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Flash has some of the best enemies out there, straight up. The Flash rogues dugout is deep. Deeper than Superman. Deeper than Captain America. Almost as deep as Batman. I would argue with anyone that Flash has the second best rogues in comics. Now, if you asked me to figure out who my favorite of the Flash baddies is, I would struggle to decide. I’m a big fan of Kilg%re, a character I can not believe the show hasn’t used yet. I also love Captain Cold and both versions of Reverse Flash. But one name is really up there for me, one that stands out because he only has one story, but his story had lasting effects on the legacy of those who ride the lightning. His name, if you somehow missed the title of this piece, is Savitar.
When mark Waid took over writing duties of Flash from Bill Messner-Loebs, he moved the focus of the book onto the legacy of the character and the speedsters of DC Comics. Waid started his run, arguably the best run any writer has ever had on Flash, with a retelling of the origin of Wally West, the third Flash and then quickly moved into telling one of the most important Flash stories out there, The Return of Barry Allen Saga. That story is important not only because it is the first time Wally has to face off against the greatest evil any speedster ever had to deal with, but because Waid used it to grow the Flash family. For the first time since Crisis on Infinite Earths, we saw two Flashes - in this case Jay Garrick and Wally West - team up, and coming along for the ride was the ever cool looking Johnny Quick and a character that most everyone thought was made up for the story, Max Mercury, the Zen Master of Speed.
In reality Mark Waid, being an endless encyclopedia of DC Comics history, took a character first introduced way back in 1940 who went by the name Quicksilver. Created by Jack Cole and Chuck Mazoujian, Quicksilver was a Quality Comics character who was really a blank slate; aside from having super speed and being called “Max” a few times, no one bothered to give the guy a background story. Waid saw the opportunity to really play with the history of super speed in the DC Universe, and he used Max to set it up.
Max Mercury believed that there was more to super speed than anyone realized. No, he didn’t believe it, he knew it. Max knew that everyone with super speed pulled their abilities from the same source, a place he called the Speed Force. Max knew this because he had gained his powers in the 1830s and while trying to figure out just how fast he could go, Max almost got pulled into the Speed Force. He felt the calm pull of the energy, and he almost gave in to it, but at the last moment, Max freaked out and pulled back. When he did so, Max bounced off the Speed Force, finding himself sent far from his home. Sixty years away from his home. Max traveled ahead in time.
Max tried again, and again he got scared and bounced off the Speed Force. He went from the 1890s to the 1920s, then from the 1920s to the 1940s where he met fellow speedsters Jay Garrick and Johnny Quick. From there, Max bounced to the 1960s and, frustrated with his inability to enter the Speed Force, he decided to quit the super speed life.
As Max was cooling down, the Cold War was heating up. The US and the USSR were collecting as many nukes as they could, trying to be the country with the most world destroying missiles while also playing with speed.
In a third world country, a dictator was kinda pissed that his air force hadn’t broken the sound barrier yet, so they went out and got themselves some supersonic jets and selected their best pilot to be the first of their nation to reach a record speed.
As that pilot pushed his jet to its limit, something quite unexpected happened; he got struck by lightning. Now, if you’re even slightly knowledgeable about the history of Flashes, you know that lightning is a big part of getting super speed, and sure enough, this pilot found himself connected to the Speed Force.
The pilot obsessed over his new abilities. While guys like Jay Garrick and Johnny (Quick) Chambers never really questioned how their powers worked (which is kind of odd considering Jay is a scientist. I mean, Johnny was a newsreel photographer so him not getting the science of it all I get, but Jay? Jay got caught napping!) the pilot wanted to know everything. He pushed himself to new limits, played with what he could do, and discovered that he had powers no other speedster had. The pilot could lend super speed to others, or take it away. He could instantly heal himself from almost any injury and create a force field of kinetic energy.
With his abilities, the pilot believed himself to be not unlike a god, and so he took on the name of one, Savitar, the Hindu god of motion*. Giving speed to others, Savitar built up a following, creating the Cult of Savitar. He and his disciples studied the Speed Force, learning all they could, but when they hit a wall, Savitar decided to hunt down the only other active speedster at time, Johnny Quick, and see what he knew.
