Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sight and Sound: The Flash

The Flash television series, developed by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, premiered 20 September 1990 on CBS. With this blog's bi-weekly reviews of the series' episodes soon to finish, I thought it was about time that I posted the show's unforgettable titles. The lighting bolt logo screens that opened and closed each episode, accompanied by a sudden crash of thunder, were distinctive and dynamic. The show's driving, thunderous theme song was composed by Danny Elfman, and it was often incorporated into the episodic scores by Shirley Walker. The Flash's opening credits--showcasing stars John Wesley Shipp, Amanda Pays, and Alex Desert--cleverly utilize a staggered, slow motion effect to suggest a sense of speed and movement. Both the logo screens and opening titles served to instantly establish that dramatic yet playful tone inherenet to superhero adventures. Television doesn't get much more exciting than this!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fast Talk: Solid-Light Beam

Solid-Light Beam: As it turns out, the Rainbow Raider isn't the only Rogue who is fond of miraculously rendering beams of light tangible for use as tools or weapons. One of the Mirror Master's myriad trick mirrors is capable of an astonishing electromagnetic transformation that evokes the Raider's deployment of "microscopic solid light particles." After staging a daring break-in at a local finance company, Sam Scudder is interrupted by a vigilant sentry. Naturally, after glimpsing the distinctive colors of a costume worn by one of Central City's most infamous public enemies, the armed security guard decides to shoot first and ask questions later! In a move worthy of the monarch of motion himself, the Mirror Master swiftly dodges the fired bullet and then retaliates with a surprisingly forceful reflection from a small hand-held mirror. Has the guard been blinded? Hypnotized? The psuedoscience involved here isn't so simple. The guard collapses as if cuffed because he "couldn't withstand the force" of the mirror's "solid-light beam!" If they all appear as everyday mirrors, how does the Mirror Master manage to keep his array of reflective weaponry straight? In any case, I do hope that Scudder has conceived of an appropriate sheath for such a gadget. Surely any mirror capable of rendering light into a solid would be unwieldly and dangerous once unveiled in any lighted room!

Issue: The Flash #146 (August 1964)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Flash Facts: The Human Nervous System

"The human nervous system carries messages from one part of the body to another with speeds up to 265 miles per hour... When a person burns his finger with a match, the stimulus of burning is received on the skin of the hand by the sensory nerve. The sensation is registered in the sensory nerve cell; it is then transmitted to the motor nerve cell, which brings about movement of the muscles that control the hand. This causes the hand to release the match."

Issue: The Flash #193 (December 1969)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Live Action: "Good Night, Central City"

“Good Night, Central City” (May 4, 1991)

Writer: Jim Trombetta
Director: Mario Azzopardi
Editor: Dennis J. Wooley

Synopsis: At the city morgue, the surprise resurrection of career criminal Harry Milgrim signals trouble for bustling Central City. The small-time crook’s apparent death was but the test run for a powerful sonic device capable of inducing a state of deep sleep in human subjects. With his reluctant cousin Roger Braintree, the timid scientist who developed this technology, Milgrim sets out to put all of Central City to sleep such that he can carry out the criminal capers of his wildest dreams, regardless of the potential side effects to the slumbering public! The fastest man alive is prepared to put a stop to this dangerous plot but, unfortunately, Barry Allen is being slowed down by an internal affairs investigation that suspects he may be involved in its execution!

