Since 2012, Arrow has remained the gold-standard in live-action superhero television. Between its dynamic cast of characters, Shakespearian narrative and gripping action, there’s no real question as to why that is. In light of that series’ success and in conjunction with DC’s other small screen debuts, the CW launched its long anticipated Flash spin-off series on Tuesday night. The only real question going into its first episode was whether or not Barry Allen, the fastest man alive, could hold pace with Arrow‘s high quality output.
As a child, Barry Allen watched his mother’s mysterious murder before his very eyes: a crime that his father was wrongly convicted of. As an adult, he channeled his need for answers into a career as a forensic scientist for the Central City Police Department. But after a particle accelerator at S.T.A.R. Labs explodes, feeding unknown energies into a thunderstorm, Barry is struck by a bolt of lightning that leaves him in a coma for nine months. When he awakens, however, he discovers that he can now run at supersonic speeds and heal at an accelerated rate. With the help of a team of disgraced scientists with everything to prove, he becomes the Flash: a masked vigilante who fights other metahumans that were created by the same storm of cosmic energies that gave him his powers.
At its core, difference between Arrow and the Flash is difference between Batman and Superman. Arrow is the Dark Knight of television: dark, brooding and intense. Oliver Queen is an urban commando, stalking white collar criminals who have fundamentally failed the city and pin-cushioning them with arrows. His actions are fueled by redemption: cleansing himself of the vapid playboy that he used to be through selfless dedication to the common good. Like Tony Stark, he realizes what his narcissistic inaction has done to both his home and to the people he cares most for, and dedicates himself to reversing the moral entropy that has gripped Starling City.
Barry Allen, however, has nothing to atone for and everything to prove. Central City is the moral equivalent of Metropolis. Although it’s subject to as much street-level crime as any other city in the world, it is fundamentally good and free from the deep-seeded corruption and ethical squalor of Gotham and Starling City. By the time we are introduced to him as an adult, Barry is a well-meaning, if forgetful, police officer who tries hard to keep his city safe from crime: a far cry from the debauched playboy that washed up on Lian Yu.
While Oliver’s vigilantism is the product of hard work and dedication, Barry’s is a Marvel-styled cosmic accident. Think about it. In any given year, there’s a 1 in 700,000 chance of being struck by lightning in the US. The odds of being struck by metaphysically enhanced super-lightning in a single city on a single night? Considerably less so.
The Flash worked so incredibly well in its debut precisely because it embraces these fundamental differences between the two franchises, rather than forcing Arrow’s darker aesthetic onto The Flash because they’re part of a shared universe and the other franchise has proven to be both popular and profitably. This is essentially the reason why Man of Steel ended up looking like a fourth Dark Knight instead of an actual Superman movie. Central City is bright and clean. Barry became the Flash not because he was destined to be, but because he just so happened to be. The series is lighter not in spite of its continuity with Arrow, but because of its connections with the Flash comics.
The series’ cast is solid. Grant Gustin’s boyish energy fundamentally embodies the Flash’s character. While I wish that he was more sarcastic than he is earnest, he never-the-less proves to be every inch the actor that the part required. Jesse Martin feels right at home as Detective Joe West, channeling his experience on Law & Order into a very similarly-styled character. Candice Patton plays the emotionally naïve Iris West with an intelligent edge that makes her feel like more than just a romantic end-game for Barry (a problem that I have with Gotham’s Barbara Kean). Tom Cavanagh plays Dr. Harrison Wells like a DC-branded Samuel Sterns: a manipulative yet seemingly altruistic scientist with something to hide.
City of Heroes hits the ground running for The Flash. Its great cast, serviceable writing and decent special effects combine to lay a solid foundation for future episodes. If it continues to produce episodes of similar quality, it could very well outpace Arrow as my favorite of DC’s current crop of television series. Overall, I give the episode a solid 7.5 out of ten, with ample room to improve over the course of its first season.