Do you remember when you were young and watching superhero cartoons made you want to be a superhero? Well, The CW’s The Flash comes close to recapturing that feeling; in fact, watching the pilot of The Flash, an Arrow spin-off, is probably the most fun you’ll have watching TV this fall. The hour relishes in how awesome it is to be a superhero, which is something not seen in the DC Universe for quite some time. I mean, did you hear Barry Allen’s (Grant Gustin) opening voice-over?
To understand what I’m about to tell you, you need to do something first. You need to believe in the impossible. Can you do that? Good. You see that red blur? That’s me! That, too! There I am again! My name is Barry Allen—I’m the fastest man alive.
Could you imagine those words coming out of Stephen Amell’s mouth? I don’t think post-island Oliver Queen even knows what enthusiasm is. For the past several years, everything in the DC live action world has felt overly serious; being a superhero was always portrayed as somewhat of a burden. The best example of course is Arrow, a show that, if we were being super reductive, could best be described as Nolan Lite: from its Hans Zimmer-like score to its forever brooding and “feels” of protagonist Oliver Queen/The Arrow. The Flash, however, is quite different; there’s too much color in the pilot for there to be even a hint of Nolan. What we get, instead, is a confident hour of television that recognizes the campiness of its narrative and embraces it, making The Flash more reminiscent of the dearly departed Smallville. The episode definitely isn’t flawless, but it’s hard not to be seduced by the show’s charm.
And although DC Comic’s Holy Trinity may get all of the attention, The Flash is still arguably the most important character in the DC Comics universe: In the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited animated series, it’s his death that turns the Justice League—Earth’s defenders and champions—into emotionless despots. In the comics, almost every universe-altering/retconning crisis usually involves the death, disappearance, or in one case resurrection of a Flash (there have been multiple: Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, Wally West, Bart Allen); he’s basically continuity’s sacrificial lamb. Flashpoint, the crossover event that gave birth to the continuity of The New 52, DC’s relaunching of every monthly title, was a Flash/Barry Allen centric story line. And yet, with all of his importance, The Flash never stopped being one of DC’s main forms of comic relief. In short: The Flash definitely isn’t a second-tier superhero, and it’s a very big deal that he’s coming to television—albeit for the second time—because it opens the door up to something that’s been missing for a long time in superhero adaptations: that aforementioned fun!
But enough fanboying over how awesome The Flash is, let’s dig into the episode.
After a speedy opening with the above voice-over that introduces us to Barry Allen’s home of Central City, we jump back to childhood Barry running away from bullies. The flashbacks establish that Barry has always had a heroic streak in him. We are then shown the night Barry’s mother died, where Barry sees his mother—encircled by red and yellow blurs—as she screams at him to run. His dad comes down, and says, “Run, Barry, run!” and before he knows it, Barry’s mysteriously transported miles away from his home. We’ll later find out that the cops arrested and charged Barry’s father, Henry Allen (fun fact alert: he’s played by John Wesley Shipp, who portrayed The Flash on the CBS series in the ’90s). Henry Allen was eventually sentenced to life in prison, and since then, Barry has been trying to figure out who, or what, murdered his mother.
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