Veteran actor John Wesley Shipp has been a cast member on The Flash since the pilot episode in 2014. The gravitas and history that comes with Shipp having played Barry Allen over two decades prior to the premiere has proven to be a great asset.
An Emmy-award winning actor for his work in soap operas, there is no denying that he was a coup for the cast, regardless of whether he had played the titular character or not. Shipp’s enduring beloved father role as Mitch Leery on Dawson’s Creek likely helped fans get behind him as Henry.
Much like other actors on the show, Shipp has not been limited to playing only one character throughout his tenure, thanks in part to the “multiverse” established in the second season.
Unlike his colleagues, who have mostly played different versions of the same characters, Shipp has played three distinct roles entirely across his appearances in the six seasons to date.
From Barry’s wrongfully imprisoned father Henry to experienced speedster Jay Garrick and a very special role that held significant meaning for many fans…
I find Shipp’s work as Henry, particularly in the first season, as a source for some of the more memorable and beloved scenes. At this point, I had not seen 1990’s Flash and was unfamiliar with Shipp as an actor. However, I could tell from both the writing and performance that there was more meaning to the character than simply Barry’s father talking to him – an example of a great collaboration coming together.
Once I discovered Shipp’s connection to the character of The Flash, everything began to make sense. Quite cleverly, the writers used the context of a father and son for the mantle of the Scarlet Speedster to be passed on-screen.
Another favourite Henry appearance came in Season 5 – during the show’s hundredth episode. I will not spoil the particulars in case someone reading this has not seen that scene, but it is very emotional.
As the actor himself has said, “Henry always had a limited shelf life” meaning that the character’s very specific purpose had been fulfilled. From a storyline perspective, Barry had passed the point of needing Henry’s presence on a regular basis.
Naturally, since this is The Flash and not set in reality, that did not mean Shipp would be leaving the show. He instead transitioned into a new character, iconic DC Comics hero Jay Garrick, who in The Flash lore was the first man to hold the mantle.
Much like with Henry, I also really like Jay, though for different reasons. Despite being introduced four seasons ago, he is very much a mystery to the fans although this recently changed in the sixth season.
As the same actor plays both Jay and Henry Allen, Shipp is able to recreate a new on-screen dynamic with Grant Gustin – the paternal aspect is still there to some extent, just not in a literal sense anymore.
Personally, I think the turn of events that led to Shipp playing Jay were executed perfectly. We had already gotten to know and love him as Henry. Instead of introducing Jay right at the start, it felt like we had earned the right to finally have the original Flash side by side with Grant Gustin’s Barry.
Last winter’s Elseworlds crossover featured Shipp in a reprisal of his Barry Allen, who had last been seen in 1991, now confirmed to be a resident of Earth 90.
Although – spoiler – his appearance was brief, there was enough time for a meaningful scene with Earth 1 Barry (Grant Gustin), once again astonished by someone with the appearance of his late father.
Considering we never actually found out what happened to this Barry, he will probably appear again at some point — presumably in the upcoming Crisis on Infinite Earths.
On behalf of every Flash fan, thank you to John Wesley Shipp for his forthcoming three decade anniversary with the character, as well as an incredible set of performances across six seasons of the current show.