When last year’s TV season began, The Flash was one of the most highly anticipated shows amongst the geek crowd. When we looked at it here during the beginning of the season it was certainly living up to that buzz, but did it maintain that level?
Well yes, actually it did; no need to beat around the bush on that. But let’s look at how it managed that.
The one thing the Flash had going for it, from the start, was that it embraced its comic roots without shame. It also went against the grain for just about every other DC live action property by not going the grime and gritty route, instead choosing to have an optimistic hero who acted as a symbol of hope.
CW already had the required grim hero in the Arrow. One observation of the two shows is that in the CW DC universe, Superman’s role is covered by the Flash and Batman’s by the Arrow. One episode highlights is when Barry tries to emulate the Arrow’s grimmer way of handling things, only to have it blow up in his face.
One of the factors that influenced the story more than any other was the time travel aspect. Time travel was always a part of the Flash in the comics and the show did not shy away from this in the least. Like any show involving time travel there were questions about what the consequences of changing the past would be, and the creation of a plot hole or two. However, the overall execution was well handled.
So how did the characters evolve over the course of the first season?
Of course, as the main character Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) had the most growth. Starting out as enthusiastic but unsure of himself, Barry grew into a responsible hero who (when it came down to it) would make the choice of serving the greater good. Gustin nailed the character from the start.
If the show rested on Gustin’s shoulders, then his best support came from Tom Cavanagh. As Harrison Wells, Cavanagh portrayed a wonderfully complex character. As Wells, he was Barry’s mentor and a surrogate father figure, but in his true identity of Eobard Thawne (aka The Reverse Flash) he was Barry’s worst enemy who wanted nothing more than to destroy him. Cavanagh was able to portray Wells as both affectionate to Barry and the rest of the S.T.A.R. Labs crew, while at the same time being a threat to them.
While Wells’ goal was to push Barry’s powers to greater heights, Barry’s foster father Joe West (Jessie L Martin) guided him on the path of the kind of hero he wanted to be. The father/son bond between Joe and Barry was easily the series emotional core. Joe cared so much for Barry that he was willing to have their relationship erased from history, if it meant that Barry could get his mother back.
Of Barry’s colleges It was interesting to watch Cisco Ramon’s (Carlos Valdes) arc over the season. Cisco had fanboy glee over Barry’s powers and being part of a team fighting supervillains. It was also interesting watching his bonds with Barry’s father figures. He worshipped Wells and took his betrayal hard. Conversely. over the season. Cisco had a growing working relationship with Joe, being his secret partner in investigating the truth behind the death of Barry’s mother. The revelation that he can subconsciously remember timelines that time travel erased directly opened a door to his (eventually taken on) identity of Vibe from the comics.
On the flip side you have Catlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) whom, thanks to a glimpse of the future, we got to see as her villainous alter ego of Killer Frost. While she continued her role as caregiver to Barry when injured, the show steered away from having her fall for him, instead bring in her supposedly dead fiancé Ronnie (Robbie Amell), who was still alive, as his comic book alter ego Firestorm. She was also the most resistant of the S.T.A.R. Labs team to the idea that Wells was really the Reverse Flash.
Iris West (Candice Patton) suffered most of the season from being more of a plot motivation, for Barry, than an actual character. For the first two thirds of the season, she was defined by her relationships with Barry, her father Joe, and her boyfriend Eddie. It was only towards the end of the season, when she learned that Barry is the Flash, that she started coming out of that and showing signs of being an actual character. Hopefully in the next season they can build on that and give her some more defining characteristics.
Speaking of Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), for starting out as a bit of a cliché (romantic rival for Barry) he turned out to have an interesting arc. Half way through the season Barry and Joe let him in on Barry’s secret so that he could help with the investigation of Wells. Eddie was not happy that they insisted on keeping it from Iris. But he turned out to be a stanch ally and a tragic hero when he learned that he was the Reverse Flash’s ancestor, and that his romance with Iris was doomed to fail. His arc ended in a heroic manner and I, for one, am disappointed we will not be seeing more of him in season 2.
There were some notable guest and reoccurring characters that warrant mentioning.
Besides Ronnie, you had Professor Stein (Victor Garber) the other half of Firestorm. Garber is a great actor and brought both fun and gravitas to Stein. I look forward to seeing more of him both on the Flash, and in the mid-season spin off Legends of Tomorrow.
John Wesley Shipp, as Barry’s father Henry, was also a great part of the show. Although initially just a bit of stunt casting (Shipp played Barry in the 90’s Flash series), he did an excellent portrayal of a man accepting the bad hand he was dealt and just being happy his son was doing well. He made the pride Henry felt upon realizing that Barry was the Flash radiate.
