The Flash: Ascendance Through Altruism

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My recent television addiction has been The Flash. I’m not much of a binge-watcher, but I usually have a show I put on in the background while I craft. After iZombie and my yearly re-watch of Gurren Lagann, I decided to give into the hype (universal acclaim among my friends) and check out the adventures of the Scarlet Speedster.  I was hooked immediately. I sped through the first season in about a week and now I’m catching up on season two. God I love this show and its no-expletives-given attitude with throwing Silver Age weirdness onscreen.

Something that immediately hooked me about CW’s companion to Arrow was our earnest lead Barry Allen, played perfectly by Grant Gustin. In DC’s modern live action worlds of Arrow and Batman brutalizing criminals and Superman himself not bothering to consider collateral damage in fights, Barry is an upbeat, optimistic hero who uses his powers to fights crime out of a desire to help others rather than sate some deep yearning for vengeance or cold justice, although certain foes push him into vindictive territory. He acts immediately when trouble strikes. When he faces down a villain, he usually attempts to talk them out of a fight (which most of the time doesn’t work). When the violence starts, he makes it a priority to A) minimize damage to life and property (Hello again, Man of Steel!), and B) take his foe in alive.

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Though his comic self has killed before…

To ask a rhetorical question, what is Barry powered by? The Speed Force. What makes him more powerful?

Helping others.

Warning: Spoilers for season one beyond this point, but season two will not be discussed. 

Flash and Substance

In the season one episode “Power Outage,” Harrison Wells, AKA the Reverse Flash, AKA criminal-of-the-future Eobard Thawne, observes that since gaining his powers, Barry has began applying his super speed in his day to day life to solve ordinary problems unrelated to psychic gorillas or smooth criminals with ice guns. He worries that if Barry continues to concern himself with helping others, he will never reach his true top speed, which Thawne must utilize to return to the twenty-second century (long story with time travel hiccups). He believes that if the Flash is to become the undisputed Fastest Man Alive, he must dedicate himself to developing his powers instead of superheroics.

In this same episode, the Flash faces off against a metahuman, codenamed Blackout, with the power to consume and control electricity. An early encounter with Blackout leaves Barry seemingly powerless, drained of his Speed Force by the vengeful freak-of-the-week. Understandably, Barry bemoans the lack of his powers, not only because of the thrill of super speed, but also that he cannot help his friends, family, and citizens of Central City like he used to. He enjoyed not just being a superhuman, but also a superhero.

The strange kicker of the entire situation is that Barry’s cells are observed to be functioning normally, which his friends suggest is a mental block to his powers, not a physical one. It is only when the Flash Family finds themselves in another confrontation with Blackout that Barry’s super speed manifests once again, in a split moment to save Wells from murder at the sparking hands of the metahuman. Blackout once again attempts feeding on Barry’s power, but now he seems to be producing more energy than ever before. Blackout overloads himself and dies. As the episode closes, Harrison Wells records another audio log, musing that Barry’s attachment to others may very well be the key to reaching his true top speed.

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Obligatory “gotta go fast” joke. Art by sonicmanx.

The theme of Barry’s heroics pushing him past the imagined boundaries of his powers extends beyond just that episode, however. Almost every time Barry breaks his previous speed record or discovers a new way to use his powers, it was when he was helping or saving someone else. The first time Barry breaks a speed record, exceeding Mach one, it was to save his lifetime unrequited-but-so-totally-requited crush Iris from the Colossus-knockoff Girder. In “Out of Time,” he runs fast enough to break the space-time continuum to save Central City from a tidal wave. Lastly, in the season one finale “Fast Enough,” the Flash pushes himself to run fast enough to once again break the boundaries of time and space to travel back to save his mother from murder at the hands of Reverse Flash.

Speeding Up Your Skills

So now you may be asking, “What does a friend-zoned speedster breaking the sound barrier to fight freaks of nature have to do with me?” The central theme of The Flash, visited time and time again, is that helping others, standing for a cause greater than one’s self, pushes a person to new heights and greater achievements. To quote Batman once again, “It’s a good tonic, altruism. Nothing helps one put problems in perspective like allegiance to a higher cause.” To have a greater calling constantly presents new challenges to overcome, but perhaps more importantly, it gives a one-two punch of enthralling emotions: the thrill of achievement and the scientifically-proven warm and fuzzy feelings of altruism. There is more peace and happiness to be gained from supporting others, rather than receiving support yourself. The Scarlet Speedster lives this reality every day, and so should you.

You may not have super speed or any other strange metahuman abilities, but you can use the cause of helping others to improve your life and skills just the same. A benefit marathon for terminal disease research can be the spark to getting back in shape. Social skills can be sharpened by volunteering to mentor children. Cosplay construction can get the extra push to improve if one takes up hospital visits and charity appearances (shoutout to my homies in the 105th Squad and Excelsior League). An aspiring Pokémon VGC champion can hone their own knowledge by teaching others. The list goes on and on. You can start today. Choose a skill or hobby you want to begin or improve, and try to devise a way use that skill in a way that helps others. You’ll be amazed how quickly a positive feedback loop forms: Enthusiasm for helping others breeds enthusiasm for improving yourself and your skills, and improving your capabilities makes helping others that much more exciting.

If you’re burnt out by the grimdark of Batman v. Superman, and haven’t checked it out already, hop over to Netflix and try some episodes of The Flash. Maybe some of Barry Allen’s infectious optimism and compassion for those around him can give you a boost in your day to day life. Think of his example when you feel unmotivated or want to do better at your hobbies. When helping others is used as your motivator to improve yourself, you may find your life improving at super speed.

Have any questions? Comments? Opinions about the show? Let me know below!

mark hamill the flash star wars
And isn’t Mark Hamill simply fantastic as The Trickster?

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