With the second season of CW’s The Flash racing to an end (sorry), our speediest hero is in many a geek’s mind and heart. With The Flash’s 60-year history, which stories say the most about him? Now granted, I wrote several articles about how great the Justice League cartoon was, so I’m biased. But for my money, “Flash and Substance” is one of the definitive stories about the character.
A late entry in the Justice League Unlimited series, “Flash and Substance” sees Central City, Flash’s hometown, coming together to celebrate their favorite hero. There’s a Flash Appreciation Day with a parade and a Flash museum is opening that night. It’s all very exciting and heartwarming to The Flash, who convinces Batman and Orion to attend the festivities with all the puppylike glee of a younger brother. The trouble comes from Mirrormaster, Captain Boomerang, The Trickster, and Captain Cold, who have suffered enough of the Flash’s heroics and make a pact to kill him on his special day.
It’s a very funny episode, as Flash’s less-than-imposing villains initially take turns creating death traps, and we get to experience such joys as a deadly roller disco. There’s also a love-struck TV reporter who gives us the timeless line: “When we come back from the break, I’ll try to get with him… I mean, get to him… for an interview.” Anyone who’s had enough of grimdark, humorless superheroics will be pleased to find none of that pretension in this tightly-paced half-hour. But that doesn’t mean there’s no substance or thought in the writing.
As the episode goes on, cold and merciless Orion begin to understand–as we do–that Flash’s jovial, flirty, chipper attitude is not just a reflection of surface vanity. It comes from a deeper place of genuine love. The Flash may not be the strongest, smartest, or most versatile member of the Justice League, but he is the most compassionate. With the extra time his speed affords him, Flash makes an effort to understand and to care for every single citizen of Central City; even its criminals.
The ultimate culmination of this comes about halfway through the episode, when the heroes find The Trickster holing up in a bar. He’s hurt over the other villains’ constant rejection of his silly and flamboyant plans, but refuses to give them up. Batman and Orion take an intimidating, threatening approach, but The Flash intervenes and sits down quietly with Trickster (Mark Hamill, in a very well-done cameo). He understands that he’s a sick man–not a bad one–and that he only craves attention. The Flash promises to visit him in the hospital if he tells what the other villains are planning, and Trickster happily gives up the information. Not a punch is thrown, and Flash doesn’t even have to take the crook to jail. With a promise to turn himself in, Trickster happily toasts his rival with a “Got me again, Flash!”
This single scene is so representative of what makes The Flash’s passionate and personal approach so effective, and why he will never stop joking, playing, and teasing even in the thick of battle. Sure, some villains need a hard boot to the jaw. But most of them could really use a kind hand offered to them in their time of need.
All images credit of Warner Bros. Animation