And of course there was the other great nod to the old series of having Mark Hamill as the Trickster (the character he played on the 90s series, as well as doing the voice on the Justice League cartoon). Hamill is a fantastic actor and I hope we get more of him in the future.
In the end, I give the first season of the Flash an A+. It is the best comic book series ever and we can only hope that others learn from its example.
In a season full of comic based TV shows, The Flash has managed to stand out from the crowd. It started building buzz a year before its debut when it was announced that Barry Allen would appear on last year’s fall finale for Arrow. What transpired was one of the best depictions of The Flash’s origin ever, setting the stage for the series.
Originally, The Flash was supposed to get a back door pilot in that later half of that season, but the executives at CW were so impressed by what they had seen so far that they opted to order a full pilot for the show instead. When The Flash premiered, it was the highest rated debut the CW had seen in five years. It has been a strong ratings performer for the network since then, easily gaining a full season order after only two episodes.
I’m going to make a bold statement, The Flash is easily the best comic book adaptation that has ever appeared on TV.
So why is that?
One of the biggest complaints about most adaptations of DC properties is that they seem to be ashamed that they are based on comic books and do everything to say “no, really, we are mature.” Often doing this by going grim and gritty, even if the character in question was nothing like this in the comics.
The Flash doesn’t bother with that. It proudly embraces its comic book roots and presents a hero who is upbeat and optimistic. Even more than the nineties version, this show explores the nature of the Flash’s powers and what he can do with them. The visuals also capture the feel of the comics, complete with the speed force lightning effect that surrounds Barry when he uses his powers.
It’s also a great point that, so far, all the villains have been characters from the comics. Even when the characters have obvious alterations from their comic roots, they are still all great nods to the original versions.
Of course for the show to work, we have to connect to the characters.
As Barry Allen, Grant Gustin naturally has the whole show riding on his shoulders. Fortunately, it is a case of perfect casting. The show takes advantage of his boyish looks to help convey the enthusiasm that Barry has for his powers, while simultaneously highlighting his compassion. As with any modern adaptation of the character, this Flash is a mixture of both Barry Allen and Wally West. Where the nineties version was mostly Barry with some Wally mixed in, Gustin’s is more of a 50/50 mix.
The supporting cast is also strong, with some interesting references to the comics
Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the Head of S.T.A.R. Labs, is responsible for the Particle Accelerator explosion that gave Barry, and all the villains, their powers. While clearly working to both protect Barry and help him improve his powers, there is clearly much more going on; we are shown that he is faking the need for a wheelchair and is willing to kill in order to protect Barry. On the surface, Wells appears to be an original character, but based on recent events I won’t spoil here, this is likely an alias so we will have to wait and see.
Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) is an engineer working for Wells, who is possibly more enthusiastic than Barry about their crime fighting. He has a habit of giving the villains nicknames, thus bringing their comic book names into the show. He is based on the DC hero Vibe, which begs the question, is he going to get powers down the road?
A similar question hangs over Dr. Catlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) who in the comics is the super villain Killer Frost. Here she is part of Wells team and acts as medic when Barry is injured. She is far more serious than Barry or Cisco, but clearly cares about them. While there has been nothing overt, there are hints that she might be attracted to Barry, which could end up setting up a classic CW love triangle and another case of Chloe syndrome.
And this leads us to Iris West (Candice Patton), the girl Barry carries a torch for. The weakest part of the show is how convoluted this relationship is. Barry had a crush on Iris as a child. When his mother is murdered and his father sent to jail for the crime Barry goes to live with Iris and her dad. As adults, Barry still has that crush on her but, due to the awkwardness of their situation, keeps this to himself. As adults Iris considers Barry to be her best friend, oblivious to his crush, and is dating her dad’s partner; but once the Flash appears on the scene, Iris becomes his number one fan and writes a blog about him. Of course in comic canon Barry marries Iris, so that makes her his destined love. Unfortunately this is the one thing in the show that just rings false.
Swept up in this is Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), Iris’ boyfriend and her dad’s partner on the police force. Eddie is an honest to goodness nice guy who just has the misfortune of being Iris’ boyfriend, thus making him a default antagonist for Barry. Also, there is his name; in the comics Eobard Thawne, a man from the 25th century is the Flash’s nemesis, Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash. Since the Reverse Flash is the big bad of the series fans are naturally assuming either Eddie becomes him, or is somehow connected to him. Time will tell.
