Heading into the 30th Anniversary of “The Classic” television series The Flash ventured into primetime superhero territory and proved that thrilling storytelling along with special effects yielding a legacy worth reexamining.
It’s nearly impossible now to imagine a primetime landscape that doesn’t encompass a series based on a superhero property or fantasy fiction. The CW relies on an entire interconnected “Arrowverse” that features many of DC Comics most prominent players, including The Flash. Just wrapping up its Fifth Season after celebrating a 100th episode and venturing into the crossover epic “Elseworlds”, Grant Gustin has protected Central City as its greatest hero, but recently ran into his 1990 alter-ego The Flash of Earth-90, 1990 that is.
On the heels of the success of Tim Burton’s Batman WB sought avenues to get many of its other DC properties off the ground, including a primetime hour-long live-action series based on one of its most enduring commodities. The Flash starred John Wesley Shipp and premiered on CBS in 1990, and took on a darker and more muscled up approach to the retelling of the superhero’s origin story. CSI investigator Barry Allen (Shipp) was expectedly struck by lightning and given his super speed, but he didn’t immediately run head first into the role as his city’s defender.
Though he’s returned to form in several incarnations on the 2014 reboot of The Flash, as Henry Allen, the “Golden Age” Flash/Jay Garrick, Shipp most recently suited up to bring his 1990 Flash, the Barry Allen of Earth-90 into the multiverse of the “Arrowverse”. A new threat is coming, a potential crisis that will test the mettle of our heroes — The Monitor has foreseen it, and he’s deemed our heroes worthy. The Flash of Earth-90 traversed the multiverse to warn his Earth-1 counterparts about The Monitor’s plan, but was “folded” away before he could join the fight.
John Wesley Shipp starred as The Flash in his CBS primetime series that premiered on September 20, 1990, almost 30 years ago, and ran for one season with total of 22 episodes. A critical hit, developed by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo the series was for its time the most expensive live action series in production at WB, and just became a challenge to sustain; the network also kept moving the show’s dedicated time slot around. That made it a bit of a challenge for The Flash to maintain its audience. Ultimately the show was cancelled. The final episode aired on May 18, 1991.
Case File: “Deadly Nightshade”
In the 16th episode of the season, the socialite granddaughter of a wealthy publishing mogul, Felicia Kane (played by Jeri Ryan) is being held for ransom by an urban radical militia. While in the midst of negotiating her release with the Central City Police Department, the group’s hideout is attacked by a masked gunman using the name and the M.O. of the 50s era vigilante known as “Deadly Nightshade”. As the salvo of gunfire is heard on the police phone, CSI investigator Barry Allen (John Wesley Shipp) listens closely as Julio Mendez determines the location of the lair.
With the room momentarily distracted, Allen takes the opportunity to race to the scene of the crime in his alter ego as the Scarlet Speedster, The Flash. He arrives in time to survey the carnage and finds Ms. Kane is shock. Later, Rebecca Frost (Denise Crosby) a psychologist, determines that the actions of vigilantes, like Deadly Nightshade and The Flash are to blame for the rise in crimes and the victims, like Ms. Kane, get caught in the crossfire. Frost’s supervisor is Dr. Desmond Powell (Jason Bernard) and like Barry, he doesn’t necessarily agree with the good doctor’s assessment.
Powell has a unique insight into the matter; he was the original vigilante known as the Deadly Nightshade and doesn’t take it kindly to the threat of an imposter, Curtis Bohannan (Richard Burgi) who is determined to carry out his own vendetta. Bohannan intends on assuming the secret identity of Central City’s only hero and her intends on wearing a suit of armor to exact his form of justice. If he can take down The Flash, he will become unstoppable! The Flash and Powell team up, once again, to stop their common foe.
In classic comic-book fashion, the episode presents the brave and the bold pairing of the contemporary super speedster teaming up with his “Golden Age” mentor. Barry Allen first meets Desmond Powell’s alter ego in the episode “Ghost in the Machine” establishing that The Flash wasn’t Central City’s first costumed hero. Barry reveals his secret identity to Desmond in this adventure, suggesting that the two would have crossed paths again. Powell’s vigilante Deadly Nightshade appears to be pattered after an amalgamation of Golden Age DC Comics heroes.
The episode also begins to point in the direction that The Flash is being perceived as a “hero” — a crime fighter — working alongside the CCPD, and is not the danger that Rebecca Frost suggests, but someone that might inspire hope. Shipp has often eluded to the dynamic changes his costume went through during the season, and it is most evident in this episode that certain modifications to the suit were made to make it appear more streamlined and proportioned to Shipp’s own physique. There’s even a scene where The Flash pulls the cowl back while in Powell secret hideout.
Besides spotlighting two Star Trek alumni; Denise Crosby and Jeri Ryan both make impressionable appearances in this episode, “Deadly Nightshade” reveals how much promise and potential there was in The Flash and the possibilities that might have been had the series gotten a Second Season. When The Flash of Earth-90 appears in the prologue to this past season’s crossover event “Elseworlds” he is the last man standing in what might have been an epic confrontation, but the battlefield is covered with costumed characters — a league that may have been in a Season 2.
The Flash (Classic Series) | “Deadly Nightshade” (Season 1 | Episode 16) starring John Wesley Shipp, Amanda Pays and Alex Désert directed by Bruce Bilson written by John Francis Moore & Howard Chaykin and guest starring Jason Bernard with Richard Burgi and Denise Crosby. [Original Airdate: March 28, 1991]