“Suspension of disbelief” is a more delicate quality in entertainment than it was when we were kids. When I read my first Flash comics, footnotes explained to me that the Flash could run, ghostlike, through walls “in the same way a straw propelled by a tornado can pass unharmed through an oak tree.” Yes, that’s a real quote. Flash editor Julius Schwartz, whom I’ve praised before, was big on actual science and later explained that, no, Barry Allen could pass through walls because “his power gives him total control over every molecule in his body, allowing him to slip between the atoms of solid matter!” — my point being that this was only marginally less fanciful an explanation…but it sounded more reasonable because it was served up with a soupçon of physics. Also because I didn’t have Wikipedia in 1967.
We saw two specific instances of that same sort of science-laced hand-waving last night, as Barry’s pal Cisco napkin-calculated first the speed at which Barry would have to travel to run straight up a 50-meter wall without falling, then how quickly he’d have to move in order to run across water. Cisco put a lot more work into it than Julie ever bothered to. Julie’s napkin notes read “it looks cool when he does it” and “this isn’t a documentary.”
I’m not bringing this up to mock the episode, not in the least. I am, in fact, doffing my hat to the time-honored effort to frame Flash’s incredible feats in something…resembling science. I don’t think anyone on the show actually expected viewers to swallow the equations whole; they just wanted the audience to know that they’re at least willing to put the time and effort in to create the illusion that Barry has limits, a necessary component of tension and peril.
Yes, I know that no matter how fast he’s moving, the Flash wouldn’t actually be able to run across a body of water, much less turn left, but if you picture all of the necessary “suspension of disbelief” in superhero comics as a single, giant inverted pyramid, the whole thing rests on the supposition that a pair of horn-rimmed glasses is an effective disguise, so that’s your buy-in, and everybody knows it. If you’re willing to play along, enjoy the hour. If not, go watch football.
Anyway, there was also a story surrounding these two show-stopping super-feats that was an interesting twist on the notion that not all the metahumans in Central City are villainous. No guest-stars are taking home Emmys from last night’s episode, but even with a fairly thin role, it’s always fun to see Clancy Brown, the human sandpaper, growl his way through a scene. And take it from the guy who first suggested the notion that Flash disguised his voice by vibrating his vocal chords: it sounded pretty cool. Maybe not wholly convincing, but watching Barry’s foster dad Joe burst out laughing with delight in the moment was one of the show’s most human touches yet.
Flash Facts (a.k.a. Easter Eggs):
The big comics winner last night was artist Pat Broderick, who co-created both Plastique (with writer Gerry Conway) and General Wade Eiling (with writer Cary Bates). I continue to be impressed with how deep the creative staff here is willing to drill into the DC comics universe.
And Grodd. Grodd. GRODD, THE SUPER-APE. He’s coming, and he had better not disappoint.
In addition to a landmark near-100-issue run on The Flash from 1992 to 2000, New York Times bestselling author Mark Waid has written a wider variety of well-known characters than any other American comics creator, from Superman to the Justice League to Spider-Man to Archie and hundreds of others. His award-winning graphic novel with artist Alex Ross, Kingdom Come, is one of the best-selling comics of all time. Currently, he writes Daredevil and S.H.I.E.L.D. for Marvel Comics and Empire and Insufferable for his own webcomics site, Thrillbent.