Gotta Get Back In Time…

The season finale to The Flash was last night. While I’m going to try and avoid the BIG spoilers, there are some things that peeked my inner time-travel/butterfly effect interest.

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The basic dilemma in the show was this:

Barry Allen (that’s the Flash to me and you) has the opportunity to travel back in time and save his mother’s life (she was murdered by his arch-nemesis when he was a child – hey, superheroing is complicated business!). Throughout the episode much of the thought process is on whether or not he should even try. Whether he should literally rewrite history. And he struggles with this, to undo one great act of evil will could then unravel time so that any good things which happened afterwards might never happen.

And here’s the thing, Barry is a hero. He’s spent the last year since becoming the Flash saving people.

What happens to those people? Will that one guy get pancaked by the truck… heck, will he even be in the same place at the same time as the truck?

Different doesn’t necessarily equate to better. There are going to be paths taken and not taken such that the world he comes back to may not exist in any form he recognizes.

What if he comes back without any powers? What if he comes back and his father is now the one who died rather than his mother? What if his life has gone completely to hell? The death of his mother shaped his life in a way that he can’t begin to comprehend.

And all of that is just a taste of what could happen if time is malleable in any way. What if that isn’t the case? Maybe time a stream that can’t really be altered? If you throw a rock into a stream, sure you’re going to get ripples, but the stream will continue on unabated. Meaning he could save his mother only to have her killed by some other random incident.

Is that what we’re dealing with?

And what if you back a dump truck of rocks to block the stream?

In fact, the last time he managed to change much of anything time didn’t seem to like it very much and made his “updated” life twist and turn such that it would have been better never to have changed anything.

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Throughout media whenever we are given these glimpses of the way things could be (or the way the characters contend they SHOULD be) it isn’t always the way we really wanted. Much like the wish from the Genie of the Lamp or the Deal with the Devil there is just too many variables and not enough constants to ensure that you are going to get exactly what you want.

The movie version of HG Wells’ The Time Machine (the one with Guy Pearce) had time such that the past could not be changed. It would self-correct almost immediately. And no matter how many times he went back to save his true love, TIME ensured that he could not.

Then again, perhaps Barry gets to have the Marty McFly treatment. His life was certainly changed for the better (at least after the original Back to the Future). His brother and sister are both employed (no longer layabouts), his parents are more in love than he could have hoped for, and Biff is relegated to a car washer.

Heck he even gets a brand new truck out of the deal!

However, Marty didn’t have a choice. In fact, he was simply trying to return things back to normal so that he wouldn’t cease to exist completely. The good stuff was a happy accident you might say.

Will Barry be that lucky? Could he be that lucky to get the perfect life? And even if he does, is it worth everything he knows. Because all those connections with his surrogate father, and his crush Iris, and his new-found friends and… and… and…

So many unknowns.

So many strings that could unravel.

Is it worth it? Is it worth it to play the ultimate What If Game?

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is now complete. The first episode is now FREE!

He also has a short story in the recently released anthology Beyond the Gate, which is free on most platforms!

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Fastest Man Alive

The Flash is my favorite DC comic book character. If I had the chance to write a DC comic (aka The Dream) it would either be the Flash or Firestorm (more on him another time). So when they announced the new Flash tv show what do you think my reaction to it was going to be? Excitement? Marking it down on the calendar… making sure I took the day off?

No. I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all.

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Let me clarify that for some of the non-comic people out there with a little history lesson. There have really been 3 people to wear the Flash costume for any length of time (yes, comic book people, I am aware there have been more than 3 – but I’m just going to talk about the Big 3, ok?).

Jay Garrett – Jay was the first Flash way back in the 1940s. I’ll admit that most of my knowledge about Jay is entirely based on comics written in the 90s and the 00s (my collection only goes back so far). What I will say is that in the later years Jay has been treated as both the elder spokesman for the entire Flash family as well as held a leadership role in the Justice Society of America.

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Plus his costume is kinda awesome.

Barry Allen – This is the one you’d most likely be familiar with if you read comics pre-1986 or watched the live-action show in the early 90s. Barry Allen. And this is the man the new TV show will be focused on.

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This is where I have a little blasphemy.

I gotta say, Barry is boring to me. In the comics he’s the CSI scientist who is a bit bumbling and wears bow-ties and is always late to everything (get it – he’s late, but yet he’s the fastest man alive – ugh). I always thought that the best thing that Barry ever did was give his life for the universe (see Crisis on Infinite Earths for more on that story – in fact, if you haven’t read that one then you should do so immediately. It has everything a superhero story is supposed to have – high stakes, heavy losses on both sides, and it changed the way comic events were looked at). A character who seemed to accomplish more by being dead than being alive. He could be something that all other strove to emulate. He could be this thing that showed the true merit of a hero.

There is one good thing about Barry – his villains. Behind Spider-Man and Batman, I think that the Flash has the best villains. Mirror Master, Captain Cold, Heatwave, Weather Wizard, Professor Zoom, Abrakadabra, Gorilla Grodd… and all of those come straight from Barry’s run as the Flash.