Commentary: The driving premise behind this episode is simple enough--the science to induce sleep on a citywide scale falls into the hands of an ambitious criminal. This episode’s script is simply outstanding, however, and “Good Night, Central City” is a lot of fun as a result. With no need to rely on spectacle or special effects, the story takes over and offers us the requisite fast-paced action, plenty of light-hearted humor, and some gripping moments of character-driven drama. Matt Landers is delightful as the overenthusiastic Harry Milgrim, a reckless and sometimes manic crook who dreams of escalating to the level of the criminal mastermind, and character actor Bill Mumy has a brief turn as scientist Roger Braintree, the villain’s nervous cousin. The relationship between Milgrim and Braintree is reminiscent of the relationship that existed between Weather Wizard Mark Mardon and his brother Clyde, characters from the pages of The Flash comic book, allowing for an undercurrent of compelling familial conflict. Additionally, guest star Victor Rivers brings an essential quantity of menace to the proceedings as Stanley Morse, a dangerous local gangster who is invited to take part in the full-scale sleep scheme. The episode boasts a surprisingly powerful subplot as well, in which Barry Allen is tormented by an internal affairs investigation which suspects him of corruption, and this is at points beautifully integrated into the dominant storyline. The series’ full supporting cast is on hand--complete with characters representing the city’s colorful police department, underground, and media--which serves, as ever, to stimulate a very real sense of vibrancy or vitality. At the risk of repeating myself, it must also be mentioned that Shirley Walker’s score for the episode is marvelous, its bouncing, jazzy tones undeniably contributing to the overriding sense of adventure. At this point in the season, The Flash had long-since found its footing and was consistently using its stylistic strengths and outstanding supporting cast to their full effect. It all adds up to one of the live action television series’ more enjoyable installments. Following a line-up of somewhat strained episodes featuring reinvented Rogues, “Good Night, Central City” is downright refreshing in its levity and thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.

High-Speed Highlight: By inflicting years of damage and decay in the span of several seconds, the Flash loosens a metal pipe embedded in the wall of a concrete bunker before then spinning it in his hands at spectacular speed to melt through the heavy-duty padlock barring the entrance to the control room for Central City’s civil defense system!

Quotable: “Oh, boy. Three days without sleep. I even tried what you suggested, you know, counting sheep. Last night at dawn I had twenty-three hundred… Well, actually, I counted their legs and divided by four.” --Officer Murphy comically struggles to cope with a bout of severe insomnia

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fast Talk: High-Frequency Vision

High-Frequency Vision: Superman can do some amazing things with his eyes. I have to say, as enviable superpowers go, Heat Vision ranks right up there for me. And the Martian Manhunter seems to make-up new capabilities for his Martian Vision as he goes along. It would seem that way to mere mortals like us, of course, since J'onn J'onzz possesses no less than nine senses! I wouldn't presume to begin interrogating the scientific fast talk of the DC Universe's extraterrestrial superheroes. Lately, however, when I sit down to enjoy a Silver Age story featuring the scarlet speedster, I find it increasingly hard to believe some of the sensory enhancements Barry Allen's super-speed has seemingly endowed. Take this episode, for instance, from the thrillingly titled "10 Years to Live--One Second to Die" by John Broome and Ross Andru. After being taunted by his criminal captors with the fact that there are ten bombs rigged to explode at a moment's notice at high population centers around Central City, the fastest man alive reassuringly informs us that he will be able to track these devices by following the "spurt of high-frequency energy" that triggers them, an invisible bolt "caused by an electric detonator." Broome, or the illustrious Julius Schwartz, adds a slight editorial note explaining that this high-frequency energy is "visible to the Flash because of his built-in super-speed capability!" In other tales, Barry accomplishes similar feats with his inhumanly tuned ears! I have to ask: Just how significantly would the superpower of super-speed extend the range of one's senses?

Issue: The Flash #190 (August 1969)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Upcoming: The Flash: Rebirth #1

The Flash: Rebirth is nearly upon us! Details concerning the first issue in the epic mini-series were released just ahead of DC Comics's April solicitations. Barry Allen's triumphant return will redefine the celebrated mythology surrounding the fastest man alive as well as the roles played by his fellow speedsters. This teaser offers us a glimpse of what lies ahead. Thematically, the narrative's emphasis on the nature of speed is intriguing. Considering his outstanding track record, Geoff Johns undoubtedly has an awe-inspiring story to tell, and Ethan Van Sciver's striking covers for the first issue promise that this adventure will be visually stunning. Visit Newsarama for a complete listing of the comic books that will be on sale from DC this April.

