The CW's 'Flash' spinoff? Three potential problems
The CW is bringing the Flash to Arrow. The network’s president announced the news yesterday, explaining that the sophomore season of
The Dark Green Knight the Green Arrow TV show will feature the introduction of Barry Allen, a character who in comics lore ultimately becomes the second and most famous incarnation of the red-suited speedster. This is the kind of long-term magical thinking that usually never comes to pass. But the producers already have a surprisingly concrete plan for introducing the character: Executive producer Andrew Kreisberg roadmapped a vision of the season with Barry Allen being introduced in episodes 8 and 9, and then a return visit in episode 20, which would apparently serve as a backdoor pilot, a la Private Practice or NCIS: Red, tee-hee. Because the Internet is composed mainly of superhero rumors and opinions about superhero rumors, the response to news about the Flash spinoff has hit a fever pitch. Three main arguments against the idea have bubbled to the surface — let’s unpack each one.
Introducing the Flash to Arrow makes no sense, because Arrow is set in a world without superpowers.
The first season of Arrow established a Nolan-ized superhero universe, with no superpowers more impressive than Stephen Amell’s incredible ability to climb a salmon ladder. Bringing in the Flash — who got his amazing powers of superspeed from a scientific accident — would seem to violate the constructs of Arrow‘s world.
Counterargument: The executive producers are apparently steering right into that particular skid. In a conference call (the transcription of which you can read in full at Collider) they explain that Barry Allen’s presence will “usher in some new and pretty insane concepts to the Arrow world,” and also note that the characters in Arrow‘s “real” universe will “react accordingly” to the presence of a superspeedy being. From this perspective, introducing the Flash isn’t a violation, it’s an evolution — one that could expand the show’s possibilities. Of course, most “realistic” shows don’t suddenly introduce superpowers in their second season. But you could argue that, post-Avengers, viewers are more open to reality-bursting scenarios. (Superman never appeared in the Dark Knight trilogy, but he’ll be hanging out with a new version of Batman onscreen soon.)
A Flash TV show could never work, because the budget will be too small.
Superspeed is one of the coolest superpowers in comic book history. But how do you make superspeed look super-cool — or at least not completely silly — on film? The shortlived 1990 Flash series tried — and failed, mostly by using sub-Six Million Dollar Man effects. How can any TV show compete with the new era of big screen big-budget superhero effects — much less a show on the CW, where the digital effects leave much to be desired.
Counterargument: A big budget isn’t a guarantee that superpowers will look cool. (See: Green Lantern.) Smallville found some nifty ways to portray Clark Kent’s evolving superpowers over its ten-year run. The Arrow producers have a generally good sense for presenting silly things in non-silly ways. (They have to; their lead character is Green freakin’ Arrow.) Geoff Johns, the DC Comics writer who is partially spearheading the Barry Allen introduction, promised in the conference call that they will not just be “blurring around,” which is already a step up from the 90’s series. (Internal counter-counterargument: Johns also worked on the Green Lantern movie.)
Introducing the Flash to Arrow is just further proof that the DC superheroes will always play second-string to Marvel onscreen.
This is less an argument than a freefloating expression of fan discontent. In the current era of onscreen superhero-dom, the DC superheroes have been indisputably lagging behind Marvel. This is partially an accident of corporate history: Marvel sold off many of the films rights to its characters, which led to the millennial rush of Blade, Spider-Man, and X-Men trilogies (all produced by different studios.) But that was just the prologue to a full-fledged Marvel Renaissance, which saw Marvel Studios transform its Avengers characters into a ridiculously popular and remarkably well-orchestrated mega-franchise. By comparison, the DC characters are the sole property of Warner Bros., which — before this summer — produced many good Batman movies and lots of movies about other superheroes that were almost uniformly not good. Coming so soon after the Batman/Superman announcement, news that the Flash is joining Arrow seems to indicate that any hope of a DC onscreen linked-universe is already suffering from mission drift.
Counterargument: Smallville didn’t prevent Warner Bros. from making Superman Returns. And even though Smallville never had the same reach (or general critical/fan respect) as some superhero movies, its place in history is indisputable. It’s the longest-running superhero TV show in history, and it managed to transform decades of DC comics history into its own unique mythology. That’s impressive, even if you didn’t like Smallville. (I didn’t.) And Smallville also served as an inadvertent farm-team system for some lesser-known heroes: It’s doubtful we’d be talking about Arrow if that show hadn’t featured its own version of the Oliver Queen character. (Hell, thanks to Smallville, they almost made an Aquaman show.) It might seem like the CW is just pillaging DC’s character library, but from another perspective, the CW could be beta-testing these characters for an eventual movie. And if a new Flash series actually takes off, maybe the CW will circle back around and greenlight the Wonder Woman prequel. Wonder Woman, guys! If she finally gets onscreen, everything will be worth it!