to Expect on The Flash

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One thing that’s become apparent after 3 ½ seasons of CW’s The Flash is that the show probably isn’t going to stop introducing speedsters anytime soon.  That’s a little disappointing but also fairly understandable.  Super speed special FX are actually relatively easy to realize nowadays, and the fact they have to make them anyway means making additional ones for the bad guys that much easier.  

At the same time, The Flash has also managed to avoid the trap of just making evil versions of its hero, with villains like Reverse Flash and Savitar working as unique entities while fellow heroes like Jay Garrick and Kid Flash working as real standouts.  Given that speedster obsession along with the new frontiers the show’s opened up with time travel to the future and accessing the Multiverse, I’ve compiled a list of 8 speedsters we could expect to see next on The Flash. 

We start the list with by far the most painfully obvious choice there is.  Max Mercury is a bit of an odd character, sure, but he’s been a hallmark of the Flash Family since the late ‘80s when the franchise found new life.  He initially popped up in the ‘40s as another Speedster alongside Jay Garrick and Johnny Quick only to fade out of memory.  

However, when writer Mark Waid introduced the Speed Force and wanted a character who was an expert in this strange blend of science and philosophy, Max was perfect.  He returned as sort of the lovable uncle of the Flash family- a brilliant speed guru who could actually use the Speed Force in crazy ways like sensing velocity across the city or absorbing kinetic energy.  It was a cool idea, and he became a real cornerstone of the group.

The Flash, as a show, thrives on characters like Max Mercury.  Ever since the start, they’ve worked hard to give each season its own fatherly expert from the Reverse Flash to Professor Stein to Jay Garrick to the Harrison Wells of Earth-19.  Max Mercury would be a solid fit for that role but, moreover, it could pay off a lingering reference egg.  

See, one part of the Flash TV mythos that’s been lurking in the background since day one is Mercury Labs, a company that’s been exploring the mysteries of speed and mad science in Central City.  Its head is an older woman scientist who had a history with Harrison Wells and could serve as a perfect Madame Mercury if they wanted to go that route.   

The Black Flash is easily my favorite part of the super speed universe, largely because he’s such a strange concept.  He first appeared during the ‘90s run of the Flash, a time when Wally West was the Flash, Barry Allen was dead, and the Flash Family included Jesse Quick, Max Mercury, Jay Garrick, and Bart Allen (we’ll get to him.)  Get ready to hear about “the ‘90s” quite a bit in this article as it’s easily one of the most fertile eras for the Flash there’s ever been and has had a significant impact on the Flash TV show.  

Anyway, the Black Flash began appearing as this terrifying corpse in a black Flash costume who would freeze everyone but Wally when he appeared and then chase him down at super speed.  The idea was that the Black Flash was an unliving embodiment of Death in the Speed Force, making him the 4th embodiment of death overall in the DCU.

The Black Flash is actually a pretty likely bet for an appearance on The Flash, to the point some of the actors have already teased it.  His visual appearance was a large influence on Zoom last season, with the comparison drawing into even sharper focus during Zoom’s “death sequence.”  

Given that we know the Speed Force has servants on The Flash and we know that they appear as freakish undead wraiths I could totally believe Zoom might return as a zombified super speedster coming after Barry for his crimes against the timeline under the guise of the Black Flash. 

*SPOILERS* After I wrote this it was confirmed the Black Flash will be coming to The Flash as well as some of the other CW super shows as well (probably Legends of Tomorrow.) 

Explaining Bart Allen is one of those incredibly difficult and profoundly unrewarding exercises that makes most sane humans run screaming from comic books.  Even I, a dedicated fan, tend to cringe when it comes to this guy, and not just because he was every bad ‘90s cliché about “cool, rebellious kid heroes” wrapped up in one cheap package.  Originally introduced as Impulse, his identity is all tied up with the 1986 reboot comic Crisis on Infinite Earths.  

That was the book that killed off Barry Allen for 20 years but, before his death, Barry traveled to the future where he fathered two twins with his wife, Iris.  They became the Tornado Twins, a pair so insubstantial they don’t get to appear on this list, but one of them later married Meloni Thawne (a descendant of the Reverse Flash) and her son was Bart Allen, thus making Bart Barry Allen’s future grandson. 

That’s a really long and dumb origin but the grandson from the future angle is robust enough to support an appearance on the show, especially if the future is now an open book for The Flash.  There’s no denying Bart has a lot of appeal as his appearance as Impulse was very popular and he’s persisted as Kid Flash since then.  He even took up the mantle of the Flash for a time when Wally was trapped in the speed force and Barry was dead, so there’s certainly a lot of material there.  What’s more, CW has actually adapted Bart once before as he was the iteration of the Flash they chose to bring to Smallville so they’d have the advantage of that rough draft. 

Continuing on the theme of characters from the future, strap in because this is going to get weird.  So this is John Fox, Flash of the Future.  He’s initially from the 27th century but, when radiation decimated his future city, he was sent back in time to attempt to avert the disaster.  His mission didn’t quite go as planned, with John developing super speed based on time manipulation.  Basically, he can slow time down for himself, so he appears to move at incredible speed.  

Using his new powers, he averted his time’s fate and later switched places with the Flash of the present.  Eventually, the two swapped back when it turned out John wasn’t supposed to be in the past and was being targeted by Speed Metal, a group of super fast law enforcement robots. 