Savitar, being all ego and no humanity, wasn’t about to sit down and talk super speed over coffee with Johnny. For Savitar, Johnny was going to tell him everything he knew or die. This was a real problem for Johnny, who didn’t know anything. As the two speedsters fought, Max came out of retirement. He and Johnny battled Savitar, and Max only saw one way to stop the evil speedster; give him what he wanted. Max pushed Savitar to go faster than he had ever gone before, opening the rift to the Speed Force. Seeing his chance to learn all the secrets of speed, Savitar tried to enter the Speed Force, but failed. Instead, he bounced off it, and you know what that means.
While he was gone, the Speed Force connected with more people. Barry Allen first. Then Wally West. After those two came Blue Trinity, an evil Soviet super speed team, and Red Trinity, a good Soviet super speed team who defected to the US with the help of Wally West. Jay Garrick came back from a hell dimension, and Johnny Quick came out of retirement, bringing with him his daughter Jesse.
When Savitar returned, his cult was waiting for him. In his absence they had grown and even gained a speedster of their own, Christina Alexandrova, a former member of Blue Trinity who had tried to go good, but it just didn’t take. Seeing a world filled with speedsters, Savitar did something only he could, he took back all the speed.
Almost every speedster lost their power. Only Wally West, the only speedster to ever enter the Speed Force and come back out, was able to keep his. Like Savitar, Wally could connect directly to the Speed Force and control it, though he wasn’t nearly as good at it as his new foe.
Wally found himself alone fighting against Savitar and his army of super speed ninjas (yeah, super speed ninjas. I’m telling you, this story is awesome). With the help of a powerless Jesse Quick, Wally makes his way to Savitar’s base and is able to get the other heroes their powers back. While this really helped things out, Team Flash was still facing an army of speed ninjas, Christina Alexandrova (now going by the name Lady Savitar) and the big bad himself. Even worse for our heroes, Savitar was way more powerful than Wally.
In the battle, Team Flash lost one of their own when Johnny Quick moved faster than ever before to save the still new to heroism Impulse. Johnny found himself getting sucked into the Speed Force, a place he kinda didn’t believe existed until that moment. It was sad times indeed.
Wally and Savitar duked it out, and Wally knew he didn’t have a chance in hell to stop the self-named god of motion, so he took a page from Max Mercury’s old plan and gave Savitar what he wanted. Wally used his control of kinetic energy to push Savitar into the Speed Force, cutting off the speed ninjas and Lady Savitar from the source of their power. In doing this, Wally had to bounce off the Speed Force, and he found himself trapped in the future, but that may be a Flash Fact for another day.
Savitar did get out of the Speed Force, but he literally died a few pages into the story where he got out, which kinda felt like a waste of a great character to me.
I do mean great, by the way. Mark Waid’s run on Flash saw him constantly upping the craziness, making each event harder for Wally, but I don’t think that he ever came up with a better baddie than Savitar because this was an enemy who wasn’t just more powerful than Flash, he was a true danger to the legacy of speedsters. Waid isn’t a writer who kills characters often, either, so his killing of Johnny Quick really stood out as a major moment in the book. Savitar was also a departure from the Flash villains that had existed before. He was the first one that created a sense of scope of the Speed Force, and through Savitar’s story we learned that Max Mercury may well be the first speedster hero in the DC Universe. “Dead Heat”, as the story was titled, is also a big turning point for the character of Impulse who, for the first time, saw that his actions could have serious consequences. Not to mention Jesse Quick losing her dad, which sure as hell is a major moment in her life. “Dead Heat” was Waid working at his highest level during his run on Flash, and it would lead to even bigger changes for Wally West.
I’m not a huge fan of how they’ve handled Savitar in the show so far. I don’t like his look, which is closer to a Decepticon than how Savitar looked in the comics, and I feel like they’re wasting his cult. I mean, the guy has SPEED NINJAS! How can you not use that in the show?! I kind of feel like they’re mixing Savitar with another Flash baddie with a cult, Cicada, and wasting both of them.
*I’m not entirely sure Savitar is the Hindu god of motion. I think Savitar is a sun deity, but my knowledge on this is real limited.
Ethan Van Sciver