Flashback to the Past: The Flash 90s TV Series

Written by 

Br. TJ has a great piece on the meaning of the proliferation of superhero reboots, especially in film but also in musicals and television. It made me think back to a little watched but now cult-classic live-action tv show of The Flash which aired in 1990. It centered on the Barry Allen version of The Flash. My pre-teen self (and current self) loved that show. Sadly it never got a strong audience and ran for one season only (22 episodes in total). I've been thinking about it recently with word that The Flash is likely to come out as a movie in the near future. 

Here's the trailer for the show:

Now a couple of things jump out right away. First you can see the influence of Tim Burton's 1989 Batman (itself a film reboot of the Batman-verse). Danny Elfman, who did the music for that film, also scored The Flash show. The sets, backdrops, and modern scientific technology show influence from the '89 Batman film while the old style cars harken back to the radio-era days of heroes like The Green Hornet. There was even an episode (in 1990!) with a Day of the Dead festival with people walking around dressed up like ghouls remiscient of the recent zombie walk craze (check it out, first minute). 

As Wikipedia states,

"The show originally had a dark and gritty tone, and focused on having The Flash confront decidedly human officials, like corrupt officials and mobsters. Midway through the show's run however a few of the familar Flash Rogue's Gallery of colorful superheroes began making an appearance."  

I personally favored the dark and gritty tone of the first half of the show. As the show later progressed to some of its more fantastical elements, it balanced out the serious with the campy most of the time but did leave a legacy that showed up as the later '90s Batman films (the bad ones). 

The gritty tone included a time-travelling sequence (a hallmark of the Flash lore and the first superhero to bring the now ubiquitious time travel theme into existence) which sends Flash to an apocalyptic future run by his nemesis Nicholas Pike (the murderer of Barry's brother), where Pike leads a crypto-fascist terror regime. The episode is a kind of superhero version of It's a Wonderful Life where The Flash is shown what life would be like if he dies (Pike has fired a missile at The Flash which has propelled him into this alternative future). 

Occasional cheesiness aside, the show was really ahead of its time, especially when compared to the sitcom dominance of the 90s television scene.  

Here's a fun scene involving the near-death of Flash and his confrontation with his enemy Captain Cold. He also stands up for truth and justice (and against the entertainment-based media industry). 

Other elements that I think led to The Flash's cult-status:

--The clothing and look were really showed off many of what would become classic 90s looks (esp. causal chic). 

--An awesome turn by Mark Hamill as the villain The Trickster (video here). 

--The influence I think the show can be said to have had on the rise of crime-investigator dramas during the 2000s. The show does stick to the comic book history of Barry Allen a forensic scientist. Think all the CSI shows, Bones, even Dexter. It was way ahead of its time on that one. 

--The technology was quite primitive by our CGI standards so it comes off looking low-budget but again in a cool, B-movie kinda way. 

--And of course a series cancelled after one season of pure awesomeness.


Related items

Join the Discussion

Commenting Policy

Beams and Struts employs commenting guidelines that we expect all readers to bear in mind when commenting at the site. Please take a moment to read them before posting - Beams and Struts Commenting Policy


  • Comment Link Michael Milano Tuesday, 21 August 2012 19:34 posted by Michael Milano

    Chris... I loved this show. I was a total comic geek as a young adult (still am) and I remember watching this show in my very first "grown-up" apartment. I too, liked the darker tone of the earlier episodes. The first Iraq war preempted the show a lot (here in the U.S.) and I think that is part of what killed it. It could not establish and audience. It is out on DVD now. I haven't purchased it yet, but I'm considering it. I just watched the pilot a few weeks ago on youtube.

    Oh the bad early nineties fashion!!!

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Tuesday, 21 August 2012 20:31 posted by Chris Dierkes


    awesome. I started rewatching some of the episodes (the ones online anyway) and am about through episode 6 or so. Yeah I definitely remember the preemptions from the war. And yeah the really bad early nineties 'fashion'.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 21 August 2012 23:02 posted by TJ Dawe

    I was aware of this show at the time, but was also estranged from the world of comics - especially DC - and never watched it. and then whoosh, it was gone. (in a flash) Really wouldn't mind watching it now.

    Something I've discovered in getting back into comics recently is that the Flash travels through time on a special treadmill. He can run at the speed of light, and this can bend time. And DC recently did a major comics "event" called Flashpoint (which I just read)(it's collected in a trade paperback, five issues long) involving another sort of twisted It's a Wonderful Life, in which Barry Allen's mother wasn't murdered, and the world is completely topsy-turvey.

    With the massive success of the recent Avengers movie, there are many rumours circulating online about a Justice League movie, which would quite certainly involve the Flash. The problem is he hasn't had his own movie, and the non-comic reading public isn't familiar with him, his origin, his nemeses, his love interest. Fortunately, his powers are about as easy to understand as possible.

  • Comment Link Michael Milano Wednesday, 22 August 2012 00:07 posted by Michael Milano

    Yes Flaashpoint was the kick off event for "the new 52". The DC reboot. Flashpoint crossed over Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Aquaman and the Flash. I've only started reading them now... I finished the Aquamna/Wonder Woman Flashpoint trade paperback... looking forward to the batman story next

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 22 August 2012 01:52 posted by Chris Dierkes

    I've got a piece tomorrow looking at parallels between Batman and Christ in the recent Nolan trilogy. But another piece for another day would look at parallels of dying to save others (and also resurrection much later) in terms of Barry Allen during the Crisis of Infinite Earths. TJ or MIchael might know the answer but is that storyline the first in which a major hero dies in order to save the universe?

  • Comment Link Michael Milano Wednesday, 22 August 2012 02:30 posted by Michael Milano

    Chris - actually I think Jean Grey as Dark Phoenix sacrificed herself first. Then came Barry Allen. However both Jean and the Phoenix returned with a year or so. Barry stayed dead for about 23 years. So his death had more gravitas. This is why many fans did not like his return a few years ago. They felt it cheapened the sacrifice of his original death. He was the only superhero to remain dead for any real length of time. It was more than a stunt to sell more comics or some plot device.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Wednesday, 22 August 2012 17:19 posted by Chris Dierkes

    @Michael. Good point. I tend to agree with the bummage about Barry coming back from the dead after so long.

    Certainly the famous line about "Jean could have lived to become a god but it was more important to her that she die a human" has a very kenotic ring to it. ("She did not deem being a god something to be grasped but rather emptied herself.").

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Friday, 24 August 2012 06:09 posted by TJ Dawe

    Here's some more Christ symbolism in comics - a gallery of covers that blatantly reference the pieta:


    One that's not in there, because it's not a cover, is from the Daredevil arc "Born Again" - with Matt Murdock as the fallen Christ, in the arms of a nun, who turns out to be his mother. Murdock is frequently referenced as Irish Catholic, though he doesn't seem to be a regular churchgoer. But there's Christ symbolism woven throughout his stories, despite his hero identity as a "devil."

Login to post comments

Search Beams

Most Popular Discussions