As far as first impressions go, Grant Gustin’s Barry Allen made quite the name for himself in his appearances in Arrow’s Season 2. As that series headed to its most recent mid-season finale, Barry wound up getting struck by lightning as a particle accelerator ruptured the skies of Central City. In Arrow terms, the last we saw or heard of Barry was that he was in a deep, deep coma and making minimal progress. Well guess what? Barry Allen has woken up to find he’s now headlining his own spin-off series for The CW.
So here we are, City of Heroes, the show’s pilot, is finally upon us. Given how wonderfully constructed and executed Season 2 of Arrow was, it’s safe to say that there was a lot of eyes peering at The Flash and wondering just how it would fare in comparison to its Emerald Archer-starring shared universe sister show. To put you at ease right here, right now, judging from this pilot episode The Flash is going to be just fine. More than just fine, even. As ever with a pilot, this episode has to do some form of bringing viewers up to speed on the backstory of its central character. Whilst we get to see the tragic death of mother Nora Allen (Michelle Harrison) and the earlier events of the fateful day that saw Barry suffer his ‘accident,’ City of Heroes benefits greatly from not having to overdo the pleasantries and introduction to Barry due to us having already been introduced to him, his character and his mannerisms during his relatively brief stint on Arrow. Still, the backstory we do see has a great sense of tragedy, confusion and intrigue to it, with that all likely to be touched on heavily going forward in the show.
Plot-wise, this first episode merely looks to introduce audiences to its key characters and to throw in an initial villain threat to showcase the newfound powers of Barry Allen. We have Iris West (Candice Patton), the girl who Barry has grown up with, is best friends with, and yearns for more with; we have Detective Joe West (Jesse L. Martin), the caring cop who took Barry under his wing after the death of Nora Allen and the incarceration of Henry Allen (former Flash, John Wesley Shipp) for her murder; Harrison Wells (Tom Cavanagh), the head of S.T.A.R. Labs and who has a highly vested interested in Barry; Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) and Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes), two S.T.A.R. Labs employees who potentially have some huge futures ahead of them in the world of superheroes and supervillains; and Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett), a partner of Detective West’s and somebody who could potentially go on to have a huge tie to the past, present and future of Barry Allen. As for the villain, City of Heroes sees an adaptation of DC’s Weather Wizard (Chad Rook) get some brief time to shine, although this episode is, as mentioned, clearly just a case of throwing a villain into the mix to showcase the superspeed and superpowers of Barry Allen, and also to show us that there is potentially now many more ‘meta-humans’ out there in Central City, Starling City and beyond.
Right from the get-go, The Flash comes off as a fun, energetic, enthralling show that is very much an easy watch for viewers. Similarly, it’s titular hero comes off as fun, energetic and enthralling, yet has a self-awareness, a smartness, and an almost awestruck nature to the powers that he has been given. This is a show that is very much in synch with its hero. As mother Nora quips to a pre-teen Barry Allen, “You have such a good heart, Barry,” and that’s a phrase that can be equally applied to the show as a whole if this first episode is anything to go by. The tone of the show, so important in any show of this nature, is absolutely perfect. In amongst the tragedy and trauma, there’s a true sense of warmth, a heart-warming nature, and a very soulful, sincere edge to both The Flash and the hero at the centre of the series.
Whereas The Flash is laced with some grin-inducing Easter eggs throughout (Gorilla Grodd, anybody?), the show manages to juggle these perfectly with keeping firm attention on the story being told in City of Heroes. Yes, there’s the tragic backstory and teases of long-time Flash foe Professor Zoom, but that’s only one of many, many teases of who and what are potentially to come in the future of the show. Whereas the recent debut of Gotham was quick to slap you in the face with far too many over-the-top nods, winks and cameos straight out of the gate, The Flash seems more content to just drop things in subtly and is more concerned with giving a strong initialnarrative to its viewers rather than trying to achieve cheap brownie points.
And what about Barry Allen? Much like his appearances in Arrow, Grant Gustin does brilliantly as the Scarlet Speedster. For fans of the comic book incarnations of Barry Allen, Gustin manages to portray the analytical, scientific mind of the character whilst also giving him a humour, charm, charisma and well-meaning nature that makes him instantly likeable and with an underdog quality that has you pulling for him once he starts to display his newly found talents. Elsewhere, Tom Cavanagh’s Harrison Wells has a natural charisma and presence, plus his delivery is exquisite during some of his conversations with Barry. And during this episode, Wells’ motives are often hazy; one minute’s he’s deeming Barry the future of science and encouraging him to express himself, other times he’s simply telling the now-superpowered Allen, “You’re not a hero, you’re just a young man who was struck by lightning.”
Finally, in tying to sister show Arrow, there’s a nice cameo appearance from Stephen Amell’s Oliver Queen at a time when Barry Allen is in need of some advice. In this world of heroes and apparent villains, who better to turn to than The Arrow, right? Much like how Barry gave Oliver some advice on wearing a mask in Season 2 of Arrow, this time we see the Emerald Archer with some sage words of advice, including some words that seem to give Barry a gentle nudge towards choosing his superhero moniker.
A fantastic, frenetic, fun-filled start for The Flash, this is a show that looks to have all the potential in the world, in the hands of a group (we’re looking at you, guys behind Arrow) who have full confidence in how to put together a show of this nature. This is merely the beginning of the journey for Barry Allen and for The Flash, but we’re left with plenty of anticipation as to what is to come next for our titular hero. With subtleties throughout, a tragic backstory of mystery, and an episode-concluding scene of intrigue, it looks like there’s a whole lot more to come from The Flash. Here’s hoping the show can keep up the standards of this mightily impressive opening.
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