THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR CW’S CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, PART 3
I’m not exactly sure when I first heard of the Flash. He very infrequently appeared in Superfriends which was probably my first exposure to the character. It wasn’t until I was about 8 in 1984 when I got my very first Flash action figure, the one from the Super Powers line. I wore that action figure out though. He was my guy and over time, he completely fell apart from overuse.
But before the action figure wore out, the character of the Flash was killed off in the comics in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series. By this point, I was a year into being a dedicated and regular comic book reader. A year earlier, I had been duped into collecting Justice League comics by the Super Powers action figures, but my first issue of my subscription I got in the mail was #239, the one where the Flash quits the team. Despite my limited exposure to the comic book version of the character, learning about the Flash’s death in Crisis was devastating to me at 9 years of age. It wouldn’t be for years before I would actually read the issue where Barry Allen sacrifices himself heroically for all of mankind. I had just heard about it and put off reading it for years.
I did quickly grow a fondness for the new Flash, Wally West who was the former Kid-Flash. Despite that, it was Barry Allen who lived on in action figure form whenever I played with my Super Powers action figures. It was Barry who didn’t quit the Justice League within the imagination of my super hero universe. It was Barry who went on every mission, fought every villain and was the pride and joy of my collection.
In 1988, I got my legitimate first taste of Barry Allen in a comic when I acquired Secret Origins Annual #2. What a story. A retelling of the origin of the Flash, but also a succinct look at his entire life including his death. The issue stands as one of my favorite comics of all time and delivers a final page that sticks with me to this day as Barry becomes the lightning that gives him his own powers.
In the Fall of 1990, Barry Allen was to return. Not to the comics, but this time, he would return in the form of a live action TV series. The Flash starring John Wesley Shipp and Amanda Pays aired on Thursdays on CBS opposite NBC’s powerhouse The Cosby Show. And FOX had thrown their hat into the ring to conquer Thursday by temporarily moving The Simpsons to Thursday, too.
What an exciting show though. Or at least, it was to a ninth grade boy who was starved for live action super hero fare. The show introduced Captain Cold, Mirror Master and even had Mark Hamill as The Trickster twice (in a role that would forecast his time as the voice of the Joker). Shipp effectively played a reluctant hero, but hero he was. The bright red velvet costume with huge gold accents stands as one of my favorite live action super hero costumes ever created. And the show’s state-of-the-art effects for the time increased my love of super speed and incited my imagination even further.
The competition ate away at the Flash and factoring that in with its large budget, the show only lasted a season. It wasn’t able to ride the Batman ’89 coattails like CBS and WB had hoped. We only got 22 episodes of the show. We would eventually get a comic book special in this universe. No toys. Not much in the way of any merchandise…until last year.
As a part of their Multiverse collection, Mattel released a six-inch action figure based on the John Wesley Shipp Flash. What a beauty. This likely only happened thanks to the elevated attention Shipp was getting by playing Henry Allen on the CW’s Flash TV show. There had also been some nice moments on CW’s Flash where Shipp additionally played the Jay Garrick version of the Flash. It was nice fan service, but nothing like what would happen starting in season 5 of CW’s Flash.
At the start of the Elseworlds crossover on CW, Shipp returns as Barry Allen from the 1990 Flash TV series. And while his moments are brief, we see that he has continued to wage the war against crime and his allies have grown past just Tina McGee and Julio. Sadly, his world dies in the opening seconds and his contribution to the adventure is cut short when The Monitor zaps him away during one of the battles.
This all was set up for this year’s Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. In part 3 of the crossover, a subset of the overall “Arrowverse” team of heroes, including Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen, find Shipp’s Barry Allen running constantly on a cosmic treadmill to delay the inevitable destruction of the world as much as he can. Gustin’s Flash rescues him, but Shipp’s Flash ultimately finds himself in a situation where he has to get back to running to save the world much like his comic book counterpart did in 1985. Saving Gustin’s Flash from having to make the sacrifice, Shipp tells him to “ride the lightning.” Musical cues from Elfman’s Flash TV theme song play, Barry (Shipp) remembers a time from his younger days when Tina tells him she believes in him (pulling HD footage from the original show!) and this Flash is consumed, sacrificing himself for the cause. All that remains is the Flash’s emblem scorched and tattered lying on the treadmill.
— ⚡DC Marvel United⚡ (@DCMarvelUnited2) December 11, 2019
Despite not getting to see the adventures, it’s comforting to know that the Flash of Earth-90 (as they called it on this show) continued on. It’s tragic that his world was destroyed and he ultimately could not save it, though perhaps its fitting in a way that the Flash who could not overcome ratings hurdles would be doomed. And even though he could not overcome the odds and save that weird world full of a mix of modern wardrobes and vintage autos, the Flash of Earth-90 comes out a hero in the end.
Granted, the comic book version of Barry Allen eventually came back. And as I write this, there are still two parts left in Crisis yet to air. So, there is still a chance Flash of Earth-90 could be recovered, but I doubt that. And I really don’t want that. I truly believe this is a fitting end for Shipp’s version of Barry Allen. And it’s satisfying to see a childhood hero stay a hero and go out a hero.
And as far as I’m concerned, just like what happened in Secret Origins Annual #2, Shipp’s Flash not only saved the world, but became the lightning bolt that gave him his power in the first place.
The Flash of Earth-90 didn’t just tell the Flash of Earth-1 to ride the lightning, he told all of us to. He never stopped. And even in the end, he inspires us to be better. So ride the lightning. That’s what our fallen hero would want.