After Superman and Batman, The Flash is probably the best known of DC Comics’ stable of comic super-heroes. In the UK, we’re currently three episodes into the CW’s revival of the adventures of the fastest man alive. Is the series going supersonic, or will it be a case of blink and you’ll miss it?
A modern spin on a comic-book classic
Spun-off from its CW stablemate Arrow (Oliver Queen’s cameo in the pilot episode heralds the first of several planned crossovers), The Flash sets a distinctly lighter tone more akin to the mid-1990s’ Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The similarity doesn’t end there, though. Despite being given a new and hefty emotional back-story, Grant Gustin‘s Barry Allen is a good-looking, smiling, gosh-darn all-American kind of guy reminiscent of Dean Cain’s Clark Kent. (His acting range is similarly limited, but more than adequate for the purposes of the character.)
The pilot episode is as perfectly formed an hour as I’ve seen from any of the current crop of comic-book shows, introducing not just Barry but a well-rounded supporting cast of characters, and subtly reframing the Flash’s origin story to create a common link between Barry and the veritable cornucopia of super-powered meta-humans that suddenly inhabit Central City. It’s respectful of the character’s origins but puts a modern spin on it that makes absolute sense.
Unlike Marvels’ Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., there’s no reluctance whatsoever to dive straight into the comics’ mythos and rogues gallery. The pilot brings us the Weather Wizard (although he’s not named as such) and a nod to Gorilla Grodd, while Things You Can’t Outrun features Kyle Nimbus aka The Mist. Intriguingly, a number of Barry’s friends and associates have been given the names of characters from the comics, not all of whom were allies. Interesting.
There’s even a nod to the short-lived 1990 series, with that version’s Barry, John Wesley Shipp, taking on the role of his father Henry. This forms one of the key story arcs, as Barry strives to use his powers to exonerate his father, who is serving a life sentence after being wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of his wife.
Despite the plethora of fan-pleasing comic-book references, the show doesn’t allow itself to become bogged down by them. And the darker and more angsty overtones are kept firmly in check in the interests of creating a show that is meant for a family audience as much as die-hard fans. It’s one of those shows where you get the feeling that everybody’s playing it fairly straight without taking things too seriously – and that’s a good thing.
The challenge for the show going forward is to maintain its family friendliness without becoming too soapy or cheesy (the fate that befell Lois and Clark) and to find the right balance between the ‘meta-human of the week’ standalone stories and the longer-range arcs that are slowly bubbling away. What really happened the night Barry’s mum died? Can Barry find a way to prove his father’s innocence? Why is Dr Wells concealing the fact he can walk? And how does he have insight into a future which includes the Flash’s mystery disappearance?
The Flash may well prove to be too cheesy for those who prefer their superheroes darker and more brooding. But I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far. I’m already invested in most of the supporting characters – Cisco Ramon and Caitlin Snow are already a superior pairing compared with S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Fitz and Simmons – and as an old-fashioned fun caper of a series that doesn’t leave me feeling like I’ve gone through an emotional wringer after every episode, it already occupies a pleasing niche in my week’s viewing.
The Flash is on Sky 1 on Tuesdays at 8pm.