A Review of The Flash, Season 1 – Don’t Be Afraid to Smile

flash_ver2TITLE: The Flash, Season 1
STARRING: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Jesse L. Martin, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh
CREATORS: Greg Berlanti, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns
RATING: TV-PG
NETWORK: The CW
SERIES PREMIERE DATE: October 7, 2014

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

I was never drawn to Arrow. It was mostly the ho-hum reviews that I read online, but also because I’m not a huge Green Arrrow fan. Any character done right is worth attention (see Marvel’s Daredevil), but I remained highly skeptical of Arrow, and still do. I watched a couple of episodes on Netflix, and decided it wasn’t worth my time to endure the agony of a crappy first season until it got “really, really good.”

That said, I actually adore The Flash. I looked forward to watching it each week, and I came away from the season finale wanting more. How is it that two shows, both on the CW, both created by similar creative teams, and even occupying a shared universe, managed to make me look at them in wildly different ways?

2060_oriThe Flash stars Grant Gustin as Barry Allen, a nerdy young CSI for the Central City Police Department. He’s obsessed with proving the innocence of his jailed father, Henry Allen (John Wesley Shipp, who played Barry Allen in the 1990s The Flash TV series). Henry was convicted years ago of murdering Barry’s mother in a strangely fantastical incident that Barry witnessed as a child. There was a big, yellow streak involved. Then one day, at the activation of the new S.T.A.R. Labs Particle Accelerator, things go horribly wrong. There’s an explosion in conjunction with a lightning storm. Barry is struck by lightning while working in his strangely grungy-looking CSI lab.

Barry wakes up from a coma nine months later, being tended by S.T.A.R. Labs personnel Dr. Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), and Dr. Caitlyn Snow (Danielle Panabaker), to find that he has super speed, a healing factor, and a need to eat lots and lots of food. His surrogate father, police detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) warns him not to tell his daughter, and Barry’s longtime crush, Iris West (Candice Patton), about what’s going on. Barry soon dons a scarlet costume and works with the S.T.A.R. Labs team to take down delinquent “meta-humans” who also gained powers through the particle accelerator explosion. Meanwhile, Dr. Wells is hiding a deep, dark secret…

Also, Joe’s partner, Detective Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), shows up and begins dating Iris.

The Flash, Arrow, crossoverFrom what I saw of Arrow, the two shows do have a few things in common: They’re both drenched in bathos and melodrama and almost none of the characters look above 30. But aside from that, they couldn’t be any more different. Where Arrow is dominated by soulless and crushing despair, The Flash is the most upbeat TV drama I’ve seen since White Collar. It’s not just the abundance of humor. It’s stories are made to be as fun as possible, with no pretentions of being realistic or serious. After all, how serious can a show about a guy who runs really fast punching criminals be?

Early episodes of the show went with a straightforward police-procedural feel. But as the show got more confident, it eventually transformed into full-blown comic-booky science fiction craziness.

Arguably the two best things about this show are the Joe West and Harrison Wells characters. Joe is just a fun character to watch. He’s so blithely incredulous about the craziness going on around him that it’s impossible not to find him endearing. I love that he’s really the only one who has a problem with Barry and his friends locking up all the meta-humans they capture in a completely illegal private prison. There’s also an actual Tumblr devoted to his unique facial expressions. Joe West reminds me of a more laidback version of Crispus Allen from Gotham Central.

Tom Cavanagh, Harrison WellsThen there’s Tom Cavanagh as Harrison Wells. Cavanagh spends most of the season in a wheelchair, but it’s incredible how subtly he gets his character across. I enjoyed how they played up Wells’ similarities to Joe, in that they’re both father figures to Barry. It all leads up to a great payoff in the end that gives us an excellent performance by Cavanagh as a maniacally evil mad scientist. He’s interesting to watch at all times.

As for other villains, The Flash suffers from a tired “freak of the week” format, but it’s redeemed by a particularly fun group of recurring villains. There are the Rogues, led by Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), who deserves special mention. He sounds like he’s channeling Clint Eastwood half the time, but he’s obviously having a lot of fun in the role. Some of the best and craziest episodes of the series involve both he and his fellow Rogues, Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell) and Golden Glider (Peyton List). Purcell is probably the hammiest actor on the show next to Mark Hamill’s much-ballyhooed guest star as the Trickster. And who can forget the Reverse Flash the Man in the Yellow Suit?

