Sunday, February 12, 2006

Justice League Unlimited—Flash and Substance

The Upshot: “Flash and Substance” is described as: "Batman and Orion see a different side of the Flash when a rogues' gallery of villains attacks the museum that is opening in his honor."

Given the recent events in Infinite Crisis, seeing the Flash run with the Justice League is almost quaint.

FanBoyWonder was initially excited when we heard about this episode and the long-overdue spotlight on Flash. We’ve never really liked the way his character has been handled since the beginning of the show—as the comic relief and the lightweight in the powers department.

Both powers and personality wise, the Flash we see on JLU is the circa 1990 version during the William Messner-Loebs era of the Flash comic—a not too bright, goof ball whose heart is in the right place but a “B” list hero.

Our initial excitement turned to disappointment by the time we finished watching “Flash and Substance.” It wasn’t a bad episode; far from it… it was quite solid. But we see it as a missed opportunity to flesh out the Wally West character, and to introduce some explanation of the Flash legacy.

In the JLU universe, Wally West is the one and only Flash who is living a loose approximation of Barry Allen’s life—working at the Central City Police Department’s crime lab.

Central City is a bright city and Flash is a loving caretaker where the city residents return the affection for their hero—so much so they built a Flash Museum.

We did like seeing the Rogue’s Gallery in this episode—Mirror Master, Captain Boomerang, The Trickster and Captain Cold.

The voice of Trickster was handled by Mark Hamill, who played the same character in the short-lived but now classic Flash live action TV series of 1990-91 and who has also served the voice of the Joker in Batman and JLU episodes.

Hamill is mercifully understated in this role. The best scene of the episode comes at Central City’s villains-only bar as Flash asks the Trickster how’s he doing, if he’s off his meds, talking him into turning himself in to the cops after he finishes his beer as an astonished Batman and Orion look on.

We also see an appearance by TV reporter Linda Park, Wally West’s wife in the comics. Also making a cameo appearance of sorts is Barry Allen…at last that’s who we think the blond haired guy wearing the lab coat and crew cut was.

We also wish JLU did more with Flash’s powers. In a single recent episode of Teen Titans, which featured an appearance by Kid Flash (also voiced by Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum), he performed all the super-speed tricks—creating cyclones, vibrating through solid objects, super speed heat friction…etc.

We understand to a point that JLU creators didn’t want to many the leaguers too powerful given the ensemble nature of the cast but all this Flash does is run (not too) fast...and often not fast enough to avoid get nailed in a fight.

The Wally West character has been a favorite of ours as we’ve watched him in the comics struggle to evolve from sidekick to hero—but we just have to accept the fact that FBW’s vision of Wally West/Flash is different, broader than the vision that the JLU creators have for him.

As we reported the other day, JLU is on borrowed time. Flash and Substance was the fifth of 13 remaining episodes. Better enjoy them while they last.


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