Rounding out the main cast is Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), Iris’ father and Barry’s foster-father. Where Wells mentors Barry on the practicalities of his powers, Joe mentors him on his behavior as a hero. Honestly, I don’t think the show would be able to hold up the believability of Barry’s development without Joe and I’m glad they had him know about his foster son’s duel identity from the beginning.
Outside of the main cast special mention needs to go to John Wesley Shipp as Barry’s father Henry Allen. Shipp played Barry in the nineties Flash series, and having him as Barry’s father is a nice nod to that connection.
Right now The Flash is by far the CW’s most watched series and with strong episodes and engaging writing, and will hopefully show DC that not all superheroes need to be dark in order to be successful.
I give The Flash a grade of A+. Fans will be overjoyed at how their hero has been translated to screen and non-fans can enjoy the series just as easily.
And, of course, we will revisit the show at the end of the season to see if they are able to keep this success going.
I’m not happy with how much I have been writing about not being happy with DC Entertainment lately. It seems every time I decide to cover them, I am complaining about something new. Just recently, we got the news that Warner Bros. has scrapped the latest Justice League movie script. The latest Wonder Woman series pilot in the same boat. On top of that, the new “52” strategy is beginning to come apart at the seams. And yet I still cover them more than Marvel, because I am still more invested in their characters, which probably makes me an outlier amongst comic book geeks.
So what is going on? Why are things such a mess over there? Didn’t Warner Bros. set up DC Entertainment in order to avoid things like this? Shouldn’t DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson be able to get a handle on this?
Given how things seem to be set up, the answers are in no way simple.
First off, we have Diane Nelson. Diane’s area of expertise is brand management. She was brought on to help build the various intellectual properties that make up DC Comics. That alone is a tall order. But the truth is that while she is a great brand guru, she is not a film maker or a comic publisher, so her influence in these areas is limited at best. To that you need to add the way Warner Bros. is organized, with the film division having the most power. This has allowed the film division to make executive mandates that have led to many of the issues I have written about in the past. Reports are that Nelson is extremely frustrated with the current state of affairs, but has no real way to deal with it.
If all of this is true, then we have to wonder who is calling the shots specifically. The answer to that is probably a lot more complicated than it seems.
Nelson is a brand manager; in fact, she was the person in charge of the Harry Potter franchise at Warner Bros. When that film series was winding down, she was put in charge of the newly formed DC entertainment. This is probably not a coincidence. With the end of the enormously successful Potter franchise looming, WB clearly wanted something to replace it. Since Marvel Studios was having unprecedented success with their films, it was natural for WB to move on the DC brands. These were established characters with a huge preexisting fan base. So Nelson moves over to DC to shepherd those brands, and has the aid of Geoff Johns, one of DC’s top writers, who moves in to the role of Chief Creative Officer. So far everything looks great. The first movie out of the gate was Green Lantern.
I’ve written before about the problems with that movie. In a nut shell, it was a paint-by-numbers summer blockbuster that took no chances and left the audience less than thrilled, because they had seen it before. To add insult to injury, less than a month separated it from Captain
America, a film that did take chances and was for more original. So the script was clearly the main culprit. Well, the thing about that is that two of the main writers of the script were Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim. Right now, they have a TV series they created on the air. That series is Arrow, based on DC comics’ hero GreenArrow, a show that I was convinced would never work. Right now Arrow is the best superhero show that has been on TV in well over a decade, based largely on the strength of the writing.
So how do these two writers so clearly screw up with horrible writing on a DC property that should have succeeded, and take another concept that should have tanked, and make it pure gold based on stellar writing? Did they take intense writing classes in the interim? I doubt it. Were they writing lazier for Green Lantern since they knew it would have big action scenes and special effects vs. the small TV budget of Arrow? Maybe, but I think there is a simpler answer. Green Lantern was DC’s first real attempt to go up against the Marvel movies, so there was a lot riding on it at the studio. My best guess is that there was a lot of executive influence on the script. Arrow, on the other hand, was an adaptation of a lesser tier hero on the CW. If it tanked, it was no big loss, so I suspect Berlanti and Guggenheim were given a lot of free reign. If so, I hope that lasts now that Arrow has been renewed for a second season. The point is that from what we know, the Warner Bros. structure is set up so that producers and movie executives hold the real power, and can dictate what they want.
