Red, Gold, and Green

The CW's Flash/Arrow crossover last week was loads of fun.

Grant Gustin as The Flash and Stephen Amell as The Arrow standing together in a street scene facing opposite directions
Image from The Flash Ep. 1.08 "Flash vs. Arrow" © 2014 CW. Photo: Diyah Perra.

I still hope to get to full-on reviews of both shows this season, but the perennial
6-year-old in me demands that my adult self acknowledge this super-cool undertaking now. Just seeing an arrow slice through The Flash's usual title sequence on Tuesday night and a lightning bolt streak through Arrow's on Wednesday put a big, goofy grin on my face.

"Flash vs. Arrow" and "The Brave and the Bold" — as the episodes were named, respectively, the latter after a long-running DC Comics team-up series — stand on their own individually. While the first does lead into the second chronologically, there's no cliffhanger. So they're really a pair of crossovers, meaning that you can enjoy them separately if desired.

Since the brain trust at DC and Warner Bros. Entertainment have decided that their answer to Marvel's cinematic universe springing from Man of Steel don't/won't take place on "Earth-CW" — at least, I can hope, until the red-skies Crisis teased on Flash via a newspaper from the future possessed by STAR Labs' enigmatic Dr. Harrison Wells comes to pass — The Flash (played by Grant Gustin) and The Arrow (Stephen Amell) are essentially their reality's Superman and Batman: one an optimistic, amazingly powered guardian angel, the other a more fatalistic, non-powered streetwise vigilante with nifty gadgets. In the traditional DC mythos they're specialists, riffs on the archetypes; here the absence of their more iconic forebears elevates Oliver Queen and Barry Allen to premier status, inspirations and harbingers who may yet build a Justice League of their own.

Arrow and The Flash each have problems that I can't dismiss simply because of the thrill I feel seeing these heroes brought to life, entirely apart from how faithful they are or aren't to their origins in print. The crossover episodes, in fact, shone a spotlight on some of the series' inherent or ingrained problems. Mild spoiler warning before I dive into them, after a break to show readers who aren't up on their comic-book lore the way Flash and (Green) Arrow were portrayed some five decades ago on the covers of...

'The Brave and the Bold presents The Green Arrow and the Manhunter from Mars' / 'Two great heroes teamed in a full-length blockbuster…' / Green Arrow shooting flame-tipped arrows at the Martian Manhunter as a villain looks on 'The Brave and the Bold presents Batman and The Green Arrow' / 'The Wrath of the Thunderbird!' / Green Arrow shooting a glowing lasso-on-winch arrow at a giant bird that has Batman in its talons
Covers of The Brave and the Bold #50 & The Brave and the Bold #71 © 1963, 1967 DC. Pencils: George Roussos (#50); Carmine Infantino (#71). Inks: George Roussos (#50); Chuck Cuidera (#71). Letters: Ira Schnapp (#50); Gaspar Saladino (#71). Colors: Unknown. Editing: George Kashdan.

The Brave and the Bold itself, which launched in 1955 as an anthology of adventure strips set in bygone days, transitioned in 1959 to a tryout vehicle for new features, began teaming up various established characters in 1963, and come 1968 was exclusively co-starring Batman with different partners every issue, finally ending its initial run in 1983.

Despite what the cover below right says, Batman and Flash had met before, although this was their first outing purely as a duo. They were charter members of the Justice League of America, which debuted in B&B #28, dated February-March 1960, during the title's showcase phase — right after three issues introducing the original Suicide Squad, whose later iterations as a cadre of super-criminals redirected for impossible missions by the government are the basis of the covert group seen on Arrow run by ARGUS and of a 2016 movie in DC's cinematic slate. Green Arrow didn't join the JLA until Justice League of America #4, dated April 1961, whereas the comparative newbie known as the Manhunter from Mars, pictured with Ollie above and Barry below, was one of the ensemble's founders along with Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman.

