In my last essay, I showed how the first incarnation of the Flash, from World War II, sucks. However, that Flash is kind of quaint and evokes a simpler time, when men were men and our enemies were distinctly evil and mostly white. Far shittier is the Silver Age Flash, who sucks so phenomenally that as you read this, scientists are still discovering vast pockets of sucktitude in the Flash on a sub-atomic level.
I already described the Golden Age and Silver Age of comics in the last essay, but I think it’s important to view the two periods in historical context in order to understand the comic book works that came out of them. The Golden Age was a time just preceding and during America’s involvement in World War II. Having crawled out of a devastating economic depression into a war of unprecedented scope, Americans were feeling battered and beaten, but they were also tenacious and brimming with hope. The superheroes of the time reflected this, many of them nothing more than wrestlers and acrobats who decided to put on a cape and domino mask in order to beat up Chinese wizards with legal impunity. Heroes with super powers usually attributed their gifts to “magic,” that catch-all reason which is undefinable. How does Dr. Fate shoot fire from his hands? Magic. What’s magic? Fuck if I know.
The Silver Age, in contrast, was during a more peaceful and prosperous time for America. Having won World War II, and convinced ourselves that we won the Korean War, most Americans were glad to settle down into a quiet life of family, work, and not seeing your best friend get his face blown off by a grenade. It was also a time of tremendous scientific progress, the Space Age. It seemed like every day, some new technology would come down the pike to make our lives easier and more streamlined. Gone were the billowing blouse superheroes of the 1940s, in came the buff dudes in tights.
From this mindset came the new Flash, a character with the same basic abilities as Jay Garrick from the Golden Age, but with an entirely different and way stupider origin. It seems that forensic detective Barry Allen was working late at the police station one rainy evening, when a freak bolt of lightning came through the window and struck an open bookshelf haphazardly stacked with chemicals. Look, I know I am reading a comic book here, and I am willing to suspend disbelief. I am willing to believe all kinds of freakish experiments gone wrong or radioactive materials turning people into octopi, that’s part of the game. But to combine all of these tremendously improbable things amounts to providing no origin story at all. Why this police station kept its dangerous chemicals on a bookshelf in front of an open window is just a piece of this ridiculous mystery. You’d have been better off saying Barry Allen got his power from magic.
But being bathed in an electrified mix of noxious chemicals is how Barry Allen became the Scarlet Speedster, and almost instantly it went all wrong. See, Allen lives on this planet Earth in a universe where the Jay Garrick Flash is…you know what, I’m not even going to get into all that nonsense. What’s important is that Barry immediately takes up the mantle of the Flash and decides to fight crime. He creates a suit (which is red, hence the horrible moniker Scarlet Speedster) but struggles with how he can conceal this secret identity when he is at his day job. He can’t just wear his wetsuit under his street clothes like almost every other superhero, no the Flash has to define how shitty he is by being different. So he decides to create a spring-loaded ring which holds an inflatable version of the suit that expands on contact with air.
It’s a matter of busting your balls the wrong way around. For one thing, the Flash is the fastest man on earth. He can run over water, he can run through solid objects by vibrating his molecules at super speed, he can even keep himself aloft by waving one arm around very quickly. Why can’t he leave his red pajamas in the closet and dash home whenever he needs them? Or, since he can travel faster than the human eye can follow, why bother with a superhero suit at all? Seems he could get the job done in his Air Max 90s and save himself some blisters, to boot. But okay, he wants a superhero costume, it is his right. Whose moronic and ill-formed idea was it to have it stored in a ring, and then illogically expand to the size of a full-grown man on contact with air? If such technology exists, let me tell you, there are a lot better applications for it than something to cover Flash’s shame.
I suspect the author read an article about inflatable life rafts, and tried to apply that science to the Flash’s red suit. Why do I think this? Because every fucking time the Flash launched the costume from his ring, a caption would tell us, “Just like an inflatable life raft expands on contact with air, so too does the Flash’s unitard.” As if that somehow clarifies things. Last I checked, an inflatable raft doesn’t compress into the size of a golf ball, so it doesn’t stand to reason that a costume would fit into a goddamned ring. Even if I could believe that, which I can’t, it still seems like an overly complex way to get the job done. Why even bother with a ring? Just stuff it in a gelcap and pretend its an antibiotic.
Besides the vastly more homoerotic costume, the Silver Age Flash came with some new powers over his Golden Age predecessor. They shared the same essential power: running really fast. But Barry Allen applied it differently, discovering he could use it to go forwards and backwards in time, and travel between dimensions. So these abilities become part of his arsenal that he can think about when he returns to fucking work as a forensic detective. Did dreams die or something? Who the hell would ever go back to their day jobs if they found they could slip between dimensions one morning? “I don’t think I’ll stay in this dimension today,” I’d think, “rather I will abscond to the Dimension Where Everything is Tits.” If time travel and spanning dimensions are part of my repertoire, I think it’s safe to say that it’s a wrap for fighting crime.
The final reason I think the Silver Age Flash is a complete and utter turd is because the people writing it, by and large, had the creativity of a four year-old with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. One of Flash’s earliest nemeses was Turtle Man, a guy who did everything super slowly. Okay, I get that. It’s the whole balance thing, yin and yang and all that. But then he had another villain, a guy who could freeze shit with an ice gun. His name? Captain Cold. And he wasn’t the only Captain in the Flash Army of Supervillains, no there was also a boomerang-throwing Aussie who wore a flight attendant’s cap that was named–care to take a guess?–Captain Boomerang. Over and over, we see this kind of redundant, lazy shit. At one point, Barry Allen takes on a sidekick named Wally West, a precocious young kid in the same vein as other kid sidekicks throughout comic book history. West also runs at super speed, having acquired his power in the exact same unbelievable and retarded way Barry Allen became the Flash! It was unbelievable the first time, now you’re just being fucking insulting.
Nothing will illustrate how lazy the Flash’s writers were, and how much the character sucks as a whole, more than to describe the character which became the Flash’s main nemesis, the Reverse-Flash. Yes, that’s right, the Flash’s main nemesis was the Reverse-Flash. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Imagine if Superman’s arch-enemy wasn’t Lex Luthor, but “Un-Superman?” Or if the Hulk was locked in eternal struggle with “Semi-Hulk?” Now, you might be thinking there’s a good reason that Reverse-Flash is called Reverse-Flash. Perhaps he does everything really slowly, like Turtle Man, or maybe he goes at super speed but only backwards. That would make sense, right? It might make sense, and it would certainly be more interesting than Reverse-Flash’s actual super power, which is to have the same exact motherfucking super power as the Flash. No, he is called Reverse-Flash for the dumbest, most ludicrous reason in the world: because his costume is reversed, red where the Flash’s is yellow and yellow where the Flash’s is red. Fuck you, Flash, you fucking piece of shit.