I’m going to be honest, this chapter of Flash Facts will taking me out of my wheelhouse. We’re dealing with two characters who are not part of Flash lore in the comics, and one who has rarely appeared and, in those appearances, is nothing like his TV counterpart. As with last week, I do want to make it clear that there may be spoilers for things that will happen in The Flash as time goes on. I can’t say for sure, since I keep away from spoilers for the show.
One of the best things about The Flash has been the supporting cast. Caitlin Snow, Cisco Ramon, and Joe West are break out hits (although Devin HATES Cisco with a passion only outdone by artist George Perez, who we’ll discuss in a bit). Check out message boards from the last few weeks of The Flash season one and you’ll see people really worried that one of these three would be killed (money was on Cisco or Joe). Lucky for us all, none of them were killed. We still have a full Team Flash (bigger now, since Iris has become a member!).
But who the hell are these three, where do they come from, and how insane are their comic book histories? Well, I sure am glad I asked so I can answer these questions!
Caitlin Snow aka Killer Frost
On The Flash, Caitlin Snow is a super smart smarty pants who is shy in her day to day life, but a fun drunk, a bit of a worrier, and sad that her fiance died (but he came back and they got married! YAY!). Danielle Panabaker has done a great job keeping a character that could be overly stuffy from being so. The joy Panabaker brings to long lines of science flibberty farb adds so much to what I think we all love about the show - the sense of fun. Caitlin, through the work of the writers and Danielle Panabaker, embodies what makes the show work.
In the season one finale of The Flash we got a hint of Caitlin’s future: as Barry ran through the time stream, seeing possible realities, we catch a quick glimpse of Caitlin wearing a rather revealing top that she would NEVER wear, platinum blonde hair (or maybe blue/silver? hard to tell), and shooting ice from her hand. For fans of the show, this was a kooky moment, for fans of the comics, this was an exciting look at what may come.
In the comics, Caitlin Snow was a scientist for S.T.A.R Labs, stationed in the Arctic to work on a thermodynamic engine. The lab was attacked by a group of assholes called H.I.V.E. H.I.V.E trapped Caitlin inside the thermodynamic engine and she tore open the coolant system, which then turned her into a heat vampire. She took on the name Killer Frost and went searching for heat sources to sustain her, coming across the superhero Firestar.
Caitlin is the fourth version of Killer Frost. The most successful one (and by successful, I mean the one who lasted the longest) was Louise Lincoln, the second Killer Frost. Louise was friends with the first Killer Frost, aptly named Crystal Frost (a great name for a cereal brand in my opinion, or a new form of meth), and recreated the experiment that gave Crystal the Killer Frost powers after Crystal was killed fighting Firestorm. I can’t find too much info on this, but at one point I’m pretty sure Louise was in love with Firestorm. When she appeared in Crisis on Infinite Earths, Louise was all over Ronnie Raymond - I was never a big Firestorm reader so I don’t know if it was a spell or potion or whatever. Louise is, to me, most famous for having the funniest evil plan I’ve ever read - in Superman volume 2, issue 182, a group of mobsters put a hit out on Lois Lane, and Solomon Grundy planned to collect. Grundy had Lois until Killer Frost showed up and snatched her away. Louise then tied Lois up and left her on some train tracks, thinking in old school silent movie era villainy, so that a train would come run her over. Not surprisingly, Lois survived. Surprisingly, this happened in a comic from from 2002.
Caitlin Snow hasn’t done much in the comics, having been introduced just two years ago. Her most interesting story lies not in the comic pages, but in the press. For years, DC Comics has had a creator equity participation system that assured creators that, if a character they created for DC was to show up in a toyline, a TV series, or a film, they would get some cold hard cash as long as they submitted a form for it. When Killer Frost was first created for DC comics, she was created by Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom, the team working on Firestorm at the time, and Gerry felt like he deserved some cash for the use of Caitlin Snow on The Flash. DC Comics disagreed, stating that Caitlin is not the same creation as his, and as she is not Killer Frost on the show, he can’t even make that claim, since he created Crystal Frost, the original Killer Frost, not Caitlin. According to DC, if anyone was to get paid for the use of Caitlin on The Flash it would be Sterling Gates and Derlis Santacruz, the team behind the comic she first showed up in, but they won’t get paid either because Caitlin Snow is, according to DC, a derivative of the original Killer Frost, Crystal Frost.
Gerry Conway took to the internet with his annoyance about this (along with similar responses from DC in dealing with other characters he created, like Power Girl - derivative of Superman according to DC). While Conway claimed that this was a new rule at DC, he was mistaken. The rule was always there since the creation of the creator equity participation system at the company, but previous DC head honcho, Paul Levitz, ignored that rule and just cut checks to creators because he felt it was best to keep the creators happy and creating for DC. When he stepped down, the rule went back into effect.