The Brave and the Bold's title has been resurrected several times since 1983, including for a 1999 miniseries set in the past starring Barry Allen and Hal Jordan, who'd been succeeded as Flash and Green Lantern by others at the time on account of being dead (temporarily, it turns out, because comics and even more so because marketing). Hal was fast friends with both Ollie and Barry in the comics but they were never close pals themselves. Given how unlikely a Green Lantern in Arrow/Flash-land feels at the moment, eliminating the middleman works for me. [A Cartoon Network series called Batman: The Brave and the Bold aired from 2008 to 2011; I reviewed its series finale.]

'The Brave and the Bold presents The Flash and the Manhunter from Mars' / Flash and Martian Manhunter facing a weird creature emerging from a 1964 time capsule who is half-Flash half-Manhunter 'The Brave and the Bold presents Batman and The Flash' / 'Together -- For the first time!' / Batman swinging down in front of Flash, who rears back, as a criminal runs to a cityscape in the distance
Covers of The Brave and the Bold #56 & The Brave and the Bold #67 © 1964, 1966 DC. Pencils: Bernard Baily (#56); Carmine Infantino (#67). Inks: Bernard Baily (#56); Joe Giella (#67, except Batman head: Murphy Anderson). Letters: Ira Schnapp. Colors: Unknown. Editing: George Kashdan.

Like its title character, Arrow seems to want to have its cake and eat it too in
terms of how brutal Oliver is willing to be. He assumed the roles of judge, jury, and executioner upon his return to Starling City in the first season in a way that makes it hard to accept him as a white knight — even harder, arguably, to accept that the police force and prosecutor's office accept him as such, a point raised in "Flash vs. Arrow" by CCPD Detective Joe West. I couldn't for the life of me tell why the flashbacks during "The Brave and the Bold" to Ollie's time in Hong Kong under the thumb of ARGUS director Amanda Waller showed him supposedly learning why torture was necessary yet the here-and-now action in Starling City tugged in the opposite direction (and then in large part due to it being the last metaphorical arrow in Ollie's quiver, since he can't threaten Boomerang's life having done a 180-degree turn on killing). Furthermore, and unconscionably, Waller motivated Oliver by telling him that the mass casualties were on his head because he didn't torture ARGUS's captive to give up the explosives' location in time, when surely Waller had the capability to do that job herself or bring in other operatives who could. Unless she was running a psychological game to motivate Oliver and nobody was actually harmed, of which we got zero indication, those deaths are on Waller's head.

Meanwhile, Barry takes Central City's metahuman menaces too lightly, which his colleagues at STAR Labs admit during the crossover and for which Ollie takes Barry to task. It's almost ironic, given that fact, to see Flash struggle against having Barry's super-speed trump nearly any situation, especially when oversight can't be chalked up to his own naivety or inexperience. Even he can't be in several places literally at the same time, a lesson learned in the comics repeatedly, so it was smart of Barry to solve the climactic problem in "The Brave and the Bold" (and smart of the series to show Barry doing so) by whisking members of the heroes' support crews to the other bomb sites. What made no sense was Barry failing to smack Boomerang unconscious or tie him up in a flash — at the urging of the more experienced, tactically minded Oliver, if nothing else — before zipping away instead of leaving Ollie to fight him.

Plus, Arrow is often a little too on the nose in terms of its flashbacks mirroring dilemmas in the present day, but putting Ollie in the position of having to torture somebody to find the location of a bomb — just like he was that first time Waller decided he should acquire the skill — felt awkwardly equivalent. Plus plus, Flash is maddeningly inconsistent regarding when Barry kicks up paper and other debris as he travels, although that's not specific to the crossover episodes in the least. I really do need to write more about these shows.

Grant Gustin as The Flash and Stephen Amell as The Arrow facing one another, maskless, in the so-called Arrow Cave
Image from Arrow Ep. 3.08 "The Brave and the Bold" © 2014 CW. Photo: Cate Cameron.

