Sometimes something drops into your lap, be it by legitimate means or otherwise, and you just have to run with it, run like The Flash. That’s right, we here at Biff Bam Pop! Have seen the pilot episode of CW’s “The Flash,” as have many folks, with it being leaked online recently, and shown at the San Diego Comic-Con this weekend.
Meet me after the super speed jump for my spoiler-filled thoughts. And yes, that’s your only warning, from here on in, there be spoilers…
The Flash has been around for nearly 75 years. With his scarlet lightning bolted costume, he is the iconic speedster hero of comics, and probably in the top five superheroes of the DC Comics Universe. There have been many other speedsters in comics, it’s true, but Flash was the first and the greatest. Feel free to pout in the corner, Quicksilver, no matter how cool you were in the last X-Men movie.
There have been several Flashes and different takes on the character in seventy-odd years, as one would expect. The Flash in this series is Barry Allen, police scientist in Central City, who first emerged in the Silver Age of comics. The version of Barry we’re getting seems to be a mix of the New 52, the 1990 “The Flash” TV series, with of course a whole new spin on it all.
This version of the Flash has its origins as a back door pilot on the CW’s hit series “Arrow.” Conceived as a two-parter that would then lead to a spin-off series, the powers that be later decided the show would have its own official pilot as the character proved so popular. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Since then, Barry Allen has remained a subplot on “Arrow,” and one suspects the two shows will continue to be linked in the coming season.
On the “Arrow” episodes “The Scientist” and “Three Ghosts,” Barry Allen, played by former “Glee” villain Grant Gustin, comes to Starling City investigating some unusual crimes. He’s got a motive, he’s not quite telling the truth, and he’s got a thing for Felicity Smoak. A short romance blooms and eventually Barry becomes an honorary member of Team Arrow. Membership is usually given after Arrow’s identity is blown is front of folks.
At the end of the second episode Barry returns home to Central City, just in time to see the particle accelerator demonstration that had been talked about ad nauseam in the background of “Arrow” for a while. What we’ve learned is that Barry is hunting metahumans, those with special powers, which led him to Starling City and the victims of mirakuru. As we see Barry’s creepy serial killer newspaper clipping wall, there is an accident at the particle accelerator, one that causes a freak storm, and sends a freak lightning bolt into Barry’s lab splashing electrified chemicals onto him.
From both the “Flash” pilot, and from the ongoing subplot of Felicity being worried over on “Arrow,” we know that Barry lies in a coma for nine months, before awakening in the pilot. Now does the above event sound familiar? It should. Lightning bolt hits chemicals that splash on police scientist who’s always late and grants him super speed – yeah, that’s it, the origin from the comics, perfectly. They added the particle accelerator, but we’ll find out why later. Still I love this.
The opening of the pilot is full of happiness, fun and color, so unlike Arrow. We come in from above through the clouds over the twin cities of Central City and Keystone City. Then we hear Barry Allen’s voice. See that red blur? That’s me! That too. There I am again. It’s fun like that, full of optimism, sunshine and fun. That’s what the Flash is about. This isn’t the nineties, he isn’t some dark knight in red, he’s the Flash, damn it, and this is an adventure. Come along!
Grant Gustin is a joy as Barry Allen. I had mentioned he played one of the baddies in “Glee,” a ‘mean boy’ out to get our heroes. When I initially heard his casting I was in disbelief. This was not Barry Allen. He wasn’t blonde, or even redheaded like Wally West, he was dark-haired like John Wesley Shipp in the last TV series, my least favorite part, his hair. And besides, he was that little shit on “Glee,” this was no hero. However, it only took ten minutes into “The Scientist” to know that Gustin was perfect for this role. He is enthusiastic, optimistic, and enjoys being the hero – he was the perfect Silver Age Flash.
The Mardon Brothers
Before the accident we get to see Barry in action on the job, and being late. Barry is damned good at his job. We didn’t used to know what a police scientist was in the Silver Age but now in the age of CSI, it works well. This really makes me wish DC Comics had done a Central City C.S.I. comic right around the time of the terrific Gotham Central. Another missed opportunity, DC!
