The Flash took TV by storm this year for comic and superhero fans. Week after week the show brought us a colorful mix of villains, intrigue, and lots of superspeed hidden as slow motion. And it was fantastic. From the amazing pilot to the tear-jerking finale, The Flash gave us everything we could want from a comic book TV show. But what made The Flash so good? Why did it find its footing so quickly and why was it able to, sorry but I have to say it, hit the ground running? Especially when so many other comic book TV shows take a while to get going (yeah, Agents of SHIELD, love ya now but you know I’m looking at you)? I have the answer for you after the break.
The answer is three little letters: fun. We are awash in superheroes and comic-based content these days but the vast majority is serious. And serious can work, for sure, but it takes away the opportunity for the audience to experience the wonder of it all. Not Flash. Every time Barry Allen figures out a new ability like running up a building’s surface or vibrating through a truck to remove the bomb strapped to his wrist while still leaving his costume attached to his body (it can happen, people!) there’s a moment afterwards that is essentially “Whoa, did you see what I just did?” This is on top of every time Barry is standing near someone and then Flash-runs away causing there to be a >WHOOSH< of air that blows people’s hair just enough to trigger a fun eye roll but not enough to demand the hair and make-up crew to apply fixes.
This is not every time Barry runs. He only does it some of the time. Because Barry likes to play. He’s putting the F-U back in fun.
And the show creators are having fun as well. When they invited Mark Hamill to play The Trickster, a role he voiced in the Justice League cartoons (along with his iconic run as Joker) in addition to playing in the short-lived Flash TV show in the early 90s, we expected him to have fun. We did not expect this amazing moment:
I’m not saying that serious is bad. Serious comic movies can certainly succeed, but they can also take their toll. That’s the world we live in today where everything is gritty and needs to feel real even though we’re talking about powers that don’t exist. I’m sure it has something to do with Watergate or 9/11 or something equally sad and depressing. But it’s a bit of a shame. When these comic book characters were created there was an air of fun, of whimsy. They were an escape from the daily doldrums. Today’s superheroes have to live in the doldrums just so they can blow it all up.
And yet when you think about some of the best moments from superhero/comic movies and TV shows, aren’t they usually lighter moments? Think of Guardians of the Galaxy: the sense of wonder everyone felt when Groot released the light-spores, or when he grew his arms and destroyed a bunch of warriors for the first time then turned back to his companions and smile as if to say “Look what I did!” That’s The Flash but every episode and that’s why it’s so fun.
I hope other movies and TV shows take some cues from The Flash and bring back more whimsy, more jokes, and more fun. Yes, our media is darker these days–but we shouldn’t lose that sense of wonder and astonishment that comic book superheroes brought us when hard boiled detectives and other protagonists couldn’t. Comic books should be fun and so should the TV shows and movies based on them.