Written by Geoff Johns; Art and covers by Ethan Van Sciver. Through the decades, many heroes have taken the mantle of the Flash, but they all ride the lightning that crackles in the wake of the greatest hero the DC Universe has ever known, the man who sacrificed himself to save the Multiverse: Barry Allen! Following the events of Final Crisis, Barry has beaten death and returned to a fast-paced world that a man out of time wouldn’t recognize. Or is it a world that is only just now catching up? All the running he’s done before was just a warmup for the high-speed race that he and every other Flash must now run, because even though one speedster might have beaten death, another has just turned up dead! From Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver, the visionaries responsible for the blockbuster Green Lantern: Rebirth and The Sinestro Corps War, comes the start of an explosive and jaw-dropping epic that will reintroduce to the modern age the hero who single-handedly birthed the Silver Age of comics! DC history will be made, and the Flash legacy will be redefined! On sale April 1st. 1 of 5. 40 pg. FC. $3.99 US.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Flash Facts: Aurora Borealis

"Formerly believed to be a weather phenomenon, the strange streams of light (aurora borealis) appearing in the polar regions of the sky are now thought to be the effects of solar particles hitting the upper atmosphere of the Earth. The break-up of an aurora in Alaska was photographed during a study by the National Bureau of Standards and the Universities of Alaska."

Issue: The Flash #141 (December 1963)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sight and Sound: "Conquerors of the Future"

"Banded together from remote galaxies are thirteen of the most sinister villains of all time--the Legion of Doom--dedicated to a single objective, the conquest of the universe! Only one group dares to challenge this intergalactic threat: the Superfriends!"

"Conquerors of the Future," an action-packed installment of Hanna-Barbera's unequivocally entertaining Challenge of the Superfriends featuring Jack Angel as the voice of the Flash, aired on the Saturday morning of 18 November 1978 on ABC. In the episode's epic conclusion, a series of convoluted clues left by the Riddler reveal that the Legion of Doom has conquered the world sometime in the far-flung future. Because they're each capable of penetrating the time barrier, Superman, Green Lantern, and a surprisingly airborne Flash band together and charge ten thousand years into the future to challenge their united foes and restore the timeline. The episode features not one but two of the scarlet speedster's Rogues as members of the despicable Legion of Doom: Stanley Ralph Ross voices Gorilla Grodd while Don Messick provides the voice of Captain Cold. Due credit to the underappreciated King of the Seven Seas, however; in animated form, we must admit none of the scarlet speedster's supervillains could ever be as menacing as the terrifying Black Manta! After their plot to overtake future civilizations is foiled, these cowardly would-be conquerors are taught a lesson they won't soon forget: "Once you've started a battle with the Superfriends, you've got to finish it!"

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fast Talk: Solid Light Particles

Solid Light Particles: In this florid follow-up to last week's colorful installment of Fast Talk, a not-so scarlet speedster pursues the Rainbow Raider after having all pigmentation drained from his body. (Those healthy flesh tones you're seeing in Barry's cheeks? That's right, it's make-up applied to spare him public embarrassment. Honestly, I'd have to say that I'm more embarassed to see my favorite superhero running about the city in a bleached costume and cheap cosmetics!) Unfortunately, the fastest man alive is having some trouble getting the drop on the meanspirited Roy G. Bivolo because his chromatic deficiency is inexplicably prompting some disconcerting biological side effects. The distracted black-and-white hero can't help but think, "The color-drain took more out of me than I thought! Already feel like I've run a million miles!" What is it that the Flash is so desperately attempting to scale at super-speed? Why, the multi-colored rainbow bridge the Raider often uses to ride through the skies over Central City, a construct evidentally composed of "microscopic solid light particles." Barry can find some consolation in the fact that the Rainbow Raider has seemingly solved one of science's great mysteries, the nature of light's wave-particle duality!

Issue: The Flash #286 (June 1980)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Funky Winkerbean (2008)

Flash fan Jason "Papa Zero" recently wrote to me to generously submit a couple of newspaper clippings concerning the crimson comet from the Houston Chronicle, including this amusing comic strip, an installment of Tom Batiuk's long-running Funky Winkerbean. The unusual strip represents "a fond funky salute to Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson," offering a blatant homage to that unforgettable classic cover that first appeared on the face of The Flash #115. This installment of Funky Winkerbean ran in newspapers on 26 October 2008. It's always fun to find a connection, any sort of fraternal link, between daily newspaper strips like this and their comic book counterparts. Thanks, Jason!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Flash Facts: The Spectroscope

"The Spectroscope--an instrument for detecting the spectra of stars--can also be used to measure the speed of stars, in conjunction with the Doppler Effect. According to this physical law, when a star approaches the Earth, all the lines of the spectrum shift toward the violet end; if a star is speeding away from the Earth, the spectral lines shift toward the red zone."