Granted, The Flash won’t win any writing awards. For instance, the love triangle between Barry, Iris, and Eddie seems contrived at best and creepy at worst. On one hand, there’s no real conflict between Eddie and Barry because they’re both really nice guys. Barry doesn’t want to hurt Iris or Eddie, and those two are completely oblivious to Barry’s feelings. On the other hand, Iris herself said in the first episode that she and Barry were like “brother and sister.” Ick. It didn’t help much when they decided to pair Iris with Eddie. It was a pathetically obvious effort to inject some cheap drama into the plot. Incidentally, Eddie and Iris actually make a pretty good couple.

The Flash, Harrison Wells, Eddie ThawneEddie’s mere presence here is a possible sign that this show was only half-baked when it first went on the air. First we have the Totally-Not-Evil Dr. Wells doing his thing. Then we have some guy whose name is Eddie Thawne, which fans of the comics will know sounds a lot like Eobard Thawne, the alter ego of the Reverse Flash. You’d think that the writers would use this as a gold mine for an intriguing subplot, especially since in the promotional materials Eddie was touted as having a “dark secret.”

But that intrigue of peters out, and Eddie fades into the background as the series goes on, particularly when Team Flash begins dealing with Firestorm. But the finale actually addresses this problem, after much else has been revealed. Believe it or not, it actually works! When the series ends, Eddie is seen in an entirely different light.

For all its faults, The Flash won me over because of one simple truth: It’s fun. The crazy plots, the spectacular, super-powered battles, the silly melodrama, the obligatory DCU references, the self-aware humor. Even the mediocre CGI and other special effects were endearing. Bottom line, if you like superheroes with no pretentions of seriousness (think Thor, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy, with a bit of Batman ’66 thrown in), then you’ll absolutely love The Flash.

Something tells me that DC is beginning to understand that their heroes can afford to smile now and then.

RATING: 8/10

Image 1 from rottentomatoes.com. Image 2 from theinsightfulpanda.wordpress.com. Image 3 from theflash.wikia.com. Image 4 from etonline.com.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition/

A Review of The Flash: The Road to Flashpoint – Grudges and Time Gymnastics

The Flash: The Road to FlashpointTITLE: The Flash, Vol. 2: The Road to FLashpoint
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLERS: Scott Kolins, Francis Manapul
COLLECTS: The Flash #8-12
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASED: November 16, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m a bit confused as to why DC chose to publish this book.  It’s the lead-in to Flashpoint, the story that altered the timeline of the DC Universe. Thus, we now have a book that takes place in an old continuity, leading up to an event that takes place in an alternate timeline, which features characters who, in the current continuity, are either different or don’t exist altogether. On top of that it’s only five issues long, as opposed to the typical six or seven that usually make up a trade paperback. That’ll be $22.99!

The Flash #8, 2011, Scott KolinsLogistical complaints aside, The Road To Flashpoint isn’t so bad. It gives us the events leading up to the big chronological shift that caused the timeline to nosedive into chaos. We meet a new character called Hot Pursuit, a traveler from an alternate Earth who uses a motorcycle to tap into the Speed Force. He’s determined to stop what he deems to be a catastrophic shift in the timeline, without The Flash’s help. Meanwhile, Barry Allen’s family is growing concerned that he’s spending too much time on his heroics, and is avoiding something in his personal life which may or may not involve Kid Flash. But most importantly, The Reverse-Flash has escaped from Iron Heights and he’s planning something that will change the world forever.

Geoff Johns’ regular Flash partner Francis Manapul tags out to Scott Kolins quite a bit in this book, which isn’t great. But it’s alright. Johns and Manapul have proven that when they’re on their game, they can be as good as any other creative team out there. But Kolins is no slouch. His art adorns the best part of this book, which is the look back at The Reverse-Flash’s origin story. We see how he has manipulated the time stream to alter events in his life and twist them to his own advantage. Johns does a great job portraying him as a twisted, psychotic madman.