The crime scene being investigated is one left behind by the Mardon brothers. If that name sounds familiar to you comics folks, Mark Mardon is a very dangerous member of the Flash’s Rogues Gallery who goes by the name of the Weather Wizard. First using a weapon called the Weather Wand to control weather, later that power was internalized. However, of the two brothers, it’s Clyde who causes all the trouble here.
Thanks to Barry’s clues, Detective Joe West and his partner Fred Chyre (from the comics by Geoff Johns) track the Mardons to their hideout, but Chrye doesn’t leave the scene alive. At least one of the Mardons, Clyde (where is Mark?), returns nine months later (some sort of reference to birth possibly?) with weather conjuring powers and starts robbing banks.
We’re also introduced to some of our cast. Candice Patton plays Iris West, Barry’s soul mate/love interest from the comics, and Jesse L. Martin plays her father the aforementioned Joe West. It doesn’t bother me at all that the two characters are now African-American rather than Caucasian like in the comics, but the switch from absent-minded Ira West to top cop Joe West was odd. I liked old Ira from the comics.
Now for the weird part. The Wests raised Barry after the murder of his mother and incarnceration of his father (I’ll get to that in a moment), which makes the relationship between Barry and Iris weird and awkward. In the comics, they are destined to be together, even time, death, and the destruction of the multiverse can’t keep them apart. Here, it seems, a weird Greg/Marcia connection just might be all we get from this coupling.
The accelerator goes up, explodes, sending a wave of energy outward, causing the weird lightning that hits Barry. Notably it also hits the Mardons’ plane. Barry is out for nine months (again the birth time thing) before being awoken by Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” He’s with two people who are known to comics readers, Vibe and Killer Frost. Of course, they’re not them, at least not yet. Cisco Ramone becomes Vibe, a hero who can generate, control and even cross over dimensional vibrations. Crossing dimensions is also a Flash trick. They should become buddies.
In the comics Dr. Caitlin Snow becomes Killer Frost, one of the most dangerous foes of Firestorm, a character possibly set to appear this season on “The Flash.” Her cold generation powers are very similar to one of the Flash’s arch-foes, Captain Cold. He is another character that like Firestorm has been cast for this season. Closed by FEMA, these two, along with Dr. Harrison Wells (all that are left of Central City’s S.T.A.R. Labs), have taken care of Barry in the wake of the accident.
Wells was left disabled and using a wheelchair after the accident. The explosion caused a storm cloud that irradiated the city with anti-matter and dark energy, dimensional barriers were broken… Who knows what happened and what/who was affected. There’s Barry, and as I said, the Mardons’ plane flew into it. We know some of those affected. One assumes this will be where many of the heroes and villains will come from in this series. I just hope it doesn’t strike a ‘freak of the week’ pattern like the early “Smallville” seasons.
Who is Harrison Wells? I’m a fan of the Back In A Flash Podcast. They talked about the pilot a couple episodes ago, and came to much the same conclusion about Harrison Wells that I did. He is much much more than he claims to be. I’ll get to that at the end of this review. As River Song on “Doctor Who” is so fond of saying, “Spoilers…”
The Return of Barry Allen
Once he escapes the tender and well meaning clutches of Cisco, Caitlin, Wells, and Lady Gaga, Barry goes to see Iris first, of course, and it’s at the diner that he experiences the slow-motion super speed vision first seen in the hero’s origin story in Showcase #4. It looks just as cool in live action. He determines to find out what else he can do.
Barry quickly learns that it isn’t just his heartbeat and his vision that move at super speed. He gets used to it fairly quickly, also adding super fast healing to his reportoire of powers. His S.T.A.R. Labs team run tests on him at an airfield, clocking him at 200 mph. While running he gets a flashback glimpse of his mother’s murder. Whether that was time travel manifesting or the speed force pulling at him, we will soon learn I suppose.
Eddie Thawne is a name to conjure with, especially if you read the comics. A character named Eobard Thawne was also known as Professor Zoom, and as the Reverse-Flash, perhaps Barry’s, and later most Flashes’ most deadly foe. A criminal in the 25th century, Thawne uses an ancient costume of the Flash’s to replicate the accident that gave him his powers and became a speedster himself.
