In September 1990 a red streak of heroism zoomed across TV screens nationwide. In the wake of Tim Burton’s Batman, comic book adaptations were now a viable entertainment gamble and CBS was betting that The Flash was a force strong enough to battle against the combined forces of The Cosby Show and The Simpsons in Prime Time on Thursday nights. Boasting exciting special effects, a sculpted muscle suit and $1 million per episode budget, it seemed like the Scarlet Speedster could get the job done.
Unfortunately after a single season of 22 action packed episodes, The Flash live action TV series was canceled. But not before a healthy amount of merchandise was produced to promote the doomed program. I was an 8 year old super hero fan in 1990, so you better believe I was running right alongside John Wesley Shipp who portrayed Central City’s daring do-gooder on television and followed the hero into stores. So let’s explore together The Flash 1990 TV series merchandise.
The Flash Kids Clothing
To show support for this weekly series that was blowing my mind, I for the first time in my life asked my Mom to take me clothes shopping at a local department store. Upon arrival I found just what I was looking for,. Yes, prominently displayed in the boy’s clothing department was an official The Flash insignia shirt and another featuring an exciting graphic of the hero running at top speed.
It turns out there were other The Flash fashion items that I totally passed by on the rack. For example this great speed line design and an even cooler sweatshirt and sweatpants combo declaring Barry Allen to be The Fastest Man Alive.
For younger kids The Flash even found himself printed on pajamas alongside fellow DC Comics icons Batman and Superman, as well as those lean, green fighting machines the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I gotta say that is a majorly heroic pose the red-suited adventurer is striking there. Thanks to wishbookweb.com for the photos.
The 2 craziest bit of wearable The Flash merchandise I discovered while researching this article were this pair of licensed “Slipper Socks” complete with lightning bolt soles and even more wild, these promotional shoe laces. Look closely though and you’ll notice the lightning bolts on these things look more like little bats. The shadow of the Batman loomed large indeed.
The Flash Adult Fashion
Warner Bros didn’t stop at licensing clothes for kids, they also tried to convince adults to strut their stuff in The Flash gear. They even got the stars of the show, John Wesley Shipp, Amanda Pays and Alex Desert to pose for their Winter 1991 catalog which featured The Flash in motion on the cover.
In addition to The Flash t-shirts, mugs and baseball caps, they also marketed this 90’s fashion essential. Yes, an official The Flash fanny pack! At $14 this was far from a bargain item, but just imagine visiting the beach or an amusement park (as suggested by the catalog) wearing this piece of awesomeness. I had a neon colored fanny pack of my own at this time, but I was clearly missing out by not strapping this thing onto my waist.
The Flash Valentine’s Day Cards
With the series only being broadcast during a single February in 1991, the window to pick up these fully licensed Valentine’s Day cards was slim, but I wish my local store had them in stock during my preparations in elementary school. I mean here The Flash was joining the ranks of Garfield, Looney Tunes and the TMNT as a marketable character to include with a box of candy hearts, what a thrill. Seeing an illustrated version of the live action Flash was rare would have been truly exciting to me at the time, though I have to admit I would have had a hard time actually distributing them to my classmates. These would have likely been collected as trading cards and treasured by my young self.
The Flash Action Figures
As far as toys go, The Flash was released twice as part of the DC Super Heroes action figure line by Toy Biz. First with “Running Arm Action” and later with a “Turbo Platform” featuring molded on kicked up smoke to simulate moving at high speed. I had the latter in my collection when the show was on the air and loved it. In Australia they repackaged the figure on a new card featuring illustrated promotional art from the TV series, which would have made it even more special to me as a kid had this version made it stateside.
What’s especially fun about this figure is that it was actually featured in an episode of the series in a funny way. The Flash gets blasted to the future by a nuclear missile explosion (comic book logic folks) and ends up in a time where anything featuring The Flash is considered contraband by the city overlords. His former co-workers now run an antique shop and are arrested for having a Flash action figure in their possession. Pretty hilarious.
The Flash Video Games
Never appearing in video arcades (though that would have been amazing) The Flash did get 2 adventures on home consoles. The first was for the Nintendo Gameboy, but unfortunately the green-grey screen removes any excitement over seeing a streak of red justice beating a level boss. There was a full color video game experience released for the Sega Master System, but only in the European markets where that console was still thriving. In the United States we had already moved on to the Sega Genesis and soon the Super Nintendo, so I never had a chance to play it.
Another form of video games that were popular at the time were handheld LCD games by Tiger Electronics. The Flash found his way onto this format as well. The choppy nature of gameplay for these games actually works for The Flash since he moves so fast you can’t keep track of him. Thus seeing the character graphic pop up on the screen in different positions was definitely on brand. Thanks to speedforce.org for the photos.
The Flash on Home Video
Though the series didn’t make it out of 1991 alive, the adventures of The Flash were forever preserved on home video. The 2 hour series premiere movie was a release I saw often on the shelf at Blockbuster Video and the 2 episodes featuring Mark Hamill as The Trickster were also combined on one VHS cassette for our viewing pleasure.
Until the official release of the complete series on DVD in 2006, finding someone dedicated enough to have recorded every episode off of broadcast TV was rare, since the series was never re-broadcast, even on a cable channel. I recently came into possession of the entire series on VHS, which is a priceless treasure in my eyes.
The Flash TV Special Comic Book
Originally conceived for comics, it was interesting that this is the only time (to my knowledge) that the John Wesley Shipp version of The Flash character ever got an official comic book adaptation. The book features a story written by legendary comics writer/artist John Byrne wherein The Flash finds himself battling an invisible foe made of electricity.
The more entertaining installment in my opinion is the second story written by Mark Waid. It’s the tale of a young criminal who gains super speed powers from an attempt by Tina McGee to re-create the lab accident which birthed The Flash. It’s up to Barry to outsmart this bratty “Kid-Flash”, which makes for a fun read. Additionally the magazine contains a very extensive log of behind the scenes activity on the set of the TV series during the middle of its run, providing insight into just how much work went into the series and why it was such a costly production.
The Flash Cash Giveaway
On a final note, there is one promotional item that must be mentioned. This full-body cardboard cutout of The Flash was a used to promote the series in 7-Eleven convenience stores during the run of the series, though I haven’t been able to pinpoint if it was for the premiere or later. Still it’s a pretty awesome looking piece of marketing ephemera.
As you can see, CBS was enticing viewers to watch The Flash for a chance to win $100,000. I conversed with star John Wesley Shipp on Twitter in preparation for this article and he replied that he remembered the signs and even has had some fans bring them to conventions to be autographed. Another fan replied that he was present in a 7-Eleven when someone tried to steal one of these for themselves, but ran into a police office who was arriving to the store for a snack break.
I hope you enjoyed this look back at The Flash 1990 TV series merchandise. If you would like to know more about the series, my co-host Michael and I recorded a special bonus episode of WIZARDS: The Podcast Guide To Comics featuring our nostalgic look back at the 1990 show for The Retro Network that you can listen to at this link.