Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Please. While Zack Snyder’s upcoming superhero crossover may have its share of merits, even on a much smaller budget “Flash vs. Arrow” (the first episode in this week’s two-part inter-series event) packs so much action, humor, and character development into its scant running time that successive DC team-ups will find it a hard act to follow. Meeting fan expectations for such a milestone — the first time that two key costumed members of the Justice League have shared a story on screen — is no easy task. But writers Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg and director Greg Winter somehow pull it off while introducing even more elements to the DC TV Universe mythos.
Like last week’s “Power Outage”, “Flash vs. Arrow” begins with the Scarlet Speedster using his powers to perform random acts of kindness for the people of Central City. Barry cements his “guardian angel” status by providing flowers for a husband to give his wife and painting an entire house. But his greatest ambition, to win Iris West’s heart, exceeds even his reach.
Our metahuman this week has the unfortunate name Roy G. Bivolo, who has the power to generate violent emotions in people with his eyes. Dubbed Prism by Cisco, though Caitlin prefers Rainbow Raider, he’s perhaps best known by another alias in comic books — Chroma, created by writer Cary Bates and artist Don Heck and introduced in Flash #286. Using his powers to rob a bank (Flash foes are gloriously pre-digital), he transforms the patrons into bloodthirsty maniacs while he makes off with the loot.
Meanwhile, Eddie’s decided he wants to bring down the Flash, and takes it up with Police Captain Singh despite Iris’ protests over her champion being hounded. She later warns the speedster about her boyfriend’s intentions, in a scene that finds the show carrying its leading lady’s superhero infatuation component a good deal further than Arrow, in which Laurel never swooned over the Emerald Archer. But the characters on The Flash are a younger and more optimistic bunch, as we’re reminded when Oliver Queen arrives in town with Felicity and Diggle, all of them chasing a lead on a “boomerang homicide case.” After saving Barry and Joe from Bivolo, Oliver takes it upon himself to start training his young friend, insisting his powers won’t protect him if he doesn’t develop basic tactical skills.
Since The Flash‘s world is a brighter one than Arrow‘s, Ollie and Dig can’t help but be funnier here than we’ve seen them all season on their own show. Oliver plays the straight man to Barry, while Diggle merely reacts as any sane human being would to the Flash’s powers: “I had a brother who got struck by lighting. He developed a stutter.” Felicity is the only one who fits easily into Team Flash, comprised as it is of young misfit geniuses.
But the Ollie-Barry chemistry offers more than just wisecracks. And the contrast between the two men makes for a great character study. For if Arrow originally took its cue from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight films, The Flash finds inspiration in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. Where the battling bowman relies on precision and years of experience, the human thunderbolt uses powers obtained overnight. Where Oliver is cautious and logical, Barry is impulsive and emotional. And where the former is tight-lipped and cynical, the latter casts a wide grin and looks for the best in people. That is until Bivolo makes him get down with his bad self, bringing the long-buried anger inherent in many outsiders to the surface. When Barry threatens Eddie, Oliver is called upon by his friends to take him down.
He does so in a more spectacular fashion than one would imagine by looking at the two champions’ abilities on paper. The action is fast and imaginative, and the writers don’t miss a single opportunity, with red and green fists colliding in midair and the speedster tearing through the streets with Ollie in tow. (Back at the lab, Cisco and Dig debate who will win the fight like a couple of twelve-year-old fanboys quoting trading card stats.) Barry then generates a whirlwind from which Ollie yanks himself via his grappling line, only for Barry to chase him to the top of a building and drop him off. After Barry shakes off the effects of a dose of Ollie’s tranquilizer, the archer takes advantage of his lack of experience and repeats an earlier trick with a set of hidden arrows, this time with just enough variation to catch him off guard. He buys Dr. Wells enough time to use a high-tech color wheel to snap Barry’s mind back into place… “So, it was a tie.” declares Cisco.
But Eddie has barely escaped with his life, and the detective gets his task force approved, as Iris tells the Flash she wants nothing more to do with him.
In the final scene, Caitlin’s deceased fiance Ronnie Raymond reappears. Sitting disoriented on the side of a street, he bursts into flames when threatened by a street gang. Once again, The Flash has given us three metahumans in a single episode, while finding time for the best superhero battle in TV history.
— While “Bad Barry” recalls the nasty Kal-El of Superman III (and lays to rest memories of Spider-Man III‘s “emo Peter Parker”), there’s a nice nod to the first Superman film when Iris asks Flash if he has a name. Echoing Christopher Reeve’s words to Lois Lane in that movie, he replies, “You mean, like Ralph?”
— Of course Oliver would be the first to deduce that something’s off about Dr. Wells. He’s as much a detective as a marksman.
— This may be the first time we’ve heard Oliver use the term “secret identity” to describe his alter ego. S.T.A.R.’s fanciful “metahuman” nomenclature appears to have rubbed off on him.
— “I’m so glad I decided not to go braless.”
— By the end of tonight, after Arrow‘s “The Brave and the Bold” has aired, this crossover will have given us another battle — over which show can be more entertaining. So far, The Flash is one up. Your move, Arrow!
Next week: Will Barry finally confront his mother’s killer? If the title — “The Man in the Yellow Suit” — is any indication, we’re in for yet another epic.
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).