The Reverse-Flash travels back in time to at first befriend the Flash, then attack him, then destroy him and take everything away from him. Thawne tries to take Iris from him, and succeeds in killing her once. And then, he gets really diabolical and travels back in time and murders Barry’s mother, sending his father to jail for the crime. We see this happen here in the pilot. It’s only lightning and yellow blur, but we comics fans know who it is. Here on this series, Eddie Thawne is a cop, too good to be true, and Iris is with him, since Barry had his accident. Yeah, that is soooo creepy when you know the real story of this psychopath.
Just as Amanda Pays was the Flash’s one woman science team/sidekick in the 1990s series, here the hero has three in his support team. Cisco makes Barry a red suit with headset, bio-sensors, made of a reinforced tri-polymer to resist heat and friction. Of course after his superhero name is chosen (by Stephen Amell’s Arrow in a cool cameo that proves he can be light and smile) and Barry succeeds in his first mission, the suit also gets lightning bolts.
I like the red, I like the texture, I could do without the old timey football helmet chin-strap, but that’s okay. This is cool, and just about the only thing that could make it cooler would be for Gustin to wear one of the exact costumes from the comics. I’m content. I can’t wait to see it in actual action. It looks good, I believe Grant Gustin is the Flash.
The Weather Wizard
In Barry’s first encounter with Clyde Mardon, the effects are spectacular. When Barry tells Joe West, the man puts him in his place, telling him to stop living in a fantasy world. No one controls the weather, there was no lightning storm in his living room all those years ago either. Barry hits bottom, and needs to prove himself.
Suited up, with the support of Caitlyn and Cisco, and the encouragement of Wells, Barry takes on Clyde Mardon. In the comics, the Flash running counter against one of the Wizard’s tornadoes is pretty simple stuff, but here in live action special effects, it’s damned impressive. I love this show. The only thing that could have made this better would have been a costumed villain, but something tells me they’ll be a second Weather Wizard seeking revenge for his brother’s death.
As a fan of John Wesley Shipp and the original TV series, it’s good to see him again, and especially in the role of Henry Allen, Barry’s father. I loved that show, more than it deserved to be loved, but in hindsight, it was pretty cool for its time. And Shipp is really good here. You can see that he revels in this part, both a juicy role, and a piece of his past. I hope the jail meeting scenes at the end of the episode continue.
Somehow the weird unmasking effect that continues to happen on “Arrow,” where more folks on the show know the hero’s identity than don’t, happens here at the end of the Weather Wizard fight. In the midst of battle, that mask, that looks so hard to get on and off, gets off and Joe West, Barry’s other father figure learns it’s Barry in the red suit. I like this, and the two should make a good team in the future. I just hope the number of folks in on the secret identity doesn’t continue to grow.
There are more than a few Easter eggs in the pilot. There’s Linda Park (Wally West’s future wife) on the TV doing news, Barry tests the suit at a Ferris Air field (Ferris being the jet company Hal Jordan Green Lantern flies for), and of course, the ape cage twisted open at S.T.A.R. marked Grodd. Gorilla Grodd is one of the Flash’s more formidable foes, and he’s also a talking, intelligent, telepathic, telekinetic gorilla with super-strength and mind control bent on enslaving, or destroying mankind.
There’s also the guest appearance by Arrow. I think it’s kinda cool it’s nighttime in Starling City and day in Central City. It’s like the Gotham/Metropolis parallel. I look forward to more crossovers. Coming this season is also Simon Stagg, which possibly means Metamorpho, and as I mentioned, Firestorm and Captain Cold.
Like a Marvel after-credits sequence, Harrison Wells at the very end of the pilot goes to a sealed secret room at S.T.A.R. Labs, easily gets up out of his wheelchair (perhaps indicating super speed healing?), and activates a futuristic looking holographic device. It’s a newspaper made of light, with the headline “Flash Missing Vanishes in Crisis and is dated ten years in the future. Added Easter egg for the comics folks who know the ‘Crisis,’ it also says the red skies vanish as well. Could Harrison Wells be Barry Allen from the future? Or maybe even Professor Zoom as some folks believe? What do you folks think?
“The Flash” premieres on The CW on Tuesday evening, October 7th, 2014, and don’t forget to check out my reviews of the series right here at Biff Bam Pop! and also listen to the Back In A Flash Podcast as well.