A hero is only as good as his or her greatest villain – Sherlock & Moriarty, Superman & Lex Luthor, Ripley & the Alien. And for my money, with perhaps the exceptions of Batman and Spider-Man, the Flash has the best rogues gallery in superhero comics.
I am more than willing to concede that my love of Flash’s cadre of villainy can easily be traced to my affinity for this heroic speedster, but that’s what this series of posts is about. So, objection overruled. What can’t be argued is that Flash’s classic rogues gallery is the one group of super-villains identified, collectively, as “The Rogues.” Batman’s iconic rogues are not accorded that honorific, nor are Superman’s or Spidey’s, despite similarly well-known villains. This is significant, because it puts them in a rarefied class of comic book supervillainy.
Most, if not all, of the notable rogues are silver age creations. This means they are colorful and flamboyant, with a hint of whimsy bubbling just under their villainous facades. This is part of what I love about them – the pseudo-science involved, the Rube Goldbergian complexity of their plans, the flashy costumes (pun intended), and the inventive ways in which they would try to slow down their speedy nemesis. Maybe they weren’t as deadly as other villains, though they sometimes tried to be, but they were always a challenge, a challenge that could captivate and engage the minds of the readership.
The Pied Piper
In the Wally West Flash series, writers Bill Messner-Loebs and Mark Waid appropriated and rehabilitated some of these classic rogues to battle, or aid, Barry’s nephew. Later, Geoff Johns would take many of these characters and craft stories infusing them with a darker side intended to enhance their relevance, a feat he seems to have achieved – in the too few stories of his I’ve read –without losing what makes them cool.
It has been far too long since I’ve read a bunch of Flash comics, so going into much more detail than the pitifully thin bits I’ve scattered above is beyond me. I would just say that you should seek out some of the classic Flash issues with these characters battling our crimson and gold hero – whether the Barry Allen run or the Wally West run – because they are some damn fun comics. Then, I would argue, you’ll better understand the draw of these four-color villains.