And like that, the Champion of Central City, Barry Allen, aka the Flash, will appear on Arrow. Before anyone could grouse about a neutered version of the character, series executive producer Andrew Kreisberg and writer Geoff Johns confirmed, unequivocally, that he will be the Flash, complete with trademark Scarlet Speedster outfit. That got all of our brains tapped into the Speed Force…
Many of us watching Arrow — and certainly the bulk of us here at GATV — are veteran fans of a little series called Smallville. (We might have mentioned it once or three times.) When a show is on for ten seasons and plays such a strong role in defining the DC Universe for a generation of people, whether you are a fan or not, it does serve as a touchstone and a reference point for DC television properties going forward. It has, at times, for Arrow, particularly because it featured the first live-action adaptation of the new series’ title character. Smallville also set up a certain level of expectation going into this series’ first season.
The overriding mantra on Smallville, for better or worse, was “no tights, no flights,” a refrain fans came to both understand and many loathe. In the beginning, it set a strong milieu for that show to work in, clearly keeping Clark Kent in a pre-Superman world. But, as the show carried on, specifically in its last three seasons where it morphed into a succinctly comic-based show very different from its teen drama beginnings, the narrative came to violently butt up against that mantra more often than not. For many, it frustratingly put an artificial roadblock on Clark’s (and the show’s) development that seemed quite counter to where the story was naturally going. When Arrow rolled around extolling a philosophy of a “grounded” and “realistic” world where superpowers didn’t exist, the frustrations from that earlier series left the likely audience skittish about following the Emerald Archer’s adventures.
It’s oft-noted how Arrow is strongly influenced by the Nolan Dark Knight trilogy of films, which took the resolute approach of existing in a world unto itself where none of the other DCU superheroes existed, and certainly their powers were but the things of childish fantasy. For their show to work on television, particularly in establishing itself and its world, the producers took a similar approach, while still trying to pull from the vast stable of DCU characters to populate their vigilante tale. It turned out to be a shrewd approach, as it allowed the audience to really invest in the characters and the setting of Starling City without dulling their senses on special effects overload.
Their first real challenge of adapting a powered character to this simplified world — Count Vertigo — met with mixed results. The concept of the Count as a drug dealer is a solid one, and Vertigo as a drug to induce similar effects to the comic character’s power is smart adaptation in keeping with the guiding philosophy of the show. Yet, by taking away his powers, it also seemed to set the character adrift. While he was touted as being the show’s Joker, the execution of the character has been muddled in his two appearances. Oliver taking out the Count in his first episode by injecting him with an exceptional dose of super strength Vertigo set up an intriguing speculation, though: Could such an event actually result in the Count acquiring the source material’s powers?
While the answer to that, so far, turned out to be negative, the speculation touched on an undercurrent of thought that exists amongst the audience and fans of the series. We’ve definitely touched on it ourselves here; during our reviews and the roundtable discussions, Derek and I (and many of our merry band) have been of the opinion that powers will eventually find their way on to the series. At one point early on, Derek suggested that the event they were building to in the season finale, what would come to be called “the Undertaking,” might actually be some kind of “big bang” moment that created metahuman abilities in people and introduced the concept to this world. Despite the comments by the showrunners to the contrary, this seemed like a plausible theory. Sure, we got something much different — and frankly, better for a young show — but it hardly put any kind of cap on that train of thought.
When events of the latter half of the first season revealed what the Undertaking would entail, our expectations shifted to the more realistic thought that if powers were going to make their way on to the series, it would likely be in a fourth or fifth season at the earliest. The inclusion of Tommy Merlyn in the New 52 version of the Green Arrow comics, as well as the exclusive Arrow skin DLC for the Injustice: Gods Among Us game (with Stephen Amell vocals), suggested a synergy within DC Entertainment of accepting this version of Oliver Queen as not just an adaptation but a nigh-canonical version. The character of John Diggle, created specifically for the show, will now be introduced into the comics as well, fortifying the idea of a more unified DCU that would likely entail the introduction of superpowers on the series at some point down the road.
That’s why the announcement of Barry Allen coming to the show took us by shock. It’s not that powers would make an appearance. It’s that they would appear so early on the show. And yet, when it really comes down to it, this is far from startling.
One of the hallmarks of the series is the organic way with which the narrative is dealt. Come the fourth episode of the series when Oliver is outed as “the Hood,” this was a show unafraid to burn through plot. Some had feared that the show would burn itself out and yet they’ve continually managed to present new twists and folds that have grown the story out in fascinating and compelling ways, an extraordinary number of steps more successful than not. Comic-Con and the internet was abuzz with the Season 2 teaser trailer that showed a very Black Canary-like character making the acquaintance of Roy Harper, already on his own way toward becoming the Red Arrow (or Arsenal or Speedy or whichever name they go with for him). This right after Caity Lotz’s casting had been announced and the producers had to address the fact that she’s not the Black Canary that we all will come to know Laurel Lance by. The Huntress was introduced on the show fairly earlier. We’ve had not one but two Deathstrokes, not to mention a season finale that saw the “deaths” of both Merlyn men — Tommy, you’ll be missed; Malcolm, I’m sure we’ll see you again soon — let alone the Undertaking actually going through. Oliver took on not just one but two partners at a time when he was devoutly dedicated to his cause of vengeance and not being connected to anyone. This is a series not afraid to take risks and to allow its plots and characters to grow. That’s why Allen’s introduction to this world isn’t surprising.
What we’ve heard briefly of how Barry’s three episodes in Season 2 will play out is very promising. In short, a two-episode arc in the early part of the season, likely leading into the winter hiatus, will introduce the character to Starling City and Oliver Queen, putting them at odds with one another. A third appearance late in the season in episode 20 will likely serve as the introduction of Barry’s super-speed through some type of lab accident (lightning?), setting up the possible (likely probable) spin-off of the character into his own show, while heralding powers into this grounded world. Many thought Hal Jordan (ring or not) would be the first of the Big Seven that Oliver was introduced to, but it’s fitting that Barry should be the character to do this, as his version of the Flash is credited with ushering in the vaunted Silver Age of comics that came to define these classic characters.
More importantly, they are going to deal with this revelation in a realistic fashion, demonstrating just how wild these new abilities are just as if your officemate suddenly developed the ability to become invisible at will. They are also going to be sparing in having other characters with powers on the show moving forward, so that it is not overwhelming to the audience and also that Oliver and his journey are not lost in the struggle. One of the complaints about Smallville in its later seasons is that Clark’s story got lost at times as the series become a sort of showcase for the DCU. Judging on how well they’ve leveraged DC characters so far, this doesn’t seem like a concern anyone has to have about Arrow. This is and always will be Oliver Queen’s show. It will be quite fascinating to see him dealing with this burgeoning world of the fantastic, and a unique approach for a series based on a comic.
It’s fair to say that no one expected this announcement. Even if a character like Hal Jordan was introduced this season or next (with many opining that previous Oliver Queen [and erstwhile Arthur Curry] Justin Hartley should assay the role), it was believed that it would’ve been merely a character introduction and not a chance to show what mystic energized willpower looks like. Yet, you just to have to hark back to the response from the showrunners to questions about plans for Laurel becoming the Black Canary on the series asked early in the first season. Not immediately but sooner than you’d think, was the gist of the replies, and was identified as their central view on any of these kinds of developments. The addition of a superpowered Barry Allen clearly fits that concept, and why, through all the shock and giddy whirlwind of reaction to yesterday’s news, it’s not all that surprising.