It’s been said that a superhero story is only as good as its supervillain. The Flash stands in harsh contrast to that idea because while it is one of the best superhero shows to ever hit the small screen, the villains (by and large) are incredibly disappointing. However, just because The Flash is doing fine without strong villains doesn’t mean that the show should be content to rest, especially when it comes to season-long foes. Here are five ways The Flash can change and improve its villains.
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No More Speedsters
This is a really big one. It is understandable that when it comes to the season-long big bads, The Flash wants them to be on the same level or more powerful than Barry. The easiest way to make a villain seem like a threat is if they are actually faster than The Flash. While this might be easy it is also incredibly boring. Every season of The Flash thus far has seen major speedster villains and they have all had only subtle changes from each other. Zoom was not that much different than Reverse Flash and Savitar is really just Zoom and Reverse Flash melded into one character.
The Flash struck gold in season 1 with the Reverse Flash. Yet the reason Thawne was a great villain wasn’t because he was so much faster and more experienced than Barry, though it certainly helped, it was because of the personal connection he had to Team Flash. The cool thing about the Reverse Flash wasn’t the big CGI fight scenes he had with Barry, it was the way he manipulated him. Yet in every season since season 1 Zoom and Savitar have been boiled down to physical threats for Barry. Once it was cool to see Barry and his villain fighting at super speed. Now it is just dull and uninspired.
Give Them More Humanity
The villains on The Flash rarely seem like anything other than evil. A lot of The Flash‘s bad guys, especially the “metahumans-of-the-week,” have been rather one-dimensional. They have simplistic motivations and are usually more intent on creating mayhem and destruction more than anything else. Zoom and Savitar are two of the more recent and more egregious examples. Zoom was a deranged serial killer with no redeeming qualities. Savitar, meanwhile, not only looks like a mini-Transformer, he might as well actually be a robot for all the emotions he has shown. The Flash rarely gives a reason for the audience to sympathize with or even understand the villain.
Villains don’t have to be likable but they should at least seem like human beings. The other CW superhero shows don’t have this problem. Arrow has given the audience multiple reasons why their villains act the way that they do. You may not like them but you at least understand them. Non and Lillian Luthor on Supergirl had good intentions but went way too far into the dark side to achieve them. Villains should be flawed and maybe even twisted but they should still seem like real people. The Flash makes its villains cartoonishly evil and wicked.
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Have a Team-Up
Speaking of other CW shows, Legends of Tomorrow was similarly struggling in the villain department in season 1. When the show came back for season 2 they decided to take a collection of villains from Arrow and The Flash to create one big supervillain team-up. The Flash shouldn’t copy Legends of Tomorrow exactly, mainly because Legends took all the best villains available, but a supervillain team-up is an excellent idea. The Flash has enough small villains from the standalone metahumans episodes that they would be able to come together to create something truly terrifying for Barry. There is also plenty of precedent for it in the comics.
In the comics Barry’s main adversaries are not speedsters. Barry’s most frequent foe is a group of villains and criminals known as The Rogues who are led by Captain Cold. While Cold is probably out since he is currently dead and at this point belongs on Legends of Tomorrow more than The Flash, there are plenty of other evil metahumans who could rally together and torment Barry in season 4 or beyond.
The Flash has already introduced several characters who are a part of The Rogues like Mirror Master, The Top, Weather Wizard and Captain Boomerang. Individually these metas/criminals might make a threat for one episode but if they combined their powers, it could easily take Barry an entire season to bring them down. At the very least it would provide a different structure from the previous three seasons.
Focus Less on Powers and More on Characters
Since there are so many villains that exist for just one episode, The Flash spends a lot of time focusing on their powers and not really the characters. By the end of any given The Flash episode, the audience will know what a villain can do but not exactly why they are doing it. For example, it took at least three appearances before fans really gained an appreciation for Captain Cold. It shouldn’t take this long.
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This fix might seem similar to giving the villains a little bit more humanity but the two aren’t mutually exclusive. It would have been fine if Zoom was an unrepentant serial killer if we got a fuller picture of who he was as a person. Zoom’s backstory was shoved into one quick flashback and long exposition scene. The Flash spent more time on Zoom’s ability to jump between worlds and the level of his speed powers than on who he was as a person. The most time we spent with Zoom out of costume was when he was pretending to be someone else, Jay Garrick. The Flash is so consumed with making their villains’ powers look cool and impressive that they forget that the quality of the characters should match their power levels.
Stop Doing the Same Old Tricks
When the characters themselves start commenting and joking about the tropes of the series it is time to stop doing them. Every season The Flash has seen one character who the team thought was a friend or at least a non-enemy, who turned out to be connected to or actually be the big bad. In season 1 it was the fake Harrison Wells, in season 2 it was the fake Jay Garrick and in season 3 it has been Julian Albert. Julian is a bit different in that he was being mind-controlled and possessed by Savitar, but still his reveal prompted Barry to quip about the team’s terrible luck with meeting new people.
The Flash has a tendency to prioritize “shocking twists” over good storytelling. It has become rather boring and predictable as a result. Everyone guessed that Julian was going to be Dr. Alchemy when he first showed up. Still it took The Flash seven episodes to confirm Julian’s identity as Alchemy and another two episodes after that to explain what was really going on with him. It would have been much more interesting if we knew from the start that Julian was being manipulated by Savitar rather than play this waiting game with the show. If The Flash wants to have twists with their villains they should not use the same one over and over with only slight variations.
But what do you think? Does The Flash have a problem with how it approaches its villains? Do you think these changes would work? What would you do to fix the problem? Who has been your favorite Flash villain?
The Flash season 3 will return Tuesday, January 24 at 8/7c on The CW. Stay up to date by liking our Flash Facebook page!
(Images courtesy of The CW)