Barry Allen Makes a Flashy Debut on ‘Arrow’

The CW
The CW

If you tuned into Arrow this week, it likely wasn’t to see Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) investigate Brother Blood’s evil plot, or to see Moira Queen (Susanna Thompson) avoid telling her daughter Thea that baddie Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman) was her real father. It was to see one thing and one thing only — the debut of The Flash.

Those instant gratification types expecting to see The Scarlet Speedster in all his red and yellow costumed glory were probably sorely disappointed in last night’s episode, “The Scientist.” But if you’re like me and you appreciate the slow burn with your entertainment, you haven’t been this happy since 1990, the last time a live-action version of The Flash debuted on TV.

We didn’t exactly get The Flash yet (This being the first in a two-episode arc), but what we did get was his mild-mannered forensic scientist alter-ego, Barry Allen. (Sorry, Wally West fans!) Thankfully, an endearing Grant Gustin kept his performance true to the comic book version of the character. (Gustin was previously known for playing Sebastian Smythe, the openly-gay, scheming leader of the Dalton Academy Warblers on Glee.)

That’s right, I said, “True to the comic book version,” and it should be, given that the teleplay for this episode was co-written by Geoff Johns, the man responsible for putting Barry Allen back into comic book continuity after the character had been “dead” for almost 25 years as the writer of DC’s The Flash: Rebirth. 

Backed by a writer who knows the source material like no one else, Gustin played Allen perfectly; he was the chronically late endearing klutz that he was before he received his powers. And though we didn’t get to see Allen get struck by lightning and receive his superpowers in this episode, there was a great callback to that moment during a thunderstorm.

Arrow also offered an interesting melding of classic aspects of the character, calling back to the his comic origins by making him a forensic scientist and adding more recent aspects of the hero’s origin. For example, the episode made clear that Barry Allen’s mother had been murdered when he was 11-years-old (strongly implying that the Flash’s arch-nemesis Professor Zoom, aka The Reverse Flash, was responsible). This new aspect of The Flash’s backstory played a pivotal role in the recent “Flashpoint” storyline in the comics. In “Flashpoint,” The Flash’s efforts to prevent his mother’s death changes the future in irrevocable ways. (See The DC Animated movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox for more.)

The CW
The CW

Of course, there are a few things about this episode that the hardcore comic fans will nitpick to death. For one, Barry Allen’s trademark blonde locks have been replaced by Gustin’s dark brown coiff, and Allen is decidedly younger (early twenties) than he has ever been on TV. I’m not too hung up on this stuff, even if I’m holding out hope that Allen’s hair gets frosted blonde the moment lightening strikes and he gains his powers!

Also, making the character younger instantly creates a mentor-mentee dynamic between Allen and Oliver, which makes sense for the show, given that Green Arrow was the first hero to arrive in this universe and every subsequent show that spins off from Arrow will follow his example. It just fits chronologically that The Flash would be younger and more inexperienced for the purposes of the show.

In the comics, Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern has always been Barry Allen’s classic partner, but the writing staff on Arrow have worked hard to intertwine him with the life of DC’s other green crusader by making Allen as a love interest for Queen’s hacker-girl sidekick Felicity. Now, annoyingly for him, Queen won’t be able to get rid of this pesky kid so easily, given the way Felicity clearly cares about Allen. This is a great way to firmly root Allen in the Arrow universe, so this pairing doesn’t seem like a random comic book team-up where any hero could’ve been inserted. It also propels Felicity’s development forward in a new and intriguing way.

Now, that both Green Arrow and the Flash have love for Felicity in common (one sisterly and one romantic) there’s more of an organic excuse for the pair to get together and fight crime, especially when it’s Felicity who brings Allen into Oliver’s inner sanctum and is forced to reveal her partner’s true identity as “The Vigilante.”

Allen’s love for Felicity means he’s firmly entrenched in the Arrow universe in a way that doesn’t seem as contrived and gimmicky as it may have at the beginning of the episode, where Barry just showed up at the right place and right time, much to Oliver’s instant annoyance.

This TV origin is very close to its comic book roots so far and the character has that same optimistic, “gee, golly” temperament that he’s been able to maintain through all his incarnations. So I can only hope, especially with the way things are going, that this Green Arrow-Flash TV teamup will continue to be a killer comic character crossover that will no doubt whet appetites for the planned Flash standalone series.

Arrow typically works in a few easter eggs for comic fans. Here are some of the best from this episode:

  • In the opening scene, Barry Allen is shielding his head from the rain with a copy of Science Showcase Magazine. The character made his debut in Showcase #4 (1956).
  • Though Barry Allen doesn’t get his powers in this episode, the scene where he’s shown organizing beakers full of chemicals on a shelf as lightening strikes outside is a direct reference to the moment he received his powers in the original comics.
  • The centrifuge stolen from Queen Consolidated is a Kord 2VX-900, which is a reference to genius inventor Ted Kord, who is The Blue Beatle in the DCU.
  • Malcolm Merlyn is threatened with an upcoming visit from Batman foe Ra’s al Ghul.
  • Dr. Ivo is Professor Ivo, the mad scientist creator of the android villain Amazo.
  • Brother Cyrus, who has a muscle density like concrete, is Cyrus Gold, aka Solomon Grundy.
  • Did anyone catch the beginning of Slade’s transformation into Deathstroke on the island?
Aaron Broverman is a Toronto-based freelance writer by way of Vancouver, B.C. Since the development of his conscious mind, the television has been his true babysitter and like it did for Dave Chapelle, taught him how to tell time. He knew it was 4 p.m. because Oprah was on, for example. He owes TV a lot and has been trying to pay it back ever since with TV journalism both in print and on the web for TV Week Magazine, Huffington Post TV, AOL TV, Digital Spy and the now defunct, TV Death Ray.