So why did this not affect Marvel over at Disney? Simply put, Marvel was already rolling when Disney bought them. But even then, it could have been a mess, except that someone had the good sense to put Kevin Feige in charge of Marvel Studios. Feige has a clear vision of how the Marvel movies should work, and makes sure that the producers and directors he hires understand this vision and adhere to it. This has allowed the cohesive development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When Disney bought Marvel, they took the view of “It’s working so let’s not mess with it.” This led them to having the highest grossing movie of last year and the third highest of all time.
DC has to contend with what I like to call “too many mad scientists and not enough hunchbacks.” And worst is that WB has seen the success that Marvel has, and wants to compete with it. Unfortunately, they have not found a good counterpart to Feige, so there is no cohesive vision. This should be Nelson, but again, this is not where her strengths appear to lay; and from all appearances she is not being given that kind of authority.
And then we have the comic books themselves. This should be a no-brainer. The books are the source of the intellectual properties, and are something that should be working well. But right now is a hard time for the industry as a whole, and DC Comics does not appear to be doing well.
Right now sales look fairly good, but there is a bit of smoke and mirrors with that. When the “New 52” launched in 2011 it was a great sales boost. However, for many books, those sales did not last. When a book hit a low selling point, usually dropping below 18,000 orders a month, it would be canceled, and a new series would take its place. Since you had new series, they would have good initial sales. This would boost the line and keep numbers up. The problem is that the new series are not doing well and have quicker reader drop off, so you have a higher number of books struggling.
Add to this a problem we have discussed before – DC editorial is not on top of its game. You have frequent creative team shifts and last-minute mandated changes, leading to poor issues. You also have mandated story elements designed to garner wide spread attention, like the Superman/Wonder Woman romance, which is not well-written since there was no organic growth to it.
If that weren’t enough there is increasing perception that Dan DiDio, Co-Publisher with Jim Lee, is a poor leader and hostile towards fans, and you have a recipe for a bad work environment.
So how does Warner Bros. solve this? As I see it either Diane Nelson has to take the bull by the horns and make the needed changes, or WB has to find their own version of Kevin Feige and give them the authority to do what needs to be done to right the ship. This means someone has to be able to tell the movie division “no.”
I’ll be honest, I don’t see that happening any time soon. But one can hope.
This week DC entertainment announced that they have hired Will Beall to write a script for a Justice League movie. There are also rumblings of trying to get a new Wonder Woman movie going again, as well as Lobo and Suicide Squad movies. This really isn’t surprising. I imagine that with the Avengers currently sitting as the third highest grossing movie of all time that there is a lot of pressure to get the DC properties steaming along.
I can only imagine what DC entertainment president Diane Nelson has to deal with right now. The success of not just the Avengers, but the entire Marvel Cinema Universe highlights how much the DC properties not about Batman have struggled. The DC characters are very powerful and prominent intellectual properties, yet they have not be able to gain any traction.
I think the problem isn’t a hard one to figure out. It’s DC entertainment’s parent company, Warner Brothers.
Last August I looked at the Green Lantern movie in comparison to Captain America. Captain America was a movie that reveled in its comic book roots and yet remembered that it had to be an enthralling action movie for the general audience. Rather than dumb down the character for mass consumption Marvel made sure to build up Steve Rogers so that the movie going public would love him as much as the longtime fans.
Green Lantern by comparison was a stock summer block buster that had a generic action movie plot and Ryan Reynolds playing a character much like he has in most movies he has been in. In other words Warner Brothers was playing it safe. I have a feeling that the production of the movie was very influenced by focus groups.
The end result was a hit of Marvel and an underperformer for DC.
The point I am getting at is that Warner Brothers isn’t playing to the strengths of the DC properties. Marvel has made six movies that know full well they are action hero fantasies and instead of trying to bring their heroes into the real world they are trying to create a believable version of their superhero universe. Disney bought Marvel part way through this and made the wise decision to leave them alone as the plan is working.
Warner Brothers on the other hand does not seem to trust that the audience will embrace a theatric version of the DC universe. The words that keep getting thrown around are “Dark”, “Gritty”, and “Mature”. That works great for Batman as Christopher Nolan has shown, but not so much for Superman, or Wonder Woman.
If you don’t believe me on that point I suggest track down a copy of the recent Wonder Woman pilot. Instead of the strong but compassionate hero she was created to be, Wonder Woman was portrayed as a grim badass who would torture a bed ridden mook for information and straight up kill a security guard who got in her way. Basically she was unsympathetic and the show was terrible.
Not to say that this approach won’t work for all heroes, for example Green Arrow. There is a new Green Arrow series coming this fall that looks pretty good. It is going the darker route, but Green Arrow being a non-powered hero like Batman can make that work. But even this one seems to be victim to focus group shenanigans. The show and the hero in it are just being called Arrow. Apparently due to the failure of Green Lantern the word green is now taboo in a superhero name.