The uproar online lead to DC re-assessing the rules while creators argued for and against it. Not long after Conway’s blog post, Dan Didio and Jim Lee, the big cheeses of DC Comics, came out with a statement saying that the rules were being changed. Overall, creators appear to be happier with the changes (inkers, for example, now get royalties, so I imagine they are a much happier lot) though there are lingering complaints about the shift in how DC figures out how much a creator should receive. As for Gerry Conway, he ended up apologizing for his blog post, saying that his anger was more based on things that happened in the '80s than what was happening today. Whatever the case, I hope Gerry gets the respect and money he deserves.
Cisco Ramon aka Vibe
Any good sci-fi/fantasy show needs comic relief. Someone to break the tension from time to time, or to put the insanity of what is happening on screen into terms the audience can relate to. When done right, like Xander Harris on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we love them. When done wrong, that usually suggests problems with the show in general and said show gets cancelled in the first season or two, so I can’t really think of any. The way Felicity was written in Arrow season three comes to mind, she kinda really sucked in season 3, doing nothing but crying. I really hope they fix that for season four.
On The Flash, Cisco Ramon is the comic relief. In my opinion, he’s good comic relief. I mean, he’s no Xander Harris, but he does a good job. He spouts out movie and TV references, he wears mash-up shirts, names bad guys, and he talks about how cool Barry’s powers are. Add to all that Cisco’s super smarts and his conflicted feelings about his part in the S.T.A.R. Labs “accident” and you have a reasonably well rounded comic relief character.
In the comics, Cisco is known for something far more important and sad. He is a hero known as Vibe, and he was one of the first Hispanic superheroes in comics. He was also a seriously terrible ethnic stereotype.
Introduced in Justice League of America Annual 2 in 1984, Vibe was the head of Los Lobos, a Detroit gang. When he heard that the Justice League was looking for new members, he decided to try out. Aside from being in a gang, Vibe had super powers - he could create vibrational shockwaves. Oh, and he was an expert breakdancer. Despite the reservations of Aquaman and Martian Manhunter, who were impressed by his Jackhammer, but thought his Floating Gremlin Spin need work, Vibe became a member of the JLA. He then got the JLA involved in a gang fight. Sigh…. give me a second….
Vibe was a member of what comic fans call the “Detroit Justice League”. It was a move by DC to make the Justice League more like Teen Titans, their best selling book, which focused on young heroes in a city environment. Aquaman, who was the leader of the Justice League at the time (seriously, who thought that was a good idea?) disbanded the League, took apart their satellite base that orbited the Earth, and moved the team to Detroit. Once a team of A-list heroes (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, you get the idea) Aquaman replaced them all with z-list characters. Vibe, Elongated Man, Gypsy, Steel (not the Superman Steel, a different one). Lame characters, really lame characters, with Vibe being the most lame of the lame.
How terrible of a character was Vibe? Look at this…
Ugh….Remember this when we discuss things like the depiction of different races in comics today. We still have a ways to go, but man we have come very far.
When DC Comics and Marvel Comics finally came together to release a Justice League/Avengers crossover comic inventively titled JLA/Avengers (or Avengers/JLA for issues 2 and 4), they got the artist best known for big team books, George Perez, to draw it. Perez promised to draw every member of both teams in the book. The flip side of this being that Perez openly hated Vibe, going into detail in an interview from 1985 about how the character was personally offensive to him*. Still, Perez made a promise, and he kept it**.
That’s Vibe’s head at the bottom of the 2nd panel.
Vibe also holds the honor of being the first Justice League member to be killed in the line of duty (I guess Flash isn’t counted since he quit the League shortly before he died?). He was killed by one of Doctor Ivo’s androids in Justice League of America issue 258, just three years after being introduced. But then, as comic characters do, Vibe came back. He showed up from time to time, until he was killed off again, this time in a weekly series called Trinity. Then DC did the whole New 52 reboot and Vibe was back. They tried to push the character in 2013, giving him his own book. It lasted 10 issues.
In an interesting bit for the character, and something I would be shocked if we never see on the TV series, Vibe’s powers allow him to disrupt the Speed Force, the extra-dimensional energy that gives Flash his powers. This makes Vibe one of the few honest threats to Flash. Lucky for us all, their on the same side.
Interesting to note - Vibe was also created by Gerry Conway. The Flash owes a lot to old Gerry.
The writers of The Flash and Carlos Valdes, who plays Cisco, deserve a lot of credit for taking a character that was created to fill a quota in the comics and making him stand out. I’d love to hear George Perez’s thoughts on this version of Vibe. I hope he would like him.
Joe West aka Ira West/William West
I’m not going to lie, Joe West is my favorite character on The Flash. If he had been killed off at the end of season one, as some people thought he would be, I may have quit watching the show. According to the commentary on the pilot episode, Joe was originally going to die in the first episode, but the creators came to their senses***. I don’t know that the show would have worked without him. There’s a moment in the fifth episode of season one where Barry shows Joe his voice trick (he vibrates his vocal chords so that Flash doesn’t have the same voice as Barry Allen) and Joe laughs uncontrollably. That was the moment I knew he was my favorite. Jesse L. Martin, who plays Joe, adds a real dose of cred to the show. As both part of the original Broadway cast of Rent and spending nearly a decade on Law & Order, Martin is easily the best known actor on The Flash.
