“My name is Barry Allen and I’m the fastest man alive.”
-The Flash/Barry Allen
One of my family’s favorite activities each week during the fall and winter is to watch the CW’s hit show The Flash. As the title suggest, The Flash tells the story of the classic eponymous DC comics hero who is the fastest man alive. The Flash was born out of the success of Arrow and was first introduced in season 2. Thus the two shows (as well as the other CW superhero shows) operate in the same universe which allow them to interact with and borrow from one another.
As is typical of most superheroes (including Batman, the Green Arrow, and others), the Flash is born out of suffering. At a young age, Barry Allen’s mother is killed by a mysterious figure. His father is falsely accused of her murder leading Allen to become a CSI in order to exonerate his father. By chance, Allen finds himself in his lab (near a unique combination of chemicals) during the Central City particle accelerator explosion where he is struck by lightning. Through this event, Barry Allen becomes a speedster metahuman who channels his gift in fighting crime and protecting the city.
If Arrow was a story about failure, The Flash is a story of suffering. No matter who Oliver Queen defeats (either as the Green Arrow or as the mayor of Star City), he struggles to leave the island behind. So too, no matter how fast Barry runs, he cannot escape the suffering of losing his mother.
One of my complaints with The Flash is the repetition of the stories. In season one, the Flash battles the Reverse Flash who murdered his mother and uses Barry for his own evil gain. In season two, the Flash battles Zoom who murders his father and uses Barry for his own evil gain. In season three, the Flash battles Savitar who murders his fiance and uses Barry for his own evil gain. It appears that season four will take a major turn in the story, but thus far it has been stuck on repeat.
Nevertheless, the pattern is obvious. Barry cannot escape his own suffering. This is most evident after Zoom murders Henry Allen right in front of Barry. Even after defeating Zoom in the season finale, Barry cannot enjoy the victory. He not only defeated his enemy but he wins the girl of his dreams: Iris. Yet at that very moment, he decides that saving his mother is the only way to heal. So he runs to the past and saves her from the Reverse Flash’s knife. Doing so may have saved his parents, but it ruined everyone’s life including Sisco’s, Katalin’s, and the other characters.
Barry struggles with knowing how to heal. As a metahuman he can outrun and heal from almost anything, yet not from suffering. This makes Barry a torn and incomplete hero. Near the end of season 3, Barry and Captain Cold have an interesting exchange.
The Flash: Tell me Snark, did you think I had it in me, to leave you behind.
Captain Cold: I wasn’t sure. I’ve always known you had the potential to be as ruthless as they come. Your history made sure of that. Same as mine. Who knows? Maybe that’s why we get along. You see the good in me, I see the bad in you.
Captain Cold: Piece of advice. Stop trying to beat Savitar at his own gain. Your goodness is your strength.
If Thawn is the Flash’s reverse, Captain Cold is Barry’s opposite. One is a criminal, the other works for the police. One is a metahuman, the other is not. And as the above shows, what motivates them is the opposite. Barry sees the good in Snark while Snark sees the bad in Barry. That bad that Snark speaks of is rooted in Barry’s inability to heal from suffering. When he makes poor decisions (like trying to change the past) it is because of his inability to heal.
What I love most about The Flash, especially in the first season, was the heavy emphasis on the importance of fatherhood and adoption. Barry is raised by an adoptive father, Joe West. Joe is a great father who takes Barry in out of love and compassion. The beauty of adoption is put on display for the viewing audience. Joe treats Barry precisely like his other children. The same is true with Henry Allen. Whether behind bars or free, Henry is wise and a beloved character. His death is a genuine tragedy. Contrast these strong fatherly figures with the lack of motherly figures. Almost everyone has either lost (as in Barry’s case) or have a poor relationship with their mother (as in Caitlin and Iris’s case).
Yet even with Barry’s adoptive family who love and support him, he struggles with healing. There is something powerful in that narrative. One suspects that the average viewer is experimenting the same thing. The Christian must come along and announce that healing cannot come by running from the past or even to it (Barry tried both), nor can it come by clinging too tightly to what one currently has (Barry does that to), rather healing can only come in Christ.
This is why Christians who enjoy these stories (and I am certainly one of them) must confess that no matter how fast the Flash may run or what gadgets Batman may create or how powerful Superman may become, they are all poor saviors. They may protect you in the moment of cosmic disaster, but they cannot give you rest for your soul. For they, too, are looking for the very same thing.