I’ll get more into what happened to John in a bit, but it’s his relation to Speed Metal that makes him stand out.  All this stuff comes from the Mark Waid era of the Flash and this weird stew of robot speedsters, time travel, and the future Flash has led a lot of people to suspect CW’s Savitar may actually be Future Flash.  I’m not sure if that means he’ll be John Fox or simply a Barry of the future, but I could definitely believe that take.  

Fox is one of the only speedsters to manifest blue lightning like Savitar, and it’s not hard to see the connection between the Speed Metal and the big robot monsters on CW’s Flash.  Either way, it’d be a smart way to use John Fox’s origin story for something interesting, as John didn’t get actually engaging till the next time he popped up in the DCU, speaking of which.

So back in 1998, Grant Morrison’s takeover of the Justice League was pretty much in full swing.  This was about 2 years into his tenure on the comic so either by choice or by mandate he ended up producing an event comic known as DC One Million.  It was a strange beast but also one of the first events I ever read, so it holds a real special place in my heart.  

Basically, it was the story of the Justice Legion Alpha from the 853rd century and their battle against Vandal Savage and his ally Solaris, the living sun.  The event was basically an excuse to make up a ton of new, marketable, future versions of DC heroes for the tie-ins but it was fun and, for the character of the Flash of the 853rd century, they went with John Fox.

This idea actually goes back to the end of John’s time-swap story arc from Waid’s Flash books.  Because time travel is illegal in John’s century, he decided to flee to the far future to escape the Speed Metal, precisely the 853rd century.  That’s why both of his costumes featured the hovering triangle designs.  

This vision of John Fox, who I’ll call One Million Flash, was a pretty different take from his Future Flash persona.  One Million Flash was a member of a well-respected superhero team and defended all of planet Mercury as part of the new solar system wide hero set-up.  It was a cool idea and definitely worth bringing to The Flash if they’d like to dive into the deep end of the time pool.  

Meet the other prominent candidate for who Savitar might be.  Walter West, or the Dark Flash as he was known mostly, was a mystery character who replaced the Flash for a time in the comics.  He came from the era when Wally West was the Flash, but Wally had mysteriously disappeared only for Walter to step in and fill his boots.  

Nobody knew who he was at first, only realizing the truth when they discovered Dark Flash had been the one to make Wally disappear.  It turns out Walter West is from a parallel timeline where he failed to save his wife, Linda.  That failure drove him mad, leading to him becoming a brutal enforcer of the law.  Upon discovering the main universe, where Linda was still alive, he had set about replacing Wally to take over his life here and regain what he had lost.

As another blue lightning speedster, Dark Flash was always going to be on the suspect list, but I actually think he’s an even more likely candidate for Savitar’s identity than Future Flash.  After all, John Fox would require a lot of reworking to fit, and he’s probably better saved for if the show ever wants to take a trip to the One Million timeline.  Going with an evil Wally would fit a lot more, especially given how much Wally’s lust for power has come to define him this season, even if that passion is built on a desire for justice. 

XS is our last look at the Flashes of the future, but she’s a real doozy.  XS is Bart Allen’s cousin and while she didn’t look at first exhibit super powers she did eventually develop super speed all her own.  The big difference was that unlike Bart, who chose to come to the present to become a hero, XS decided to join the Legion of Superheroes, a team of super-teens from the 31st century.  

The Legion of Superheroes is both one of DC’s most unique and vibrant concepts while also one of its most complicated and labyrinthine continuities.  There’s been at least three variations of the team and various comics dedicated to unraveling their continuity and where the three versions fit together.  Personally, I have no idea, and it probably doesn’t matter- XS is a descendant of Barry Allen who joined the future super teens, that’s the important thing from the source material. 

The important thing in the TV shows is that the Legion of Superheroes has already had a referential appearance in the CWniverse.  In the episode of Supergirl where she and Jimmy Olsen checked out, the Fortress of Solitude a Legion flight ring was seen on display in the Fortress. 

That confirms the Legion is out there and exists in the CWniverse continuity, just waiting for someone to bring it up.  I’m not exactly sure how you’d square Barry having a descendant in the future of a parallel universe, but there’s already so much fluidity to the idea of XS and the Legion you could easily cherry pick this character for the best parts and be done with it. 

This is such a weird one I never would’ve thought to include it if not for some behind the scenes set photos from an upcoming Flash episode.  The photos, which I haven’t been able to find annoyingly, depicted a mysterious figure whose face was wrapped in bandages and a scarf while wearing an aviator helmet, basically fitting the costume of the Flash depicted above.  

That’s the Flash of Earth-19, there known as the Accelerated Man because his world is a land of steampunk heroes modeled on the Elseworlds comic Gotham by Gaslight.  It’s basically a lot of Victorianized heroes, which is a fun idea if a little restrictive.  Personally, I’ve always preferred the Age of Wonder Elseworlds, set during the early 1900s, but that’s a discussion for another day.

So, why is the Acclerated Man popping up in a Flash episode?  Well, Flash fans with a  good memory will recall that the series latest expert character, H.R., is a visitor from the world of Earth-19.  Now, we’ve never seen H.R.’s home Earth but that numbering would coincide with the steam punk world form the DC multiverse.  

I’m not sure if the plan is for H.R. to gain super speed or maybe he had it all along and was using his face-altering gizmo to hide his true identity, either way I could definitely believe that they’re building him up to be this character.  Alternatively, I could maybe buy that the Accelerated Man is called in by H.R. to help out at a moment of stress.  I don’t think H.R. will turn out to be an Earth-19 villain hiding out on Earth-1, though that’s technically a possibility, just because we’ve already seen Wells be secret evil back in season 1.  Still, only time will tell.  

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