With three seasons and three speedster big bads under it’s belt, The CW’s “The Flash” is finally looking for a (literal) change of pace. Executive producer Andrew Kreisberg has confirmed that Season 4's main threat will not involve a character with super speed, marking a massive departure in the show’s formula and stirring up speculation among fans.
After all, who could possibly pose enough of a threat to someone as powerful as Barry Allen if they’re stuck working in what amounts to slow motion to the fastest man alive? The answer just may be perfect opportunity for the return of some of the Flash’s most iconic enemies.
That’s right -- it’s time to make a case for a resurgence of the Rogues.
The Rogues are a formally organized gang of criminals who band together on the regular to rule the underground of Central City and generally be a thorn in the side of any do-gooder who wants to get in their way. They follow a strict code of honor, refraining from participating in things like drug trafficking and murder unless it’s absolutely unavoidable, and have even stricter membership rules revolving around legacy titles and inheritance. Their roster is constantly shifting, and their powers range from meta in nature to technologically implemented, but as broadly spread out as their abilities are, they traditionally avoid inviting speedsters to join their ranks.
What’s more, their infamy in “Flash” comics is second only to the likes of someone like Zoom or Reverse-Flash, both of which served as the primary villain for Season 2 and 1, respectively.
Now, the concept of the Rogues isn’t a new one for the DCTV Universe -- their informal live action incarnation includes Captain Cold, Heatwave and Golden Glider, with Mirror Master and Top being added to that list more recently. The story of the group was denoted by episodes with the word “Rogue” in the title, however, rather than the name being officially adopted by anyone involved. And, as their defacto leader, Captain Cold, and his right hand man, Heatwave, were peeled off to star in “Legends of Tomorrow,” the potential cohesiveness of the gang began to fall even more to the wayside.
With Cold and Heatwave mostly out of the picture for “The Flash” proper, the concept of the Rogues was scaled back to a handful of occasional offhand hand references and exactly one “focus” episode per Seasons 2 and 3.
However, the lack of a formal Rogues team didn’t prevent the continued introduction of villains traditionally associated with the gang to the show. Characters like Weather Wizard, The Trickster and Pied Piper among others have all had Rogues associations throughout periods of comics history, though their time in the live-action arena has been spent playing second fiddle to the scarier, bigger bads.
While the piecemeal introduction of the Rogues’ typical roster over the last three years poses some interesting challenges in building an overall “intimidation factor” for each villain, it also affords Season 4 a unique opportunity. With so many characters already established, the bulk of the work that would be required to sell the Rogues as a unit and believable part of the world has already been done. Fans are familiar with all the component pieces of the lineup, and the origin stories have already been covered.
The time saved in reintroducing the individual Rogues could then be spent focusing on the formation of the gang as a unit, and the development of a plan to take over Central City and thwart the Flash for both revenge and profit -- a welcome departure from the continually escalating “power creep” being experienced right now as the threats Barry and co. clash against become more and more cosmic in nature.
After all, there are only so many times that a big bad has to be taken out by going faster than light or time itself before it becomes a trite, easily assumed solution to every conflict. A set of more street-level, grounded villains would provide Barry and his team with a new set of problems with motivations that can’t always be solved by outrunning them.
You can only remake the timeline many times before the idea of super speed itself becomes...kind of broken. A reinvented gang of Rogues could shift the stakes away from the esoteric preservation of reality and and to the health and safety of the citizens of Central City at large, and really force Barry to examine what his priorities are as a hero while artfully ducking around the potential for existential angst.
On a technical level, a repackaging of the Rogues by pulling from former villains-of-the-week would fall closely in line the formula The CW has been experimenting with in the Legion of Doom on “Legends of Tomorrow.” It could, if dealt with correctly, provide an easy way to not only reward long time fans for their familiarity but encourage new viewers to dig deeper into the lore of the universe. It’s also a cross promotional marketing goldmine with several potential Rogues candidates like Captain Boomerang and Murmur having made their debuts on “Arrow.”
Continuity payoffs aside, a number of the Rogues have a considerable fan following already. Mark Hamill’s reprisal of his Trickster in Seasons 1 and 2 was met with rave reviews and set up a rich legacy for the second Trickster to mine (and a way to denote or explain some of the of the groups rules about inheriting code names, perhaps?) Hartley Rathaway aka the Pied Piper, who also has a not inconsiderable fan following, even did a stint as an ally to team Flash -- a potentially interesting angle to explore, especially with Barry’s on-again-off-again frenemy and former (albeit unofficial) Rogues leader Leonard Snart possibly unavailable to occupy that niche. Meanwhile, Digger Harkness’s cinematic incarnation in “Suicide Squad” has launched the name recognition of Captain Boomerang is higher than ever.
The timing couldn’t be more opportune and the opportunities are virtually endless. With a massive roster to pull from, a sturdy historical backbone both in and out of the show, and all the heavy expository lifting already out of the way, all “The Flash” has to do is reach out and harvest the fruit of seeds it’s been sowing for the last three years. The makings of an exceptionally fresh fourth season can easily be crafted from a real focus on the Rogues.