The Enduring Appeal Of Flash Villains

Why do people like Flash villains so much? They’re arguably just as beloved as the Flashes themselves, and even many comics creators rank them as being among the best rogues galleries in comics.

There are many reasons for this, some of which simply come down to them being very memorable and entertaining characters, and in some cases even lovable (your mileage on the latter may vary, however). You might be surprised by how many dedicated fans there are of the Rogues and/or the Reverse Flashes. But there are other reasons for their popularity as well.

Firstly there are the villains’ powers or gimmicks, most of which complement or neutralize the Flashes’ speed. The Reverse Flashes obviously match the speed of their nemeses, allowing for some extraordinarily epic races and forcing the heroes to get faster or more creative with their powers. The Flash television series has shown this quite well, with Barry Allen being pushed to go ever faster to combat the superior speed of Eobard Thawne and Zoom. And many of the Rogues’ powers combat speed in some way by slowing down motion, such as Captain Cold’s cold gun and the Turtle’s kinetic black hole. Still others have devised inventive ways around the Flashes’ speed, such as Mirror Master’s near-magic mirror tech, the Top’s vertigo power, and the Pied Piper’s hypnosis. They’re all extremely well-suited to fighting the Flash, and are very good at what they do. Several of the Rogues have noted that fighting other heroes almost seems like it’s happening in slow motion because they’re so accustomed to combat with speedsters.

Another reason for the villains’ popularity is that they’re an excellent contrast for the Flashes’ heroism. The Reverse Flashes — particularly the obsessive Professor Zoom, who’s alternately been a tremendous fan of Barry Allen and at other times wanted to take his place — show us just how terrifying and awful the Flashes could be if they were bad people (or in Zoom’s case, deranged). The Reverse Flashes are a dark mirror to demonstrate the noble qualities of the heroes. This was especially hammered home when Professor Zoom murdered Barry’s mother and we saw that tragedy didn’t twist him as it did Hunter Zolomon.

In the same vein, the similarly poor upbringings of the Rogues and Wally West showcase the differences between them; Wally came from a broken home and still became a hero, while the Rogues became anti-social criminals and at least some attributed it to their dysfunctional early lives. Wally said of Double Down “Like most Rogues he blames his predicament on someone else”, and that seems to be the key difference between him and them.

Flash 132 And finally, a major reason for the popularity of at least some Flash villains is the ‘gentleman thief’ aspect many of them embody. Not all of them are like this, of course, but the Rogues have held that appeal since the Silver Age (at left is a letter published in Flash v1 #132, circa 1962) and it’s only become more pronounced in the modern era with the establishment of Captain Cold’s Rogue Rules. Many fans like them for their principles even if they don’t always live up to them, but the Rogues are just as human and fallible as the rest of us. The fact that they even care about rules sets them apart from many other villains, and makes them distinctive and easier to root for. Readers can genuinely care about Captain Cold and want him to succeed when he has a set of ethics and refuses to cross certain boundaries.

So there are good reasons for the enduring popularity of Flash villains amongst readers and creators, and their success is no accident. They’ve been well-crafted over the years to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the Flashes, and are interesting characters in their own right. It’s been wonderful to see some of them finally appear in live action television over the past two years, and hopefully they’ll continue to be showcased and introduced to an entirely new audience in the years to come.


6 thoughts on “The Enduring Appeal Of Flash Villains

  1. Golddragon71

    I don’t remember for the life of me which Issue it was in but I recall that there was an issue during I think it was Wally’s Run of the Flash where Geoff Johns himself wrote in as a fan asking for an appearance by the Reverse Flash I think it was before Chain Lightning but I’m having trouble finding it.

    1. Lia Post author

      Yep, it was printed in Flash v2 #48! You can see the letter here.

      Reading Flash letters columns are always interesting, because you’ll find letters from future comics pros before they broke into the industry. Johns, Cary Bates, Tom Batiuk, Steve Leialoha, Marty Pasko, and Peter Sanderson immediately come to mind. Plus, of course, Paul Gambaccini (the guy Paul Gambi was named after) — who’s been a media personality in the UK for decades.

  2. banks

    I would also add, the rogues look great.

    The look of the Flash and the Rogues captivated me as kid reading silver age Flash and was what kept me coming back for more.

    Big bold colours. Easily identifiable. Well designed. No bandoleers of pouches or giant shoulder pads anywhere!

    1. Lia Post author

      Very true. I always laugh my rear off when re-reading certain `90s comics, particularly annual #5. Trickster’s redesign is kind of fun and makes sense for a guy like him, but it’s definitely busy-looking. Weather Wizard just looks stupid and bland, and Captain Boomerang’s new look is silly. I’m glad later artists didn’t stick with those for long.

      Scott Kolins said once that he’d wanted to redesign Mirror Master’s costume but Johns wouldn’t let him, and noted that Johns had been right. He did do a good job with Weather Wizard’s redesign, but his redesign of the Top was pretty weird.*

      *here’s where I admit I’m planning to cosplay as that look someday if I get off my lazy butt, though. I’ve already cosplayed as his classic look, but have put on some extra pounds since then and the spandex is EXTREMELY unforgiving.

  3. Jesse

    I always thought part of the Rogues’ appeal was in their conceptual simplicity. Flash is the most popular hero who has only one, focused power. He represents science harnessing one force in the universe: speed. The Rogues are all the bad side of science, harnessing powers for evil. They too (at least, a lot of the core ones) are each one, focused power: heat, cold, colors, sound, weather. Extremely basic, fundamental, elemental concepts of nature. And so their encounters become science experiments: what happens when cold hits speed? Who wins, speed or sound? And so on.

    1. Lia Post author

      That’s an excellent point! I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but you’re right. The New Year’s Evil issue hinted at the importance of their elemental nature, but didn’t take it any further. Hmmm.


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