I’m a Batman fanatic. His grounded personality and gritty realism, mixed with wit and determination, are applicable in any superhero context and even for our own reality. He is the most plausibly super character in fiction who can go toe-to-toe with characters whose superpowers tend to outpace their cleverness.
That drew me to Arrow, a show which gleefully references the Dark Knight Trilogy with obvious and intelligent borrowings from Batman. They had me looped in for the first couple seasons.
Then came The Flash.
After watching the Flash’s return last night from yet another weeks-long hiatus, they were able to cement the notion they had passed their older brother show in terms of quality, inspiration and imagination (even if the Flash’s acquiescence to Zoom is kind of, well, inexplicably easy).
They have successfully introduced and utilized time travel. From the surprise suspense-cutting scene when he accidentally discovers this ability in Season 1, being forced to relive a life-changing day, to the delicate and methodical learning of how manipulations sometimes do not effect the flow of time, the Flash is a show that is much wiser than it has any right to be.
The character development is also spot-on.
Harrison Wells, a character who was created for the show, has stolen the spotlight in four different guises (the original version murdered by Reverse Flash, the disguised version who was actually Reverse Flash, the revealed Reverse Flash who channels the late Wells, and now the Earth 2 version). Joe West, the never-prominent father of Iris West, perfectly acts out father-son and father-daughter conflicts with three different characters. The character of Barry Allen is developing naturally, slowly uncovering his own abilities while being perhaps too enthusiastic to use them, who addresses the emotional toll of his adventures.
They have liberally, but intelligently, mixed and matched the origin stories of several characters for the last two years. Zoom, i.e. Hunter Zolomon, is not a psychotic killer in the comics. He is traditionally a rival who wants to improve the Flash’s speed. But that trope was borrowed last year for the plot revolving around the Reverse Flash, Eobard Thawne. This Hunter Zolomon, whose darkness raises the stakes for the sequel season, is actually more a borrowing of Edward Clariss, the Golden Age Reverse Flash who did battle with Jay Garrick. His taking of a doppleganger appearance from Garrick and use of black and blue hues is a direct and deliberate reference to the often-overlooked character.
Arrow is not a terrible show, but it has run into some character development problems that have forced producers to sacrifice major characters in favor of minor ones. The Black Canary is now dead because the actress playing her couldn’t get screen time, while Felicity Smoak’s minor appearance in comics has ballooned on the show, though there hasn’t been much payoff.
Arrow also might be showing signs of age. They expanded quickly and enthusiastically, creating some important milestones for superhero television. The core cast has been majority female heroes for the better part of two seasons and reintroduced obscure vigilante heroes to older audiences. But this season has seen its share of issues, from a rather un-intimidating and kind of annoying villain in Damian Dahrk (Darhk?).
The Flash has managed to create a mesmerizing scifi spinout from a show that had been completely grounded in a non-superpowered universe. And audiences have accepted it. It took some time to find its footing in the first few episodes of Season 1, but its past is clearly buried, hopefully not to be revisited. Now it faces a tipping point, as it moves forward into its third season. Will it grow too quickly like Arrow, or will it continue to stretch the imagination at just the right speed without turning back the clock?
The preview for the next episode is below, which will test the character development skills of the show once again now that their main character has to stop bad guys without his superpowers. I’m confident they will pull that off.