Joe West is the paternal father of Iris, and the adoptive father of Barry, taking him in after the death of his mother and arrest of his father. It is, in theory, Joe’s job as a detective that is responsible for both Barry and Iris’ career choices - Barry as a police scientist and Iris as a reporter - both search for the truth, both want to help people in need.
Joe, along with Cisco, is the one who figures out that Harrison Wells is keeping secrets. He’s the first to honestly doubt Wells, and never appears to take much of a liking to him. He knows that Barry is Flash from the start, and it is Joe who demands that Barry not get Iris involved (it felt forced, and happily, the show moved past that by the end of season one).
Joe also wears a beanie. He wears it a bunch. More and more as the first season continued. I don’t know if this was something Jesse L. Martin wanted to do, or if the costumer just felt it would work for him.
Here’s the crazy part: Joe West does not exist in the comics.
In the comics, there have been two versions of Iris’ father. The first, Ira West, was a kindly, but absent minded Nobel Prize winning physicist who, with his wife Nadine, had two children, Rudy and Charlotte. Ira and Nadine adopted baby Iris Russell from Eric and Fran Russell, a couple from the future looking to save their daughter from nuclear war.
It was through Ira that Barry Allen met Iris West. Barry was a student of Ira’s, one that Ira took a liking to. Ira and Barry got along so well that when Barry first gained his powers, he went to Ira for help in creating a costume. It was Ira who invented the Flash Ring, a special device that could shrink Flash’s costume so that it could fit into a ring with an airtight compartment. The costume would regrow when it made contact with oxygen.
Ira wasn’t the best of parents; he never hid from his children that Iris was his favorite. While we know almost nothing about his other daughter, Charlotte, we know that Ira’s son Rudy was kind of a dick (he tried to kill his own wife and sold his son out to ancient robots). Iris, in Ira’s eyes, was the child he always wanted. She was smart, she was curious, and she was good hearted. When Iris was killed by Reverse Flash, Ira became something of a hermit, leaving his home only to give talks on cold fusion and other things that smart people talk about. His home became a shrine to Iris, filled with her diaries and scrapbooks, which he would go over time and again.
When Iris returned from the future, very much alive, she decided to keep her being alive from Ira, fearing that it would be too much for his heart. Though we never saw it, I figure at some point Iris told him. If not, Ira got quite the shock when he saw new articles written by his dead daughter in the paper.
After DC Comics rebooted everything with Flashpoint, the history of Iris West was changed, and with it so was her father’s. For one thing, his name was changed from Ira to William. For another, he was now an asshole.
William West and his wife (thus far not named in the comics) had three children, Rudy, Iris, and Daniel. Williams wife (again, no name) died while giving birth to Daniel. This drove William to drink, and William became an alcoholic. Rudy left home and would go on to have a son, Wally, then vanish himself. During a particularly bad bender, William West began to beat Daniel. Daniel fought back and pushed his father down the stairs, paralyzing him. Daniel ran away, leaving Iris to care for her paraplegic shit sipper of a dad.
Daniel turned to a life of crime and was caught by Flash. He spent some time in jail, got out, gained super speed, then became Reverse Flash. Daniel went back in time and tried to kill his dad, but Flash stopped him.
As I’ve mentioned before, the thing I love about the Flash mythos is that these are… were… characters that were heroic not because of past trauma, but because they are good people, so I’m sure you can guess that Ira is my personal choice for the better of Iris’ comic book dads. This is also why I love Joe West - he is good. He’s a cop who took in a kid in need, even though he was a single father of a little girl. He did what was right. William West is, in my opinion, a shit character. This need to make comic book characters “dark” is so tiring to me. Some characters should be dark - Batman, Wolverine - but some are supposed to shine through the darkness - Superman, Flash - and there’s nothing wrong with that. So, thanks to everyone who works on The Flash for making Joe West so awesome, and so good.
Next week, The Flash season two starts and I am so excited! To celebrate, I’ll be covering the history of a character being introduced in the show, who happens to be one of the first superheroes ever, Jay Garrick. People, I can’t wait to tell you about the Three Dimwits!
* Here is a link to the interview if you’re interested http://www.titanstower.com/focus-on-george-perez/
**There was a long standing belief that Perez refused to draw Vibe, making his appearance in JLA/Avengers a bit of a thing for comic nerds. In reality, Perez had drawn Vibe twice before - once in a promotional pic that was done before Vibe first appeared (so Perez may not have known how racist of a character he was) and then again in the DC mini-series Crisis on Infinite Earths where he drew every character in DC history.
***They don’t say this explicitly in the commentary, but it sounds like the killing of Joe in the pilot was a very early idea that was scrapped before a script was written. I’m guessing Chyre’s dying is where Joe would have died. There’s actually some real interesting things in the commentary for the pilot. I suggest giving it a listen.