What defines a superhero? I could give you the dictionary definition or I could just tell you what I think. A superhero is more than a cultural icon, more than a cape, and certainly more than just their special abilities. A true hero is someone who goes out of their way to do good, to help others better themselves, to protect innocent people by any means necessary. That’s not to say they are infallible – many of the best superhero stories deal with their shortcomings or failures. I’m just saying their constant decisions to help people are what qualifies them as superheroes. All these reasons and more are why I love CW’s The Flash so damn much.
In a year where we were blessed with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the season 2 finale of Arrow, and Guardians of the Galaxy, The Flash might be the best live-action superhero event of 2014. A complete tonal 180 from the downtrodden glumness of Arrow (which works in a hit/miss fashion for that show), Flash embraces its brightly colored comic book roots. The sun is shining, the costumes get goofy, the villains get nicknames, characters go out for beers, and the titular hero saves people. Saving people isn’t a burden on Barry Allen. He helps people because it’s the right thing to do, and he loves it. He wants to make the world a better place. With every save, Barry’s unbreakable smile shines through Central City with a triumphant score blazing in the background.
Barry isn’t all that similar to his comic book counterpart but adaptations don’t need to be 100% accurate as long as the source is honored or improved upon. Comics writer and show developer Geoff Johns seems to favor the original Justice League members over introducing new blood into the fold. Again, this Barry is mostly character in name only. The character has more in common with Peter Parker than the man who dons the Scarlet Speedster suit. He’s a giant dork who loves science, will never look before leaping to save someone, and is constantly disappointing people who don’t know his secret identity. His abilities aren’t what make him a hero. During an initial stint on a two-part episode of Arrow back in that show’s sophomore season, Barry showed just as much enthusiasm in his attempt to help save people. He had no powers back then. The ability to run at the speed of light and sound isn’t what turned him into a hero, it’s an extension of his want (and arguably need) to help other people.
Outside the character of Barry Allen, the supporting cast members all have something to bring to the table. Barry has a support team consisting of scientists at STAR Labs, and his adoptive family, that help push him in a positive direction, while exploring his abilities. Each member of the STAR Labs team (#TeamFlash) will eventually take on roles familiar to fans of the comics. I won’t get into that spoiler territory but I would expect a drastic change in the status quo as the series continues. Barry’s adoptive family, Joe as the surrogate father, and Iris West, also play into the proceedings of his heart. In both his superhero persona and civilian life, these characters strive to make Barry the best person he can be. It also helps that most of his close friends know of his role as the Scarlet Speedster (the writers have stated they are not fans of secret identity tropes).
What sets Team Flash apart is their ability to cut loose. Many iterations of superheroes focus on the big villains and the monstrous battle scenes without letting us get to know who these people are on a normal day. These characters go get drinks together almost every episode! It’s something so vital to establishing the day to day character activities. If everything is punch-bang-pow to the credits, what makes the story standout?
Alas, The Flash still maintains a good villain quota. There are villains of the week and there appears to be a central villain to the season (possibly series?). From characters called Captain Cold to Gorilla Grodd, it looks like no villain is off-limits to be introduced in this show.
The Flash is pushing the same boundaries of comic book glory seen in the Marvel movies (i.e, not taking themselves seriously or commenting on goofiness). It doesn’t even scratch the surface of moral complexities of a show like Breaking Bad but I don’t think it needs to. The Flash doesn’t want to tackle heavy issues and that’s okay. Serious storytelling doesn’t equate good storytelling. Barry and Team Flash bring me unbridled joy as they go through relationship struggles and fight a menagerie of terribly named villains. I’d say that’s enough.