The Flash and Netflix’s Daredevil are the only TV series I have had a chance to watch this year with my busy school/work schedule, and both began at the urging of a fellow superhero genre fan nerd friend since we talk about this stuff a lot to begin with. But I have to say, I’m really enjoying The Flash a lot. I’m just not sure if I have anything terribly interesting or creative to observe about it. But because I did enjoy it, I should be able to come up with something… Let’s see…
I’m sure that by now many bloggers have listed the reasons why the show works so well. The story development is very well done. The characters and actors playing them are great. The special effects are even pretty good. By comparison, the negatives are relatively trivial. It’s just a tad sexist in its treatment of women. Some of the villains are on the hokey side and overdrawn (*cough* *Leonard Snart!* *cough* *Mick Rory!*). The show can get a little maudlin here and there. But it is after all, based on a comic book, so…
Actually, I guess that leads to a possibly original thought (or it could well be out there somewhere, and I’ve just not heard or read anyone else express it yet). It’s about how much of the comic book medium translates well to TV and film:
The plotline about Barry Allen time traveling, and the creation of alternate timeline universes is actually becoming mainstream in popular culture due to an actual “multiverse” theory from physics that is regarded as credible now mathematically (experts like Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Michio Kaku tell us so). So the show is able to keep these wild plot devices within a somewhat plausible real world framework. For the purposes of creating a willing suspension of disbelief with a TV show, that is.
But to generalize a little more broadly on this theme… comic books can get pretty damn crazy. They’re actually sometimes downright bizarre with respect to content. Granted, the comic book is a place for the imagination to run buck wild–and it does so in a way that allows for graphic artists to go to town with their amazing skills. But looked at from the lens of everyday life it’s almost a place of madness, really.
For example, after just the other day reading a rumor that the character Doomsday might be featured in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and seeing as this is the character that kills Superman in the comics, I looked the other day at the Wikipedia on the “death of Superman“… and the aftermath of Superman’s death is pretty nutty. Four new Supermen appear that take Supes’ place and they are weird amalgams of Superman and something else. Superman is eventually resurrected, however. Anyway, it may have been entertaining in the comics. But for the Love of Mike, Warner Brothers please do not try anything like that in the DC Comics Shared Universe of films.
It’s an interesting problem of how closely to match the wildly inventive but often bizarre stuff of the imagination that fills the pages of comic books with what will work in the cinematic form. In Guardians of the Galaxy it worked almost beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. (A talking raccoon? A tree-creature that says only “I am Groot”? Really? Well as it turns out, yeah, really.) But this will not always be the case.
Anyway, The Flash works in large part because it is able to give us the fantastic but in a way that we can still relate to in the everyday world. It finds that sweet spot and makes the fantastic relatable–and isn’t that precisely what we’re looking for from the comic book superhero genre, after all? At least in films and TV series we are, I would say.
Indeed, as Barry says at the show’s introduction “an accident made me the impossible.” And a major theme of the show throughout is basically that the impossible has become possible, so get ready for a wild ride. I think that probably does capture something at the core of why comic book characters and stories strike our fancy. Human beings seem innately hardwired to hope and dream that if we are ingenious enough we can make the seemingly impossible possible. We certainly play at it in our entertainment forms. And sure enough, our scientists and engineers do seem to keep pushing the boundaries of what we’re capable of all the time. For better or worse, that raises moral issues along with it (“with great power comes great responsibility,” in the words of Spider Man’s Uncle Ben). Anyway, perhaps shows like The Flash are a kind of collective cultural play therapy ‘working through’ about all those things.