“Life is locomotion… If you’re not moving, you’re not living.”
So begins the famous motto of the comic book hero the Flash, and when adopting the story of Barry Allen for the small screen, it’s clear that this motto was taken to heart. With apparently no fear that it will run out of stories, The Flash ran through its first season at breakneck speed.
When Barry Allen was a little boy in Central City, he saw his mother, Nora (Michelle Harrison), be murdered in a yellow ball of light, and his father Henry (John Wesley Shipp) was charged with her murder. Barry goes to live with his parent’s friend, police detective Joe West (the amazing Jesse L. Martin), and Joe’s daughter Iris West (Candice Patton).
Fifteen years later, a bunch of scientists at a place called S.T.A.R. Labs blow up something called a particle accelerator, Barry gets struck by lightning, and bam: super speed. Barry is then taken under the wing of the mysterious wheelchair-bound scientist Harrison Wells (the hugely fun Tom Cavanagh), who trains Barry to use his speed. Barry is also assisted by Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) and Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker), researchers at S.T.A.R. Labs. Barry is up and running as a superhero with his own costume and symbol and is fighting supervillains (who were also empowered by the particle accelerator explosion) by the end of the pilot, and the whole city is calling him ‘the Flash’ only a few episodes later.
On an emotional level, The Flash is strongest when it explores Barry’s relationships with his three father figures, Joe, Wells, and his real, imprisoned father. All these actors have amazing chemistry with each other, and Barry’s relationship with his three father figures tugs at viewers’ heart strings. Another huge part of the joy of this show is its smiles. Barry likes being the Flash. He loves it! He dashes across the city with a big smile on his face, and we find ourselves smiling with him.
However, The Flash isn’t perfect by any means. I would argue that this show doesn’t do a great job with its female characters, starting but not ending with Barry’s mother dying in the pilot.
The show explores Barry’s love for Iris West. In comic book land, the two are star-crossed lovers, but the show does little to support that. Iris is under the impression that Barry is her best friend, and treats him as such, but all the while Barry mopes behind her back.
This, combined with Barry practically being adopted by the West family as a kid, makes Barry’s secret crush a little… icky. It would help if Iris was given other stuff to do, but she really isn’t. Iris is also the last person on the show to find out that Barry is the Flash—literally everyone else knows before her.
Caitlin Snow, however, is given plenty to do, and is a strong character—certainly the strongest female character on the show—but her ark is still heavily tied to her fiancé Ronnie Raymond, the hero Firestorm. All in all, it’s not enough, and if the problem is still around next year, I’m going to be seriously angry.
The first season’s other weakness was its need for a ‘freak of the week’. Many episodes would introduce a villain, give them no development, have them be beaten, and then lock them up, never to be seen again, by the end of the episode. Most of the villains didn’t even seem that threatening. You’d be amazed by how many villains can be beaten by running around them in a circle, though admittedly I loved when the show just solved its problems with the Flash running in a circle and Dr. Wells shouting, “Run, Barry, run!”
But when the show did its villains well, it did them well. The Flash has a famous gallery of rogues. Wentworth Miller gave a standout performance as Captain Cold this season with so much cheesy goodness that I would cheer whenever he came on screen. This is a character who holds a gun that shoots ice and makes just as many ice puns as Schwarzenegger in Batman & Robin, but somehow manages to still be amazingly fun and genuinely threatening.
But it was in episode twenty-one, “Grodd Lives”, when Flash faced off against a giant telepathic gorilla villain that I realized that the true genius of this show is that it is blatantly unashamed of being based on a comic book.
This works so much so that when the season finale, “Fast Enough”, rolled around, there was nothing that could take me out of it. As I looked back on the whole season, I realized this was always true, and that the show’s roots in the comic book medium stretch beyond its use of time travel, super speed, or cold guns.
The influence of comic books can be seen when a 1930s comic book Flash helmet pops out of a wormhole in time and space. It can also be seen when Harrison Wells reveals he’s from one hundred and thirty years in the future and that his real name is Eobard Thawne, dawning a yellow flash costume with glowing red eyes. What? Harrison Wells is playing the Reverse Flash?
He actually calls himself the Reverse Flash?
And that’s barely a spoiler because we as the audience know this by episode nine—because when it comes to the Flash, nothing ever slows down. So when the Flash races into a black hole for the last shot of the season, it’s just as enjoyable as it was way back at the beginning of the year. This is a show that is based on a comic book, and loves itself for being based on a comic book, and that’s why I love it.
This show never slows down, and even though it never says the words, the Flash’s life really is locomotion. So you can’t help but mouth the words along with the characters on screen almost every week as the Flash shoots off in a blur of surprisingly good CGI yellow lightning:
“Run, Barry, Run!”
-Contributed by Ben Ghan