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THE FLASH Review: “City of Heroes”

THE FLASH Review: “City of Heroes”

I suspected The Flash was racing in the right direction when Grant Gustin first appeared as Barry Allen last year on Arrow. Unlike that show’s star, the sculpted Stephen Amell, Gustin’s a lean, athletic young man. And unlike TV’s original Flash, the even more muscular John Wesley Shipp – who starred in the character’s short-lived 1990 TV show and now plays Barry’s dad – he’s perfectly suited to play a hero designed (by comic book artist Carmine Infantino, who created his iconic red-and-yellow costume) to be a runner.

But Gustin’s appearance accounts for just a fraction of his appeal in the role. He’s so effortlessly charming, with a natural, infectious smile, and so good at delivering dialogue that alternates between tech speak and the awkward cadence of a lifelong wallflower, that his casting is arguably the best pairing of actor and superhero since Robert Downey Jr. first donned the armor of Tony Stark.

Executive producers Greg Berlanti and producer Andrew Kreisberg have surrounded Gustin with a cast of characters who, like the Flash himself, hit the ground running. Tom Cavanagh brings an air of mystery and a tortured guilt to Harrison Wells, the S.T.A.R. labs scientist who inadvertently “creates” the Flash (and a host of other metahumans) when his particle accelerator explodes. As Wells’ employee, Danielle Panabaker demonstrates a knack for comedy even when refusing to smile in the wake of her fiance’s presumed accelerator death. Carlos Valdes’ Cisco Ramon has an infectious enthusiasm for his job as Team Flash’s resident fanboy, the audience surrogate who not only makes Barry’s “toys” but will name the members of his infamous rogues gallery. Jesse L. Martin finds thoughtfulness and warmth in a role all too easily played with one note – that of the world-weary police detective. As on Arrow, the cop is the leading lady’s dad, but Joe West is also the man who raised Barry when his father was wrongfully arrested for his mother’s murder, thus giving him a greater sense of responsibility for Central City’s new champion. In the role of Joe’s daughter Iris, Candace Patton doesn’t have a lot to do in The Flash‘s pilot, but she has an easy chemistry with Gustin that makes believable their characters’ lifelong friendship.


As for the premiere episode’s plot, it more or less follows the origin story of the Silver Age Flash (co-created by Infantino, writer Robert Kanigher, and editor Julius Schwartz), expanding it with a worthy opponent in the Flash’s longtime enemy the Weather Wizard (here known as Clyde Mardon, a bank robber fleeing Central City whose plane is caught in the particle accelerator blast). It even recreates a specific panel from that origin tale, as it appeared in Showcase #4 (October 1956’s “The Mystery of the Human Thunderbolt”), in which Barry, unaccustomed to his recently sped-up senses, watches a waitress spill a tray full of food in slow-motion.

Those early comic-book tales of The Fastest Man Alive are still among the most enjoyable superhero stories ever created, and certainly the most entertaining Flash comic books. Largely because they so perfectly convey the unique joy and wonderment that superhero comics can, at their very best, deliver – as well as the kind of euphoria we hope we’d experience if we were granted superhuman speed. The new TV Flash‘s greatest achievement may be in capturing a similar sense of wonder, with all its wide-eyed innocence, while establishing a mythology necessary for a slightly more realistic take on the character. It’s worth noting that The Flash is the first live-action DC property to ignore the grim template of Christoper Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy since that trilogy began with 2005’s Batman Begins. Kudos to Berlanti, Kreisberg, and director David Nutter for recognizing a principle at the heart of Marvel’s blockbuster films – that there’s more than one way to tell a superhero story.


The creators just as smartly dispense with the soap operatics that marred the early episodes of Arrow. Instead of pandering to the CW’s once core audience of pre-teen viewers, they invite audiences of all ages to not only enjoy, but to be a part of the Flash’s adventures. That’s a lesson learned from perhaps the most successful superhero TV show of all time, Batman: The Animated Series. In that series’ best episodes, Bruce Wayne defeated his foes not with his money or gadgetry but by outwitting them, by using his mind, a tool available to every viewer. Likewise, The Flash‘s pilot emphasizes that, in the end, Barry’s powers alone can’t stop his enemies, that he too must be cleverer than they are. It results in the kind of immersive experience that all the IMAX 3D in the world can’t offer.

If future episodes of The Flash are as entertaining as its first, the show will enjoy a deservedly long and healthy run. I for one am ready to ride the lightning.

The Flash airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.

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  1. frysco says:

    While this pilot was reasonably solid in terms of setting up the cast of characters that we’ll become familiar with during this season, the big thing that took me out of it was how the continuity from the Arrow episode “Three Ghosts” was completely re-written. That was jarring to me because there has been this buildup as to how closely related the Arrow and Flash shows may be. For those that don’t recall, Barry had been having a bit of a “thing” with Felicity and was on the phone with her after arriving (late) back to Central City, and failing to get in to see the Accelerator turned on. But here, Barry now makes it to S.T.A.R. labs, along with Iris. 
    I can understand why they did it, providing that romantic-yet-unattainable interest, but rather wish they would have left continuity they established previously alone.

  2. Anyone else realize that the actor who played Barry’s dad was the actor who played “The Flash” in the 90’s?

  3. Insightful Panda says:

    The continuity was perfect! It reminds me of Buffy/Angel back in the day with how they were actually concurrent. Great episode!

  4. Vern says:

    I enjoyed the pilot, and unlike a lot of ‘gritty’ superhero fare, I could enjoy it with my ten year old daughter, who loves superheroes. Well done to The CW for realising, at last, that not everything has to clone Batman.

  5. Tarrasq says:

    I had no problems with the tone or the cast.  The plot however was a little formulaic. It hit the obvious superhero bits, nothing too suprising or intriguing.  No mystery besides the obvious one. 
    They also have a bit of a pacing issue, it’s a bit too smooth and to fast (I give them a pass on the speed because its the Flash).  I know it’s a “pilot”, but it seemed a little too short on everything.  That and the Flash’s only real problems involve tripping and the friend zone.  No believable challenhes fo him right now.

    • Jules says:

      Let him learn to be Flash for a bit. The show’ll improve as the season develops its story. It’s a pilot. It isn’t supposed to play all its cards at the beginning.

  6. Three Toes of Fury says:

    I thought the pilot was brilliant.   It clearly has taken alot of its structure from Arrow..which isnt a bad thing..the Arrow is outstanding…but did so in a fashion to still carve out its own feel.   It comes out of the gates running (sigh..obvious pun) with a feel for its characters, tone,  and mysteries.    IMO the CW is succeeding so very strongly where other networks are failing in bringing comic material to the small screen.     Ive tried…hard…to get into shows like Agents of Shield,  but find they arent that engaging.    Gotham is ok and dark and seems right but comes across more like a crime drama with nods to bat-fans. 

    I cant wait to see more from the Flash

    Peace .n. Ride the Lightning


  7. Finklestein says:

    How do you say garbage in english? oh yeah, GARBAGE!!! 

  8. rianna says:

    I know I can’t judge the series from the first episode, but I found the acting to be a bit wooden and the dialogue a bit corny. To me, it seems like they were pandering SPECIFICALLY to the pre-teen audience. It may be that I am just used to darker fare from DC, but it left a pretty weak first impression with me. That being said, I’ll still give it a chance. Sometimes it takes a while for a show to get rolling.

    • Jules says:

      I loved how different it was from the usually dark and gritty world of DC. It’s a CW show. They’ll never stop trying to cater to pre-teen girls. All we can hope for is that they at least keep that part to a minimum and give us all a show we can enjoy.