Wally West – This is my Flash. You may know this version of the Flash from the Justice League cartoon.

When I started reading comics – this was the current Flash. And as I read I began to understand where this character came from. DC has built itself over the years by being a company all about legacies. Those ties from the 30s and 40s which stretch to the 50s and 60s and then end up in the 80s and 90s.

3 generations of heroes.

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But it was in Wally West that this idea was really fulfilled. Years before Dick Grayson (Robin) would become Batman (after Bane broke his back), Wally shed the Kid Flash costume and adopted his uncle’s. But it wasn’t a comfortable change. For years he struggled with the idea of living up to the legacy of a man who sacrificed himself for the entire universe.

Wally wasn’t as fast, wasn’t as smart, and maybe he wasn’t supposed to be anything more than Kid Flash.

He just wasn’t Barry.

Until a writer named Mark Waid took over the book and saw in Wally something more than his uncle Barry. Yes, he lived in the shadow of greatness, but that did not preclude him from being great. Maybe he could be better than any other speedster had ever dared. He just needed a little push.

He became The Flash.

So maybe you can understand why I wasn’t over the moon about the Flash tv show. It wasn’t going to be “my” Flash (which I knew it couldn’t be, but still). And I like the fact that Arrow is pretty grounded – this was going to throw it all out of whack. I made up my mind to begrudgingly watch it, but it would be under protest.

Then I saw the first teaser… hmm…

The I saw a trailer for it… uhm, that looks pretty good…

And now that the moment is almost here… well, I might be getting excited about it.

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Bonus – My Top Flash storylines:

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Terminal Velocity (The Flash #96-100, vol. 2) – Wally West realizes that he is going to die very soon, consumed by the very energy he uses to achieve great speeds. So he does the only thing that he can, he passes his legacy onto a new Flash… all the while trying to stop a madman from blowing up his city.

Terminal Velocity was the comic that brought me back to the Flash after having stopped picking it up for about a year. It was also the comic that made Wally West my Flash. The beats in each issue builds to the point where you’re legitimately not sure how things are going to turn out.

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Race Against Time *The Flash #112-118, vol. 2) – Wally is caught in the timestream, his memory swiss cheese… the only thing he has that can keep him from disappearing into the Speed Force is his love, Linda.

Of course, this trip through time leaves a different sort of Flash back in the now. And he and Linda seem to be getting a bit close…

Time travel and the Flash go hand in hand. Two of his villains are from the future. He has a treadmill that can let him travel through time (don’t ask). But mostly I love this story because of one moment where Wally’s world comes flying apart. I remember having my friends wait for me to finish reading the issue so that we could all share in the WTF moment.

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The Return of Barry Allen (The Flash #74-79, vol. 2) – What happens when the man whose legacy you are trying to uphold returns from the dead? And what happens when you realize that he is not happy that the world has moved on to a new Flash.

Somehow this was the first Flash storyline I ever read. I barely knew who everyone was, but I devoured these comics. And maybe it was the fact that I didn’t know everyone and ever moment of history in the book, but I did not see the ending coming.

 

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John McGuire

John McGuire is the author of the supernatural thriller The Dark That Follows, the steampunk comic The Gilded Age, and the novella There’s Something About Mac through the Amazon Kindle Worlds program.

His second novel, Hollow Empire, is currently in week fourof its 6-part release. Each episode is only $0.99.

He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com.

The Biggest Fish: Smallville

At some point the following tale has become my own Big Fish story. Or perhaps it just has that sort of potential. I can only relay the events as they are currently in my mind… somewhat dulled by the time and distance from the original events. What you do with this information is completely up to you.

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I cast my mind back to sometime in 2002 where I had joined up with a group of like-minded aspiring writers in the back of the Dragon’s Horde comic shop in Stone Mountain, Georgia. I like to think of this time as the beginning of Phase 1 of my writing career (Phase 2 came in 2010). The beginning of working with others on various projects, and the beginning of having someone read something I had put to paper (up to this point writing was this distant thing in the back of my mind, but I either lacked the willpower or the knowledge to even know where to begin).

Anyway, one of the group members (we called ourselves WriteClub… possibly not the most clever of names, but it got the point across) told us he had a connection through his sister that could walk a potential script into the Smallville offices. We just needed a script.

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Of course the first question after “How exactly is this going to work?” and “Really? No BS?” was how were we going to do this? There were 6 of us in our little group and this could be something we all focused on. A true collaboration. So we sat around one Sunday and talked about the show, and if we were going to do a script what plot points should we hit? I want to say after that one afternoon we had a rough outline and plot points, but it may have been a couple of meetings before that happened. And I don’t remember all the specifics of those meetings, but I do recall the FUN of it all. This was our chance, no matter how small, and we were all ready to give it a shot. No idea was off limits at first, and then we slowly began to circle around the true idea… the one that would serve as our story for this script.