Issue: The Flash #106 (April-May 1959)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Live Action: "Done With Mirrors"

“Done With Mirrors” (April 27, 1991)

Writer: Howard Chaykin & John Francis Moore
Director: Danny Bilson
Editor: Bill Zabala

Synopsis: When Barry Allen bumps into Stasia Masters, a beautiful classmate from his high school days, he could hardly suspect that he is about to become embroiled in a web of greed and deceit that will pit his superhero alter-ego against a dangerous high-tech criminal. Masters is the former moll of one Sam Scudder, an elusive thief known to law enforcement as the Mirror Master due to his use of advanced holograms in the execution of elaborate crimes. Both Scudder and Masters are in possession of revolutionary technologies stolen from Star Labs and, with Tina McGee’s career and reputation on the line, the Flash must see through myriad layers of deception to stop them both.

Commentary: The one and only Mirror Master is brought to life by guest star David Cassidy in the aptly titled “Done With Mirrors,” an episode that continues The Flash’s late-season trend of reinventing key members of the superhero’s Rogues Gallery. Unfortunately, this is the least engaging episode thus far to feature one of the crimson comet’s famous comic book nemeses. Sam Scudder himself is entertainingly updated for his television debut, his mirror technologies replaced by a bevy of imaginative holograms, and Cassidy is appropriately menacing in the role. When Barry Allen notes that the notorious criminal’s police file is thin, however, he might as well be describing his characterization. Surprisingly, actress Signy Coleman earns more screen time as the seductive but duplicitous Stasia Masters. It is frustrating that the script doesn’t spend more time elaborating on Scudder’s character or exploring his motivations. The episode’s storyline is sorely lacking as well. Though the opening scenes are as breathless as any we’ve seen in the series thus far, by the time of the sudden climax the characters are lost in a tangle of absurd lies and double-crosses. The viewer would be forgiven for thinking the episode’s central MacGuffins--a pair of supposedly priceless, high-tech devices lifted from Star Labs--to be all but meaningless as they contribute little sense of consequence or threat to the proceedings. Additionally, a subplot involving Tina McGee’s efforts to reconnect with her estranged mother, played by actress Carolyn Seymour, proves to be absolutely useless and, worse still, it represents the reiteration of a woeful dramatic cliché. On the plus side, the sets and art direction are inspired, as always, and serve to create a vivid and colorful atmosphere for the action. Shirley Walker’s score is also particular engaging this time around thanks in part to the playful theme written for femme fatale Stasia Masters. There are a lot of fun references to the creators behind the Flash’s comic book adventures slipped into the script as well--take, for instance, Central City's Hotel Infantino on the corner of Fox and Broome. In the end, “Done With Mirrors” is an unsatisfying installment and the audience is left wanting. It’s undeniably disappointing that the Mirror Master does not live up to the standard of villainy previously established for the series by the likes of the Trickster and Captain Cold.

High-Speed Highlight: In a last-ditch attempt to confuse the scarlet speedster and escape justice, Sam Scudder produces eleven identical holographic doubles and loses himself in the crowd! In the blink of an eye, the Flash must race to attack each insubstantial duplicate in turn in order to locate the one true Mirror Master.

Quotable: “Well, Flash! Did you know that three east coast crime families have commissioned studies on you?... How much for you to forget you ever saw me? Take a walk?... Everybody has his price.” --Sam Scudder tries to buy off the fastest man alive

Special Thanks: Thanks, as always, go out to Kelson Vibber for the screen captures featured here. Visit Those Who Ride the Lightning for an overview of The Flash television series, complete with character profiles.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Fast Talk: Black Energy Beams

