Barry Allen is a tough guy to beat. After all, how are you supposed to outmaneuver a person who can literally run circles around you (around the planet, even) in the blink of an eye? Well, if you're Clifford DeVoe, you don't need to be fast on your feet to stay one step ahead of the Fastest Man Alive, you just need to be quick-witted.
And if that fails, technology can be there to give you the leg up you need.
If you've been watching this season of The Flash, you're probably pretty familiar with DeVoe by now. But long before he was giving the Flash a hard time in live action, he was being a thorn in his side in the comics.
So who is he?
Created all the way back in 1943 (ALL-FLASH #12, for those of you playing along at home), Clifford DeVoe—the Thinker—first faced off against the original Flash, Jay Garrick. This Golden Age incarnation of DeVoe started off pretty innocently—he was a district attorney who was disgraced after he flubbed a major case against a mob boss.
Rather than trying to reclaim his dignity the old-fashioned way, DeVoe decided that if he couldn't beat criminals in court, he may as well try and lead them on the streets. His education and ego made him believe that he was the missing link in the underground elements of Keystone City and that he could earn a name for himself by thinking his way to the top. He started off relatively small, trying to concoct alibis and defenses for criminals facing criminal charges, building himself a network and anonymously positioning new allies. It went well enough until his ambitions got a little too big for the comfort of the crime lords he offered his services to.
The sudden nervousness and distrust did not, however, deter DeVoe from his ultimate goal. If anything, it just poured more fuel to the fire. He began calling himself the Thinker in earnest around this time, leaning into the moniker as a codename and a calling card and getting even more cutthroat in his maneuvering of the underworld.
...That is until Jay Garrick put a stop to him and sent him to prison for the first time, a moment that would push DeVoe over the edge from average street level criminal to full blown super-villain.
DeVoe began to put his effort into developing new technology to enhance what he believed to be his greatest asset: the power of his mind. He invented the "Thinking Cap," a machine he could wear to allow himself to become telekinetic and telepathic, controlling his victims’ minds before he even bothered to outsmart them in the first place.
His efforts and inventions eventually earned him a membership in the Injustice Society where he continued to try his hand at besting both Jay Garrick, and eventually Barry Allen. But you probably could venture a guess that he never had all that much luck, no matter how bitter and vengeful he became, at pulling one over on either Flash.
However, as the DC Universe grew and changed over the years, the idea of just who and what the Thinker was began to evolve. Several new Thinkers cropped up, even before DeVoe was out of the picture. There was Cliff Carmichael in the early ’90s who was telepathic and could control people's fears—he typically faced off against Firestorm. Then, there was Des Connor who tried to take on the name in the late ’90s as an enemy of Batman.
But these pretenders to the legacy didn't mean DeVoe's story was over and done. In fact, things began to get a little strange in the ’90s after DeVoe was given the opportunity to serve on the Suicide Squad. It was a brief run—one of his teammates tried to kill him, you know how it goes—but the experience sparked a change of heart. Allowing the world to believe he was dead, DeVoe quietly snuck back to Keystone City where he began trying, for the first time, to use his intellectual prowess for good rather than evil. He even began working on fostering what you could call a friendship with Jay Garrick.
This too was short lived, however, when DeVoe was diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer not long after his rehabilitation. He died in 1998, in the pages of THE FLASH #134.
...But these are superhero comics, after all. So of course the story couldn't just end there, now could it?
After his apparent demise, Justice Society of America member Mr. Terrific recovered DeVoe's prized "Thinking Cap" and began to use the technology to reverse engineer an artificial intelligence, modeled after DeVoe's brain patterns. He then used the A.I. to run the newest Justice Society headquarters (circa the early 2000s).
Take just a few guesses as to how that went down.
Of course the A.I. eventually gained sentence and became the new Thinker, a holographic manifestation of DeVoe, as modeled off the brain patterns from his Thinking Cap. And apparently this technological version of him never really got the memo about the real life DeVoe's change of heart before his death, because A.I. DeVoe wasted absolutely no time in turning rogue and joining up with some of the JSA's worst villains.
So, there you have it. The Thinker in the comics might be pretty different than the Thinker you've been watching this season on The Flash, but you might want to use what you know now to start brushing off those fan theories and spotting those #DCTV Secrets. We've still got half a season left yet to go, and as DeVoe would happily tell you, the Thinker is always many moves ahead.
The Flash's midseason finale, "Don't Run," airs tonight at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CST) on The CW. Be sure to visit DCComics.com after the episode airs to read the #DCTV Couch Club's thoughts on it!