December 2, 2010

Adapting Origins

Category: Media, Opinion — By @ 8:00 am

Today’s guest post is by Dave Huang.

One of Flash franchise’s greatest strengths is the diversity of the Rogues. That strength, however, may prove a challenge when being modernized or adapted to film. Whether or not combining origins is a good thing, it certainly is a trend. Every Superman film has presented a Kryptonian threat (kryptonite, phantom zone criminals, synthetic kryptonite, synthetic kryptonian, kryptonian crystals). In Batman Begins, Scarecrow’s formula, Falcone’s involvement, the main threat, and Bruce’s training all trace back to Ra’s. In The Dark Knight, Batman’s escalation begets Joker who begets Two-Face. In updating Spider-Man, radioactivity is discarded in favor of genetics with organic webshooters (one origin for all powers). The list goes on….

How then does one adapt a speedster with enemies from the far future, prehistoric past, and all manner of scientific disciplines?

If past is prologue, one starts with the hero’s origin. The origin of The Flash is a little thematically weak. It’s an accident without purpose or meaning which grants neither chemical nor electrical powers and is unrelated to speed. Random electrified chemicals aren’t enough to rationalize all of Flash’s physics defying feats even in the comics, hence the Speed Force. However, the Speed Force is a little esoteric and geared at the comic book literate, for an adaptation you need something better grasped by general audience. My suggestion?

FTL.

Faster Than Light travel is thematically relevant (about being fast), it has meaning and purpose (providing motivations to unify other origins or plot threads), it is familiar to audiences and intuitively physics defying (FTL is the cornerstone of space faring science fiction and requires no explanation as to why or how it works), and coupled with deep space exploration it serves as a technological umbrella for nearly all of the Rogues. If Central City acts as a privatized Cape Canaveral looking to send humankind to the stars and beyond, it sets the tone for a city obsessed with speed (cracking FTL) and developing bleeding edge science for those travels.

The space race is extremely interdisciplinary and focused on practical working prototypes of seemingly far future technology. If the Flash’s accident involves not just chemicals and electricity but a prototype FTL drive / speed force field generator, practical super-speed is intuitive because that’s what FTL is for. It also provides a convenient reason for the costume.

The necessary disciplines of deep space exploration line up nicely with many of the Rogues. Captain Cold relates to cryonics (passengers) or slow fields (ship shields). Dr. Alchemy and Weather Wizard have abilities ideal for terraforming. The Top taps centripetal forces and artificial gravity. Thinker and Kilg%re relate to ship interfaces and AI. Grodd is easily adapted as an enhanced simian test subject. Mota fusion, Digger aerodynamics, Rory heat shielding, Scudder space folding, Piper xenolinguistics, etc. I’m not suggesting all the Rogues are adapted into lab coat wearing Trekkies, but that a FTL space race supplies a unified rationale for the technology… the Rogues themselves are free to be felons who misappropriate said tech for their misdeeds.

As a final benefit, a space race suits Flash’s role as the promoter of shared universes that can be adjusted as much as the filmmakers are comfortable with. The impetus for human investment into FTL technology would, no doubt, be greatly affected by the confirmation of extraterrestrials with such technology (be it Superman or Green Lantern). A prototype ship would be a draw to a test-pilot, just as all the investment and science would draw Wayne Enterprises, Queen Industries, Luthor Corp, Cadmus, or STAR Labs. The debut of extraterrestrials could also burst the investment bubble and serve as motivation for villains.

How one employs the art of adaptation dictates the framework of your franchise well beyond its origins. Nolan’s Batman has essentially foreclosed the possibility of Clayface, Killer Croc, Man-Bat, Poison Ivy, or Mr. Freeze as we know them. With the upcoming Flash film it sounds as if the villain will be a street level serial killer (CSI, Se7en) and that Flash will mostly have to overcome his own challenges and obstacles (sports films) rather than fight a Rogue. Hopefully, Flash’s colorful and powerful cast of Rogues will not be adapted out of possibility or be made unrecognizably mundane.

A Faster Than Light Space Race isn’t the only way to adapt the origin and leave the door open for all manner of classic Rogues, but hopefully they are looking to find a plausible explanation that fits the scope of the mythos rather than taking an axe to the mythos to fit a grounded explanation.