That story was roughly as follows:

Green Arrow would make his first appearance on the show. (What nerve we had to even think this way. I mean not only were we going to immediately get this script sold, but we’d also be the first to really bring in a non-Superman hero. Like no one in their writer’s room had thought of that.)

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He would meet/come into contact with Chloe (she was the sorta Lois character before Lois showed up on the TV Show) and there would be some definite sparks that would fly between the two of them. (While I think this is a fairly obvious thing to do, I actually still like the idea of trying to introduce another person into the Lana/Clark/Chloe triangle. And there would be someone else for Chloe to add to the Wall of Weird.)

He would need something from Lex. And to get that something would require breaking into Lex’s home. (I believe this was one of those things that would initially bring our heroes into conflict as suddenly Clark is really stuck between possibly covering up a misdeed of Lex or letting a thief get away with something that could hurt his friend… a pseudo gray area for the Man of Steel).

And at the end, Green Arrow would get the heck out of town with some aspect of the information he was after (courtesy of Chloe), but with the feel as if he could be back.

Again there was more to it than that, but this was the basics as we settled on them. Now the only question was: Who wanted to bang out this script?

And the table went silent. I’m not sure if it was because none of us really had a clue what we were doing and didn’t want to be called out on it or what, but for whatever reason I found myself saying the words: “I’ll do it.”

Looking back, this was a huge step for me. What in the world was I thinking? What if they hated it? What if I was exposed as a fraud? Hell, I barely understood the way a script was supposed to be formatted at this point. And still I raised my hand and volunteered. I rushed home with Final Draft ready to be installed on my computer and began to type, my fingers a blur as the ideas and the dialogue flowed from me. I did my best to develop scenes and made sure to hit all the high points. By the end of the night (probably more likely very early in the morning), I had the roughest of rough drafts finished. A masterpiece of American Television waiting to be unleashed upon Hollywood.

It was 29 pages.

Now, what I did not know at the time was that in script terms for movies and TV 1 page equals (roughly) 1 minute of filming. Smallville had a running time without commercials of around 42 minutes. Which meant I should have something around 42 pages.

And I had 29.

No problem, though. I was excited to have that much written up. And when I found out about the discrepancy, well that was why I was a part of the group. We tossed more ideas around and I believe we got the script up towards 40 pages (I might be wrong on this, but as I said above, this is my Big Fish and it weighs…). But we weren’t done. We did a table read. We brought in a couple of females to read the women’s lines to help make sure nothing was too out of whack. And at the end of that follow-up meeting I took the notes and compiled that final version.

We sent it off to the sister.

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And waited.

And waited.

And then heard back from her that she read it and really liked it! It was on its way as she’d pass it along to her contacts over at Warner Bros.

And then nothing. Nothing came of it. In my mind, I constructed an elaborate Twilight Zone style scenario where the script was on the desk of the man (or woman) who was the final arbiter and somehow it had fallen behind the desk, just out of sight. Because that was the only reason our phones had not been ringing off the hook (back when phones did that and didn’t just vibrate in your pant’s pocket).

Months passed and the script became almost an urban legend in the group. We’d mention it in passing like someone who had taken a grainy picture of Bigfoot or Loch Ness. The thought was occasionally passed around that we might be able to resubmit via another connection (we may or may not have done that, I can’t remember). I took the last printed copy and stored it away for safe-keeping. Eventually, like most legends it slipped completely from our consciousness.

Fast forward to October 20, 2004. I settled in to watch Smallville for the evening as the episode “Run” appeared. It was to feature a non-Superman hero: The Flash.

For those of you that don’t know my two favorite superheroes are Spiderman and The Flash… but I’ll talk about that in another post. So to say I was glued to my seat would be an accurate statement.

This version of the Flash flirts with Chloe, steals something from Lex, which causes him to come into conflict with Clark.

Watching the episode was a bit surreal. Little things here and there seemed familiar, big things seemed close…

And when I was done I felt a warmness spread throughout me. We were on the right track with our script.  This episode felt so much like ours that it only reinforced that thought in my mind. The next day I talked to one of the group. His first words were:

“I liked the episode of Smallville you wrote, John.”

Now do I know if anyone in the Warner Bros’ offices actually ever saw our script? No. Heck, I’m 100% (well more like 99.999 – with a lot more 9s, but we’ll round up) that they did not. I’m not accusing anyone of anything unsorted.

I just think we tapped into that common Idea Space that is out there, that so many creative people seem to be able to harness. That same reason that multiple movies come out about the same subject (of course the other reason for that is because the studio sees an opportunity to beat an opponent at the same game, but I digress).

This was an example of that. That’s how close it was/felt to what we had done. That’s how close we were to getting a shot at the big leagues.

But above everything else, that project gave me some measure of confidence in my abilities. Writing that script in the first place and then watching as the others read it I felt like a team with others, but more than anything I felt like I could be one of the heavy hitters for that team. My future in writing was going to be big and bright.

I mean, I’d written an episode of Smallville after all.