John Wesley Shipp has a complicated history with the DC Comics super-speedster known as the Flash.
In 1990, Shipp played police scientist Barry Allen (aka the Flash) in a big-budget, live-action CBS series that lasted 22 episodes.
In 2010, he was the voice-actor behind Professor Zoom, the Flash’s arch-enemy, on the animated Cartoon Network series “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.”
In 2014, when the CW network launched its own series called “The Flash,” Shipp returned to play Henry Allen, the title character’s father, wrongly imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.
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Last year, Henry Allen was murdered by Zoom — the same villain Shipp gave voice to on the animated show. The CW immediately recast Shipp as Jay Garrick, the older and wiser Flash of a parallel Earth, who just happened to be Henry Allen’s doppelgänger so the same actor could play both roles. And as any fanboy can tell you, Jay Garrick was the original Flash who debuted in Flash Comics No. 1 in 1940.
Got all that?
“It’s amazing,” Shipp, 62, said in a recent interview. “I’ve played Barry Allen. I’ve played my own worst enemy. I’ve played my own father. And now I play the Golden Age Flash, the original, keeper of the speed force legacy. In a very curious way, I have kept circling back to this universe for the last 25 years.”
“It’s a gift for me that I haven’t shown up for work and forgotten which character I’m playing — yet!” he said, laughing. “That’s something to look forward to.”
Shipp will be a guest this weekend at the Lexington Comic & Toy Convention. He said he hopes to visit with old friends, because he spent part of his childhood down the road in Louisville, where his father was a civil-rights activist and a pastor at the 23rd and Broadway Baptist Church. Shipp graduated in 1973 from Butler High School and went on to major in opera theater at Indiana University.
The handsome, square-jawed Shipp succeeded in a different sort of opera — daytime soap opera — winning heartthrob roles in “As the World Turns,” “Guiding Light,” “Santa Barbara” and “One Life to Live” over the course of a busy career.
But he is celebrated by superhero devotees because CBS chose him to star in “The Flash” in 1990.
Following on the blockbuster movie success of “Batman” the previous year, “The Flash” spent a fortune on special effects, cool music and retro-style architecture and wardrobes to lend a cinematic feel to Barry Allen’s weekly adventures. The two-hour pilot episode alone cost $6.5 million (more than $12 million in today’s dollars).
Part of that money went toward a set of $25,000 foam-and-spandex Flash costumes that took Shipp 30 minutes to don and required their own cooling system. The mask was glued to his face and was removed with a solvent.
Critics praised “The Flash” as “spectacular looking” and “one of the most pleasant surprises of the fall season.” Guest-stars including Mark Hamill of “Star Wars” turned up as scenery-chewing villains. However, it aired opposite NBC’s “The Cosby Show” and a new animated comedy on Fox, “The Simpsons.” Overpowered by such foes, the scarlet speedster was handed his pink slip after a single season.
Shipp would suit up again. The CW, currently airing four series based on DC superheroes, revived the Flash in 2014, with young Grant Gustin starring as Barry Allen. The producers are fans of “legacy casting” — bringing back older superhero actors, including Lynda Carter of “Wonder Woman,” in supporting roles — and so they called Shipp, fondly remembering his stint as the fastest man alive.
Asked to explain why comic book characters dominate movies and television today, Shipp said he has given that a lot of thought. Essentially, he said, we’re desperate for powerful heroes.
“We are very divided as a nation and as a people, partly because of social media and the 24-hour news cycles. The problems that we face have started to feel intractable. We are feeling increasingly like our votes don’t matter, like our voices don’t matter, that no matter how hard we work or how much money we donate, we feel very powerless. And so super power — in that context — is very, very attractive to people.”
If you go
Learn about the challenges of raising the fastest man alive from his parents, actors John Wesley Shipp and Michelle Harrison, who play Henry and Nora Allen on the CW’s “The Flash.” This Q&A panel will be held noon to 12:45 p.m. Sunday in the Patterson Ballroom.
If you go
Lexington Comic & Toy Convention
What: Sixth annual media extravaganza featuring exhibits, events, vendors, photo ops and celebrity guests, including Robin Lord Taylor (“Gotham”), Kevin Smith (“Clerks,” “Comic Book Men”), Lee Majors (“Six Million-Dollar Man”), Michael Rooker (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), Jewel Staite (“Firefly”), Ric Flair (pro wrestler), Seth Gilliam (“Walking Dead”), Gates McFadden (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”), Bruce Boxleitner (“Tron,” “Babylon 5”) and many more actors, creatives and artists.
When: 4 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Times are for general admission open floor times. Check online for VIP admission times and special events.
Where: Lexington Center, 430 W. Vine St.
Tickets: $40 Fri. only, $45 Sat., $30 Sun., $60 Sat. and Sun., $80 VIP weekend.