Oliver getting the better of Barry in the first of the episodes was nicely handled.
Barry has been cocky and does spend too much time standing around to spar with a villain or loitering in what is potentially a trap after arriving on the scene instead of,
as Oliver suggests, casing the joint. And I simply love seeing these characters hang out in costume, bonding, comparing notes, however exciting the action sequences may be, to the extent that realizing they beat the bad guy in "Flash vs. Arrow" during a commercial break was more weird than it was upsetting.

My enjoyment in watching Oliver and Barry's partnership only makes me warier
of the forthcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. "Flash vs. Arrow" has its silver-screen cousin beat already in its less-clinical abbreviation of versus, never mind the fun throwback nod of "The Brave and the Bold". Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is not the title of a movie based on comic books; it's the title of a videogame based on a court case based on comic books.

DC's aborning Justice League film franchise would do well to emulate the Flash/
crossover vibe. I despair of it being more face-off than team-up, or at the rate cast members and spinoffs have been announced merely all set-up. That's another topic for another time, however, in this case after the product is finished and on display.

"Flash vs. Arrow" (directed by Glen Winter; written by Greg Berlanti & Andrew Kreisberg, who developed The Flash with Geoff Johns and Arrow with Marc Guggenheim) brought Arrow to its highest ratings ever, with 3.9 million viewers and a 1.4 rating in the coveted 18-to-49 demographic. Ratings for "The Brave and the Bold" (directed by Jesse Warn; written by Grainne Godfrey & Marc Guggenheim from Berlanti & Kreisberg's story) matched those of Flash's second episode — behind only the premiere, the most-watched telecast in CW history factoring in DVR usage within 7 days per Nielsen — with 4.2 million viewers and a 1.5 rating for 18-to-49. You can watch both episodes on Hulu as well as the CW website at this writing.

Grant Gustin as The Flash and Stephen Amell as The Arrow standing together by a train facing the same direction poised for action
Image from Arrow Ep. 3.08 "The Brave and the Bold" © 2014 CW. Photo: Cate Cameron.

Flash airs its first mid-season finale tomorrow, Dec. 9th, at 8 p.m. on your local CW station; Arrow's mid-season finale airs at 8 the following night, Dec. 10th. They'll return with new episodes in 2015 after a five-week break.

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1 comment:

Austin 'Teebore' Gorton said...

Late to the party here, but I've been working on getting caught up on both shows (Arrow S2 via Netflix, then my backlogged DVR of season 3, waiting on Flash til I hit the crossover episodes) and I finally made it past the crossover which was, as you say, mostly excellent.

You're spot on in terms of how these two shows are effectively the Superman and Batman of DC's small screen universe - I got the same vibe especially from this crossover, particularly in the "I've got powers/I've got tactics and strategy" discussions.

Like you, it makes me worried (on top of existing worries) about the DC movie universe, as it seems that DC kinds of treats these shows as after thoughts, when they are in fact pretty much doing what I'd like to see the movies do, but on a grander scale with a larger budget.

In other words, the relationship between Barry and Ollie on these shows is almost exactly what I'd like to see in the relationship between Superman and Batman. But DC's willingless to let this relationship play out via (in their eyes) two lower tier characters on a lower tier platform (and their concern over presenting conflicting interpretations of characters across different mediums) makes me worried they have no interest in developing that kind of relationship between the cinematic Batman and Superman.

Plus, Arrow is often a little too on the nose in terms of its flashbacks mirroring dilemmas in the present day

Indeed. If anything, the flashback structure is probably my biggest gripe with the show. As much as it does occasionally parallel the events in the present elegantly, more often than not it's a clumsy thematic connection and little else.

I wouldn't want the show to ditch it entirely, because it can be useful (and there is some fun to be had in filling in Oliver's "island" years) but I would like to see them be more willing to occasionally abandon it than they are now.

And I simply love seeing these characters hang
out in costume, bonding, comparing notes, however exciting the action sequences
may be


Batman v. Superman: Rise of Justice is not the title of a movie based on comic books; it's the title of a videogame based
on a court case based on comic books.