Black Energy Beams:
I will admit, the Rainbow Raider is an easy target for a weekly column intended to affectionately mock the scientific fast talk that is so integral to the sort of stories presented in The Flash. Come to think of it, I don't know how I've resisted featuring poor Roy G. Bivolo and his ridiculous pigmentary feats for so long. At last, then, here is an exercise in chromatics from the supervillain's first appearance in The Flash #286. I can be led to believe that the Rainbow Raider is capable of altering moods with his multi-colored light beams, as when a squad of hapless security guards doused in blue light become "victims of color-wave induced grief!" There's a certain logic to it. You would have to cook up some pretty persuasive technobabble, however, to convince me that the Raider's "black energy-beams" had "drained every glimmer of color right out of [the Flash's] body!" All together now: color does not work that way! At the very least, we are forced to presume that Barry Allen has uncharacteristically chosen entirely the wrong approach in scientifically describing his predicament to us. Surely this black-and-white effect could only be prompted by a change in the physical composition of the surfaces of his body and costume, not by the "draining" of some inherent capacity for color. (This is to say nothing of the physiological drain in energy that the once-scarlet speedster is experiencing as a result of his chromatic deficiency! We'll save that little bit of silliness for next week.) Of course, the real absurdity here is the implication that our hero has "badly underestimated this criminal." This from an astonishingly powerful superhero who has challenged the DC Universe's most menacing monsters! Honestly, there's a reason that the Rainbow Raider was left off of our recent Quick Quiz poll identifying everyone's favorite Rogues, folks.

Issue: The Flash #286 (June 1980)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Quick Quiz: Favorite Rogue?

The latest Quick Quiz poll has run its course, and just in time for DC Comics's Faces of Evil event! The most recent survey turned its attention to the scarlet speedster's colorful collective of arch-villains in posing a perennial question: Who is your favorite member of the Flash's famous Rogues Gallery? Comic fans answered loud and clear.

Captain Cold speedily seized the top spot and finished with an impressive 33% of the vote. It looks as if the frozen felon really is the leader of the Rogues. Mirror Master fell into second place, reflecting 18% of the vote. 15% of the blog's readers recognized the Weather Wizard as their favored foe. Abra Kadabra conjured up no less than 12% of the vote, rounding out the top slots. The remaining Rogues, memorable though they may be, proved somewhat less popular. 5% of respondents selected Hartley Rathaway, the Pied Piper, as a personal favorite. A further 5% looked to Captain Boomerang. 3% of respondents chose the ever-unpredictable Trickster as their villain of choice. Heat Wave, coming in dead last, earned a slim 2% of the vote. At least 7% of all those who voted--disappointed by the exclusion of the Top, Dr. Alchemy, the Golden Glider or the like--elected to cast their ballot in the "Other" category. Sixty readers took part in the poll.

This poll proved interesting. In my estimation, the most surprising result here is the relatively high ranking of Mark Mardon, the wicked Weather Wizard. I am also surprised that the Pied Piper and the Trickster did not earn more votes, particularly considering the former's substantial role as a supporting character in the series. My personal favorite member of the Flash's unrivaled Rogues Gallery has always been Abra Kadabra, that mad magician from the 64th century, especially in light of his characterization during several rather epic battles with Wally West. Which of the supervillains did you vote for? Tells us more about the reasons for your selection in the comments section below.

Following the recent publication of The Flash (v.2) #247, the apparent finish of the third scarlet speedster's run in his own title, our next Quick Quiz turns its attentions to the talented scribes who plotted Wallace's many illustrious adventures. Who is your favorite regular writer from The Flash (v.2)?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Flash Facts: Ice Crystal Aggregation

Research into the formation of snowflakes and ice crystals, being produced by scientific experiments worthy of Captain Cold himself, may lead to improved weather forecasting, reports New Scientist. "[This year,] Paul Connolly from the University of Manchester, UK, will study ice crystal aggregation in the Manchester Ice Cloud Chamber. This giant three-storey stainless steel cylinder can be cooled to temperatures as low as -50 °C to simulate the conditions that produce snow... By running experiments at different temperatures, Connolly hopes to see how the speed of growth of the snowflakes changes. Heavier snowflakes fall faster but are difficult to forecast, so this will allow his collaborators at the UK Met Office to better understand the relationship between snowfall and temperature." Visit New Scientist for more in-depth details on how this new generation of ice cloud chambers operates.

Thursday, January 01, 2009