Geek TV Part 3: The Flash

Way, way back in 1990, in the wake of the massive success of Tim Burton’s Batman, CBS launched a TV show based on DC superhero the Flash. And 14-year-old me couldn’t have been more thrilled. It was the one thing I most looked forward to watching every week. But sadly it didn’t last beyond one season, breaking my puberty-riddled heart.

And now, 24 years later (you go to hell remorseless march of time, you go to hell and you die), the Flash is coming back to TV, this time as part of a larger televised DC universe, the Arrowverse.

Which is ultimately going to be an awkward name for this thing but since it all grew out of the TV show Arrow, here we are.

At least eight easter eggs in this poster.
At least eight Easter eggs in this poster.

From the trailer, it’s looking hell of solid. So let’s talk about how they can go the distance this time.

Challenge: biting off more than you can chew

One of my concerns two years back, when Arrow was starting out, I was a little concerned about how the fight sequences would go. You see, we were just coming off of ten years of Smallville, a series that habitually half-assed its action sequences. For a show that never looked low-budget, Smallville surely didn’t know how to do a fight scene.

Seriously, they spent all of season eight building up to a climactic battle between Clark and Doomsday, and when it finally happened, it lasted less than a minute. Boiled down to a few punches from Doomsday and a charge-tackle from Clark that disposed of Doomsday off-camera. Which would be bad enough, but the season 10 fight between Clark and Darkseid was even worse.

Now, Arrow has it down. Their fight scenes are spectacular. But a fight scene on Arrow only needs choreography, stunt men, and some arrow work. A fight scene between Flash and Captain Cold involves super-speed effects and ice blasts.

And that’s just one of the Rogues, Flash’s primary band of villains, three of which have already been cast. We’re talking flame throwers, ice guns, people jumping in and out of mirrors, the Trickster might not be so tough, but you see my point?

And that’s just the Rogues, who I feel I should point out ought to be recurring villains for basically the entire series. In the pilot alone, two other villains and a major DC event get hinted at. First of all, in the flashbacks to the death of Barry’s mother, we get a glimpse at what is clearly supposed to be the Reverse-Flash. Not so hard, it’s just more super-speed effects. If they can make Barry move at super-speed (they can), Reverse-Flash is just a reversed colour palette.

Second… Grodd.

The murder ape.
The murder ape.

Grodd, for those who don’t know, is a hyper-intelligent telepathic gorilla from a hidden society of super-advanced apes called Gorilla City–yeah. Comics are weird. But he’s a blend of telepathy, genius intellect, animal savagery, and a fanatical devotion to gorilla supremacy that elevates him from “evil talking monkey” to one of Flash’s deadliest foes. There’ve been two Grodd-related Easter eggs in promos for the Flash (check out the sidewalk on the lower left of the poster up above), and one pretty clear shot from the pilot that indicates they want Grodd to show up eventually.

Kind of hard to misinterpret.
Kind of hard to misinterpret.

The producers have straight up admitted that they haven’t figured out how to do Grodd on TV yet, but that they hoped Dawn of the Planet of the Apes might do some of the heavy lifting there. We’ll see… Arrow dropped hints and name-dropped Ra’s Al Ghul for two seasons before having him turn up, so they’ve got some time to figure this out.

And third… in a twist-end scene I shan’t spoil, they clearly refer to what remains the biggest, boldest, and possibly best event book in DC history: Crisis on Infinite Earths. They use the word “crisis” and refer to “red skies,” one of the hallmarks of Crisis on Infinite Earths and its follow-ups.

Guys… Flash producers… I love you all, but that is not a term you should throw around lightly. Because some of us… mostly me… possibly only me… want to see Crisis on Infinite Earths adapted to some sort of screen, but let me be clear: a Crisis on Infinite Earths that doesn’t combine the Nolan Batman movies, the current Justice League/Man of Steel crew, the Arrowverse, Gotham, Constantine, and what the hell, Superman Returns and Smallville into one worlds-spanning epic is not worthy of the title. So while you have bought yourselves until season nine before you have to worry too hard… tread carefully.

These are all big, expensive things, and they are all things that you are name-dropping, not just things on my Flash series wishlist (although they are all on that list, they really, really are). And I worry about the expense involved in doing them right because the climax of the pilot, in which Flash battles a proto-Weather Wizard (the real Weather Wizard, I maintain, is yet to come), comes down to a two-minute showdown based around Barry running really fast in a circle.

You’re going to have to do better than that when Grodd shows up.

Opportunity: embrace science

One of Flash’s catch-phrases used to be “Flash fact.” He’d use science as a weapon, figuring out how to use his speed to save the day through an understanding of physics, and then explain how it worked through his Flash facts. That was very much a silver age thing (since Barry Allen spent the first two and half decades after the silver age being dead), but one of the first things he said when he was brought back from the dead in Final Crisis (don’t ask, we don’t have time) was “Flash fact.”

And on the show? He’s already a science nerd. He got more excited about the potential of the Central City particle accelerator (which looks spookily similar to the Vancouver hockey arena) than seemed healthy. He’s a forensic scientist (as Barry is in the comics). And in his Flash duties, he works with a physicist, a biologist, and an engineer. This shouldn’t be a show afraid of being smart.

Not all of Flash’s fights have to boil down to “run really fast and punch bad guy in the face.” I gave you a hard time about a climactic battle involving running really fast, but actually, that is what I’m talking about. Using his speed in creative ways to beat the villains and save the civilians. Just don’t go to the “run in a circle” well too often either.

And it’s not just Flash: his villains are creative too. Captain Cold’s gun doesn’t just shoot ice: it can slow molecular movement. This makes things cold, sure, but it can also make fast things move slower, a key ability to have when you’re fighting a super-speeder.

Not to mention the fact that his future nemesis best friend Harrison Wells is a leading particle physicist. If you’re not at least trying to make science look good in this show, what are you doing?

Next time: what am I hoping to see as Flash’s parent show, Arrow, moves into season three?

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