The Flash 1.17 – Captain Cold

Well, speaking of Dick Miller, as I was in the previous entry, back in 1990-91, he had a small recurring part as Fosnight, an informer who occasionally dropped helpful hints about Central City’s criminal underworld in CBS’s quirky version of The Flash. It was a show that owed a whole lot to the success of Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, and gave John Wesley Shipp his first starring role as the Scarlet Speedster. Well, since I’m paying for DC Universe, I might as well take advantage of it and show the kid another thing or two, right? (We also watched one of my favorite episodes of the 1990s Batman cartoon, Paul Dini’s “Almost Got ‘im,” this afternoon.)

Maybe the more obvious pick for a look at The Flash would have been its pilot, or the two with Mark Hamill as the Trickster, or the two with Jason Bernard as Nightshade, the retired hero from the 1950s, but I’ve always enjoyed Gail Morgan Hickman’s “Captain Cold” more than all the other episodes. It guest starred Michael Champion, who was always playing toughs and cops on television in the 1980s and 1990s, as the supervillain, and I correctly guessed that the mix of dopey puns about snow and ice and the sense of “how will the Flash win” menace would keep our favorite eight year-old critic amused. Naturally, he enjoyed the climax the most. There’s nothing like seeing the villain hoist on his own petard when you’re a kid, is there?

On the other hand, this took such a long time to get moving. The Flash – and Lois & Clark, to a large degree – came from that time when television executives seemed terrified to throw too many wild ideas at the screen for fear of whether the audience could swallow them. At one point, they spend nearly a minute discussing how the hitman might have come into possession of a gun that does what it does. Were there really any viewers in their fifties and sixties watching this who needed to have “he has a freeze ray” spoonfed to them like this? And yet I remember reading a critique of the series once that wondered whether casual viewers could have understood a character as outre as Nightshade, as though “he was a superhero, he got old, he retired” was some kind of radical concept.

Anyway, our son certainly squirmed as the character development was limited exclusively to another guest star, wondering why he’s supposed to be caring about the journalistic ethics of somebody he’ll never see again when there’s perfectly good super speed and freeze ray stuff to be seen. But the problem with The Flash, both then and now, is that they have an hour of TV to fill and this guy’s scraps tend to be finished in seconds. I liked the show’s supporting cast, and its crazy timelost design, with art deco buildings and Tamara de Lempicka prints in everybody’s apartment, but I honestly prefer the modern TV incarnation, where there is so much more going on every week, and where members of the huge regular cast develop instead of one-off characters.

On the other hand, Grant Gustin’s Flash is known for making catastrophically bad, universe-threateningly poor decisions several times a season. John Wesley Shipp’s Flash may have run out of steam getting from one side of town to the other and back in sixty seconds, but he was no dummy. It’s nice to see a superhero with as much common sense as this Barry Allen.