‘Flash vs. Arrow’ Shows Us How Much Fun Superhero TV Can Be
Following the much-anticipated crossover between two of CW’s most beloved commodities (no really, Flash premiered with the highest ratings in CW’s history), the Internet has been aflame. Arrow, DC’s first successful superhero show, has been one of the CW’s most valuable commodities. When Barry Allen (the alter ego of the Flash), showed up last season, fans instantly latched onto him. That faith was rewarded with his own spin-off series taking place over in the fictional Central City, giving the network (and DC) yet another hit hero. And then, along came the crossover episode this last Tuesday and Wednesday that fans have been aching for since Flash first aired.
Some, like A.V. Club, believed it to be mostly successful, while others took the other end of the spectrum in calling it a “catastrophic misfire,” as i09 did. More than anything though, what the crossover managed to do was fundamentally alter the dynamic of each show while still staying in the spirit of each one respectively.
On one end, we have Arrow: A darker show featuring a broody, tortured lead. In the very first episode of season 1 (spoilers ahead), our hero Oliver Queen shows his willingness to straight up murder anyone who gets in his way without a hint of remorse. It’s not what we’re used to in the age of Batman’s “one rule,” or the Avengers opting to smite their enemies through various forms of kicking, punching, and sending to remote Asgardian prisons. Oliver of course moves more toward Batman’s “killing people is bad” camp eventually, but it feels earned, taking a full season and the death of his best friend to come to that conclusion.
On the other side of the coin is Flash: A light-hearted quasi-dramedy starring a wisecracking super-powered 20-something. Barry Allen is the yin to Oliver’s yang; he’s youthful, just a little naive, and hasn’t learned to hate the world yet (in fairness to Oliver, being stranded on a hellish island for five years makes it hard to not to be eternally cranky). This separation is important to both shows, making it so each can stand alone. What it also does though is make any crossover feel like two pieces of the same puzzle coming together.
In Part I, we focus more on Barry and the fact that despite everything, he still has plenty left to learn. Enter Oliver Queen, patient zero for the “you need to train” drinking game. The Flash spends the better part of this episode facing the reality that maybe, just maybe, his superpowers alone aren’t enough to solve all his problems. With veteran of the superhero game Green Arrow in town, he of course has no better teacher. For any crossover, you want it to end with the series being better off than it was before another show came crashing through the door. The Flash evolved as a character thanks to Oliver Queen’s presence, and in the end the story moves forward with everyone having evolved.
Part II is Oliver’s turn to learn, this time from Barry invading his own Starling City. We see flashbacks to Oliver’s days pre-Arrow, getting lessons in Torture 101 from the shady DC version of SHIELD, ARGUS (Marvel wins in a landslide in the “acronym that sounds most like the name of that crazy uncle living out of a trailer in the Wyoming wilderness” category). Enter the youthful exuberance of the Flash, reminding Oliver that the world isn’t so bad and that maybe he should cut down on the whole torturing thing. Arrow is very much a show about one man constantly at odds with his demons, and with the crossover he gets the help he needs to make his world just a little brighter.
First and foremost though, the crossover was pure, unadulterated fun. The chemistry between Team Arrow and Team Flash meshes beautifully, with each moving part complementing the other. There’s of course one notable pitfall in the form of shoe-horning in Captain Boomerang, an actual real villain in the DC universe who someone somewhere actually thought needed to exist and was paid a quantity of money to do. It’s hard to disagree with io9’s assertion that it’d be better if we drove the idea of the Captain “out into the country, put an overdose of morphine in its ice tea, and let it die quietly in a field.” In some ways though, even a homicidal maniac making terrible boomerang pun after terrible boomerang pun was deliciously cheesy for a show that has no frills about its ridiculous nature.
If the creators had one goal to accomplish in providing fans of both shows with an entertaining two days of television, then it’s safe to say they accomplished just that. Both shows became just a little bit better as a result of the crossover, and each lead saw their character learn, grow, and evolve from the other. Flash and Arrow will both be retreating back to their corners in their respective fall finales, but the brief detour in the meantime was everything we could have hoped for.