New information has emerged revealing that when CBS brought The Flash to television in 1990, the network originally wanted the superhero's iconic red-with-lightning-bolt costume to be re-imagined as "a tracksuit with LEDs on tennis shoes." This was more than two decades before The CW's The Flash cemented the character as one of the most beloved superheroes in the DC multiverse. Back in 1990, there was no guarantee The Flash would work as a weekly network series - indeed, while the show garnered a considerable fan following, it only lasted one season - and CBS executives thought modern '90s audiences would have trouble accepting the comic book-style costume.
The network's trepidation was somewhat understandable - after all, there hadn't been a prime time DC hit since Wonder Woman left the air in 1979. But after Tim Burton's original Batman, featuring Michael Keaton's debut as the Dark Knight, became the top-grossing movie of 1989, Warner Bros. thought the time was right for a superhero TV comeback. The studio sold CBS on the Scarlet Speedster, casting actor John Wesley Shipp in the title role. But while CBS was willing to gamble on the superhero genre again, the network was still a little leery.
The gambit worked, but the costume still had to be built - and worn. While it was widely considered the most impressive superhero costume made for TV at the time, the design was heavily influenced by Keaton's Batman duds, with built-in musculature, and it wasn't easy for Shipp to wear.“It was quite an involved process,” the actor recalled.
“I stripped down to my underwear and they greased me with Vaseline all over, wrapped me in cellophane, and then I put on a spandex suit. They had individually sculpted foam latex muscle pieces, and they would glue them on to this spandex suit. They wrapped me in cellophane because the glue would get really hot while it was setting, and they glued the pieces on the suit with me in it. ... After the pilot, they got a vest like race car drivers wear, with tubing so they could plug me into an ice chest.”
Since that time, Shipp has returned to the world of The Flash, appearing on the Grant Gustin-starring CW series as Barry Allen's father, Henry, and then as the Jay Garrick version of The Flash. He even donned an updated version of his 1990 costume during the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover in where he reprises his role as the Barry Allen-Flash from Earth-90. Though now his padded suit may seem dated, the 90s Flash set a precedent for more comic book-accurate costumes, one which the Arroverse has more or less continued, especially with its Flash costumes for Gustin.
Comic fans can only wonder what The Flash would have looked like had the network prevailed and Barry Allen was speeding around Central City in a Vanilla Ice-style tracksuit and light-up shoes. While serious comic book fans would have likely rejected the get-up, a generation nostalgic for the '90s has been deprived of what could have been the ultimate in 1990s cheesy costumery. Here's hoping the upcoming Flash movie - which also brings back Michael Keaton as Batman - has the guts to finally put the superhero into a ridiculous looking track suit and LED shoes, or at least a pair of Heelys.