I have an idea that I would like to suggest to Warner Brothers. Bring on Bruce Timm for your film efforts. Timm was the driving force behind the DC animated universe that gave us Batman the animated series, Superman the animated series and Justice League unlimited. These were great and comic and non-comic fans alike loved them. Let Bruce write up some script treatments and whatever you do WB, do not let a focus group anywhere near them.
This week it was announced that DC entertainment will release a weekly digital comic called Smallville Season 11.
I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.
Be thankful I haven’t launched the Fanboy News Network video series yet, I would have been yelling.
So why would I be yelling about a continuation of Smallville? Well let’s go over the reasons.
First, while I assume that if you read this blog you know what Smallville is, just in case you don’t here is the quick recap. The show is about the Life of Clark Kent between his freshman year in high school and his assuming the identity of Superman. It lasted 10 seasons. The mantra of the show was “No Flight, No Tights.”
Ok on to the ranting.
Frist thing that springs to mind: Smallville already lasted five seasons too long. Seriously the idea was to show the events that lead Clark on the road to becoming the greatest hero of all time. The first four seasons were ok. It was never stellar Television. It was Superman as seen through the lens of Dawson’s Creek. It had two things going for it, a sense of destiny as we know how the two main characters would turn out, and the performance of Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor.
Of course those early seasons had their issues too. Chief amongst them was the miscasting of Kristen Kreuk as Lana Lang. She had no chemistry with series lead Tom Welling. This would not have been so bad except that they cast Allison Mack as Chloe Sullivan, a character that had an unrequited crush on Clark. Mack had tons of chemistry with Welling, making Kreuk’s lack of it jarring.
The point here is that at the beginning you had an ok show that did surprisingly well in the ratings. And that may have been its curse. By season five the show had really run its course, but for CW it was doing great ratings so it was renewed. And they kept renewing it.
Maybe if the story had advanced it would not have been awful, but merely bad. But “No Flight, No Tights” meant they had to keep Clark as not quite Superman. What ended up happening was an amazing hack job of the Superman myth that made most fanboys rage. What was worst is that every now and then they actually had something good, like Geoff Johns love letter to the Golden Age with his JSA episode. But mostly it was crap that went on five years past its expiration date.
The final season was particularly bad in that it started out like most Smallville seasons, but part way through someone in the writers’ room must have woken up.
“Oh crap, this is the last season, we should take the Clark Kent character we have developed and shoehorn him into the personality from the comic books.”
I’m not kidding. It was the 9th episode of the 10th season that Clark Kent started wearing glasses. And was the 13th before he started with the mild mannered nerd persona. Like people who know him before would not figure out that the Clark Kent they knew for years was Superman.I think it would ended up like being the Saturday Night Live Sketch with the Rock as Clark Kent where everyone know he was Superman and just humored him.
A lot of this could have been forgiven, if they had nailed the series finale. If they gave us that rousing moment when Clark Kent became the Man of Steel and defeated the villain becoming the champion he was meant to be.
That would have been nice.
But Smallville had a history of unsatisfying season finales and I guess they saw no reason to make the series finale any different.
It was a two hour finale, and when Clark finally confronted the bad guy there were 14 minutes left in the episode. In that time the following happened:
·He learned to fly
·He defeated Darkseid, one of the most powerful entities in the DC Universe, by flying through him
·He went to the Fortress of Solitude and got the Superman Costume.
·He saved the airplane Lois Lane was on.
·He flew in the sky and pushed a planet away from Earth.
·Then there was an epilog.
And in none of that was there ever a clear shot of Tom Welling actually wearing the Superman costume. The rumor I keep hearing is that Welling, who was also a producer on the show, refused to wear it. I guess he felt that he should never fully been seen as Superman. What it did was leave the audience feeling cheated.
10 year build up with no pay off.
So now, I assume due to the success of the Buffy Season 8 and 9 comics DC feels they can give us this pay off.
I have an idea. If you want to see Clark Kent at the beginning of his career as Superman read the current run of Action Comics. At least they are going about it honestly.
For me the big mystery is why I watch that damn show for all ten seasons.
The only answer I can come up with is that I am such a comic fanboy that since It was something related to Superman thus I was obligated.
Or maybe some part of me knew that one day I would write a geek culture blog and I would need to know the shows history to really tear into it.
I’m going with that last one. It makes me feel better.