Whenever I hear news about a comic adaptation, I do my best not to get my hopes up — Hollywood has a tendency to completely misinterpret the source material, especially when it comes to the DC Universe. Most fans still haven’t forgiven the tonal travesty that was “Man of Steel” and the rest are skeptical about 2016’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” But over on the CW network, you’d think comic adaptors didn’t have a care in the world.
Because, as I’ve said a number of times in this publication, “Arrow” is fantastic. It’s a little grittier than it might need to be at times, but luckily, the network has come up with a perfect antidote to that grit — “The Flash.”
Set in the same universe as “Arrow” (it even had a sort of backdoor pilot/crossover last season), “The Flash” follows DC Comics’ Scarlet Speedster, a young forensic scientist named Barry Allen who is bestowed with extraordinary powers (super speed, healing, agility, etc.) following a particle accelerator accident.
The cast includes Grant Gustin (yes, that goofy kid from Glee) as Barry, Candice Patton as his best friend/adopted sister/love interest, Iris Allen and Jesse L. Martin as Detective Joe West.
The plot so far has been appropriately simple — the pilot introduced Barry’s powers as well as his appropriate traumatized past: at the tender age of eight, Barry’s mother is killed by a mysterious lightning murderer guy (who readers of the comic have already identified with appropriate chortles) and his father is convicted of the crime. Adopted by family friend and detective Joe West, Barry grows up instilled with a strong, righteous sense of justice.
He’s motivated by the thought that one day he’ll solve his mother’s murder — not to get vengeance, but to liberate his father. The nobility in his motives carriers on as STAR Lab’s particle accelerator explodes in a lightning storm, giving Barry superspeed, as well as handing out powers to a number of other Central City residents.
It tiptoes on the edge of believability, but inevitably maintains a sense of comic book verisimilitude coupled with an enjoyability that persists throughout the simplistic second and third episodes, introducing villains in a “monster of the week” format and slowly building up to what I hope will be a serious season one climax.
The writing, as I’ve said, is very comic book, but the production maintains that feel. The costuming, the visual effects and especially the acting give life and avoid any genuine cheesiness. Especially when it comes Barry’s support structure — there’s certainly a feeling of veracity to this impromptu, interracial family that keeps the Wests from feeling like token minorities in a surprisingly diverse cast. Kudos.
Again, what sets CW’s “Flash” apart from adaptations like Man of Steel (bad) or The Dark Knight (good) is that watching it FEELS like reading a comic book — similar to the way that watching Guardians of the Galaxy, with its brilliant colors and easy humor, was like reading a comic book.
Gustin’s good-natured but good-hearted humor feels right for the Flash — he plays Barry Allen as he should be played. There’s a sense of fun flowing throughout the episodes at lightning speed — a goodness that doesn’t detract from the severity of the villains or the stakes at hand.
Granted, a lot of that is simply the nature of the hero. While Barry Allen’s story might feel just as dark (if not darker) than Bruce Wayne’s, with a dead mother and a perfectly innocent father taking the blame, it isn’t. A lot of that has to do with how this injustice serves as Barry’s impetus — he’s not meting out justice (or, if we’re being honest about Batman, punishment) on the dark streets of Gotham. The Flash is genuine hero, not a Dark Knight. He’s seeking to right wrongs, to rehabilitate, to protect. Think about Flash’s powerset: he doesn’t have super strength or laser eyes, a power ring or debilitating rich-boy weapons. Sure, he can punch somebody at mach 10, but compared to the viscerality of Oliver Queen on “Arrow” shooting people in the throat, or Man of Steel’s Kal-El leveling an entire city in pursuit of Zod, we’re looking at a pretty limited capacity for violence.
The show has crafted a sense of hope, and that’s what superheroes are all about. For Gustin’s Barry, every moment is a race against the clock to SAVE people, not to punish them. Even the Fastest Man Alive can’t be everywhere and there’s a beautiful limit to him as a burgeoning hero. He’s not rich, he’s not respected, and he’s certainly not wise or hardened by an impossibly difficult life. He’s hopeful, he’s everyday and Gustin and the writers have captured that down to a T.
Kudos, CW — you get comics.
RECOMMENDED: “The Flash” is another swift addition to The CW’s block of DC Comics shows.