Uncollected Thoughts: The Flash


DC may be trailing Marvel irrecoverably in establishing a Cinematic Universe, but they’re in better health when it comes to bringing theit characters to TV. Arrow, which has been steadily entertaining and far more reliable than the erratic Agents of Shield, has started its third season with the confidence to kill a very popular leadng character in its first episode, whilst also sparing time for a mini-crossover with DC’s second attempt to create a series centred upon The Flash. And, unlike its predecessor, twenty-five years ago, and like but unlike Arrow, this Flash works and works wonderfully well.

You see, the thing about the Flash in the comics, the Barry Allen version that ran from 1956 to 1985 and was revived in 2008, was that it was Fun! with a capital F. When your superpower is the utterly primal one of Speed, of being able to run *fast!*, how could it be otherwise? Blessed with one of the best origins ever – a lightning bolt on a stormy night shatters a rack of chemicals, spilling an unpredictable, incalculable mix of electrified chemicals over Barry Allen and granting his Superspeed – Barry was not driven by trauma, guilt, revenge or anything. He had this wow power, he’d worshipped the comic book Flash as a kid, he could do what he almost wanted to do and help people.

That’s what this new series gets right, immediately and gloriously. Barry’s speed is fun, and he loves running. That’s why it’s going to work.

Of course, there’s one more vitally important aspect to this. One of the major reasons the 1990 Flash didn’t work was the special effects. And the budget, but mainly the special effects. Speed is incredibly difficult to make convincing onscreen: wasn’t the only part of the SFX in Christopher Reeve’s first Superman that looked ludicrous the bit where young Clerk outraces a speeding locomotive?

The 1990 Flash was a victim of effects too ineffective that nevertheless swallowed up too much of the show’s budget, giving it no chance to compete on other levels. Though the two episodes starring Mark Hamill having a whale of a time going OTT as The Trickster (complete with costumed sidekick Prank, in the extremely nice shape of Corinne Bohrer in the second) showed what could be done, the series stood little chance of convincing.

Twenty four years later, CGI is much more effective, though the close-ups on Grant Gustin when he’s actually running do still mar the illusion. Still and all, on the first episode alone, this looks like it can cut it.

It’s a good pilot. Central City is less a character in this than Arrow‘s Starling City, but much more of the action takes place in daylight. There’s an essential lightness overall that contrasts very well with Arrow‘s tension, and whilst the latter started with Oliver Queen alone in on the secret of the Hood, The Flash goes to the opposite extreme with a whole team of scientists knowing Barry Allen’s secret identity, not to mention his surrogate father, Detective Joe West. That’s the direction the series looks to be taking: The Flash is an out in the open hero, welcomed by his city.

As for Flash mythology, there’s plenty of it to see. We have the Weather Wizard in the pilot, a torn apart cage with the nameplate Grodd, Iris West as Barry’s virtual sister, and Detective Eddie Thawne as the guy she loves. And we’ve the promise that the EMP that created Barry’s powers also did lots of supery things to lots of metahumans, offering the promise of fun to c0me!

My only reservation about the series is that as Geoff Johns – a very influential writer at DC, with whose work I do not entirely get along – involved, we have to have Barry’s reboot 2008 origin in which Barry is driven by the trauma of his mother being killed and his father convited and imprisoned for her murder: Barry is convinced hie Dad is innocent and determined to one day prove it.

On the one hand, it’s a nice way to involve John Wesley Shipp, the 1990 Flash, as Henry Allen, but on the other the story’s crap, and the flashback we were shown of it makes far too little effort to conceal the inevitability of it being the Reverse-Flash (aka Eobard – or maybe Eddie? – Thawne…) having travelled back in time. If we’re going to have to suffer with this, could we at least have this washed out in the first season, please?

What intrigues me more is the ending to the pilot. During the pisode, Barry spends nine months in a coma, as established in season 2 of Arrow. He wakes to find himself being studied in the remnants of Star Labs, where the particle accelerator malfunctioned, causing the lightning. The small team studying him is led by genius scientist Harrison Wells, who life has been ruined by the particle accelerator incident. He has lost his company, his friends, his reputation, and is confined to a wheelchair for life. Aiding the Flash is an obvious way to repay and rehabilitate.

Except that, in the closing seconds, he manouevres his electric wheelchair into a concealed room, stands up and walks towards a lone console.

I am seriously looking forward to finding more out about this.

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