The Flash #12, Francis ManapulIt’s nice to see Barry and Bart get a chance to resolve the issues they have with one another, for which the seeds were placed way back in The Flash: Rebirth. Sadly, it won’t ever amount to anything, as these versions of the characters (presumably) won’t ever be working as a team again, given the reboot. But I appreciate Johns taking the time to tie up the loose end. The idea of Barry being “addicted” to the Speed Force is a stretch in my book, simply because he’s a superhero. In that position, it would certainly benefit one to have as much balance in their life as possible. But in the DCU there’s constantly someone trying to blow up the world or something. I actually found myself saying: “Quit nagging the guy! He’s got a lot on his plate!” Hot Pursuit is a decent character, and the idea of a speedster using a vehicle instead of his feet is interesting. But again, don’t invest too much in him, as we likely won’t see him again for quite some time, if ever.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on this book simply because it happens to predate the New 52. It provides some fantastic insight into The Reverse-Flash’s character and sets up a few things going into Flashpoint. But in the grand scheme of things, did that warrant a $22 book? Probably not. The Road to Flashpoint is one of the few Geoff Johns books that doesn’t stand very well on it’s own.

RATING: 5/10

Image 1 from insidepulse.com. Image 2 from comicvine.com.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition/

A Flashpoint Review – The Start of Something New

Flashpoint (2011), cover, Andy KubertTITLE: Flashpoint
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Andy Kubert
COLLECTS: Flashpoint #1-5
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $22.99
RELEASE DATE: October 26, 2011

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Flashpoint had the tall task of being the transition story between the old DC Universe and the new one. Ten years from now that will be what people remember this story for. But if you take that element away, Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert still manage to put together a fun, intriguing story.

Our tale begins when Barry Allen, a.k.a. The Flash, wakes up at his desk and realizes the world has changed, and not for the better. While his previously dead mother is alive and well, Barry’s powers are gone, and his wife Iris has no idea who he is. The world is caught in the middle of a war between Wonder Woman’s Amazons and Aquaman’s kingdom of Atlantis. Superman does not exist (at least as we know him), Thomas Wayne has become Batman to avenge his dead son, Hal Jordan is not Green Lantern, and the superhero community is at odds on how to handle the war. Clearly, someone has tampered with the timestream. Now, with help from Batman, Cyborg (who is viewed as America’s greatest hero) and a few other heroes very different from the ones he knows, The Flash must regain his powers and fix the time stream before the changes become permanent.

Barry Allen, Batman, Flashpoint #1, Andy KubertObviously the scope of Flashpoint is huge, which is why it spawned 16 spinoff miniseries’, and a few one-shots. I opted out of many of them for money’s sake (Batman: Knight of Vengeance was the most notable exception), but it’s still fun to explore this altered world through The Flash’s eyes. Flashpoint has a Back to the Future, Part II vibe to it. This alternate Batman makes a great supporting character, sort of the cynical Han Solo to Barry’s ambitious Luke Skywalker.

Oddly enough, one of the elements that makes Flashpoint endearing is that at five issues, it’s shorter than your average DC event comic. Blackest Night was eight issues, Final Crisis was seven, Amazons Attack was six, Infinite Crisis was seven, etc. The main Flashpoint story doesn’t linger for too long, and that’s a good thing. It keeps the story moving at a decent pace, and keeps things fresh. It’s still an epic event, but it’s not as drawn out, and at times contrived as some event comics can be.

One of the keys to Flashpoint‘s success is the way it integrates the theme of lost loved ones. Barry Allen lost his mother as a child and now has her back, but in the meantime he’s lost everything else. In contrast, Thomas Wayne has lost his son, but is now desperately trying to help The Flash alter the timeline so that Bruce will live and he will die. The overall theme for Flashpoint seems to be that you just can’t have it all.

Flashpoint #4, 2011, Andy KubertThere’s also a big twist during the story’s climax that I loved. I won’t spoil it, but trust me, it’s a good one.

