The Flash: What Doesn't Work
by Michael Hutchison
It's not that I don't like the Flash. Don't think that for a minute.
I've always thought that superspeed would be one of the best powers to have. I mean, how cool would it be to call your friend long distance, run over to his house, hand him the receiver, and when he puts it to his ear you're on the other end? And crime fighting? Forget about it! If you're fast enough to grab bullets out of the air, then you're certainly fast enough to grab criminals by the scruff of the neck and have them behind bars before they blink. Right?
Hence the problem I have with "The Flash". These normal humans who made up the Silver Age Flash's Rogues Gallery in fact, any enemies who aren't superpowered are a joke.
We've all seen these huge panels where the Flash arrives on the crime scene and Captain Cold spends ten sentences taunting the guy and explaining what is going on, and then Flash makes a several sentence retort, and THEN Captain Cold pulls out his weapon and does something.
Uh-huh. Hey Barry? You know those twelve seconds at the beginning of that confrontation, there? That's when you cold-cock him and put him behind bars!
I mean, is Captain Boomerang in ANY way a viable villain? Let's do a test here. Move your arm from your waist (where the weapon would be) to your chest (throwing position) and then extend it outward (like you're throwing it). Do it as fast as possible. Figure that the world's best boomerang champ can do it maybe three times faster than you or more. Pretty impressive, right? A fraction of a second! Okay, that's Captain Boomerang.
Now, let's look at his opponent, a man who can look at bullets travelling 800 miles an hour and see them standing still. THIS guy can (as has been shown) toss a Rubik's cube about two feet into the air, run across the country, check the status of a person in a jail, rifle through the filing cabinets and read files, run BACK to his friends and catch the Rubik's cube on its way down. And he probably stopped at McDonald's on the way back.
Let's look at the typical confrontation of these two men facing off against each other, with a few hundred feet between them. Boomerang's rattling off some silly taunts: "Blah blah blah knackered blimey Oz jellymeat rat-bag bloody bike Foster's lager shrimp on the barbie mate yank yakkity whatever!" We'll ignore, for the moment, that this is really the time to lay him out cold; let's assume that there's some kind of unspoken rule against beating on each other until you've said your piece. So, after Boomerang shuts his gob, he goes for his weapon.
Which is more likely?
A) Captain Boomerang gets a boomerang out, throws it correctly and it crosses the distance between them while Flash is surprised surprised, I tell you to see that there is a weapon being thrown at him and he'll barely be able to escape it.
B) Captain Boomerang moves his arm half an inch and finds that it is being gripped by a big red hand, and before he can comprehend what is going on, he is unconscious with the imprint of a Flash ring 100 places along his jawline.
With me so far?
Let's give the crim the benefit of the doubt and assume he's found some way to go through his taunting, commit his robbery, do battle with the Flash and now he needs to get away. That means it's now time for the criminal to reach into his bag of tricks and bring out his standard ABSTEASN (A Bomb Set To Explode Any Second Now). Again, the Flash should be able to clobber him before he even arms the device but we'll overlook that for now.
This technique for escaping is so trite, so cliched, so routine, so so much a part of the standard Flash Rogue School of Crime-Committing that Michael Jan Friedman used it TWICE in Legends of the DC Universe 15-17!
The plan, at least, is this: attempt to kill innocent bystanders with a bomb or similar device, and while Flash is busy disposing of it you make your escape. On the surface, this is a sensible plan. No, I'll give it extra points and say that this is a brilliant scheme for getting away scott-free
IF you were going up against Green Arrow. Or Changeling. Or Black Condor. Or Plastic Man. Or Booster Gold. Or the Blue Beetle or The Question or Black Canary or Robin or Batgirl or Elongated Man or the Atom or Hawkman or Bobo Benetti or Nightwing or Star-Spangled Kid or Superboy or Tempest or Starman or Itty or Aquaman or Captain Atom or Guy Gardner: Warrior or Zatanna or Tomar-Re or Mogo or that Green Lantern who's a sentient mathematical concept or Damage or Old Justice or the Blasters or the Omega Men or The Six Million Dollar Man or Gigantor or Atom Ant or the Blue Falcon or Electra-Woman and Dynagirl or Dudley Do-Right or Scooby Doo or Hong Kong Fooey or Space Ghost or the New Shmoo or Captain Caveman or Speed Buggy or the Smurfs or the Herculoids or Urkel or Tom Servo or JUST ABOUT ANYONE BESIDES THE FLASH!
The reason for this is obvious. The Flash could haul your bomb away to a Nevada testing range and be back before you've taken two steps!
Bear in mind the Rubik's Cube sequence or just about any Flash scene shown where he's doing an immense amount of traveling or work in the blink of an eye. Look at all of the cases where he dashed away to do something and resumed his original stance so fast that a person looking right at him never saw him leave. Given all these accounts of the Flash's true speed, escape would be impossible no matter how far he has to go.
Sidetrack this proof for a second, while we delve into a common debate: how fast IS the Flash? Darned near the speed of light, as far as we can tell, although some have said he can't travel AT the speed of light (and some say he can). Wally is supposed to be even faster than Barry ever was, although I'm betting this difference is inconsequential to us normals.
An object moving at the speed of light could circle the planet Earth seven times a second, or so I once heard. Given that, if the Flash could only reach HALF the speed of light, he could circle the Earth 3.5 times a second. Let's severely handicap him and say he can only attain 1/7th the speed of light (I'm certain he's MUCH faster, really), and it takes him a whole second to circle the globe. Gee, that's pathetically slow, ain't it?
So, how likely is it that Flash can race down to the harbor of the same city he's in, ditch the bomb or other device in the water, run the 10, 20, 30 blocks back to where he was and find absolutely no trace of his opponent? I should think you'd need a good twenty or thirty seconds just to get a good start. And if you aren't visible from your location, Flash could scope out every square foot of sidewalk, grass and road in a 10 mile radius within the blink of an eye.
And that's assuming that there aren't hundreds of witnesses who couldn't help but notice your brightly garbed work clothes and point Flash in the direction he should search!
Let's say you're the Trickster. Unlike all the other Rogues, Trickster is easily able to become airborne. We're supposed to believe that the Flash is absolutely stymied by this, as he can't fly. Well, maybe not, but he can jump, whip up tornadoes, throw stuff at him perhaps even find a hang glider and propel it by kicking his legs. And, forgive me for pointing out the bleeding obvious, but is there some rule against running along the ground underneath him and waiting for him to come down?
I know, I know. Someone's going to say "suspension of disbelief." Sorry, that doesn't cut it and if you're saying that, you don't know the meaning of the concept. I can suspend my disbelief to accept the rules put forth in a fantasy, but then those rules must be obeyed.
I can suspend my disbelief and accept that a human being might be able to run at the speed of light due to a chemical accident but if that's the case, he shouldn't have trouble outrunning a boomerang or dodging a human fist. I can suspend my disbelief and accept that Superman (due to his Kryptonian physiology) can lift the largest boat in the world, but if he later has trouble carrying a much smaller Concorde jet, "suspension of disbelief" doesn't cover it. See the difference?
Hey, look, I can take a few things with a grain of salt for the sake of enjoying the comic. Comics have always had more conversation than any real life altercation would contain. We see characters like Nightwing and Blue Beetle carrying on inventive chit-chat while performing acrobatics and beating on thugs, while a more realistic comic would be filled with grunts, groans and exhales.
I suppose I must admit that any Flash operating at peak efficiency wouldn't make for much of a comic book!
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This column is © 2000 by Michael Hutchison.
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