In the grand scheme of things, Flashpoint isn’t necessarily a fantastic story, but it’s definitely a very, very good one. The alternate timeline plot device is used effectively, the characters we meet (Batman in particular) are intriguing, and it manages to tug at your heartstrings. Johns and Kubert’s job was to get us from the old DCU to the new one, but they did so in a very entertaining fashion worthy of both their reputations.

RATING: 8.5/10

Image 1 from book hound.wordpress.com. Image 2 from comixology.com.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition/

A Review of The Flash: Rebirth – The Silver Age Icon Returns

The Flash: Rebirth, coverTITLE: The Flash: Rebirth
AUTHOR: Geoff Johns
PENCILLER: Ethan Van Sciver
COLLECTS: The Flash: Rebirth #1-6
FORMAT: Hardcover
PUBLISHER: DC Comics
PRICE: $19.99
RELEASE DATE: April 28, 2010

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

So you’re a superhero who’s been dead for several years. The world goes on, life goes on. Then suddenly, you’re back….What do you do?

If Geoff Johns and Ethan Van Sciver have something to say about it, you’ll probably star in a 6-issue Rebirth miniseries. Hoping to recapture the success they found with Green Lantern: Rebirth in 2004, the duo launched The Flash: Rebirth in the aftermath of Barry Allen’s return to his role as The Flash in Final Crisis.

But The Flash: Rebirth is a completely different animal. The Barry Allen character, who unofficially started the silver age of comics with his first appearance as The Flash in 1956, had been dead for about 25 years. He was killed off in 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. Even so, he remained a perennial fan favorite, and was occasionally seen in flashback and time travel stories. But Rebirth made it official: Barry was back, and this story served as his welcome home.

The Flash: Rebirth #2, Ethan Van Sciver, Barry AllenUnfortunately, Barry isn’t entirely convinced his return is a good thing. Having been trapped in the Speed Force (the energy source that other Flash characters have tapped into for their speed) for several years, he is convinced that he “wasn’t supposed” to come back. But unbeknownst to Barry, one of his enemies is plotting against him. As the Speed Force begins to behave erratically, Barry Allen must once again embrace his role as the scarlet speedster if he and his loved ones are to survive.

One of the great things about Geoff Johns’ writing is that he’s truly able to grasp the ins and outs of the characters he works with, and what they represent. In Rebirth, he’s able to add on to what readers know about Barry Allen, without tarnishing any of the history.

For readers who aren’t familiar with the character, Johns quickly points to Barry’s emotional soft spots. He spotlights his relationship with his beloved wife Iris, and adds a new heart-wrenching aspect to his backstory. This provide the reader with an emotional tether to Barry, drawing into the story line whether they know him or not.

The story’s biggest problem lies with the complexities involving the Speed Force, and how it ties into everything. What the Speed Force is and does, how it’s used, how it effects the characters, these are all things that Johns needs to explain within the context of the story. He does it, but the information is all a bit much to take in. I actually had to re-read several passages just so I could fully understand what was happening.

The Flash: Rebirth, Flash Family, Ethan Van SciverAlso, while it doesn’t necessarily hurt the story, we end up with a LOT of speedsters in the picture at the end of the book. In addition to Barry Allen, we have Wally West (who took over as The Flash after Barry died), Kid Flash, Jay Garrick (the original Flash from the 1940’s who still his his powers), Wally’s daughter, in addition to two other returning characters. That’s SEVEN characters with super-speed powers. Johns did great character work with Barry here, but the idea that he’s been restored to his role as the DC Universe’s primary speedster comes out tarnished.

Van Sciver’s art hits the mark, as usual. He has the unenviable task of drawing both Barry Allen and Wally West in their Flash uniforms, which are basically identical. To his credit, there’s seldom confusion as to who is who, but Johns throws him a plot point at the end to help him out a bit.

Did DC Comics need to bring Barry Allen back? No. Still, amid the confusion (and perhaps redundancy) Johns and Van Sciver made me appreciate that he is back. Despite its flaws, The Flash: Rebirth is, at it’s core, a story about a man coming to grips with the circumstances life has dealt him, and appreciating the wonderful things he has.

RATING: 6.5/10